Degradation of the spiritual

...oh, yes. And don't you love how all my high-minded spirituality has suddenly taken a turn for the inane and humorous in the aftermath of Thursday's giddy news?

Inspection report on tan matter

Aaron has inspected the pillowcase - which I surreptitiously saved for exactly such purpose. His first vote, after a detailed visual analysis, was poop. But upon bending it to reveal a little pocket of moister material at the center of the mass, he changed his vote to undigested food of unknown origin.

All I can say is - EWWW!

Promised bit of hilarity

Now seems as good a time as ever, in this season of celebration! One of the most disturbing side effects (yes, worse than exponential weight gain, bloating, endless fatigue, poor eyesight, wet cough, night sweats, cold intolerance, brain fog, and dizziness) of the radiation and hypothyroidism is the complete lack of sense of smell or taste. It is particularly disturbing as I go about daily tasks as a mother - changing diapers by the clock since I can't smell poop, eating by the clock since I can't taste, and cooking "blind" with no ability to tell if what's in the pot has any flavor at all - or is even perhaps rotten??!!

This all came to a forefront this afternoon as I picked Caleb up from his nap. There was a mass of light tan matter gluing my pillow case to itself. After a sniff, and a brief touch, I concluded that the said mass was most likely either vomit or poop. NO idea which! No sign of missing poop in the diaper. No sign of puke on the kid's face. Realizing it was pretty dried on didn't help my investigation much - just made me a little sick knowing I probably slept on said mass of tan matter for at least one night. Ewww! This is, perhaps, one mystery I do not wish to solve!

I will spare you the photos I was oh, so tempted to take!

Look, ma, my robe isn't even scorched!

The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!"

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!" (Daniel 3:22-28)

I understand this story in a more personal way than ever before. What do you think the mindset of these men was as they approached the furnace, so hot that the flames killed their escorts before they even reached the edge? I doubt it was complete, unwavering faith in their deliverance! Why would God, who also receives glory when His faithful followers die rather than renounce Him, choose to save these three men? I imagine they walked into the flames saying a prayer for courage as they faced certain, painful death...and a quick reunion with their friends and family in heaven! And so I faced cancer. Not certain death, but certain uncertainty. I faced it with the possibility that God would take me from a young family, that I and these dear children and rock of a husband would be living proof that you can serve God through sorrow and worship Him in your deepest pit of distress.

Now I have emerged from the other side of my personal furnace. I walked through the furnace accompanied by an angel. I felt the love of God poured out on my life in a new way. I prayed for courage...and what I received - at least for the moment - is healing and protection. The fire didn't harm my body, didn't scorch my robe, and there is no smell of smoke on me. Negative labs. Unheard of. To go from positive for cancer to absolutely no sign of cancer using only a minimal dose of the required treatment. Facing vascular invasion, potential distant metastases, positive antibodies and thyroglobulin levels to...nothing. To be the one who is rescued!

And how do I look into the faces of dear friends and loved ones who are not be rescued, but rather are joining...or have already joined...the martyrs of old? How do I continue to minister to those who fight and lose, when God chose to heal me? New questions emerge where old ones have finally received an answer. I love that - and find it frustrating, all at once. The Christian walk is never to a destination - not an earthly one. It is a winding path fraught with difficulty, side by side with unexpected beauty. Once again, I've rounded an unexpected curve, only to find just a short stretch of the path visible in front of me. No long straight stretches to spin my wheels on. This trial, if I am to use it best, still requires careful navigation. Let me not fall victim to a prosperity gospel that preaches constant and instantaneous deliverance. Let me not see healing as overly causal.

Above all, let me find the best way, in this, too, to give Him all the glory, and all the honor and all the praise.

when I think about the Lord
how He saved, how He raised me
how He filled me with the Holy Ghost
how He healed me to the uttermost
when I think about the Lord
how He picked me up
turned me around
how He set my feet
on solid ground

it makes me want to shout
hallelujah! thank you, Jesus!
Lord, you're worthy
of all the glory, and all the honor
and all the praise!
Hallelujah! thank you, Jesus!
Lord, you're worthy
of all the glory, and all the honor
and all the praise!
(Ephesians 2:4-7, II Corinthians 5:17)
When I Think About the Lord, James Huey

Making me understand

"He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, "O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy, a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved..." ~ Daniel 9:22-23

Just think! At the beginning of this trial, at the beginning of last April, a year ago, a word went out: "Yes, I will cure Genevieve's cancer. She will have a clean scan next March." I walked through a fog of humanness all year long. A year of growth, and pleading, and laying myself down. But at the beginning of my pleas for mercy, a word went out, for I am greatly loved. I need to remember this, deep inside of myself: the word has already gone out. I plead with my Savior, yes. That is the element of action in free will that He desires from me. Yet He has known each hair on my head intimately since before I was conceived. He sees now all the way through to the end of my days here, and His glorious reunion with His child in heaven.

