An inconvenient truth

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. ~ Isaiah 55:8, 10-11We affectionately called it the "ghetto dryer". We received it as a housewarming gift from some dear friends, the top taped haphazardly to the bottom. That was almost four years ago. After a brief, near-flames moment, the heating element burnt out over Christmas. Much to my chagrin, six cycles on air dry simply did not dry a load of cloth diapers even a smidge!

I stood, hands on hips, questioning God's timing. The dryer, obviously a free gift to us, going kapoot over the holidays?? With everything else I have going on? Why does God pick the times He picks? Sometimes I am frustrated, bewildered - even angered - by His timing! Worse, we were out of money due to my extravagant desire to give generously on money left to replace the now defunct behemoth in my closet.

A call from Aaron: a $50 dryer on the classifieds at work. Skeptic that I am, I wearily pondered the probabilities of such a dryer functioning any better than the one I currently owned. I traded cars with Aaron in a parking lot in a blizzard: four car seats out, four car seats in. Drove what we affectionately call "the sardine can" (a.k.a. 1984 Honda Accord) home on icy roads with four kids exuberant over unexpected adventure.

The dryer arrived home. My hopes rose a bit - it was the same year and model as my extravagant front loading washing machine! Would it work? An hour of dragging the ghetto behemoth out of the closet, and averting various electrical wiring snaffus, and my husband turned the dial: it worked! It spun beautifully, warmed immediately, and was about as loud as snow blowing in the wind!

God is faithful to turn mourning into rejoicing, trial to blessing, teaching us quietly and determinedly through all the little bumps and bruises along the way. Would I have picked Christmas to learn of possible cancer metastasis? Absolutely not. Would I have chosen this week for my dryer to breathe it's last (hot) breath? No. But God did, and He is showing us, bit by bit and moment upon moment, why. In the case of the dryer, it may be because at that particular moment, a women we don't know decided to sell hers for a very low price - giving us a matched set. In the case of cancer - who knows? I may wait until I meet Him face to face in eternity to discover the answer. But I rest on the truth that inconvenience is more than it seems, that He is faithful, just and merciful. I close my human eyes to human perspective, and watch the glories of my Father dance on the screen of my closed lids.

New parallels

Mother with children, blush of new cheeks, young skin, florid, ripe. Savoring joy in moments like shards of glass left in a broken mirror, reflecting beauty in their brokenness. Handing over mortality and receiving back laughter and a million sensory pleasures. Mother, maybe dying? yet loving, yet joyful.
Mary, so many Christmas mornings past, Jesus lying before her, young, ripe, beautiful...mortal. The fragrance of burial spices hovering over the toddler, born to die. Handing over mortality and receiving back Divine Son for thirty years of a million sensory pleasures. Mothering Him. Holy child, suffering woman. Pushing back destiny for present joy.

Grandmother savors Christmas moments, revels in joy on the Eve of the Savior's birth. Gives over daughter with heartbreak and lament, tears herself away to praise God in new ways. Lingers in the explosion of exuberance over tiny momentary blessings. Turns willfully away from a soul of suffering to a spirit of thanksgiving.
Another Mary archetype. Given a child to enjoy, then given an expiration date. Nay, not even a date...just a warning. Born to die. Mary packs the myrrh away, and teaches her child to walk. Enjoys the deepening of His voice as He transforms from boy to man. Tends His wounds from thorns and the bite of the whip. Walks in agony up the rocks of Calvary, anguish and praise coexistent.

Wind-swept field, viewed from my kitchen window, snow blown like waves in the sunshine, frozen in time. My heart feels crystalline, bare, polished, exposed, like the field.
Christ-ones the world over, century upon century, realizing the breadth of their sacrifice. Swept bare by evil, death, suffering. Glittering in the icy sunlight. Beauty in bareness.

