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Tenacity

 

Tenacity is the ability to hang on when letting go appears most attractive – Anonymous

Let us hold fast our confession, for He who promised is faithful – Hebrews

 

Yesterday I stumbled on a podcast of two of my favorite

writer-people-who-I-love-to-listen-to-but-have-never-met

(and-maybe-if-I-did-we’d-be-best-friends)

and perched on my lawn chair amazed

as they described the sense of anxiety

that accompanies an idea they don’t fully understand,

and won’t fully get

until they sit down and write it out.

Because if we writers are honest with ourselves,

most of us try not to write.

Confession: When a deadline looms

(even a self-imposed one)

I come up with 150 projects around the house

that need my

desperate attention

right this second,

or any other remotely plausible potential distraction.

When that stops working,

I argue with the not-quite concrete thought

and tell it

since you’re not actually fleshed out,

I have no business writing about you.

But what’s really going on,

and what I hate to admit,

is that the actual act of writing is far from enjoyable.

Some of you just online-high-fived me.

Others have yet to experience what I just described, but if you asked me to detail it for you,

I’d say writing a blog

like this one

is like extracting a tapeworm

that has infected your whole body

and captured all of your attention

and not always in a good way.

If that description is too graphic for you, I apologize. #nursebrain

And while I am grateful these women were able to flesh out this painstaking process on the podcast I listened to,

I also kinda hate them for it,

because they were expressing what had been happening to me the past few weeks,

the thing I was trying to ignore

and knew I couldn’t anymore.

I’ll be reallly honest with you:

I didn’t want to sit down and write this.

So I ask for your patience

as I try to be patient with the thing

I don’t fully understand yet.

Let me back up a bit.

Last Monday, I woke to run and found glass in my running shoes.

I didn’t realize it was glass at first – I assumed it was some Houdini pebbles I’d collected along the road in my trail runs of the previous week.

But they didn’t shake out well.

Glass doesn’t, usually. But its also not the usual suspect when digging through your shoes for the thing that makes you say ‘ouch’ with each step.

But that Monday, I wasn’t entirely surprised.

The day before, I’d risen to temperate sunshine over the gentle blue waters. Fourteen years and four days after our first trip to the island as a married couple, the blog star (aka. my husband) surprised our little family with a spontaneous night away.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

We drank coffee, we read, we ate good food, we laughed with our kids.

In short, we did all the normal things we normally do on a vacation.

Except on this one, I turned thirty-six.

I can hear some of you scoffing – just a baby.

And in many ways you’d be right to do so.

Yet from where I sit, thirty-six feels old.

But then,

I sit in a rather unusual place.

Not every twenty-eight-year-old mother of two is told she has cancer. Not every thirty-something is forced to wrestle every day the fear that this year might be her last. Not every family knows that part of how we live well is to live moment-to-moment, because, really, there are no guarantees.

(I actually wish we did all know that).

But while some would call this living lightly,

I’m starting to see it differently.

The day of my birthday was an otherwise glorious day: We ate brunch at a favorite restaurant. We wandered the surprisingly sparse streets of Vancouver’s downtown core. My husband patiently waited for me while I tried on clothes,

(if you call patient testing out the newest noise-cancelling wireless headphones at the Bose store)

and we went to a Broadway show

I had always wanted to see

but was finally in the area.

Good day, right?

Yet somehow I couldn’t shake the feeling

all day

that something was just a little bit… off.

I’m not sure if David felt it, but something just outside my awareness kept gnawing at me.

I tried to shrug it off

– as we all do-

and pretend I was cool

and not, you know, the other thing.

And yet halfway through our night at the Q.E.,

– just as I’d convinced myself  I wasn’t going to be paranoid –

an usher approached us

with the kind of expression

that usually accompanies

a terrible World War II telegram

or

any other sorts of news of something terrible happening to someone you love.

Fortunately, in our case, it was just something we love.

My girlies started to cry as they heard the words of the Vancouver policeman over the phone: a repeat smash-n-grab offender had broken into our car and taken all of our luggage.

Elliana shook

as she realized

the broken window

was right next to her booster seat.

Did they take Brutus, Mommy?  she managed through a quivering lower lip.

(Brutus is the current favorite of her stuffies).

I don’t know, I said, because I didn’t.

We didn’t really know much at that point,

except that four of our backpacks were taken

from the now windowless-backseat of our miraculously-provided van.

Wanting to keep the rest of the evening as normal as possible, David insisted the three of us finish the show while he went to figure out the rest.

And as we traipsed back to our seats, Noelle tugged on my hand.

I don’t understand, she said.

I thought nothing bad would ever happen to us.

Huh.

That’s a pretty incredible thought for a girl who’s been praying since she was two for her mom’s blood not to be… confused.

And yet, she kinda nailed it.

Don’t we all believe that bad things only happen to other people?

Don’t we tell ourselves:

That’s never going to happen.

Don’t be paranoid.

Everything will be fine.

Those kinds of things only happen to people who make mistakes,

people who deserve it?

We might even call ourselves mentally healthy for thinking this way. Or better yet, optimists.

We chalk happy thoughts up to our sunny personalities or fundamental beliefs in

hope

and the goodness of other people.

I hate to tell you this, but none of that is even remotely true.

While we’d love to believe the opposite,

all of us are just so far from good.

I know.

I’m uncomfortable with that too.

The most powerful time I was confronted with this was eighteen months ago.

Calamity often comes in threes, as it did then: my world turned upside down in the course of three separate, fractious, events

that all threatened the core of what I believed in.

Not so much that bad things don’t happen to us,

because that lie has been dying for a long time now.

But there were other things I thought I could cling to

in the middle of that bad thing,

things that

in the end

showed just how much I’d built my

fragile little house

on nothing but sand;

things like

These people will never betray me

Or

This thing would never happen to me

Or

At least I know I can rely on ­­­­_____

And so I’m not off in the corner navel-gazing by myself, I urge you to ask yourself how you would answer those questions.

What would be your fill-in-the-blank?

If you’re brave enough, write it down.

(somewhere no one else will see, of course)

Now stare realllllly hard at what you’ve written.

Do you still believe it?

Or does it look a little… weak?

I know what you’re going to say: I don’t have any of those things I believe in.

And you probably think you’ve found the solution:

believe in nothing,

bank on no one,

trust only yourself.

I understand the temptation.

After a certain number of pain points, each of us are tugged that direction.

We think we’re protecting ourselves,

but really, we’re just drowning in a sea that tastes oh so bitter

so we keep our mouths shut

and hope we don’t take in

any of our own water.

Our culture loves this option, and they love to offer the fix for it, too – just find the right person.

Think of how many fictional romances begin with the protagonist who’s been hurt too much to trust again.

Enter the solution: the perfect person.

I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry at that.

But we all know its bogus, right?

There’s just no such person.

And even if there were, we wouldn’t deserve them.

But before you accuse me of being a Debbie Downer, I want you to know I get it.

Off and on these past few years, I’ve been living this protective way.

But there’s another Force that tugs at me and

suggests another option:

something both

in between

and so much better than 

care about nothing

or

care about everything.

The truth is, most of the freedoms Western individualism was built on were entirely dependent on  passionate people who let themselves care about things.

The show we watched the night our car was broken into was based on a true story of some of these people.