But I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
When the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away,
Oh, oh the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away
Oh the mother and child reu-nion
Is only a moment away
~ Paul Simon, Mother & Child Reunion


You dance over me while I am unaware
You sing all around but I never hear the sound

Lord I'm amazed by You
how You love me

You paint the morning sky with miracles in mind
My hope will always stand, for You hold me in Your hand

How deep, how wide, how great is Your love for me
~ Amazed, Jared Anderson/Desperation

When Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
"Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea."
~ Exodus 15:19-21

The day before I left to receive my scan dose of radioactive I-131, I read the girls the story of David defeating Goliath. At the end of the story, all the maidens of Israel ran out into the streets, with tambourines, to dance and praise God for David's victory, and danced through the troops of young men returning from battle. Being very like my eldest, Katrina, I found this image rather disturbing and decidedly "un-Christian" to imagine. But as I watched the raptured awe develop in Rosalie and Amelia's eyes, I prayed that God would light a spirit of dancing in all of us. That we would be a family of women who dance for His victories. And what an immediate and unequivocal answer He gave to that prayer! Never before has His love swayed me so in an almost physical sense. I feel as though I have been loosed from a lifetime of boundaries and fear, all in one fell swoop. I pray the dancing spirit that has taken hold of me in the past 48 hours will be mine forever, that I will be a dancing Mama to these dancing girls He gave me.

*Thank you, Grandma Debra, for the beautiful photos of my little Degas dancers!

New growth on old branches

My days have been the giant evaporator, boiling down my sap to a pleasant sweet finish today. My scan is clean. My lab tests wonderfully, miraculously, are undetectable! The oncologist said this almost never happens. That I should have low values for that particular lab test, but never undetectable.

For the first time since last June, unbridled joy. Unchecked celebration. Awe-struck, falling on our knees in praise. Why would God do this - for us? Why this sudden mercy?

On Saturday, back to my nest of babies. News doors flying open in front of our family. I can nurse again. I could cuddle a new baby. I can sing, and dance. I don't need another scan until December, and this time it will be much less invasive, with no hormone withdrawal beforehand. The sweet bliss as I resume old duties and contemplate new ones. Striving to remember all these lessons, integrate them into the very fiber of my being so that I am never, ever the same.

Still three years until I am in remission. But I can say, assuredly, that I have no active cancer now. Sweet Savior who bends His knee to tend to me! What a privilege to walk my road today, dumbfounded. Speechless. Opening up like a crocus to the first promising warm breeze of spring. I have walked through my winter and now I will revel in the thaw.

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

~ Psalm 57

A different path

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

There isn't much that is clear about my situation. At least, that's how I often feel as I muddle through the haze of days of hypothyroidism, medication withdrawal, myriad decisions about which diet to follow, and which set of recommendations regarding radiation precautions post-scan dose and post-treatment dose. What I know is this: I have a rare variant form of thyroid cancer that requires different follow-up and treatment than the more "standard" (papillary or follicular) varieties. I know that I will be having frequent scans over the next 3-5 years. I know that I am at high risk for recurrence, and those 3-5 years may stretch into 20 years of careful treatment and follow-up. I also know that I have 4 small children at home, 5 and under, none of whom understand the concept of 3 feet from Mama, nor what it means when they suddenly can't cosleep with me after years of open access to my bed and bedroom. I know I am in close proximity to my children more (perhaps up to 20-some hours a day more!) than a mother who makes different choices, such as working outside the home or sleeping in a different room than her children. I know I would have difficulty not licking their spoons, or holding them in my arms, or kissing them goodnight - even though I am mature enough to understand the 3 foot rule and how radiation is transmitted through my saliva and sweat! I know that I must carefully weigh not only the physical impact of my decisions, but also the emotional and psychological impact. My children need to trust me when I say I am coming home. They need to trust that I will not leave again as soon as I get home. So I stay away - perhaps longer than necessary - to avoid a second separation. Why put them through that, when they are going through so much already? Why ask them not to hug me when I am home, when that is the deepest urge in their little beings?

We all have a different path to trod. Why does mine include cancer? Why does my particular nuclear medicine physician suggest very strict precautions for me when his colleague might suggest very different precautions for the next patient? I don't know, no more than I understand why God blessed me with beautiful children or the ability to be a stay-at-home mom.

Doubts enter in whenever we let them, don't they? Satan is always ready with self-doubt proferred, whenever we are least ready. I must stand firm on what I do know, and shut my ears and eyes to the doubts that plague me and the questions I can't answer. I recorded a hymn for my children to listen to today, and it captures the resolve of my heart perfectly.

