The purpose of mystery

I turned in my dissertation on Tuesday. I'm on pins and needles waiting to find out if I passed the written portion, so that I can travel down to South Carolina to do my oral defense. I was trying to describe written and oral defense to my kids while we celebrated on Tuesday evening, ice cream dripping down our chins. Rosy looked at me, confused, "What happens if you don't defend it, Mama? Will they tear it up?" While I laughed uproariously at this little 7 year old statement, inside I was wondering the same thing. What if they DO want to tear it up?

And why always with the waiting, God? Sometimes I feel as if I'm a professional at waiting. I'm always in the no-man's-land: waiting for news of cancer blood tests, waiting to get my hearing back, waiting to de-clutter my house until the dissertation is finished, waiting now for news of whether I passed or failed.

And so I ran to the Word this morning, trying to calm my nerves. And in the devotional book I'm reading right now (The Place of Help, Oswald Chambers - a book you'll only find in used bookstores these days), the title of today's reading is "At God's Discretion".

I pause, and say those familiar words from the Word, "Not my will, but thine be done." (Luke 22:42)
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out! (Romans 11:33) The purpose of mystery is not to tantalize us and make us feel that we cannot comprehend; it is a generous purpose, and meant to assure us that slowly and surely as we can bear it, the full revelation of God's will be made clear.

Gifts unrecognized

I've said it now, to several people. Written it in e-mails to new cancer patients reached out to.

Remission. "I'm in remission."

It took months to feel at home with remission. After four years of cancer, owning cancer, being cancer, it felt strange and scary to be in remission.

Four years ago, on a hot June day in the cold air-conditioned hospital, I whispered a verse in my dying grandmother's ear as she struggled to breathe, her eyes wide and wild like those of a caged animal.

"God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of peace." (II Timothy 2:7)

When cancer first choked my throat, and my voice was raspy and tremulous, fear ebbed in. He quietly made his bed in my heart, and slowly built up walls and made a home there.

Cancer isn't like remission. When you hear you have cancer, it is an immediate change. You go from normal to cancer patient without stopping to breath in between. Remission was a slower process for me, like the first time you take a deep breath when the doctor tells you to, and use all your muscles to take in that air, and your lips quiver as you let it out slowly, trying to make the breath out last and not rush out all together. As you settle into the deep, measured breaths that calm your body and your soul, you quite thinking about it so hard. The muscles between your ribs relax. Your lips quite trembling.

That's remission. The first time I let out a remission sigh, it was hard work. Now I'm riding serene on the waves of breath in and out, no longer hurried or compressed by cancer's grip.

I realize that, although I haven't lived with a spirit of fear for these four years, fear is what motivated me. Getting to the 5 year mark would mean success, the 10 year mark a small miracle. Now I am almost to 5, and I'm in remission. I need to let go of fear as my motivator.

Fear is what drove me to gather up small joys. Fear is what propelled me to enjoy motherhood and love my children deeper. Fear is what rocketed me to a new peace with the everyday distractions and disappointments that inevitably come. Fear is what aroused the hunger to find the gift in every day alive, even if it was just the gift of being alive.

Cancer narrowed my vision for life, while at the same time expanding it. Like a zoom lens, it focused all my energies on the minutiae, pulled me toward the details of the moment, and my 10 year, 20 year, 30 year plans gathered dust because it had been so long since I picked them up and pondered them. My vision expanded to see joy in the hidden corners of life, to find beauty under cobwebs, to see His glory in a million small ways, sparkling like a fresh rain had just fallen over the entirety of my life.