And we really need so much more of them.

Friends,

it’s only a little over a hundred years ago

that most poor families

were forced to pull their children from school

and put them to work in factories

where they were underpaid, abused, and targeted

by those who had more than enough.

In many ways this thread has continued throughout our history. Those who have will always be tempted to take advantage of those who have not so the haves can have even more.

They convince themselves they deserve what they’ve been given

and the afflicted deserve all they’ve not been given

leave the oppressed two options:

accept it

or

change it.

I’ve tried my hand at both, and I’m not sure that one is better than the other.

Both sides have pitfalls,

yet the stability of the world we see today

is so largely dependent

on those who chose the second option,

that we really can’t ignore it.

What’s even more powerful though,

and what I believe the world is waiting for,

is that third option.

I believe it has two parts.

The first: a liberator from outside the people needing liberation.

Take William Wilberforce, for example.

He was a man of influence, even a bit of money. An excellent orator, Wilberforce could have spent his days in reclined debates at the highest of privileged institutions, but chose instead to use his passion and eloquence

to abolish slavery in England

while fighting physical and emotional maladies himself.

Wilberforce’s American counterpart, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, went to physical war to accomplish the same.

I don’t think he intended to. But the passionate plea of his first inaugural address declared war on the South and their entire way of life:

a life built

of haves

abusing the have nots

so they could have even more.

Those of you who know this story know that Abe spent every day in office following that address – and the rest of his life – in pursuit of liberty for the oppressed.

He didn’t do it to become a hero.

He did it because he couldn’t not.

I can’t imagine how he stomached some of the injustices he saw.

How does one live with,

for example,

the knowledge

that a country built on revolution from oppression

a group of people who prided themselves on ‘liberty and justice for all’

used slaves

to make the very flag

they declared represented freedom.

But then there is some insidious darkness that tends to follow us when we throw off our own shackles.

Freedom can soon become indulgence.

Take the history of the last one hundred and fifty years or so.

As Susan Wise Bauer has said in her children’s history series The Story of the World:

Violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. You will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators.

And isn’t that what The Hunger Games was really all about?

That, without check, the abused become the abusers

given the right amount of power?

Take Adolf Hitler, for example.

Here is a man who knew power, even if only for a brief period of time. Many would still call him one of the greatest and most inspirational speakers of all history. It was likely this very ability to bind his audience in a spell of sorts that persuaded an entire country to back the biggest mass genocide in history

and call it good.

See, Hitler thought he was throwing off his own shackles.

He thought he was standing up for the rights of his country.

And yet even the most cold hearted of us can see that he went much further than that.

Friends,

It’s not tenacity itself that is the problem.

It’s what we’re holding onto that counts.

This past winter, our family hit another season of crisis.

What I thought were merely bad shin splints from a particularly long run was really the beginnings of septic cellulitis.

I know, I’m a pro at finding the old-lady diseases.

But it was this very fact that I got this at 35 and not 75

that made those who were taking care of me

wonder what else might be going on.

And so Pandora’s box was opened once again:

Blood clot, stress fracture, leukemia blast crisis, these were all things we were looking dead in the eyes.

Again.

Except this time, I really thought so too.

I’ve never experienced pain like that – pain that takes your breath away, that none of the normal medicines touch, none of the regular strategies begin to relieve

Pain that left me rocking on my bathroom floor at 4:30 in the morning, with nothing else to say but help me get through this, help me get through this.

In those days and weeks I gave myself IV antibiotics at home, rested with my foot up while I stared at house messes I didn’t have the strength to even begin to think about cleaning, taught my girls school with one foot always in an ice pack and often waiting in a doctor’s office.

And while David and I learned how to kill some of those hours when the pain was at its worst, we encountered one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen.

I don’t want to name it for fear I trash your favorite of all time.

But if its your favorite of all time, we really should have a chat.

Because really, I left that movie with not only a bad taste in my mouth, but in my whole being. It wasn’t just the plethora of tired tropes (see the lighting of the candles for a special dinner? Cue the disappointing phone call), it was more the diluted definition of faith it not-quite-enthusiastically embraced:

All your dreams will come true if you just believe.

Cue every Disney movie ever made.

This is the problem with the whole world, I told my almost-asleep husband.

He peered his eyes open at me. This man is used to dramatic bedtime statements like this one. He’s even learned to fall asleep in some of them.

(That makes him sound worse than he is.)

I mean to highlight the number of so-called-epiphanies I think I get in the wee hours, and not his overwhelming call to the land of Nod.

I also knew I might have something when he woke up to hear this one.

What do you mean? he asked curiously.

I mean, this is what is wrong with the world. Even those who call themselves people of faith have somehow begun to believe its nothing more or less than

wishing for things we don’t know will come true.

And really, that doesn’t pack much of a punch, does it?

All it does is leave me asking

why

should I choose to believe things like hope does not disappoint us

when the only hope my culture has ever taught me

is the kind that shows nothing but disappointment

because its grip is so fiercely tied to family, football and The American Dream?

Let’s be honest, friends.

When we’ve grabbed onto a rotten branch –

or ten –

in a row –

our option isn’t only to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results

(by definition, that’s called insanity)

nor is it only letting ourselves fall into oblivion

and hope we fall on something soft.

It’s grabbing on to a branch with roots

or better yet

grabbing the hand of One anchored to firm ground.

It was this image that hit me as I considered Noelle’s oh so important question.

But it wasn’t until

I grabbed my biggest girl,

who gets bigger by the minute,

and looked her square in the eyes

and said:

Our safety doesn’t depend on the absence of bad things happening to us, girlie.

It depends

entirely

on the One in charge of all of those things –

good and bad

that I knew I even believed that.

Just like I wasn’t sure I believed that a minor malady often cures us of an underlying cancer

until my oncologist told me

that somehow

while my entire body was septic

there was, in fact, no leukemia blast crisis

but instead,

the cancer gene dropped to the lowest its. ever. been.

So low, in fact, I can see that tiny elusive horizon of

the amazing world called

Remission.

We aren’t there, and there’s no guarantees we will ever be

but that’s okay

because my safety doesn’t depend on it.

It depends on Something much firmer than that.

Take what David found when he returned to our damaged van:

two plainclothes Vancouver policemen

planted in plain sight of our vehicle

who

saw the whole thing,

arrested the ones who stole from us,

and

returned to us all of our belongings – unharmed.

(plus a really gross orange sequined purse that I don’t really want to think about right now)

I looked at Noelle and asked her:

Girlie, what are the chances of any of this happening?

She gave me a faint smile.

Not many, she admitted.

It was almost as if it had been designed just like that.

There were still hardships to deal with, of course.

You try driving home late at night on the Trans-Canada highway with no window and two children.

(there was lots of laughing about that)

And when I think of all the things we chose to do that day, where we should not have parked, what we should not have left in our car, what we should have perhaps not spent our money on,

I wouldn’t go back and make it not happen.

Or as Steve Saint, the son of murdered missionary pilot Nate Saint, says:

If I could go back now and rewrite the script, I would not change a single scene. I have come to understand that life is too complex and much too short to let amateurs direct the story. I would rather let the Master Storyteller do the writing.