All the way my Saviour leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
~ Fanny J. Crosby, All the Way My Savior Leads Me


Love, the blind importunate,
Craves touch and sight;
Briefly parting, feels and fears
Eternal night.

Fear is sweeping on the wind
Like acrid foam.
I have said farewell to peace
Till he comes home.

~ Isabella Holt, Lament, 1892
I am sleeping just over the hill, in the cedar house of my teen years, a thin line of ever-bearing red oaks all that separates me from the familiar yellow form of my very own, dream-come-true farmhouse. A farmhouse full tonight of the sounds of my children sleeping - four little voices sighing breaths, the flop of limbs across each other, the midnight wakings in search of a "Nuksy" (Amelia's pacifier) or a "ahhh-bah" (Caleb's bottle). I will sleep soundly tonight. I will never move from the position I first rest in.

Such an empty feeling, to be away against one's will. To surrender hearth and home to others sweet watchful eyes. To be so suddenly relieved of duty and of pleasant purpose. My days pass swiftly in other pursuits abandoned for years as I tend to wee ones: connections with old friends dusted off and renewed with one single long conversation over lunch plates; phone calls uninterrupted; e-mails promptly answered. The longing of my heart, though, is to be home. How earnestly I am praying that my scan will show nothing! That I will be home on Saturday, lamenting the brevity of my "vacation".

A 2nd round of fog

"He can practice the discipline of unshakable faith as he dances in step to a melody that is currently out of earshot, or he can close his ears to the possibility of ever hearing the music." (Carol Kent, When I Lay My Isaac Down)

Twelve hours away from home. Exhaustion hovers over me like a loose shroud, the molecules of my mind pounding like surf one against another, in constant motion as if to escape the inevitable reality that must hit. This day brought back recollections of the Indian summer, beetle-buzzing afternoon nap I unexpectedly took. My late November gift from God. My dose of radioactive I-131 didn't come on the morning shipment and I received a phone call just before leaving my children: "Don't come for a few hours." So we fiddled around town with Grandma Debra until 4 p.m., treating ourselves to a few things at an unfamiliar store, hugging the baby. Holding hands with my girls as we meandered down aisles.

We can hug our hurts and make a shrine out of our sorrows or we can offer them to God as a sacrifice of praise. The choice is ours. (Richard Exley)

Back to the clinic. A dozen hugs, a few tears. After days of sobbing at bedtime, I was expecting drama from all sides when I left today. None. Just a prolonged, rather joyful goodbye. Processing done ahead of time in Mama's arms, I suspect. I walked through the doors, feeling as if doing so began a 15-minute metamorphosis from living human heart to petrified wood beating coarsely in my chest. Rocky. Wooden. Unresponsive. Frozen in time, waiting for reality to become unhinged or unsuspended, one of the two. Followed the nurse back. Spoke with the nuclear medicine doctor. Swallowed Alice's little blue pill once more. Fell back down a (more familiar, this time) rabbit hole.

The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in. (Philip Yancey)

Back in my car. No sense of taste, except a brief metallic burn. Two boils sprang up on the tip of my tongue within a half hour. At first I wondered if I was imagining things. Smell gone. Eyesight magically, and immediately, changed. The world is sterile again, like a desaturated photo. I never knew how much I smelled until most of my senses left me like chaff in the breeze. The end of a gray day: laughter with family, crude jokes, a meal with lots of nice textures (and no iodine).

Now the real waiting begins. What does Thursday hold? Distant spread of cancer? A little left, another treatment needed? Or those golden words: "clean scan" - a get-out-of-jail early token, and off I go, home by Sunday. Prayers, please!

Committing the truth through omission

Wrapping gifts for my children. 19 gifts. 4 children. Lots of wrapping. I wrote out the tags in advance for each child, swollen fingers dull to the task. My penmanship is clubbed, blocky. On day +17, the tag for my baby boy reads: "To Cal. Love Mama." No comma. Not "Love from Mama", which is what I *meant* to say. But - "please love me"! Which is the desperate cry of my heart.

Have you ever wounded your baby? Looked deep in their eyes and known that your tone, or your brusque brushing off of their need for you at that moment, or your delay in picking them up to snuggle has just wounded them? Have you heard the bricks of that bridge of trust crashing into the river of their soul? Ever wondered if the bridge will ever be rebuilt, or if a moment of opportunity is lost forever in a sea of wounds they will suffer at the hands of those they love for their 80 mortal years?

I fear that. I know that look, in small ways, from the myriad ways I hurt my children - with and without meaning to - on a daily basis. What I fear now is that my relationship with this tender shoot of young boyhood will be forever changed - even perhaps maimed - by our separation. That closeness will never be regained. That I will come home to a son who does not wish to cling to my shirt necks and stroke my neck skin, bury his hand in the fold between shoulder and chin as we sleep. Please don't reassure me. I know it is entirely possible that he won't hardly notice I'm gone. But the fear whispering around the edges of each task of my day is that he will notice.