I haven't decided yet if I want to zoom out. I haven't picked up my 10 year plan yet. I think I might live this way forever.
Yesterday is past, tomorrow is uncertain, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.
I think about the ways God used cancer to free me: free me to love, to live, to relish, to understand, to see meaning. Wisdom? Is that what cancer gave me? Perhaps it is that I finally, truly, believe and can walk in the truths of Matthew 6:25-34.
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? ...walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (The Message)

Linked up to Lisa-Jo's prompt, "Gift"

Red-eyed dreams

The world turns slowly when you watch through the night, red eyes burning from too long staring at a screen, sleep gnawing the edges of consciousness, tattered after 24 hours like the edges of torn paper. The inky thoughts bleed out into a dark smudge and you lift hands to curl cramped fingers away from keys. You think to yourself that you can't use words like "illusive" and "beautiful" in a paper like the one you're writing, and a brief glimpse of the worn edges of journal pages draws you in with longing. Longing for the creative elegance of pen pushing down the fibers of real paper. The curls of letters jotted by hand. 

A short season of hard labor, and finally, the "send" button depresses under a tired pointer, and the light blinks out on a night of real sleep. But the voices of worry crowd into the weary head heavy on the pillow. Voices of failure, despair, criticism. What if that life's work, culminated in a tome of statistics and stark words...what if it's not what you think it is? What if they do tear it up?

The porch swings lulls away the worry, the night wind blowing the dusty yard clean, a twinkling planet winking good wishes. You find the pillow again, and this time, rest, as heavy as a winter quilt blankets mind and body. The synapses click as they shut themselves off for the night, like the computer winding down next to you in the dark.

Voices, when I listen to the voices
Every shroud of anger is sorrow in disguise
The voices, when I believe the voices
That convince me I am worthless,
bent on my demise

 Hear, oh hear the saints’ and angels’ voices

Everything about my weakness that is strong
Everything about the heart that could go wrong
Every hope that ever lived there but has since flown
I’m finding again, finding again

 We choose to love the things that hate us most

Here I fell on impoverished floor 
And came to rest beyond the reach of light 
Though the world would not think twice of me 
You searched for me in your own peculiar fight

 Father's wait for a long, lost child 
Scanning dawn and its bright horizons

 This is the world turning upside down 
When the light that was lost is found 
Come see the dawn with the darkness refused 
Today is yesterday made new

~from Eric Peters' Voices and Lost and Found*~

thoughts after sending in the dissertation,
as real life once again surrounds

*if you haven't discovered The Rabbit Room, head over to listen to all of Eric's songs from "Birds of Relocation" on the blog.

Loud yellow

In the stillness of the spring afternoon, birds resting, frogs yet to start their evening song, I find her in the yard loud in her brightness: the first yellow crocus of spring. She is catching raindrops with her swaying body, dancing with them and then returning them to the earth.

She chugs the coconut smoothie down with a loud gulp, fingers on yellow glass as beautiful in their curvature as a violinist dancing bow over strings.

I grab the joy in the yellow afternoon with both arms. It's been a long soul drought, this working on writing, the dry, technical words parching my eyes. One yellow crocus, and they dance with tears.

You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Linked to Lisa-Jo's prompt, Loud

Time twirling

My children spun in the sunlight, feet grazing the new maple floors just long enough to propel the next leap and twirl. My dad was down on his knees for days tearing up carpet, laying down subfloor, lovingly piecing the maple tongue-and-groove over the 1950's linoleum of his childhood home. He named it Sk√łnnestad - "beautiful place" in his grandmother's Danish.

My grandparents have been gone two years now, quick years with fleet feet that dance out of my grasp as quickly as my children twirling away. I still hear grandpa's chuckle in the waves of the big lake lapping up pebbles of granite and agate at the shore. The twinkle in grandma's eyes as she said, "stop now! I can do that!" every time I washed dishes in the turquoise dishpan in the wide white farmhouse sink.

My parents talk about their aches more these days. Seeing them in Grandpa and Grandma's house, grandparenting my children...the lament over mortal time begins to sing deep in my soul. A generation goes and a generation comes... (Ecc. 1:4a)

In my youngest memories, my mother was a slow woman. Laden with the burden of chronic illness and the weight of four busy children, she rested often and used her energy in spurts. I watch her now, sledding down the hill with my children, and I wonder if I can make such a comeback. My body feels riddled with cancer and it's treatments, the heart that doesn't beat right and hurts under the stress of these busy days. Will I be sliding with my grandchildren?