What makes Steve’s words more powerful is knowing he wrote them as he developed a familial-type relationship with the man and the tribe who speared his father and four other missionary fathers who were only trying to establish the first friendly contact between white people and the dangerous Waodoni ‘Aucas.’

Friends, that’s tenacity

the kind that holds onto

the Thing that just doesn’t give out

no matter what kind of storm comes.

Its that same kind of tenacity I’m willing to bank on,

the kind that sees the tiny shards of glass in my shoes as a reminder that One so much bigger than me

was looking out for me,

yet again.

It’s the kind of tenacity that knows hope that doesn’t disappoint.

Its the second part of the third option.

Find the One Whose feet are on firm ground

and hold on with all your might.

I promise you

You won’t be the only one holding on.

 

 

Joy

I call it Joy, which must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted Joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures of the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is. – C. S. Lewis

Joy is the best makeup. – Anne Lamott

 

Oh, what a difference three years can make.

Three years ago, I declared a mental manifesto about the upcoming Holiday season.

I will not send Christmas cards. I will not buy presents. I will not spend THREE days decorating my house for a season that lasts TWO WEEKS only to spend another TWO DAYS to take it allll down in January.

I will not travel on Christmas.

I will not go to ten thousand holiday parties with people I don’t spend any time with any other time of the year.

Christmas wasn’t about any of those things, after all.

(That’s what I told myself, anyhow.)

The truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure what Christmas was about.

There were some things that stuck with me, of course, like tiny pieces of lint refuse to get brushed from a wool coat:

My kids’ choir production.

Hot chocolate and a cozy fire after a winter run.

The soothing click of knitting needles.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Album.

And of course, The Story.

The Baby.

The reason.

That I was trying to rewrite the holidays – or at least how we went about them – might surprise some of you who knew-me-when.

After all, I was the girl with six strands of white lights in her dorm room – all year long.

I was the psycho who started listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving weekend. (And lest you think that normal, I’m talking Canadian Thanksgiving. In October.)

I was the weirdo who tried to pretend I didn’t have White Christmas almost memorized.

I even wished for a sister so I’d have a partner for that ridiculous dance Rosemary Clooney and the-other-one does.

(Though I probably prefer the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye spoof.)

Bereft of such a partner in crime, I learned the “Sisters” routine by myself, rewinding the VCR enough times to perform it for an imaginary audience in my grandparents spare bedroom.

Elliana does this kind of thing now, when she doesn’t think I’m watching.

As an adult, the shine of presents-under-the-tree and imagining-every-thing-my-heart-desires fortunately transitioned into the more generous sparkle of good winter meals and giant puzzles with those I love most.

But every year those smiles-around-the-turkey felt a little more forced and a little less real.

What is happening to me?

I would say to David.

He would tell me something simple and true, like you’re growing up or life isn’t a movie or its okay, next year will be better because (x) will happen.

I would smile and say, of course.

But the restlessness stayed.

Grew.

Ballooned.

Until somewhere around the middle of 2009, the thought of Christmas filled me with dread instead of delight.

It wasn’t that it was going to be the first Christmas (knowing) I had cancer.

It wasn’t that I was taking chemotherapy instead of breastfeeding my baby girl.

It wasn’t that I stopped believing in anything.

I just. Didn’t. Want. It. Anymore.

I didn’t want the trimmings. I didn’t want the shiny baubles. I didn’t want the handsomely wrapped gifts or the charmingly baked cookies. I didn’t want A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or anything else that reminded me of all that wasn’t anymore.

I didn’t want to keep pretending to be happy in a season that for years had only made me sad.

So I pulled out.

Sort of.

I volunteered to work Christmas Day.

Stat pay.

Quiet shift.

Distraction.

It worked for me.

It became kind of a tradition.

These work people became another family.

And my kids loved it.

They would make the turkey or the pie or the stuffing and bring it in with Dad for a 2 pm Christmas dinner, around the team room tables covered with white tablecloths and Christmas crackers and a smorgasbord of food made by people who care about Christmas

and each other

and helping those who need help

even on the holidays.

We minimized presents.

We emphasized time, people, and quiet.

And it was glorious.

I loved the message this sent to my kids: Christmas is about more than just you.

In fact, Christmas isn’t really even about you.

Of course, it was also handy to tell myself the same thing.

If its not about me, then I don’t need to think too deeply about me.

I went to get my every-three-months blood work done yesterday.

I got the nicest, sweetest girl you could ever meet. She listened to me as I rattled off my complicated story and thanked me for knowing more about the test than she did and for waiting close to 90 minutes to take a test that tells me if I’m living or dying –

The test that

should be normal by now

but somehow still isn’t.

A couple of hours later I had two missed calls on my phone.

These were from the sweet girl.

‘Sorry, I’m SO sorry, but we need to do this again.’

Oy.

It wasn’t that I had to go back and do all of this again today.

It wasn’t that I was already running a time deficit this week.

What built inside of me had nothing to do with the lab’s mess-up

and everything to do with something I’d almost forgotten.

I have a friend who I see maybe once every three years. In classic long-distance friend style, every time I see her we pick up exactly where we left off.

I love this girl.

I love the way her mind works. I love the questions she asks. I love the thoughtful, gentle way she asks me how I’m doing with things like music, Christmas, and my dad.

She asks about music because she knows its my outlet.

She asks about Christmas because

it was Christmas music I was listening to

as I studied for a Nursing exam

the last day my dad was alive.

It was Christmas music I was playing as my mom came downstairs

and told me that

Dad had vomited something … black.

It was Christmas lyrics I had stuck in my head

as I walked into Dad’s room,

saw the mess,

noticed him smile,

heard his weak voice say,

oh, you came to see me!’

and told Mom to call my brother.

I’d forgotten that till just now.

So yesterday,

as I hung up the phone

after talking to the sweetest-lab-tech-on-the-planet,

I struggled to recognize the emotion rising in me.

I think it was something like anger.

Yet it was so long since it had visited

or threatened to take over

that acknowledging it only made me smile.

Let me explain:

That I felt anger yesterday and yet spoke words of grace to this girl who already knew she’d messed up,

that I almost laughed in the face of a simple lab test taking up two whole days of my life,

as it does every time I take it,

every three months

for the last seven years,

That I spoke words of truth and understanding to her and gently said I would see her in the morning,

That my husband was more angry about it than I was,

That my first thought was,

okay, I guess that’s what I’m doing tomorrow

instead of a diatribe on why my time is way more valuable than this

means

I’m not who I used to be.

Oh, I am so not who I used to be.

And it took the Worst Christmas Ever to do it.

Yep, you read that right.

Just as I was starting to make my peace with the cheery season, Christmas 2014 hit me with a sledge hammer.

The biggest problem is that I shouldn’t have been blind to it all.

I mean, I’d even walked into last Christmas with a plan. 

I’d had this one, guys.

But never did I ever

imagine what was to come.

Guys.

The plan didn’t work.

At all.

Instead, Last Christmas became a season of breaking. A mirthless day of melancholy mess, triggered by some of the worst words I’d ever heard spoken, let alone spoken to me,

that I couldn’t even breathe.

For months,

my soul, my heart was crushed,

torn beyond repair.

The vast emotional unknown ahead of me,

jagged edges of torn flesh

and broken bones

sticking out at every edge,

it was the last place I expected to find the pieces,

the people,

the Light

of astonishing grace.