That he'll notice forever.

Lord, protect my baby boy. Protect my heart as I leave him. Please let us love in a way deeper and stronger than we do now. That absence will indeed make the heart grow fonder. Don't let this cancer grow like the noxious weed it can be. Don't let it seep in between him and I. I can't bear the pain. I love him. I love you. Amen.

Amelia update

Amelia is better. She kept down some supper and actually had enough energy at bedtime to get in trouble for jumping on her bed! It was "just" a regular flu bug this time instead of the uber-flu she had last time. Thank you, God - thank you, fellow prayer warriors! Now pray that I don't get it and vomit up radiation all over the place on Monday!

Schedule for scan/treatment #2

Here is what I know about my upcoming cancer scan and possible treatment:

Monday, March 23, 2 p.m. Scan dose (7 millicuries) of I-131
Wednesday, March 25, 2 p.m. Uptake scan (1 hour)
Thursday, March 26 Appointment to determine scan results
Friday, March 27 Treatment (100 millicuries) if necessary
March 27-30 Total isolation if treatment
Saturday, March 28 Home if no treatment necessary
Friday, April 10 Home if treatment is necessary

Hanging on...

Amelia improved this morning after a long nap. She has better energy and has kept some fluids down, although her fever remains high. We are waiting to see how she fares through the evening, which was her worst time during the last illness. If it is the same thing, we expect she'll get worse this evening, in which case we'll head to the ER.

Thanks for all your prayers. They mean so much to us. Normally it wouldn't be so scary on the first day of a child's illness - but remembering the last week-long saga has me shaking in my boots as I am in the final stages of preparing to leave.

Urgent intercessory prayer needed

Intercession: 1. prayer, petition, or entreaty in favor of another (Merriam-Webster)

Amelia is ill again, and I am headed to the ER with her in a few minutes. Same onset as her last illness, vomiting even sips of liquids, high fever of 104 persistent regardless of anti-fever medication, listlessness, altered balance, altered level of consciousness, and puffy, pus-laden eyes. Please pray that they will intervene right away this time, put her on the powerful IV antibiotics so she is on the mend by the time I leave on Monday. I had a vision this morning - one of those awful, almost-makes-you-scream motherly flash-forwards, where I saw her fading away in the hospital while I was forced to remain away because of some stupid cancer diagnostic that could have been postponed. I am not saying this will happen, but it is of course the worst case scenario my mother-heart quickly jumped to.

1. Pray she gets the treatment she needs right away
2. Pray that she will be visibly improved by tomorrow morning
3. Pray for wisdom as we approach the scan dose on Monday
4. Pray for peace of heart for me as I deal with the newest layer or level of my trial

Thank you all!
Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; Thank God in everything - no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks - for this is the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]. (I Thessalonians 5:17-18 Amp)

Gen + 7

...every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. ~Philippians 4:12b-13

I am spending the day with two delightful little girls whose mother is serving orphans in Haiti this week. And Susan Fern. A long day with seven children, 5 and under. It is a good reminder that, no, on an average day with my four children, I am not yet operating at maximum capacity. That there is a reserve in me that I haven't yet tapped. And then the endless reserve of grace and strength my Father offers!

In my current state of physical and emotional exhaustion, I have thought a lot about "needs" and "wants". What do I really need, in terms of rest, relaxation, food, drink? And what is either built into my routine, or desired to fill the empty spaces that should be filled with other things - work, relationships, Christ, joy, prayer... My baby boy needs his mama in ever-increasing ways as we near another separation. I thought perhaps I was just being overly romantic to think so. But after testing it, I know my intuition is right. He knows something big is on his horizon and he has shifted entirely into sponge mode...soaking up every last bit of touch and affection and attention I will mete out. I have spent the better part of every night this week satisfying that need when I want to be sleeping. Have I disintegrated into a gelatinous mass of nerves unable to cope with the stresses of life? Has my body or mind wasted away or lost it's sharpness? No! Resoundingly and surprisingly no. I can be hypothyroid and exist on 2-3 hours of sleep. I can excel at schoolwork and housework and childcare with little physical rest.