Looking forward to a world without parents is never easy. As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. (Job 7:9) It is only in between breaths, in between heartaches, when I pause...there I feel it, steady and sure, the promise of eternity breathing new life into buried hopes.

Thoughts from Lake Superior linked to
Come visit Some Girl to read more!

Springing into trust

lost in the noise,
bird songs lilting,
frog croaking cloys
in night air, I'm God-song sifting.

rocks silent yet -
proof we have praised -
bare feet, grass wet
in early spring, these glory days.

sky summer blue,
my sun warmed face
lifted to You,
I pause in the midst of the race.

the frogs trust You,
while I think snow -
the sparrows too,
those who neither spin nor sow.

so I lift hands,
close eyes to sky,
help for doubting
help me be no Peter, denying.

bolster faith through beauty
hedge me behind,
before, light sky
with promise, clouds silver-lined.

Stress: Emotions on Tuesdays

In the red-tomato-afternoon, my back aches from sitting in one position so long. My hands are curved in the shape of the keyboard with it's beckoning letters. I am only pausing a moment to cook this dinner, I think, the sweat on my brow as the unseasonably warm sun bakes through the screen door.

But I lied to the heart that sits heavy in my chest like a stone. I lied to the cold sweat of anticipation mixed with fear. I lied to the blood rushing to the head through blood vessels tight with waiting. I lied to my project.

I wasn't stopping just a moment to cook dinner. I was pausing to breathe - breathe red tomato scent, drink in the visual feast of the glistening in the sun. Feel the potted bowl from my mother between my palms.

I was pausing to be blessed.

I was pausing to slow down.

I was pausing to be.

The dissertation still being crafted calls to me at every waking moment. I haven't felt stress like this, ever before. It's running deep in my veins, and pulsing with my heartbeat. It's squeezing me and molding me.

I allow God to use it, to build me and my character. But I'm pushing back against the stress... dreaming of an April in South Carolina with my mama, and a May day when I am finally finished!

This is our Emotions on Tuesdays link up. Link up to a post, old or new, about your emotions. Have you written about stress lately? Tuck the graphic at the bottom of your post, and come back to share your story with all of us!

Linked up to Write It Girl
Linked up to Joy's life:unmasked

When God is for me...

His toes are still, coiled up brown of the barefoot boy, in a smudge on the flannel sheet. Eyelids fluttering, blond hair spiky straight like a passel of wheat stalk on the pillow. I am typing furiously, back aching, working on through the sleeping house during nap time. I prayed long, hard, through nights and days of working on one paper, that God would touch me with inspiration, let my fingers move to tell a story instead of pulling each piece of that last paper out of my gut like a difficult surgery.

The story burgeons within and I can barely type fast enough to keep up with the thoughts flowing, filling. It all comes out as easily as a blog post, and I sit back with a sigh after three days of writing without stopping, and there are 26 pages in black and white before me on the screen. I laugh a little at myself, a geek who writes 26 pages of technical wonder like it is a story to be told. But that's what it is. It may be professional, it may be scientific, it may be boring to the average person. On those pages, it's my inspiration, my passion, my conviction.

Evan Loomis answers the question, "Does your work matter to God?" His reply is thoughtful.
Not only is this the place that God has placed you to work out your salvation in the world, but he has placed you with this job to work out your own sanctification before him, which I think is a distinction. It's not just that he's pleased, but that he has given this to you as a gift to shape your character, to form virtue and to really work out the kinks in your own character.
It was easier for me to draw the connection, when I was a bedside nurse. But nursing research, about how we teach and evaluate our students? How is that God-honoring? God Himself steps in with the answers, slowly but surely. And douses me with inspiration that makes my graduation hopes for May a real possibility.