Fruit standing on the dry vine in a winter field, waiting for spring. Soldiers guarding precious stores, waving stiff in the December wind. Stiff like my mind as it unwraps from longed for vision of the future, and reshapes to a new reality.
my Bible, dead and alive at once, Word of God standing like a dry, seed-covered stalk, waiting for a breath of warmth in my soul.

Father's hand extended, toddler gripping index finger. Her tiny fingernails are white as she holds on tight, walking a new balance beam with which her chubby feet are unfamiliar. Father slows his step to match hers and never lets go. She looks down at the oak of the beam, concentrating on every step. He looks ahead, keeping track of her progress.
A new beam is underfoot: I think there might be splinters, pain; that it might end before I get a chance to perfect my skill; that I might fall off the side, unsure of my footing. Eyes squeezed shut, I raise a hand tentatively for my Father. Know He sees the end of the beam. I keep looking down, putting one foot after another.

Final pathology report

This morning, my oncologist's nurse called me with the final pathology report from the University of Pennsylvania. She was kind enough to read it to me. It states that there is a "focus of probable vascular invasion that cannot be completely confirmed due to specimen quality". This means there is an area where my tumor seems to have invaded the bloodstream, although the pathologist couldn't say for absolutely certain as the tumor sample is not of high enough quality (probably due to normal breakdown in storage).

I thought images might help you understand what's going on with my cancer. Sometimes it helps to have a visual so that the implications of these nuances of diagnosis can be better understood.

This is what normal thyroid tissue looks like under a microscope. Notice how organized and well defined the little capsules of thyroid tissue are:

Now here is what papillary carcinoma, follicular variant looks like under the microscope. Notice how poor the organization is. The cells all look a little different and they interact differently. They don't have much "respect" for the cell next to them.

This is what "capsular invasion" looks like under a microscope. The tumor is on the right, and you can plainly see how a "mushroom" of cancerous cells has broken through the membrane surrounding the tumor and is starting to compress the normal tissue along the left side of the image.

This is what it looks like when a tumor invades the bloodstream. Notice the round follicles of cancerous tissue in the white space of the blood vessel:

Today I am thanking the Lord that I do not have the much more dangerous medullary or anaplastic types of thyroid cancer. I am praying the pathologist is wrong and there has been no vascular invasion. Today is my "cancer day" of the week. In order to preserve my hope and faith, I set aside one day a week to deal with cancer: make appointments, talk to doctors, do research online and review and organize information for upcoming visits. I can't stand to do it piece-meal, with a little bit every day. It is better to let it completely fill one day, and save the others for more enjoyable pursuits. So today I read, learn, talk about cancer; today I am a cancer patient. So that tomorrow I can be a mom, wife, daughter, friend again! With joy.

Hiding in the numbers

I spent yesterday trying to gather information from various doctors about my latest medical tests. I was unable to get anyone to read me the final pathology report on my tumor, which was exceedingly frustrating. I did manage to get ahold of a sympathetic nurse who read to me from my electronic health record, although she didn't have much to offer in terms of interpretation. I gleaned a little information from this: several blood tests that have been normal since my surgery in June are now abnormal. I have tumor markers present in my bloodstream and also a positive thyroglobulin value. Both tests were drawn just prior to my radioactive iodine, which yields a ray of hope that the iodine may have destroyed the active cancer that was brewing in my body at that time.

The tumor marker test looks for cancerous genetic material in my blood stream. The bad news is that only tumors that have access to blood supply can be tested for in this way. Recurrent tumor markers are associated with malignant metastasis (dangerous spread) in over 90% of patients with papillary carcinoma. A positive value for this test indicates aggressive disease rather than the slow-growing cancer that I have been told to expect.

The thyroglobulin test is less clear-cut. It could indicate that the remaining thyroid remnant in my throat was functioning somewhat. However, in combination with the tumor marker test, it can be used to indicate recurrent or metastatic disease. But this test is generally less compelling than the last test.