I used to own a shirt that had my feelings screen-printed on the back: You can sleep when you're dead (Caribou Coffee). While I recognize that sleep is restorative, I also believe more and more that our perceptions of what is needed are skewed by an overly selfish society that does not believe in laying down one's life for others. Do I believe that I may be literally laying down my life - that cancer may be a product of not enough rest combined with sub-standard nutrition in these hectic years of early motherhood? No, I don't. I believe the human body has a wealth of reserves that we, in modern society, rarely tap. In generations past, I would have spent 16 hours per day on my feet, building fires, cleaning, sowing and reaping, tending animals and children alike, while devoting any spare time I had to creative homemaking such as needlework, sewing, candle-making, preserving food, painting or drawing, creating my own music, and teaching my own children everything they needed to know to survive in exactly the same way I was surviving. In a land of automated living...appliances, electricity, alternative heat sources, hermetically sealed homes, and off-the-shelf food sources...what work I do today compares so little to that of my forebears. My great-great-grandmother would have birthed these seven children, risking death with each delivery, and resumed her household chores a few days later, without batting an eyelash!

So here I am. 3 hours of sleep. Seven children to tend. Schoolwork to do. Writing a journal entry, nonetheless!

I've always feared my loneliness,
but now I find in my abyss....
This quiet assurance,
Your simple endurace,
This peace everlasting,
This calm in the eye of the storm.
~ "The Calm", a song I wrote in 2001

Stretching toward blue skies

It is easy to feel barren instead of full. Sodden instead of saturated. Wasted instead of well-used. Abandoned instead of alone with God. Irritated instead of thankful. Cloistered instead of protected.

These are hard days, these "rubber meets the road"days when faith is put to big tests and there are no easy moments or choices. I stretch my aching arms towards heaven and give thanks, mindfully, sentient, in spite of all (because of all). Who am I to curse the whirling wheel or despair of the clay of which this pot of mine is made? I look forward to days, after this current firing in the kiln, when I will know what the Potter is making. I will see it's purpose. Today I trust and I flip the negative thoughts and feelings on their heads like coins flat on a smooth sidewalk. I am still flat on the sidewalk, trampled on. But I choose heads up instead of tails turned.

You're the strength in our weakness
You're the love to the broken
You're the joy in the sadness
You Are

Greater things have yet to come
Great things are still to be done...
Where glory shines from hearts alive
With praise for you and love for you

~ In This City, Bluetree

Another kind of pearl

It is the million little things God does for me along the way that whisper of a love and tenderness too deep and precious for me to comprehend. Our friendship, this love between Creator and creation, is not a single moment of epiphany, but a long string of small pearls that I save and treasure. Woven on the strand of my ordinary days.

"Friendship isn't a big thing - it's a million little things."

I remember the day my aunt found the first tiny sharp edge, like a grain of rice, budding out of Katrina's gums. It is a visceral memory, one of those that wrenches you to the delightful yet jarring realization that your baby won't stay a baby for very long. For a week now, that very same tooth has been wiggled and waggled. I prayed all week that it would fall out before I leave for my scan. It is one of the hardest parts of these leave-takings - the fear that I will miss something big, a first something. Today, after I persuaded Katy to let me tie a string around the tooth so she could wiggle and waggle more effectively, the tooth fell out, painlessly and anticlimactically. And I praised God once again for small, tender mercies as I walk this stony path.

Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.

~ Psalm 139:16-18

My picket fence

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
~Deuteronomy 6:6-9

I remember using this verse to defend my use my palm as highly portable notepad to my mother one day, when I was a teenager. Now, set to the little song she made up for the words, it is a constant refrain as I make a fence of Scripture around the harried, anxious, and miserable thoughts that plague these days...these sun-laden, earth-waking, wind-whipped and fragrant days of early spring that burst at the seams with joy, yet are filled with the pall of upcoming separation from everything I hold dear. The children and I are memorizing a verse a week for a memory challenge in church, hoping that we - all three, Rosy, Katy and I - can earn our certificates together in April. The only problem is, I feel as though I have constructed a picket fence that those malicious, pesky thoughts, with their wit and wile, can jump, climb through, or break down. I am the proverbial little pig in the stick house. What I want is bricks! What I want is a stone wall like those in the great mythical city of Minas Tirith, a city built into a hill with a million bricks to buttress the fortress against all foes.

May the piece I add tomorrow be a brick, by the grace of God, not a wooden picket.

The road so far

I've been walking the cancer road for 9 months now. The time it would take to grow a healthy baby in my womb. Along the way, I've begun to recognize a peculiar ebb and flow: tension and anxiety, followed by a season of peace and tranquility and yet ravenous consumption of every minute blessing in my life unlike seasons that have ever gone before.

Diagnosis: stress and heartache, fear. I felt like I was standing in front of a full-length mirror for the first time in a decade. Scrutinizing myself, and particularly my soul. Unprepared for what I saw in my reflection, but gritting my teeth and examining it nonetheless.

After surgery: descending into a new reality. Coming to grips with a different life and molding new expectations. Turning my back on the past and embracing the future, it's myriad delights and sorrows. Feeling the gut-wrenching bitter and the mouth-tingling sweet that is watching a life fly by in a series of moments I wish I could bottle up and live in forever. Thinking about tomorrow...but yet never thinking about 3 months from now. I packed my full-length mirror away.