  • Research studies God-created truths. I am studying how well humans can measure vital signs, which tells us more about the humans God created and their capacities.
  • God gets the glory when I finish well. Cancer, a daughter with special needs, an awful ectopic pregnancy, complications of cancer treatment, now hearing loss? He overcame it all and infused me with the strength needed to complete this degree.
  • Without teachers, there wouldn't be nurses. I am moving slowly to become one of the major branches of the nursing tree: my students will become branches off of the training God allowed me to pursue, and all their patients the flickering leaves.
  • Self-discipline, honesty, tenacity, and curiosity were honed during my studies. He is shaping my character through further education.
  • My soul was fed through this process. There is nothing more exhilarating to me than a research question answered! God has blessed me and fed me as I pursued this degree.
Gifts number 1,673-1,697:
...a dissertation flowing easily as poetry from brain to fingertips to page
...shorts weather in March
...Irish feast and Rubens for lunch the next day!
...mama and papa home safe
...a large gift from my father-in-law waters the soul burning bush is back in white, flickering in the afternoon breeze
...the end. in. sight.

Moments passing

The one with the flaxen hair, running through the flaxen grass all wet with winter's melt, she tumbles through the false spring and has her first seizure since 2011. I remember another summer, when she seized dozens of times per day, and I thought to myself that I couldn't do this, couldn't sustain this energy level. I was begging at the Throne for strength. Strength that didn't seem to come.

Just like all seasons, it came to a close, as silently as a door closed quiet. It passed so softly into the night of memory that we didn't notice it going until months had passed, and seizures were few and far between. We had to think about it hard to remember the last one. And then she went three months, and then six, and now nine months between seizures. Now it feels like being suddenly bumped off your footing when she walks in and says she's pooped, and there is vomit on her lips, and we turn to each other in bed with knowing eyes and the question, who cleans up this time?

The spring air is clear, the light is a blue-white, and I am chasing shadows across the lawn, trying to catch muddy feet in my camera viewfinder on a 70 degree day in March. Feet, those little feet that make so much noise as they stomp and patter through the hardwood floors of the house. I remember another season, when I slept in a pile of babies and wondered if I'd ever be able to turn onto my stomach in sleep again. Then the babies grew, and got bunkbeds in their own room, and still that constant interruption through the night, the pitter-patter across the dining room and the squeak of the door on the hinges as they plow through to Mama.

It used to be four children who would vie for a spot in the queen bed between us. All night, the constant interchanging, one child carried back to bed snoring so their sibling could claim the valuable real estate on the flannel sheets. I remember the bone-tired mornings, the many times getting up through the night, the begging Jesus for a nap. I didn't think I'd ever sleep through again.

But now I do. The eldest two never come anymore. They stay tucked in their own beds, oblivious to the younger two, who still make the pilgrimage through the dark to our room several times a week. But there are days in between - sometimes a whole week - when we sleep alone in whatever position we desire. And on those long stretches, I am reminded that this season will soon pass quietly like the seizures, and I will always be alone in bed. So I hug them tight when they come, plant myself uncomfortably but close, my heart comforted. Sometimes I even beg my eldest two to come cuddle in the morning since they no longer do at night.

Why does time fly by so, when you get to the meaty center of joy? The season you waited your whole life to experience has fleet little feet, and you can't hold on to the moments fast enough. Remember, young mothers, on those days with the flu, and the sleepless nights, and the constant goes quickly. Don't forget to hold them tight and give praise for this momentary pleasure of being the center of someone else's universe.

Courage to be the expert

The white and black of the printed page is covered in red ink. I am laughing on the phone with a believer in the South, and the red ink exhilarates me instead of scaring me. It has been thousands of days since I started down this path, and finally I can see the end. I push hard, long into the dark of night, the keyboard clicking against deadlines and my eyes burning from hours in front of the computer. It takes courage to look the dragons in their eyes and say, I think I can do this! I notice every time a strange obstacle emerges, and I think about spiritual warfare. It might not feel like I'm doing something for the kingdom, writing technical papers and conducting pilot studies, but why else would I be fighting so hard against things unseen to finish this race?