But there they were.

Somehow the best part of being broken to the point where you can’t put yourself back together, is that when you decide to move on,

you have to start with entirely different pieces.

So this summer, I went hunting for some good ones.

Humility – the underused gem. Most of us aren’t too familiar with this one.

(It’s hard to be when there’s so much ME clamoring for attention.)

Imagine my shock to find

that thinking of everyone else and

all the really important things

freed me from the prisons of

self-pity,

jealousy,

and greed.

Which is really idolatry.

Friends, these jails are so over-populated, they look like concentration camps;

wasting away the essence of all that once was humanity,

they could all use another storming (or two, or ten) of the Bastille –

the kind of storming that won’t be accomplished by the songs of angry men.

Fortunately, I found an escape route.

It led right through the tunnel of –

Forgiveness – a shockingly light but warm coat of grace that reminded me of all I’d been forgiven and all I used to be,

while covering all the exposed and recently-wounded places

as I learned to extend mercy

in the face of offense.

And after grasping how to use it, I’ve learned that Forgiveness is the sparkling accessory that must be put on every morning in order for my wardrobe to be complete.

Its the piece I am most complimented on,

the perfect outfit-maker my friends think I’ve only just gotten

when its been hiding in my closet for decades.

Every time I put it on

it wraps me in a gentle blanket of

Peace – the unshakable, unbendable, unmistakable warmth in the coldest winter.

Peace was the reminder that spring would come,

that I was not alone in the darkness,

and that I could be okay even when nothing else was okay.

Slowly but surely I have learned to pick these three essentials up with more ease.

They are becoming a part of me.

And it turns out they have quite the company:

Compassion.

Kindness.

Gentleness.

Patience.

Love.

Ladies, what if we could see these virtues for what they are? What if we valued them more than the most trendy clothes and the newest of new in-crowds and the best of all feelings?

What if we eagerly pursued these precious stones for friends?

I think there would be a lot more beautiful in the world.

I’ve found that the best part of having these values as part of my wardrobe is that,

like the best of friends,

even the worst circumstances

and the hardest days

do not prevent us from wearing them

-nay, showing them off –

like the royal robes that they are.

Only our hearts do.

Let me explain.

Ten days ago I went to store something in the crawl space and came back with the box of Christmas lights.

The year you were born,

I told Noelle,

I put these lights everywhere. You couldn’t stop looking at them. When your dad and I couldn’t get you to stop crying, we’d put you in front of the tree and you would stare at the lights for hours.

She smiled that full-hearted smile that only Noelle can.

-Why did you stop, Mom?

Instead of answering her, I got out the stool and started hanging them on the ceiling.

One

by

one

the girls handed me hooks and held the rest of the string

as the house transformed.

Then came the tree.

And another little one.

And stockings.

And the Silent Night sign I found at a Vintage Market last year.

Mom, you’re really going for it this year! Elliana cried in delight.

I really am.

Last Sunday, as I lay on the couch with my puke bucket handy

(Because, you know, the flu shot and me really get along)

My family put together a puzzle as we watched Elf.

Guys.

I used to hate that movie.

I don’t really remember why.

Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?’

Made me almost pee myself laughing.

My husband could barely contain himself.

You really are different, he said. Old Lana was too good for this kind of thing.

What, laughing?

Last week I listened to a woman I love and dearly respect shared some of the pain of having a husband with Alzheimers. She has the wearying job of patiently staying the same as the man she loves steadily drifts away.

Yet in the middle of this poignant moment, she smiled.

Put her hands on her hips, and exclaimed:

Ladies, I’ve made a decision to laugh with my husband.

Huh.

Last weekend, our brothers and sisters in Paris were sitting in coffee shops, watching sports games, and listening to concert music as

paraders of hate

tore through their exquisite city of light

and painted it all black.

World leaders offered their country’s sympathy and pledges of support, but it was the response of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that stuck with me most:

“More than a hundred people lost their lives while they were doing what they loved, or spending time with their loved ones.”

They were doing what they loved,

With whom they loved,

When terror struck.

They were laughing, smiling, enjoying good food and soaking up beautiful night sky as the air got littered with bullets and bombs.

This kind of thing has happened to many of us, in a sense.

Just as we were tempted to think all is right with the world we had the rug pulled out from us.

And it makes us scared to sink in,

breathe,

pause,

or let ourselves enjoy anything.

And isn’t that what all terrorists are after?

To make us nervous to leave our houses,

terrified to cross the streets,

afraid to go places,

scared to smile, laugh, or have fun,

without looking over our shoulder for the guy with the mask and a sniper rifle.

Or the guy with the heavily packed coat.

Or the swastika-bearing Gestapo whose rule so symbolized death they had a skull and crossbones on the lapel of their black leather coats.

Friends,

The threat of terror reigns in every generation. The lurk of loss is present in every situation.

Our job is not to let it.

See, there was one virtue I’d forgotten.

Overlooked, maybe.

Joy.

It isn’t pleasure, or happiness, or fun.

It’s not feel-good movies, ignorance, passivism, or only dwelling on pleasant things.

This is gutteral, trench warfare,

staring-death-in-the-face,

running-free-in-wide-open-spaces

explosions of

breath

and

life

that pulsate the blackest spots of our highlight reels and start to turn them

sepia,

then

soft pink

until there’s a tiny peek of

bright

orange,

the color of my girls Thanksgiving slipper boots.

And one way our family will choose Joy this year

is by choosing Christmas.

It won’t be about lights.

It won’t be about presents.

It won’t be about music

or toys

or movies

or time off

or decorations

or trees

or even the people we like the best.

Joy doesn’t depend on any of that.

It only depends on us.

On a decision

-a belief, really-

that light can come to the darkness

and shine

even though the darkness does not understand it.

So while this holiday season will certainly have work and tears and difficulty and all of the things that go with the reunions of those who don’t know or love each other as well as they used to

– or wished to.,

There will also be Joy.

I’ve decided it.

And this time, the Joy won’t be pretend. It will be a celebration of all that is good and every gift that has been given in a season that at first seemed to be covered in sooty ash.

It will be a recount of all

the tiny blessings

and little miracles

and provisions

and serendipities

and transcendent life-changes.

It will be the laughter of my children as they beat me at Dutch Blitz.

It will be the childlike glee of my husband as he restrains himself from opening the girls Lego ahead of them.

It will be all the little moments that are stored up and joyed up to be played up

for all the Christmases yet to come.

Oh, what a difference three years has made.

I have learned the secret of being content in every situation. – Paul, to the Philippians

Find the Joy. Joy will burn out the pain. – Joseph Campbell

Welcome, Christmas.

We’ve been waiting for you.

 

 

Guarded

I’m afraid one has all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it. – Jane Austen

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.  – Proverbs

 

The boy with the bread gets me every single time.

For those of you who’ve read The Hunger Games, my apologies from the start: I’m Team Peeta.

Something about how he bakes when he’s stressed

or the moment he tosses Katniss

the burnt loaf of bread

on the day when she’s starving,

or perhaps the way Suzanne Collins described him from the beginning,

I knew he was the hero of that story.

Or maybe it’s because I have my own boy with the bread.