Treatment: My hands pierced the icy water of the deep end of this pool of suffering as I cleaved the water's surface, a fearless and determined dart of humanity diving head first and headlong into whatever lies below the surface. I kicked my legs furiously and reached the bottom. I laid there, in the deep, feeling the burn of my lungs echoing the cry of my heart. Memorizing the grains of gravel that etched my back and scarred me forever.

Home again: in a bubble of release, the pressure in my chest just shy of explosion, my face broke the surface, following my hands as I emerged from the dark deep to feel the sun on my face again. Delight, awe, gratitude, rediscovery, regrowth. I didn't look below the surface for a long time. I reveled in denial. I put on optimism like a familiar cloak, not even pausing to examine it's threads.

Next scan: I stood on the diving board for long moments as the clock ticked audibly beside me. I knew the depths. I remember the gravel in the bottom. I remember the darkness. I don't want to return. I walk away, and revel in denial for a few more days.

Preparations unmade, days uncharted. It stretches before me like the abyss it of it known, previously discovered; yet it's length and breadth unknowable. I teeter on the edge and plan about planning. But the details elude me. I revel instead in companions, friends, family, sights, sounds, smells, experiences. Real life, not details of a life yet to be lived. I don't want to live it. It's almost as if I believe that it won't come to pass if I don't turn to face it.

So this week, I turn to face it. I consider what I must lose; I problem-solve so that I lose least, and gain something. (Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ~Matt. 10:38-39) I go on the strict diet, I make all the logistical plans, I cook ahead for my family, I wrap gifts for each of the 19 days I may be gone this time around, for each child. In every act of preparation, I have that old familiar choice: to grit my teeth and survive; or to find a way to cherish and believe and grow because of the pain I am facing, knowing.

This verse has played in my head all day: From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. (John 1:16)

And this song, which has become an anthem for this season in my life:

Evermore my heart, my heart will say
Above all, I live for Your glory
Even if my world falls I will say
Above all, I live for Your glory

~ Hillsong, Evermore

Finding freedom the old-fashioned way

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is a truth I have long known: to forget your suffering most completely, easily, and effortlessly, focus outward. Help someone else, be in the moment with someone who has a need you can fill. Be the hands and feet of love. Giving yields joy exponentially greater than the work you put into the equation. Today I loved. Today I forgot to suffer.

From my kitchen soffet - and Galatians 6: And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

A visual feast

A photographer friend of mine once told me the reason she loves to take photos in natural surroundings is that it allows families to discover the romance in their own lives. By way of brightening my mood, I browsed the house for a daily dose of beauty yesterday while the children slept.

Antique children's folding table and Aaron's childhood chairs
against my favorite yellow wall in afternoon sun.

120-year-old nickel hardware on thrifted butler's pantry.
Still shows charcoal dust.

Grandma Fern's funeral rose whirls from a pendant light over the island,
spinning there nearly a year later.

Silver-plated copper teakettle spout. Thrifted for Moroccan dinner,
now happily at home on my white enamel stove.

Travel finds: pussywillows from Pacific ocean beach in Washington.
Green fingerprint pot found in a potting shed outside Nashville.
Saw palmetto branch picked up on a quiet cobblestone street in Charleston.
Red clay pot from Aaron's professor in college.

French curves on French blue.
Mirror in my bathroom draws lines of the oak door in it's reflection.

Mission accomplished. I see the romance again.


It is my favorite time of day. The girls are shuttled upstairs to quietly watch Clifford, and this baby/child and I cuddle in under the down comforter to watch the lemon light filter through the forest. The colors have changed already from early morning, hues of gray giving way to the tawny rust and umber of the oak leaves and the chartreuse of the spring pines. The world looks frozen in time this morning - no rustle in the leaves - and the coldness of the air visible in the crispness and stillness of the woods. Intricate veins of sharp white drawn on every leaf-edge by Jack Frost with his ice pen last night. Inside, we are surrounded by the instant comfort of the blankets, the billowing of warm air as the little one wiggles in delight over his morning bottle. Communion of warm milk and warm toes. I stroke the velvet of his chubby cheek, feel the fine spun gold of his hair slipping under my swollen palm. Note - and love - the almost Hasidic curls just in front of his pink ears.

Physical memory is difficult to ignore. My body is different every morning, more changes visible of the physical onslaught of this preparation process. My hands and feet are swollen and club-like; my hair is dry and falling out, my nails a cloudy white, and my knuckles covered with callouses; so tired raising myself out of bed in the morning makes me nauseous. I remember this. I don't want to do it again. Such a series of losses, this cancer. This time around, it is the loss of one more piece of me - my parathyroid glands - that I mourn; and the loss of the innocence. No longer can I pretend that I will float through this this trial like a duck's webbed feet just skimming the mirror of the water, a faint ripple left in a V all that heralds her presence.