It takes bravery, too, to step away from the writing, to set aside the task that looms long and large, and feel spring with my children. To praise God for the sound of bird songs in my deaf ear that still can't understand people's voices. To see rainbows in the boiling water mist at dinner time. I look at the plane ticket confirmation, and it says 30 days to departure. One month to complete this task. I sigh deep, bone tired, and ask Him to fill me up, imbue me with strength so I can finish well. Does it matter to Him, I wonder? If the hairs on my head do, certainly He cares for my dreams. So I will be brave, and push on into the unknown.

written on Lisa-Jo's prompt, Bravery

I am Eve.

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

A repost from the December, 2008 archives. I did a lot of spiritual processing following my radiation treatment that year, and it is reflected in the words of this post.

Looking back on shades of gray

Three and a half years ago, I swallowed radiation on a Wednesday. It was one of the hardest days of my life, fraught with uncertainty, and the loneliness of suddenly being separated from my little family...especially my 7 month old son. I couldn't write my feelings that day, so instead, I posted a photo essay. I still think that says it best.

A morning greeting from a lonely Mama's boy.

Even through my swollen lids he looked wonderful. I don't know how I will bear this...

Apparently I still have enough tears to cry.

Does one always wear flannel to radiology in Wisconsin? I missed the memo.

Ah, the notorious blue vinyl chairs, impervious to radiation and chemo. I remember these so well. And I've never sat in them before.

Bones spinning. Almost time.

Lead glows in fluorescent light.

One little word says so much: carcinoma.

Two categories that won't define me ever again. I've stepped out of these bounds forever.
(2012 note: I did become pregnant again, the baby I lost in 2009.
And, also in 2009, I relactated for my very ill 3 year old daughter.
And nursed again for 9 months until my next radiation dose.)

Electric blue for danger. Down the hatch...

The memory of pearls: Emotions on Tuesdays

The world wears a halo of white in the snowy forests, morning mist magical as the cold earth collides with the sun-kissed spring air. Later in the day, the air is crystal clear, the mist burned away. The contrails of passing jets crisscross high in the pale blue sky, puffs of cloudy creatures floating up across the sun who wears a skirt of crystal haze she gathers from the earth's melting. Even the beetles are beautiful in the afternoon sun. The constant song of the returning robins lilts across the breeze. The children gather the loam of the field bracken into buckets, and plant a garden of dreams in their playhouse. Black earth in the furrows of the vegetable rows calls out to toes twitching with excitement in the summery warmth. We mamas hold tight to shovel handles and wait for the real spring, not this illusive week of March that has us dreaming of all kinds of summer wonder.

A burst of spring cleaning fervor threatens to shipwreck my dissertation dreams, but I am planted here behind keyboard, nailed down by a dream and a prayer for a May graduation. It is time for the last big push, a flurry of writing and editing that consumes every free minute not slotted for other chores. I delight in an editing phone call with my favorite person at the Writing Center for Excellence, and I tell her about my remission and her hearty, "Thank the good LAWD!" in the comforting Southern drawl is like honey dripping from the phone. It makes me stop, and remember. Remember all that happened, how my soul was shaped, how my heart was broken, how the scales were falling off my eyes in sheets and shattering around my stock-still shocked feet.

The way of mercy
Takes me to the least
Down the road of suffering
To the wedding feast

For I know that You are faithful
As we walk these fields of white
To the weary and the hurting
let Your Kingdom comes
~Faithful, David Ruis

Prayers are always answered. I woke to the worst day, and found it was a glorious day, a string of pearls - pearls plucked from the odiferous waves of gray of the oyster's shell - unfolding before my very eyes as I opened gift after gift streaming straight from the hands of the Father into my bruised heart. Just when I thought I was at the end of the necklace, another bead glistened in the warm, Indian summer sun. The morning began with waiting...but not for the radioactive treatment, rather the glorious arrival of my newest niece or nephew! Megan was admitted to the hospital Sunday night, and I couldn't believe God was granting my prayer that I be able to hold their little one before I was quarantined! I called early in the morning to see about delaying my treatment, and was told I could come anytime before 4:30 p.m. Another pearl: a beautiful, sunlit day to treasure my children, share life with them, breathe in their sights, and sounds, and smells. Fill my cup up to overflowing so I can spill some drops of joy into my barren lap on a darker day in the November that will surely come.