If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know I normally don't coldly report on lab tests and statistical risk. Today I hide in the numbers. My family is circled close in a spiritual and emotional sense; circling our wagons. Consternation, fear, sorrow, remorse. Emotions are running high. I will write more when I have the heart to.


I want to clarify the details of the "non-news" I received from my doctor today. I got more information from my husband, who has permission to view my electronic medical record. Slides of tumor samples were sent to Pennsylvania in the end of November, and the analysis of those samples revealed more invasion of the capsule (the membrane that surrounds the tumor and protects healthy tissue) and an area suspicious for blood vessel invasion. What this means, in plain English, is that my chances of tumor spread to distant parts of my body just went up. After analyzing these samples, the pathologist requested that my entire tumor be sent to her for a more detailed analysis. As someone with medical background, my heart skips a beat when I hear things like this. In my experience, this means bad news 9 times out of 10. The final report of her analysis of my tumor in it's entirety is what my doctor didn't feel comfortable sharing today. And that is what has me on the edge of my seat, waiting for more news.

Tonight I am resting in the bone-weary pre-Christmas state following a long day of bustle. Baking, cooking, wrapping, making gifts, cleaning, and packing for several holiday car trips with four kids has filled my plate already, even without these latest events! I am headed to bed - shortly before 1 a.m., which is record time for the week before Christmas!

  • Aaron got Christmas Eve off unexpectedly!
  • I get to play in the church band for the Christmas Eve service tomorrow - and I can SING! God gave me my voice back, and I am excited to use it!
  • Healthy, happy children
  • White blanket of fresh snow for Christmas
  • Family, friends, food, beer, wine, presents, laughter...
  • Spirits peaceful, resting on God during this time when worry creeps in (especially for Aaron and I and my parents and other family members)
  • Our neighbors who lost their daughter today, the day before Christmas Eve
  • My children, that this worry over cancer wouldn't touch them too deeply this Christmas season

"Be careful what you wish for"

God, my God, I cry out
Your beloved needs You now
God, be near, calm my fear
And take my doubt

Your kindness is what pulls me up
Your love is all that draws me in

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
Of the mountains I can’t climb

I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
Of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer
Of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You
~ I Will Lift My Eyes, Bebo Norman

I received news today that my prayer has been answered. In a difficult way. Samples of my tumor were sent three weeks ago to Pennsylvania, and a report and interpretation of the findings from both the pathologist and the specialist at the University of Chicago were sent to my doctors. The pathologist asked for the entire tumor to be shipped to her for further testing. She has since sent a final report to my team of doctors in Eau Claire and Chicago. However, the endocrine specialist was out of the office today for the holiday, and my regular general practice doctor didn't feel capable of giving me the results himself. It is difficult to know what to make of the entire situation, other than to lean on the fact that I asked God to stay the news, and He has.

In the midst of my heart breaking and my insides turning wrong side out, my brain is trying to make sense of this. I am trying to strike a balance between responding to the news I've been given without overreacting and assuming the worst, which is my natural bent.

Mostly, I feel completely inadequate to express any of the rawness I feel right now. I am in one of those "beyond words" moments, of which I have had so many...positive and the last six months. I feel bruised and I will try my darnedest to love and savor this Christmas with my family.

Whatever God has for me in this life, I know that through the miraculous birth of my Savior over 2,000 years ago, my tears will be wiped away. I may be in the tragic, perilous, fragmented and uncertain middle ground of my fairy tale, but I will live "happily ever after" someday.