In the disaster of the last six months,

the series of moments-turned-into-months

in which one catastrophe morphed into another

and one heartbreak multiplied on top of itself,

-all while we were waiting to hear if I was dying or not-

I had thought about,

perhaps even vowed

to give up this blog.

For good.

Truly, for everyone’s good.

See, when you’re thinking this might be the beginning of the end

you realize that all the things you used to expect of your life

like, of course I get to live 80 years or so,

and of course there’s some equity in suffering,

and everyone’s got a story to tell,

you come to conclusions like,

if this really big thing has already hit me

then certainly I wouldn’t get five other really big things

to deal with

all at once,

and if that couldn’t-possibly-happen

actually did happen

then of course some of those I treasure most

wouldn’t turn and strike

while at my lowest

of

lows.

My friends,

unfortunately,

sometimes

those life rules

those surely-not-this truisms

we’ve collected over our whispers of time

here on a swiftly tilting planet,

just.

get.

wiped.

out,

blown bright blue breaths of what once was who we were yesterday

and who we’ll never be again.

And while I’ve grown to love,

embrace,

even welcome

the blows of beautiful comrades

who want better for me,

sometimes the things that pierce our hearts are not

the wise rebukes of wonderful friends

who know we can be better and tell us so.

Sometimes those daggers are just that – blows that

(conscious or not)

were meant to hurt.

And while the first offer hope that our ends could be so much better than our beginnings,

the second merely pushes us back in the box we came from

with such great force

that we think we can’t possibly ever break out of it.

So in these moments-turned-into-months

that I spent stuffed in the corner of my dark little box

infested with all the words and wounds

of yesterday

I had plenty of time to think about why all these

worst things that could be said about me

didn’t feel true

anymore.

It was more than pain.

It was a breaking of sorts.

Somewhere, in the middle of all of this, our breadmaker quit.

And while we debated whether or not to buy a new one

my personal bread baker

(Confession: I have never, I repeat never, made bread or anything resembling it, from scratch, in a machine, or otherwise. If you have received bread from my hands then it was not made by my hands).

took it upon himself

to learn how to make bread

without the machine.

Now, some five months later or so, three or more nights a week are spent in our living room,

a movie on the television

while one of us marks schoolwork

and the other kneads bread.

And I confess again, all talk of a new bread machine has silenced.

Not only is the bread he makes by hand so much better than the machine’s,

he actually likes the process.

Look at this, the boy with the bread marvels, his eyes lit up like a child’s as they open their favorite birthday present.

He offers two balls of dough, one in each hand.

This one, he says, this one has been kneaded thoroughly.

He makes me touch it, feel it. It’s soft – a cushion, really. Every dent I try to put in it dissolves the moment my finger lifts.

See? he exclaims. Watch.

He lifts one edge of the bread and slams it down against the other edge, flips it, and crashes down again.

It looks almost violent.

When water mixes with gluten, it causes the gluten to develop. The sponginess is directly related to how well-worked the gluten is.

He pulls out the ball that has been worked enough and stretches it out.

A well-kneaded ball of dough can be stretched to the point you can see right through it

(at this point he holds the thinnest part of now two feet long stretch of dough by his face and smiles at me through it)

and it doesn’t break.

Show me the other ball, I said.

Ah, that, Mr. Breadmaker-who’s-still-the-star-of-this-blog sighs. It breaks. Feel it.

I put down my marking and press my hands into the dough that hasn’t been worked over,  the ball that’s been saved the rough and tumble of the kneading process so far.

And every press and marking I make in it

stays

there,

like the dough is collecting its wounds.

The boy with the bread picks up this second dough, the one not-so-well-kneaded, and tries to stretch it out as he had the other.

It’s not even two or three inches apart before it snaps in two.

A well-kneaded dough, under pressure, stays together, he says.

One that’s had it easy breaks at the first sign of stretch.

Three years ago,

I was reading The Hunger Games on my break at work.

The blog star called me to say

I’m headed into emerg. The girls are with friends. I think I’m in atrial fibrillation again.

I felt my heart drop to my feet

because

I’d just gotten to the part in Catching Fire

where Peeta touches the forcefield

and his heart stops.

I raced downstairs only to find two sympathetic ambulance drivers looking at me with kind eyes and soft smiles.

His vitals were good, one said. Sats, rate, pressure all perfect. We think its a –

I interrupted them. I get it.

I looked at my boy with the bread. I saw the fear in his eyes. I said,

Hey.

And he knew what had happened.

Because of that,

neither one of us freaks out

whenever he feels that thing,

because we know it might not be real.

So when I got a call three weeks ago

as I was leaving work

that I think I’m in afib again,

I didn’t believe him.

Take some deep breaths, I said. I’m on my way, but it’s probably nothing.

But when I pulled up to the door

and I saw him look out

my heart dropped to two floors below my feet

because his face said it all:

grey.

mottled.

worried.

And as I grabbed his wrist, the uneven, thready beats against my fingertips said even more.

It was real.

The ambulance was there in minutes. An IV in, the electrical paddles out, then:

I think we can make it to emerg. Probably best we do it there.

The eight or so men in the living room all look up at me: You okay?

Yeah, sure, I lied.

They left, with reassurances and promises that I could call for any updates.

I fell to the floor and called for help.

What can I do? was the answer to every text I sent.

For what felt like the first time, I let myself need these people who offered to be needed,

and in moments,

they were on their way:

one to watch our kids,

another to get me to the hospital,

a third to say I’m so sorry and We’ll be right there and what I needed to hear most, which was:

We love you.

The one who got me to emerg – and the other who met me there – stood on either side and held my hands, my arms, anything to hold me up

while my boy with the bread

had his heart restarted.

In order to do this, of course, they had to sedate him.

And conscious sedation is kind of a fun experience for those around the one getting it.

Ahem.

Just a heads up, the ER doc warned me, this is pretty much truth serum. I’ve had men confess to affairs under this stuff before.

Don’t worry, I laughed. That’s not what’s going to happen here.

And it wasn’t.

Oh.

I wish.

I could capture these moments for all of you to see how beautiful it was.

For while the moment the electrical restart went through David’s body was nothing short of exquisitely painful for me –

that long, dark, owwwwwwwwww he cried while sitting up and glaring at the medical staff around him part terrifying, part endearing

because, let’s face it, the first time this happened he had gone through this alone

and I had no idea how much it hurt

– the moments that followed were nothing but pure gold.

He’s in sinus, the ER doc said to me, proudly? reassuringly? In either case, it made me smile.

As he started to reorient himself to the real world, the inner workings of his mind and heart started pouring out:

Is that you, Lana?

Wow, I’m thirsty. (to our friend), I will give you two million dollars if you get me a drink of water right. now.

Her response was perfect: You don’t have two million dollars, buddy.

#(*$&%*&^$ it!!! Came the retort.

Another friend walked in.

Heeeeyyyyyy I know you…. I was on a beach with you…. they kept asking me to think of when I was last on a beach…. hey guys!!! She was there! She was with us on a beach!

Both my friends are now doubled over with laughter.

He looks straight (well, as straight as straight can be under ketamine) at me and asks, in all seriousness,

Did I give away the secrets to the rebel base?

– Oh honey.

They were on Dantooine, he laughs. Princess Leia lied!

The ER doc walks back in, and even he is smiling.

Did you know that ninjas are the best???