We went to music class and delighted together in the cacophony and chaos that is kids and music and dancing in a high-ceiling art gallery lit with eastern windows and glistening pine floors. We gloried in Kosher salt at a local deli and beautiful, crumbly goat cheese that a low-iodine Mama can feast upon. We napped together in the lazy, beetle-buzzing afternoon in the unexpected bliss of open windows and the sound of corn husks rustling in the warm, summer-like breeze. I packed my car slowly, savoring every quiet moment of the house God has given us, listening to the children sleep and staving off sorrows that threatened at every moment. Still waiting for the call announcing the birth of that beautiful babe...

Late afternoon came, and no baby. Confounding! The day was a gift just for me...brought about by the "impending birth", which didn't happen. A glorious, free day that I wasn't expecting. A drive back into the reality of the city with the children bursting at the seams from our joyous, momentous, and totally ordinary afternoon. Hugs, hugs, more hugs, holding tears in with iron bands of will as I smiled and hugged some more. Swallowing the largest lump my throat has ever known...swallowing it a hundred times, tasting it's salty bitterness, and thanking God for my afternoon of pearls. One hundred times easier to swallow the large blue horse-pill of radioactive iodine. Primed with grief and disbelief, my throat found that an easy job. Sitting in a sterile little room with my husband beside me, I stared down into a little lead canister, took out the glass vial, unscrewed the cap and tipped it back to accept this cure that threatens to be worse than the disease that now invisibly ails me. The ache of forgetting a good-bye kiss before the poison passed my lips. Walking away carefully observing the "3 foot rule".

Feeling the world open up like a chasm before me. That longed-for freedom...that abyss of unlimited choice...the silence as the "fetters" of motherhood and wifery dropped from my ankles and wrists and shattered around my feet. How shall I now live? Adrift once again in a sea of strangers. Floating along in the tide and whim of self. What moors me? What steers me? Underneath, there He is. His heart beat still propels me. My joy is still in Him. What a pearl to discover, that after all this time, and all these externally imposed guides and rigorous boundaries, I have continued to internalize the lessons He is teaching, to integrate them as part of my self and what propels me and gives me meaning. I am not adrift. My ways and means have shifted, and my purpose is the same. In this, as in all else, I am here for His glory. I exist for His service. I pray for His guiding hand. I long for His touch.

Waking next morning, the world is tasteless and odorless. The world is magically sterile, and glitters with new sparkle through my eyes, swollen and skewed from the localized effects of the radiation. There is a philosophical lack of focus, an attendant lack of agenda and timeframe; and a physical reality, an inability to perceive the visual all around me. Words and worlds are as hazy as time and duty are. Pearls of sleep, and friendship, and deep, uninterrupted drinking at the Well of meaning and Truth. I curl up by the Well for a good long rest after five years of many thirsty moments. That is what it's like to leave your life, your home, your job; everything behind you, it feels. Everything in front of you different and intimidating and wonderful all at once. For me that has been 24 hours of radioactive cancer treatment. Now, only 456 hours to go...

The bulk of this post reposted from another Tuesday, one much darker than today. All week, I'm looking back at the worst of cancer. Radiation and separation from my family for 3 long weeks. I hope you'll enjoy the trip down memory lane.

This is our Emotions on Tuesdays link up. Link up to a post, old or new, about your emotions. Tuck the graphic at the bottom of your post, and come back to share your story with all of us!

A girl, a cup, a tree in spring

You know how to make breakfast, and lunch. Some days you keep the laundry cycling through washer and dryer until there is a mountain on the couch for me to fold. Warm, wafting fresh, as I snap sheets and towels, and put order to chaos. You teach the other children everything you know - how to read, how to play the violin, how to make more mud in the spring. When you were a babe, I did nothing but pour, pour, pour to fill you up with my love and all the things I loved and wanted you to as well. We went everywhere together...bed, showers, everywhere I went around town, I carried you on my hip. People smiled at us, and you smiled back, with your eyes that look like half moons squinted almost shut.