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools. Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. from Psalm 39


My muscles remember the feeling
closed eyes
hands white with cold
gripped tight
Silence but for wind

Unleashed from gravity's pull
a tide of white
cheeks burn
ice in eyelashes

Red sleds, snowsuits, wind whipped and giddy
Back then
Now loose again
brings different slopes

Ebb & flow

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak...Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, 6-7 KJV

I have received a lot of extra hugs, phone calls and e-mails of love and reassurance since my last post. This community of friends and family God has placed me in amazes me continually as I walk this path. At every turn, I am greeted by a friend offering something that blesses me and heals me in a special way. All of you are such an important part of living - that glorious experience, a free gift to each of us, infinitely sacred and beautiful. I think of the things that are beautiful: oil paintings, photographs, quilts, old hand-hewn furniture and tools, antique machines of all kinds, certain colors, textures, plants, sounds, and smells. All these are just snapshots of a beautiful, panoramic, constantly changing landscape of life. It is the complicated and beautiful nature of my life that makes it so difficult to give up as it is today. It is like taking my most treasured possession...that thing that I value and guard and keep in a secret place...and handing it over, palms up, eyes closed, not wanting to see the moment in which it could be taken from me. Putting on vulnerability as a garment, with humbleness and faith and dignity.

It comes and goes, this grief over loss. It is not constant, but washes in and out in waves, with lulls in between that are so peaceful. It feels natural, organic. Merciful. Quiet.

Peering in on cancer

Yesterday my tumor was mailed from Mayo in Rochester to the University of Pennsylvania. My mortality on dry ice. Questions frozen for another expert look. I joined hands with the women of history: Samuel's mother savoring the babe at her breast before handing him over to become a prophet; Rahab, waiting for deliverance in a tall room along the wall of the city; Mary, breathing in the embalming spices left by the Magi as she tends her toddler son, the Savior. Staving off death in living life. Breathing in it's fragrance in every ordinary moment, comingled with all the smells of the day.

Today I kissed my husband with new longing. I disciplined my son with new urgency. I planned for the future with my daughters. I came to the brink of fear in the most average moment - throwing a ball, surrounded by Midwesterners at a holiday bowling league pot-luck. Suddenly I was suspended in the icy tide of fear, the salt of tears stinging the cracked corner of my lip as I pulled my soul back in and bit down hard on the reality in front of me, hauling back the transparent sigh of my heart about to escape, awful, loud, awkward.

Cancer is the house; I am on the doorstep. I've looked in all the windows and I've learned a lot about this house: I know many of it's textures, and smells, and what type of person lives there. But it isn't something I own yet. I linger on the threshold and inspect. I don't know if I will live with cancer for a month or ten years...if this will be but a hostel in which I camp for a night, or if I will be in cancer's rooms, waiting for test results once again a decade from now.

Please pray with me that I don't have to cross that threshold on Christmas. I am praying that the results of the latest tests on my tumor are either positive, or stayed by divine grace until after the celebration of new life. That this Christmas is a beautiful, momentous, memory-filled time of rest with my family.

This song resonates with always has. It is speaking - watering - my soul today.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
~ How Deep the Father's Love for Us, Stuart Townsend

Christmas sweets

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. ~ Psalm 19:7-11 KJV

The past week can only be described as sweet. It has been that sweetness, like a honeycomb, that has tooth to it. Substantial sweetness, not the kind that melts in your mouth, but the type that takes a little effort to enjoy. Christmas looms like a hovering glow, our house is a busy hive of wool scraps, and sweet smells, paint-spattered children, burnt oak shavings fresh off the circular saw, the sharp percussion of stamping metal and packages arriving on the doorstep daily. The calendar is full, and the house is in continual disarray, with a weeks worth of laundry always in queue for the washer.

I am finding truth in the saying, "You never know what you have until it is taken away". I am praising God that, thus far, it was a temporary pause. I am still here. I am back home to enjoy, with new fullness, all that God has given me. February is looming large on the horizon. My slides were sent today to the eminent pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania for a second opinion. Cancer - nay, mortality - is always in the background. How thankful I am for a foreground of Christmas cheer to distract me from it!

Lost in the details

Christmas pageant practice: kids sang (mother breathed, "Hallelujah!" under her breath).

Walmart on a Saturday just prior to Christmas: kids walked single file (mom silently rejoiced, "We survived!").