Looking in on myself, I realize that I am depressed this time around. I see the grayness of my spirit, and though I paint all day long with a million bright colors of joy and satisfaction, the gray seeps through like the newspaper canvas of my 2-year-old. You can't cover up ink with different ink. So I take the gray and lay it at my Father's feet. Ask Him to brighten my spirit's newsprint with a few color photos. And take it away for what it is. Just as I am, without one plea. I know more watercolor days are coming again in April.

One misty, moisty morning

My mother used to sing us a little esoteric nursery rhyme on days like today:

One misty, moisty morning,
when cloudy was the weather;
I chanced to meet an old man, dressed all in leather;
He began to compliment,
and I began to grin,
"How do you do?
How do you do? How do you do?" again.

Today is that misty, moisty morning. The warm sun gave way to sheets of frozen rain drilling holes in the remaining snowbed, the sizzle heard from inside the warm kitchen nook. The cottonwood and the pine, my favorite trees, are married up in the hazy cold, arms entwined, stallwart survivors of a 100 winters past.

I think the whole family has been feeling a little misty, moisty and gray. The lingerings of our bad cold plague all of us, and the weather isn't helping much. While I feel bleary eyed and stiff this morning, my girls are blithe and limpid in the face of headaches and sore eyes. What a difference thirty years make!

Nothing says "you're special" like...

...a heart-shaped pancake smothered in home-made maple syrup on the Bluebird of Happiness plate on the morning of your 4th birthday! This visual dose of daily joy begged to be shared.

The house, belying the beautiful breakfast, is a disaster. Yesterday, as a sense of normalcy began to seep back into the edges of my aching body, I looked around at the left-overs of the clean house I had possession of just two days prior. Two days in bed for Mama means lots of work for everyone else. Dishes dirty, floor covered in the baby's crumbs (and chunks), loads of laundry unattended, toys scattered, and - thanks to the warm spell - Asian beetle shells littering the window sills. In the midst of this, the baby sat laughing next to his father, reading a board book. The girls were off playing cheerfully in their messy bedroom, unpacking box after box of doll clothes in search of the right outfit for whatever occasion they were collectively imagining. Dear husband, seemingly oblivious to the chaos, sat on the edge of the couch, strumming the new strings he had placed on his guitar a day earlier.

I need to copy the page from their minds that allows rest in disarray, unlikely joy bursting through untidiness. That doesn't come easy to my female brain...or is it the cultural norms I have allowed myself to absorb? For certainly I remember the homes of those with little ones, messy, chaotic, sticky floors, dirty dishes, mounds of laundry and all. Even dirty bathrooms! Those were homes were I spent my happiest hours as a child. Why the sudden urge to bleach the entire interior shell of my dwelling place when it reaches this level of disaster?

So I am leaving the crumbs, the dishes, and the laundry. Closing the computer, and going to the couch for a much-needed nap. The mess will still be there when I wake up - and I might tend to it then!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." (Luke 12:22-31)

And no, I don't think my house will be clean just because I am smiling as I walk away from the mess! A good friend gave me a kitchen towel that captures my attitude about the whole issue quite well: "God blesses this kitchen, He doesn't clean it!"

Spring has sprung

Here in the Midwest, we watched last night as fog rolled in and cocooned our house in silence and solitude. Today the sun came out from behind the clouds around noon, and the great melt-off has begun. Katy said, with awe in her voice, "Look, Rosy! Grass! Can you believe it?!" The children happily made boats out of sleds in the puddle and played until they were nearly frostbitten.

I found myself turning face to warmth, closing my eyes from the pain and beauty of it's intensity. Praying it is a harbinger of a spring to come soon in my body. That the long winter may be over for a season. That the ice of fear and hopelessness would melt before the warmth of the sun this summer.

"Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth." ~ Hosea 6:3

Furled up

I am a flag on a still night; the dead oak leaves, curled and rusty, whose deafening rustle penetrates my storm windows on winter nights; a fern in the sweltering sun. Curled up; spent; exhausted; brittle and small. This latest illness has completely tapped whatever reserve I have left after a winter of rampant sickness in our home. I found myself deep in a "pity party" last night, blaming my current illness on cancer and my subsequent lack of functional lymph nodes, which mobilize the immune system. I have four left up under my ears, and they are the size of half-dollars, working so hard to make up for the team they've lost. My dear husband stayed home to tend hearth and humanity yesterday, and I spent the majority of the day in bed. It is never my wish to do so, as I know there will be a mountain to do the next day, feeling better or not, if I leave my work for 24 hours. This was no exception...and it dawned on me in the evening that I had fallen far behind on schoolwork. So, aching and arthritic, I dragged myself upstairs to spend two hours studying. In doing so, found an article in a medical journal that snapped my bad attitude back into a right perspective. There is so much deeper suffering happening all over this country, every day. Shame, shame for lamenting a few lost lymph nodes and bad head cold!