The nurse looks at my shaking body and says, hey, stop taping him. It’s not fair.

I look up to see even he is stifling a grin.

See, if truth serum reveals what is actually in our hearts,

then what’s in my husband’s heart is nothing more or less

than the dreams of a five-year-old boy who fully intends to be a hero.

And, my friends, that’s exactly who he is.

It’s beautiful.

Untainted.

Unprotected by the acquired wisdom of age and intelligence

he’s never been more real

or more endearing.

Because, if we’re all really being honest,

deep inside

we’re still just five-year-old little girls and boys

claiming to be so grown up

and over it

and fine on my own, thank you very much

except all of that is a lie.

And we mask it oh. so. well.

Some stunningly beautiful, others stark and ugly,

these masks can serve us a very long time, if we learn to use them.

But sooner or later

they are ripped out by their roots,

leaving spindly tracks that

– if not filled with the right kind of balm –

get infected with trickles and gushes of garbage

passed on by others

who aren’t aware of all the things they are scrambling to do to keep their own five year old hidden.

But, my friends, if I could warn you:

These masks are dangerous.

Acutely aware of how uncertain our circumstances are these past few months, I’ve asked several friends

how we can get ourselves into situations

where nothing looks right-side-up anymore.

It’s scary, one of them said. But unfortunately we see this kind of thing all the time. The right shake up comes along and the most mature among us can be revealed to be as undeveloped and immature as any spiritual infant.

What happens? I asked.

Filters falter. Masks fall.  The things we’ve spent doing in our thirties and forties are revealed for what they’ve produced in our fifties and sixties.

In other words,

friends,

how we cultivate our hearts

– nay, our souls –

in the young, thriving, oh-so-busy parts of our lives,

in the years when we’re so tempted to just keep doing and never slow down

will produce a garden for the whole world to see as we grow older

and all those props we’ve used until then

– our careers, our families, our homes, our abilities, our talents, our treasures –

will prove themselves no longer as valuable as we once thought them.

And I don’t want them to see a wasteland.

I want to invite them in to a beautiful patch of fresh, bright, goodness.

One of my nearest and dearests is a woman whom I have loved dearly for years but whom I’ve only started to truly know recently. Along the way I’d admired her grace and her oh-so-strong filter, her carefulness to speak only truth and love and wisdom and whatever needed to be said in the moment, and if there’s ever been moments where I’ve known she’s held something back from me,

I’ve also known she was disciplining her soul to be new and different

and setting a standard for all those who wanted to see it:

Show me I can trust you.

There’s such wisdom in that, friends.

See, in the last few months of dark thoughts and murky backwaters, in an effort to commit to growth and let myself be kneaded to the point of transparency without breaking,

I’ve also subjected my heart

– and my husband’s –

to wasteful un-truth

and in so doing,

failed to guard the heart of the one I love the most

whose heart is really part of mine.

And as his heart was restarted in pain,

so was mine.

There is great wisdom in guarding our hearts well, friends.

If we don’t, we might not have a healthy garden to show in twenty or thirty years.

Another of my dearests

asked me this the other day

as we watched so many around us

end part of their lives

at less than their best.

How do we not do that? she asked me.

You’re younger than me, she said. Feel free to smack me back on track if I try and pull that off.

I promised, but of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll be there to see it.

Because we don’t know when we’re finishing, friends.

We just don’t.

I do know this, however: I intend to finish well.

Because if I’m honest,

I’ve never been too interested in things that start well.

Things that start like a house on fire can also blow up in less than five minutes.

I’ve also never been too interested in things that look too good from the outside.

Give me Darcy, not Wickham.

I want the one whose soul is revealed to be nothing but good,

when all the masks are down.

Because while true goodness of character is sometimes masked by poor reputation,

a tree is known by its fruit

and you just don’t get bad fruit from a good tree.

Speaking of trees,

these days I’ve been told a lot that I’m that apple that didn’t fall too far from it.

And though I’ve often heard, You’re just like your father, these past few months that thought has carried around a bit of sting.

Because my dad did not start well.

And if I’m being honest, neither did I.

It took cancer to change both of us. It took the threat of death to bring new life.

Every three months, someone sticks a needle in my arm

to collect a sample

that tells me if I am finishing yet or not.

The results in November seemed to say that perhaps the finish was closer than we’d hoped. The disease was returning, the mutation re-mutating, the numbers of cancer gene rising.

And while my emotional world crashed around me

I learned that

finish line or not

I was going to be okay.

Good, even.

To the point when I walked into the oncologist’s office in February

and had a new doctor

smaller in stature than my nine-year-old

tell me that not only were the numbers better

they were the best they’ve ever been,

I realized that sometimes we all need a painful event

to restart our heart

and set us back to sinus rhythm.

The good news: For now, I’m not finishing yet.

But when I do, I intend to finish well.

Hopefully,

I am just like my father.

Because that man, he. ended. well.

So well, in fact, I barely remember how he started, except to say that I know it was so different than how he ended that I can testify to anyone who asks that

he let himself be mastered

by the One who knows so much better than we do

that our hearts desperately need the violent, cataclysmic effects of an Expert Bread Maker

who won’t let us stay un-kneaded.

It’s those painful, forceful workings of the Bread Maker’s hands that let us be soft enough to not collect every wound that could possibly touch us,

and allow us to,

like the boy with the bread,

plant flowers in the middle of our losses

and remind us

that

even in grief there is the hope of something new.

It is only the well-kneaded that have the strength to say,

even though I’ve endured much pain,

I won’t inflict it on anyone else.

That’s the beautiful overflow of a guarded heart.

That’s a heart that can plant flowers while the one it loves grieves the world they used to know.

That’s the man I live with.

He’s that gentle voice that says, hey, we can do something with this.

Even now.

Even now.

Friends,

be not afraid to share your heart with those who can be trusted with it.

But be also not afraid to keep it safe for those who should see it.

(here’s a hint: that’s not everyone)

Because not only are our hearts precious,

they’re the thing that will carry us through our six, seven, even eight or nine decades.

They’re the thing that’s revealed as the filters fail and wrinkles win.

And I don’t know about you, but I want mine

to be the best thing that anyone ever saw of me.

So, what do you say

we guard them well?

For good.

For everyone’s good.

 

 

New

So, this is Christmas. – John Lennon

Its the most wonderful weekend of the year.

No, seriously. Forget your fowl and your favors and your fragrant festive evergreens. You can have your soirees, your shopping malls and your savory sweets.

Even those joyous reunions of relatives from near and far on Christmas Day – which has traditionally been my favorite thing – can’t beat this weekend for me.

Call me a sentimentalist.

Call me a stage momma.

Call me a minivan-driving (yes, it’s true!), behind-the-scenes cheering, every-cliche-you’ve-never-hoped-to-be soccer/hockey/school-scheduled thirty-something crazy lady whose entire life revolves around her children.

I won’t care.

I must be all of those things, or the Kids Choir Production wouldn’t be my favorite part of Christmas.

Which is why I was more than just a little disturbed when the cold I thought was finally finished came storming back in the wee hours of Friday morning.

(Christmas colds – now truly they are the gift that keeps on giving.)

Saturday evening I bundled up my miniature minstrels and tiny-shepherds-with-Katniss-braids in their winter coats and gloves and boots and said goodbye as they went off to perform and I went back to bed.