Hanging Christmas lights using dinky plastic hooks: kids played in snow, husband frustrated (wife wondering, "Why did I suggest this?").

We came in covered with snow, bedraggled and tired from the fresh air and a day too full. The toddler began screaming because her socks were on crooked. I lost my temper, and spat out a warning to stop fussing through gritted teeth, the whites of my eyes showing. She banged her little body down on the couch, intimidated and angered. I retreated to my room, the howls of three children echoing behind me.

The black arms of the trees against the winter sky whisper reproach. I approach the Throne tentatively. I hear the toddler stop crying, and come wandering through the house, quietly saying, "I done fussin', Mama". My heart melts. I open the door.

After I beg forgiveness, we lay on the bed, cuddled up, looking at the trees. We talk about the nativity we just put up, about Jesus, dying on the cross to forgive us as Amelia just forgave me. She giggles, then says, "I have buggers, Mama". I try to continue the lesson, buggers no avail. Every little lesson I sally forth is met with, "I have buggers, Mama". And I think, this is me! This is what I approach my Father with. He offers forgiveness, and I am more concerned about my buggers! I am the toddler tentatively walking through the halls of heaven, saying, "I done fussin', Papa."

I better grow up soon!

The everbearing fruit tree

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.

Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

~ Isaiah 50:10-11 ESV

Here I am: Eve. Standing at the foot of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. Reaching up for the fruit, believing open eyes are better than faith, knowledge is better than trust, power is better than rest. The age-old struggle that began when the world was barely turning on it's axis; the temptation that speaks deep in the heart of every woman, everywhere. For me, it is cancer that draws me closer to the tree, my hand stretched forth to pick the fruit. Like a moth to a flame, I run from the unknown into the closely clinging bony grip of Death, knowledge, power.

Ask any cancer patient which stage they would prefer to be in: the angst of not knowing, in those early stages of discovery, with no statistics to lean on and no answers to quote in the long, dark hours of the questioning night? I am in that place, standing next to my cancer in the midnight blackness of the diagnostic wait; nothing hurts, nothing is broken, and without the magic scalpel of medical imaging - body scans and ultrasounds - my cancer would still be nebulous and stealthy. I long to be in a place of knowledge, the treatment stage when people rush to cure and cut and clean up the mess of mortality that grows like an ink stain on linen, cancer spreading ugly fingers of stain into the snow white body of youth and health.

That is what I - as patient with cancer - long for. Yet I - the oncology nurse - know this is a foolish quest. I have seen the patients dragged down and sodden on their beds, racked by the treatment, the curing, the cutting, the cleaning up. I have seen their eyes call out from dark sockets for relief. I have held them, and caressed them, and mourned for their many small losses - hair, and strength, and the ability to eat or drink or speak or laugh. Why would I, knowing this, ask to be transported to that stage? Have I so quickly forgotten what it means to leave this blissful state of not knowing to be brought out into the stark, sterile light of a surgical suite, answers in hand and self torn away piece by piece? Better to close my eyes and walk in darkness, holding the steadfast hand of my Savior, then to beg for knowledge, light the torches handed to me by human hands and walk forth into the bitter truths armed only with mortal knowledge and power.

I can taste the fruit of Eve
I'm aware of sickness, death and disease
The results of our choices are vast
Eve was the first but she wasn't the last

And if I were honest with myself
Had I been standing at that tree
My mouth and my hands would
be covered with fruit
Things I shouldn't know and
things I shouldn't see

Remind me of this with every decision
Generations will reap what I sow
I can pass on a curse or a blessing
To those I will never know