So, that is cleared up. As usual, I have no right to feel sorry for myself - and why waste time doing it, whether or not I'm in the right? That being said, I am left with the very visceral, physical, real truth that I am less now than I was last March: 8 lymph nodes and 2 parathyroid glands less, not to mention the dear, butterfly-shaped thyroid gland whose presence I miss daily! The latest pathology report from the University of Chicago showed that there were 2 parathyroid glands in the section of thyroid removed. This was news. Previous pathologists did not find them. This would explain my difficulty regulating calcium since the surgery, and confirms that I need to be on daily calcium supplementation. To learn more about the parathyroid glands, click here.

Brushing past

These musings have been rumbling in an unspoken corner of my mind for weeks, ever since I took these photos in my backyard after a February blizzard. How like the fingers of a woman, these branches. Buds of maroon fertility sit like painted nails on the fingertips of these branches, heralding the coming of spring, the warming of the earth and running of the sap for maple syrup. Hands outstretched, this little sapling offers me her gift, crystalline collection of heavy snow. Frigid offering. I snap that photo, and brush past in a hurry to the next one. Turning back, I notice her empty fingers. Offering spent, gift brushed aside. A moment of callous oblivion from my shoulder, and she holds that hand outstretched, barren.

This image has stayed with me. In conversation last night, I probed too deep in a friend's confusion. Oblivious, self-centered, wanting to win an argument or at least expose uncertainty. Brushing past without paying attention. Friendship can shrivel so quickly, relationship falter, love evaporate.

When I see hands full, outstretched to me, I pray I notice. I pray I pause. How then to fulfill that Proverb, as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (27:17)? How to sharpen each other without scarring each other, to be authentic, and truth-filled, yet not harsh and uncompromising? To put one of Jesus' last edicts into action, Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35) I want to be motivated by love, expressing love.

When I go, let me not be the woman that brushes past the tree and never sees the gift. Let me be remembered as a woman who loved.

Holding hands

Today was a gray day, and perhaps that's why I feel so tired. Amy's hands are always in mine if my hands are available. She likes to hold the web between my thumb and forefinger. This is her ultimate comfort. This particular photo was taken the night she developed haemophilus B influenza and became so ill. I was looking through photos today, and this captured how I feel. Secure, comforted, but not myself.

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, 'Destroy him!' So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob's spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. ~ Deuteronomy 33:26-28

First tracks

Aaron and I made a habit of tallying first tracks from the earliest days of our friendship. Those early days were cold, dark ones. Huddled together, reporting the events of a child's day in terms of intake and output, medication boluses, infection, test results, statistics. A specter in the bed beside us, silent and shivering with the activity of machinery as, one after another, body functions were replaced with mechanized equivalent. We ran together to the snap of the air outdoors: on snowboards, we flew down hills filled with the cacophony of suburban youth. In his hometown, we sat on frosty picnic tables shooting handguns at straw bails. First tracks came when we arrived at the snowboard hill before the first crowds of schoolbus children; walking down a lake trail where no one dared go because the plow hadn't been through yet; climbing a hillside to see the view. Most memorable were the tracks we left on a sand dune, erased almost before they were completed. We were on our way to say goodbye to one of our patients and a dear family. Pioneers together in a forest of taboo...coworkers falling in love...nurses going to a funeral...white Midwesterners climbing a sand dune in the dark on a desolate Indian reservation.

First tracks through the snow of a state park, pulling a sled full of camping gear. Pioneers still, remembering how to be intrepid after a long hibernation in our world of child-raising and home-building. We tamped down the snow around the campsite, shoveled a bank to shelter our tent, stamped out a path to the pit toilet. Many tracks later, a campfire hissed and chortled alive from damp wood and a soggy firering. We regaled the tales of London's prospectors in Alaska, hailing those first flames as salvation from the cold.

He is a still man. A soul of peace, hands steady to their work, focused, intent, unwavering. Silent at times...sometimes maddeningly so to a woman of words.

What he celebrates with action, putting feet in place of words, may go unnoticed if I don't still my soul to his rhythm. The embers fly by in red streaks, carried up on a black night wind, and he stands like a rock behind them. Gazing. Being together, in this dark and silent woods, surrounded only by our own whispers and our own footfalls. A night to remember that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matt. 19:6)

Thirty years of molding and shaping. I am still a pioneer, still a revolutionary, still counter-cultural. Snow is a friend, and my husband my stallwart co-conqueror in a land of giant foes.

It is good to remember.