It was tragic.

It was lonely.

It was the best thing I could have done.

See, what the perpetually healthy don’t know – and what most of us fail to acknowledge – is that being sick is our body’s way

of slowing down

and taking notice

of the things that need healing.

Just as cars sputter when in need of some work, our physical tents demand attention when

neglected,

overworked,

underfed,

or sometimes just

unheard.

So in those hours of

coughing and

sputtering and

surrendering to the fog that is a sinus headache,

my mind stilled enough to let me

breathe

pause

turn things over

and reflect on my love-hate relationship with this season.

I asked a dear friend about this today.

Why do I find this time of year so hard?

Her answer was filled with such clarity and composure that, even as her words came out, I felt my heart letting go of some things I didn’t even know were there.

It’s not just the enforced busyness.

It’s not the lure of materialism.

It’s not even my strong dislike of the pressure to keep up with the Janzens

in the latest and greatest

nine-year-old-girl toy

or cutest new family tradition.

It’s deeper than that.

See,

I love my family.

Truly.

I have one of the good ones, you know?

They are beautiful, funny, caring people.

They know how to have fun and be kind. They are thoughtful and deep, careful and reflective, respectful and honest.

But when I’m with them, I can become something I no longer am.

Let me explain.

Christmas is that time of year where, in some capacity at least, each of us is encouraged to go back to something.

Back home.

Back to the people who raised us.

Back to the people we grew up with.

Back to the people we used to know.

Back to the things we used to do.

And in going back, we think we will find something we’ve lost in this big, scary world of change and the growing knowledge of our own adult ineptitude.

We think we’ll find grace.

We think we’ll find hope.

We think we’ll find some section of the happy parts of our childhood and reclaim that person we used to be that saw the whole world ahead of them and limitless possibilities of all that could happen to them

and we could be

so

much

happier.

And sometimes that happens.

When it does, well… That’s what all the movies are about.

But the moments it doesn’t happen – and maybe its at your office Christmas party, or your cookie-baking day with your best friend or your shopping trip with your long-lost Aunt Nellie – those moments leave me confused.

Lost.

A little betrayed.

And I ask myself if I remembered it wrong.

But some of the things I lost in adulthood … I lost them on purpose.

There’s so much of me that I never want to see again.

I never want to be that again.

I never want to do that thing again.

I never want to be that person who was capable of such meanness or impulsiveness or harshness or unforgiveness. I don’t want that. Ever. Again.

And the best part?

I’m.

Not.

That.

Person.

Anymore.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of you have experienced a radical life change in a cataclysmic moment, or even just a series of painful-but-profitable tweaks and snips and prunes that have softened some of your rougher edges and carved beautiful patterns in some of your uglier bits.

Some of you have also had the incomparable beauty of a vibrant and vulnerable community

that may or may not share your DNA

to whom you’ve chosen to attach yourself.

And, if they’re anything like mine,

they’ve become a witness

to everything that is new in you.

And while our families of origin

know how we started

and love us anyways,

it is our spiritual families who see everything we are becoming and call it beautiful.

Three Christmases ago, some of these gathered around our kitchen island and ate pizza as our kids watched a movie in the living room. It was one of those nights that we were all so busy and a little bit broken that for a few minutes there was only eating, no talking. And then they caught sight of my recent Homesense find –

A slightly-broken, easily mended sign that now hangs in our front hallway:

A friend is one

that knows you as you are

understands where you’ve been

accepts what you have

and still allows you to grow.

A smile spread across their face.

That. Is. Awesome.

It’s fitting they were the ones to notice, since I picked it because of

who they were and

all they were already teaching me to be.

And while I had not a fraction of a clue what those words actually meant when I bought it,

I was soon about to learn.

And it was hard.

And ugly.

And one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had.

And yet,

and yet,

I finally get it.

Friends –

What if we could do that for each other?

What if we went into Christmas

ignoring the shoulds and the coulds and the maybes and the wish I coulds and the malls and the media and every single thing that called us away from

giving other people space enough to grow?

Sometimes,

sometimes,

what happens in families

– even the very best, kindest, and most connected ones –

is that we organize ourselves

around who we used to be

and what we used to do together

and – hey, remember when you did this crazy thing? –

that we slip into becoming

storehouses for all of each other’s worst moments

and not

cheerleaders for the best moments

that might

still be yet to come.

Friends –

What I’m suggesting isn’t easy.

It’s living in upside-down land.

It violates all of our natural tendencies

to reach out across the divide

– especially if we have become very different people with very different lives –

and desperately try to connect

to that piece of the other that we

remember,

had a part of,

or hope we still have in common.

The problem with this, of course,

is that we don’t allow

for the strong possibility

that the other person may have become something

we don’t recognize,

know,

or fully understand.

But.

What if we did something different?

What if we expected them to be different?

Parents, what if we looked at our kids, for example, and said, maybe instead of

you’ve always been that way or

so-and-so’s just like (Dad) or

don’t be silly, that’s not for you,

offered

wow! you’re trying something different!

or

It’s hard to change. But also kind of fun.

or

tell me more about that, I’ve always wanted to try it.

What if we were curious people

who allowed others to be different

simply by being different ourselves?

It’s not world peace.

It’s not solving world hunger, or poverty, or the problem of evil.

It won’t always work.

And we won’t always feel up to it.

But what if this was our Christmas gift to each other? What if, instead of running ragged to all the pleas to give more or be more or do more or think more or read more or make everything perfect, or at least everything perfectly according to Facebook

and instead just let each other grow a bit?

Our family is headed into a season of uncertainty on several levels. Our girls are growing and time is speeding by. Our jobs are changing and growing and forcing us to grow in the best of ways. And in the middle of it all, we’ve been told

the cancer gene levels in my blood

are

also

(unfortunately)

growing.

It was only one test.

It’s possible it was nothing.

It’s might be just a blip,

an inaccurate reading,

or a number not all that different from my previous ones.

But it might not.

We won’t know until the next round of test results –

that take three months to get back.

So.

For now.

We.

Wait.

For good news or bad, we’re not sure.

The one thing I am sure of is that

there’s nothing I can do

to affect the outcome

of a test I’ve already taken

except

take my little white pills,

sleep,

eat,

exercise,

and soak up the myriad of moments

that, for now,

I’ve been given.

And while I could be angry

and some may say I’d be justified in it

I’m.

Just.

Not.

See, cancer has been a good friend to me.

It’s poked and prodded all of the worst parts from me and somehow made me

happier

brighter

better connected

and more lightly accessorized with the baggage

of all my immature

entitlements,

demands,

and expectations

of what my adult life would look like.

Friends, please hear me on this:

Cancer has been good to me.

(And no, I’m not making that up.)

The people who have been there in it

the people who’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly

know exactly why I’m saying this.

They know

they can see

that I’m not who I was

and I never will be again.

So friends,

As we enter this Christmas season,

I urge you

to resist that urge

to go back.

Choose to go on.

Decide to go forward.

And offer those around you the space to join you.

If we do it right,

that new land,

full of possibilities and

growth and

new creation

will be so appealing

that they won’t be able to help

but trip along behind us

Beside us.

Hand in hand.

Giggling at the possibility of a second chance.

Another breath.

A new life.