~ Generations, Sara Groves

New reality

Have courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
~ Victor Hugo

Tonight my body is worn from a day spent catching up on a million things that had been laid aside for cancer treatment. My heart feels worn, too, the jagged edge of fear wearing away at the veneer of Christmas spirit I've thrown over my eyes. As though the dam might break if someone saw too clearly what lies beneath the surface. Waiting is so hard. In Deep Survival, I read that survivors are those who adapt to changes in reality: absorb new truth, and act on it, rather than the old truth with which they are more familiar. I struggle to integrate this new truth, cancer, with all my old truths, mother, wife, student, daughter, friend. I have made many decisions in life based on a simple algorithm: if I gain more information about this, will if affect my ultimate decision? I can't seem to fit that with my current circumstances. If I learn that I have more cancer, or less, than currently believed, will it change my ultimate decision? Of only one thing I am certain, and on this rock will I rest my weary head tonight: knowing more or less about my cancer will not change where I am going when I die.

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." She said, "May your servant find favor in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. ~ I Samuel 1:10-18

So much to learn from such a small passage: I can pray out of great anguish and grief; I can expect to feel those things in this life. I will be deeply troubled. I will pour my soul out to the Lord. And then I should go away, go back about my business, and my face should no longer be downcast. I pray the clouds in my spirit lift tomorrow.

Piety in poop

Like it or not, blogs written by mamas always, inevitably, digress to bodily functions. And now, for the promised "moment of hilarity"...

Scene: busy Green Mill restaurant housed in small, historic St. Paul building.
Setting: bustling Sunday evening dinner crowd, mostly middle-upper class & middle aged.
Enter: busy family of 6 after long day in car. Toddler crying from upset stomach; infant teething; older children with proverbial "ants in their pants".
Synopsis: Crisis occurs half way through dinner, after two {harried} parents have spent 45 minutes distracting older children, singing inane nursery rhymes to toddler, and playing clapping games with infant. Father smells poop and immediately suspects infant. Notifies mother of his intent to go change infant in men's room. Mother [looking horrified] states that it may be better for her to change infant in women's room (as they are normally more well equipped for such things - not to mention more recently scrubbed!). Father begins rifling through overstuffed diaper bag for necessary equipment. Toddler stands up in highchair [looking horrified]. Father immediately motions frantically to mother to detain toddler. Mother misunderstands and tries to get toddler to sit back down. After brief, under-his-breath exchange with mother, father makes his point clear: toddler is covered - yes, covered! - in poop. Snowy white dress-up sweater, floral cordoroys and peach t-shirt - even socks. Mother scoops up toddler, trying to cover up poopy details with aforementioned white sweater so other patrons will not guess the purpose behind her sudden, high-speed flight to women's restroom with small child in tow. Upon realizing wet wipes are missing from aforementioned overstuffed diaper bag, mother spends 20 minutes extracting 6" segments of scratchy paper towels from the automated dispenser, while toddler attempts to smear poop all over restroom walls. After placing toddler in 5-point stance against stall wall, mother wets towels and begins her layer-at-a-time extraction of the toddler from poop-smeared garments. Briefly considers using abandoned snowy white fleece winter scarf that someone has left in the restroom as a make-do baby butt wipe [this was the low point] when toddler screams from scratched bottom. Thanks heaven and all that dwell in it that she remembered extra toddler outfit, and emerges from restroom with not a hair out of place and clean [moderately] toddler in tow. None of the patrons seem disturbed, nor has it apparently occurred to any of them to wonder why toddler took 20 minutes in restroom and emerged in new outfit.

This, my friends, is being saved through childbearing. For what other human would I drop my appealing dinner and run high-tail to the restroom to spend 20 minutes scrubbing dried on poop off of body and clothes, while placating, soothing, and singing to said poopy individual? God is teaching me piety in poop, serenity through sacrifice, love in laughter, joy on my knees in a cold, cramped bathroom as I laugh over the thought of using someone else's scarf on my child's poo-burnt bottom!