Some days now, I miss you. You know so much already. You're growing independent. It feels a little risky, this grafting of you into the cool spring earth of 8-almost-9 years old. Are you full enough yet? Have you memorized this connection between the trunk and the branch, the mama and the girl? I long for the in-between, to let you warm your toes in the earth but keep you growing hugged to my chest. I don't want to set out you as an empty cup for rain. Father, fill her over till her cup runs beyond the brim, spilling your gold on the ground around her.

Writing on Lisa-Jo's prompt, "Empty"

How it really goes around here

I have just completed my daily rousing (and by this I mean sweat-drenching) 30 minute work-out wrestling with the dirty sheets of my children. I then tried to wash my hands with a rock, at which point I divulged into cursing at the nail polish adorning my previously pristine (I am sure of it) sink and the green stains that have seemingly spontaneously erupted in all my toilets. I did this from the vantage point of the porcelain throne, on which I was stuck in the undignified position of a mother whose last child has used the last itty bitty piece of toilet paper (not to mention left an empty Kleenex box behind as well). I then decided against putting the clean sheets ON my own bed, collapsed in utter exhaustion on the mattress pad, and felt a sudden surge of pride that, despite having removed any actual dirt from my home, the fresh spring air has lent a clean odor to the whole abode. At which point I cried, laughed some ridiculous of me to take pride in God's good clean air! and then decided to thank the Lord for the beautiful smell of spring.

Ahhhh, what a wonderful moment of soul bliss and a huge smile at my own silliness!

A question mark

I jump off the bridge that says "SURVIVOR" in big, gilded letters. I'm supposed to be squealing with delight, but find I am shaking with fear. What's all this about? Four years of cancer rattling my cage at every turn and I am scared to be a survivor? I think about it for weeks, a whole month really, and it comes slowly, the realization of what this big change in status means for me as a person.

As a patient, I had a finite, and fairly short battle in store for me, one way or another. Say, a decade. At 38 years old, I'd know. I'd be gone or fading fast, or picking up steam and climbing a different mountain. As a survivor, time spans out yawning ahead of me again, like any young mother, an infinity of duties to be done, tasks to be completed, joys to be enjoyed, sorrows to be endured, lessons to be learned. I hope for fifty - sixty if I'm feeling greedy - more years to trod this earth. That means surviving cancer for fifty or sixty years. And let's face it, as many people as I know who've lost their life during the initial battle, I know scores more who've fallen off the rolls of survivorship. It's almost worst odds, in a way. It's like saying, okay, I'm not dying now, but now I know that I absolutely, someday will. It's putting death in franker terms, if that's possible.

I picture the nursing homes -and not the kind of freaky old lady name-a Cocaine Katie who embroiders on my jeans we're all longing to become. I'm talking dentures, Depends, knee and hip replacements, no bras, and wearing a mu-mu you got off the back of a magazine to your 86th birthday party consisting of Twinkies (if you're lucky) and bananas (if you're one of the 60+% diabetics) after Bingo. I'm talking whacking someone with your cane for stealing a Bingo number and singing off tune to the off tune piano that plunks out a hymn for the Sunday service. I'm talking slippers and wheelchairs, Lawrence Welk (or will it be Eminem by the time I hit the nursing home - God save me now!) the never-ending stink of urine, and trying to have a conversation with your voiceless buddy who lost his larynx to a pack of Marb's and you're listening through your deaf ear anyway. That's the kind of old I want to be. (Okay, I'd like to die painlessly, in my sleep, holding my husband's hand, the very second before all this occurs. If possible. You know, if you're not busy, God.)

And now that I'm a survivor, one of two options exists. I will still die a "romantic" very Anne-ish, Lady of the Lake and all, premature death of cancer. Or a car accident or something. Or, I will die the regular old run-of-the-mill old and can't remember my grandchildren kind of death. Either way, it stinks. And it is totally, completely real. That's it, folks. That's what scares me about becoming a survivor. I just quit fighting for my life, and I've realized it will eventually be lost regardless.