Lament & proclaim

A phone conversation with a friend reminded me today that some separations are worse than those in my life of late. Imagine being ideologically opposed to your dearest loved one, with hardly a hope for reconciliation and an eternal future of being torn apart. While I was in physical isolation from my family, we shared so much using other forms of communication. The cry of my heart was tempered, the long low, plaintive wail of a lone violin crying out in solo for a moment before being rejoined by the symphony. But those who are eternally destined for a different home than those they love...their soul doesn't cry or weep, but is rent in two, the relentless crescendo of a hurricane beating in on a lonely, evacuated shore of endless sorrow. My grief was a season and theirs a lifetime.

Imagine yourself standing in a boat on the Bering Sea. Your comrade is struggling in the surf, tossed overboard by a rogue wave of ice and sleet. At your feet is rope that has been blackened by the salt water, the ragged fray of the coil in your hand biting into your grip. You don't know where the rope ends, and whether or not it is actually anchored to anything on board. Would you hesitate to throw the lifeline to your friend, unsure whether it will hold his weight, or whether it will be long enough to reach him? Can you imagine his consternation if he were to watch you, contemplating all the unknowns about the rope you hold, while he sinks for the second and third time, struggling against the tide, his heavy gear inexorably pulling him under?

Christ is the rope. Many of my friends and loved ones are the drowning man. When I proclaim Christ to them, I do it completely and wholeheartedly out of love. Because I am on the ship forever, and will be willing, until I die, to toss the rope of salvation to anyone drowning who will reach their hand out to grasp it. During this season, it is foremost on my mind daily. Our culture has sold the idea that Christmas is a season of benign good cheer, and incessantly batters us with images of handshakes, group hugs, smiles, and comfort food...or worse, materialistic shopping, giving and gleeful shrieks over presents...neglecting the undeniable Christian Christmas imagery. Christmas is, after all, about Christ - and while modern Christianity has bought into the idea of inclusion, touting Christian love as mutually exclusive to Christian witness, Christianity is also a divisive and exclusive faith. I hear this in Christ's own words, He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. (Luke 11:23)

Speak Christ in love to those who listen...and perhaps those who will not...this Christmas. Pray, earnestly, for the salvation of lost souls. Let your heart swell with the hurricane of loss and love felt by those closest to them, let the waves of pain beat the shore as you beg for grace and a beseeching call to be spoken in their own heart this Christmas season.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
~ What Child is This

The cost of survival

One of the deep life lessons God is teaching me at a new level is that survival isn't free. And it isn't an end goal. Even those of us with strong faith so frequently lose sight of the end goal when living out our daily lives! I watched this as a nurse in the hospital, observing families in the pressure cooker of facing life and death with their children, walking up to the alter as Abraham did with Isaac. Many, many families walked the path to the alter praying incessantly and bitterly for healing, refusing to accept nothing less than completely restored health and happiness as proof of a loving God. Many, many families refused to embark on the path at all, holding desperately to life as they knew it in this mortal realm, refusing to believe the new facts they were presented with and persisting completely in denial. And a few remarkable families walked willingly to the alter, heads bowed, praying - as others did - for healing, but in submission, in full understanding that heaven is the goal of all life and death here on earth. Life itself is not worth fighting for. Heaven is worth fighting for.

So what, exactly, are we "surviving" for? An easier future? A healthy future? A future of happiness, surrounded by things and people you love? A future of material wealth? A future of renown or professional applaud? A future of contribution to the human race? A future of solitude, peace, spa moments, vacations, or enjoyment of nature? A future of substantial charitable contributions? Political success? Financial freedom? Debt-free living?

I want to fix my eyes on the goals of Scripture. I want to survive to pour myself out like a drink offering. I want to survive to fight. I want to survive to firmly hold my faith. I want to survive to yearn for and welcome His coming. I want to survive to endure more strict training. I want to survive to buffet and subdue my body and my mind. (I Corinthians 9 & II Timothy 4)

Well I've got God on my side
And I'm just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear's a dangerous thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust
~ Devils & Dust, Bruce Springsteen

Survival doesn't always even mean survival. If I fight only to survive, how will I feel in 10 years when I am diagnosed with a secondary cancer due to my radiation treatment? Like I've been cheated? I want to feel nothing but thankfulness and relief over the way I've run my race. Please pray for this little girl, who survived her first round and is now battling her way through a second.

Beautiful bruises



...created by God to love, learn and leave the crucible that is life on earth.

Every day is a bittersweet cup of sorrow and sweetness that we alone are beckoned to drink. No one can drink in our day for us. No one can do my work. No one else can feel my pain, nor my joy. It is the gift of each day from an infinitely loving and merciful Savior who has intimately planned each detail of each moment for my pleasure, growth, experience. I may not understand the intricacies. I may not appreciate bearing my crosses. I may at times rail at the work at hand. And yet, at the close of each day, in the peace of the late, coal black night hours, I see the stars glistening down on me as I stand on the land God gave me with the legs He gave me, and the crushing magnitude of His blessings crash over me in white, anguishing, turbulent surf. I am His and this is all for Him. How little my sufferings of today are compared to His bearing of my sin on the cross!

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

~ Sweetly Broken, Jeremy Riddle


Don't assume it is passive
or easy, this clarity
With which I give you yourself.
Consider what restraint it

Takes: breath withheld, no anger
Or joy disturbing the surface.
Of the ice.
You are suspended in me

Beautiful and frozen, I
Preserve you, in me you are safe.
~Mirrors III, Margaret Atwood

I suppose it is a shock to every cancer patient when their physical appearance begins to change because of their treatment. I naively assumed that, because of the specificity of my treatment, I would have no long-term appearance changes. I am grateful I am not losing my hair - although I have always wanted to try out the Sinead O'Connor look! - but the other changes are annoying, regardless. I knew, objectively, that going off thyroid replacement and taking radiation to kill off the remainder of my functioning thyroid would rapidly speed the aging process. But it is rather a shock to go to bed 29 years old and wake up much older! My hair is coming in white, at least in one area of my head. I may end up with a completely white head of hair at the end of this! Wouldn't that be something [insert look of horror here]. I also patted my own back for my victory over the weight gain that I was told would be part and parcel of this process - I gained not one pound while my metabolism shut down, which is a testament to the power of the "growling belly system" for weight control. However, my body shape has changed, which is really disappointing to me.

In the midst of this sudden aging, I lean on the unconditional love expressed by my husband and children. It is amazing to me to look into Aaron's eyes and realize there is genuine love there for me, undeserved, treasured. To laugh with my son and realize he cares not a wit about what I look like, only that I am present and that I love him. I know that God, certainly, cares for me regardless of how my appearance changes. Yet I also cannot dispute that He cares immensely about how things look. I sit in my kitchen writing this, and a cascade of swirling snowflakes is falling between the rising morning sun and I. Even from my window, I can see the tiny crystal structure of the flakes catching the sunlight like tiny pieces of frosted glass. The sun is a pale yellow this morning, uncertain yet if it is flavescent or albicant. The cottonwood tree waves her bare branches like old arms toward the cold moon setting, and the pine stands still as a sentinel in the windless dawn. The grasses on the hillside have turned rusty brown, and collect the snowflakes like so many pieces of jewelry to adorn their dry stalks. The world of my morning was so obviously made and set in motion by a God who cares about beauty. The question is: what does He find beautiful in me?

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. ~ I Peter 3:3-6

So I sit, quietly, and watch the unfading and ever-changing beauty of God's creation swirl past my window. Breathing in the cold morning air and delighting in the hot cup of coffee He provided, brewed by the patient, loving hands of my husband. Delight in being home, this beloved yellow house filled with all it's beloved noises and seasons. Enjoy the holidays. I've heard that phrase a million times, and I finally understand what it means. It means savoring, absorbing, revelling in the little common and wonderful things, reflecting on the miracle of Christ's sacrificial birth. Putting on the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Stilling the waters of my soul in the beautiful dawn.