And I'm scared.

I'm scared of uncertainty. Kind of like looking at a pretty new wardrobe for your new flashy job: it's beautiful, and you're glad it's in your closet, but it's intimidating to coordinate an outfit complete with heels and jewelry. You'd really rather pull on the familiar old yoga pants and hockey jersey from college and cool it on the couch. It's scary to start a whole new life when you're 33. It's scary to look at your kids and realize you might be there a long, long time and realize you don't how to do it. It's scary to look past tomorrow for the first time in years, and find out it intimidates you. It doesn't exhilarate you or enthrall you or envelope you like you thought it would. It is simply new, and different, and takes a whole lot of getting used to.

And so, in light of all the scariness of being a survivor, I've decided I'm just going to be a person. A question mark. An unfinished symphony. A book with no ending. A song in the middle. Jeans just worn this side of comfy. A bike ride downhill for a while. The canoe at the bend in the stream. (I'll stop now, or you're going to start picturing $8 Target remix CD's from the '90's)

And I also hope I am the first ever 60 year cancer survivor I get the pleasure of keeping company with.

Son, from July to December, and how they must have treasured those months!
Encourage me? If you know someone who's survived cancer for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or more years, please take a moment to share their story with me in the comments!

A waterfall uncoils

It is swim lesson day, and she uncoils, all those long inches of her that are coiled always like a spring. She spreads her toes as if to the farthest shore of the farthest ocean and off she goes, tiring out the college girl who swims under her, shaking her head as she watches those little legs kick. She tells me today, with her horsey smile and curls wild around the goggle leashes, how Amy swims like no child she's ever seen. Faster, stronger, longer, deeper, without even pausing for air. And I tell her, today for the first time, that in 2009 they told us Amy would never walk again, perhaps never sit again. And the tears spring to her eyes, and mine afresh, a miracle shared in a moment. All I had to say was that one sentence. And a stranger goes away marveling at the vast and merciful hand of an almighty God.

I shall know why, when time is over, 
And I have ceased to wonder why; 
Christ will explain each separate anguish 
And I, for wonder at his woe, 
I shall forget the drop of anguish, 
That scalds me now, that scalds me now. 
~ from Emily Dickinson's Time & Eternity, 1926 ~

Oh, if you could have seen her, those worst days in 2009, I think, as I herd my brood to the showers. If you could have seen her. I hold her hand as she falls asleep for nap, watch her brother's eyelids flutter closed and change to that indescribable violet as they fall deeper in sleep. You, Amy, my Amy, you hold my hand softly as a violin bow, hold the thumb and the forefinger just exact, so they squeeze your fingers in the passing through, without pressing them. It is our dance of sleep, you and I, ever since 2009. Hand in hand, a hand dance, and you the composer of every song. Far sweeter today, a day I watched you spread your wings and really fly.

Amy is the pink blur on the bottom left - distinct from all the other's in the speed of her motion
Over these long years, the hours of therapy and the lists of words to repeat and the sensory diet and the tests and the long consultations with bespectacled specialists in their dark and dusty library-like offices. We never knew exactly how much to hope for. But hope is a thing with doesn't live in file folders, or flutter from papers long with test results, or spring from days with therapists. It grows on you and springs into flight by surprise into long, beautiful moments, like a waterfall's first arpeggio over the peak in spring, the first crystals of flight cascading into the musical crescendo suspended, the outpouring of the earth's soul warmed for the next season and the final downfall and collapse of the tympani into the cathedral of rock below. It is you, Odette, the princess swan, spreading wings in water, and dancing to a tune only a special few of us can hear. 

You are faithful 
Shelter for the fragile soul 
You lift us up, You hold us all together 
You are faithful, God 
You are there in every season of my soul 
You are there, You're the anchor that will hold 
You are there, in the valley of the shadows 
~Faithful, Chris Tomlin~