And really,

isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

A very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope its a good one, without any fear. – John Lennon

 

Big Bang Theory

Summer.

You beast.

You fair-weather friend.

You bring your endless promises of lengthy goodness and shorter nights.

You smile your bounty of good food and island smells.

You remind me that I live in paradise.

But then you sneak in your underhanded jabs.

Your bugs.

Your overgrown, dead-weight, yellow-jacket drones.

Your rat-blasted mosquitoes.

And your lies that you will last forever.

Your illusions that the horrible winter chill will never return.

That we will never wear sweaters again.

Truth be told, I’d never seen a summer like you.

(At least, not in Beautiful Meterogically-Unreliable British Columbia.)

Gone were Vancouverite’s genetic adaptation we like to call Sun-Induced Panic.

Rants of rain in July were nowhere to be found.

We got so used to the good weather we started to trust it.

Expect it.

Forget that we were not Southern California – and that rain was not optional.

I confess.

It lulled me a bit.

I began to rest in the certainty of goodness.

I should know better.

For as all labour and delivery nurses will tell you, unless you have a surplus of vacation hours,

Summer’s last laugh is the ever-exploding birth rates at your local hospital.

People, please. Allow me a pause for a PSA of the birthing kind.

Not all of you must have babies in the summer.

I’m sure you all think it’s a great idea back in October and November. It’s cold out now, there’s nothing much to do, we were going to try anyways, and wouldn’t it be best for everyone’s schedule if we had a baby in July or August? Or, failing that, September?

I can give you your answer right now:

NO. IT WOULD NOT BE BEST FOR EVERYONE’S SCHEDULE.

In fact, I can tell you exactly who it would NOT be good for.

That’s right.

Your local, loyal, overly-protective, slightly-delirious mat nurse.

Those people you see laughing maniacally every day about 8 pm? Or, if they’re on nights, 8 am?

The ones wearing alien green scrubs? Or blue, or purple, or dark taupe, or the warmed over color of vomit, or whatever it is that your local hospital has provided for them to douse themselves in preparation for the bodily fluids threatening to cover them at any moment, either yours or your baby’s or, well, their own.

Because, contrary to popular belief,

Maternity is not the happiest place ever.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s beautiful. It’s the best, and hardest, and most challenging, most rewarding thing I have ever done – besides raise my own children.

When it goes well, it goes very, very well. There is no other feeling like helping a new life into the world – nestling it into its mother’s arms, take pictures for the new little grouping of three, or four, or five, or in Abbotsford, ten.

(Nope. Not judging. Just tired.)

Because when it doesn’t go well…

It goes very, very wrong.

That’s the only word that makes sense. It’s wrong to see good people struggle to have healthy babies. It’s wrong to have new life bathed in uncertainty. It’s just plain not right that we can’t expect perfection and ease in the welcoming of new little ones into this messed-up, but also incredibly beautiful world.

Confession: I’ve never been a clean person.

No, truly.

Anyone who has been to my house knows this.

I am friends with clean people.

They show me grace when they agree to come to my house, because, while I am by no means easy-going (seriously, stop laughing. I can hear you.) I am often too busy or too tired to care what my house looks like, at least to the point where I realize that I don’t actually employ a maid to read my mind and put things where I want them, and my pent up irritation at something else boils over to the point of

an explosion

of erhm…order.

I call it my personal Big Bang Theory.

This developing theory measures how messy my house – or my life – must be in order for me to explode in Big Bang Proportions,

in which I make my house look

the way it should have in the beginning.

In other words, it is a furious force of change

in which I attempt to

Impose order on chaos.

Filter out redundancies, stupidities, and irrelevancies.

And if it feels like rolling a giant sleeping bear up the side of Whistler Mountain, I know its because I’m

Fighting the Law of Entropy

In which

(as Wikipedia will tell you)

nature guides all things into a slowly descending state of disorder.

The Law of Entropy is curious, see. At least to scientists. And it both supports and challenges our history of origins in the most bizarre way. It supports the principle of death and decay; it challenges the theory that all we see around us exists because the untamed forces in the pre-existing universe’s matter combined together

to make everything

more ordered

more complex

and, well…

better.

But I sometimes have a hard time with that piece,

because,

at least when it comes to human soul evolution

– at least to this human’s soul evolution –

if an outside force doesn’t act on it, it just gets more chaotic.

And just like no mess in the history of the world has ever called a convention to say, hey, maybe lets clean ourselves up. 

But rather collides with itself and says, hey, aren’t I great? I should make more of me. 

(And it does.)

So it is with personal growth.

Because, if I’ve learned anything about soul change, it’s that it doesn’t usually begin with an internal prompt.

Oh, maybe that little wise voice is there – our inner angel, perhaps, or a spiritual guide, if that’s something you believe in – gently suggesting the higher path to take or the rougher edge to smooth.

But if you’re anything like me, it takes the external force of a hurricane

– or maybe the horrific thud of a collision –

to make me actually listen.

If I can get away with not listening, I will.

If my current course of action does not seem to be directly harming anyone or anything, especially if it seems not to be harming me, then I see no need to change it.

Right?

Some people Most of us have to learn the hard way.

The sludgy, stenchy, convulsion-inducing, painful way.

Most of us need our comfortably traveling vehicle to come to a sudden stop for us to realize we are headed in a wrong direction or have a part or two missing.

Sometimes its just that we’ve relied on one thing for too long.

And so we crash, headlong into

ourselves, really.

But the initial hit is usually external.

And it’s fortunate, really, because

Anything left to itself for too long gets worse.

Parents of toddlers know this.

Long periods of silence are rarely a sign of peace.

Short periods, maybe.

But long periods of ease usually end in disaster.

So, summer, I love you.

You’ve been wonderful.

Magical, even.

You’ve changed our lives with your blissful kisses of sunshine.

You’ve left your marks of joy and bubbles of laughter around sunset campfires in the company of those we love the most.

But its good that all good things come to an end.

Because anything left to itself for too long gets worse.

It’s entropy.

It’s humanity.

And it’s time we embraced that.

So, friends,

while my inner child is screaming that summer is over

my grown up is so, so relieved

that the season of change is here.

Because while we live in the Law of Uncertainty that is the British Columbia School System,

this home school momma

is so thankful

for that external force

so many years ago

that threw me off my path toward the last thing I wanted to do.

I’m thankful my family and friends pushed me to the point of decision.

I’m thankful my life circumstances made it clear that this was the path for our family.

I’m thankful for the pain that made me listen.

And while homeschooling is in no means the best or the perfect education option for every or even any family,

the chaos I watch around me right now

reminds me in the moments I’m tempted to whine that I have to start school tomorrow,

to instead be thankful

that I can start school tomorrow,

that I get to spend this much time with my girls

while they still want me to.

So, friends –

No matter what tomorrow holds for you,

I urge you to wake up thankful for whatever apparent life-derailment led you to the chaos of this morning,

for the uncertainty that perhaps allows some of you an extended summer,

more time with your kids,

more time to figure things out,

a push to be creative with your usual modas operandi.

I say this as one

who knows exactly how frustrating

and life-changing

(and in this house, frequent)

those moments are.

(It’s all we’ve lived these last six years, really.)

And while the pain of loss and uncertainty may not be good by itself,

its smoothing results on a restless soul are priceless.

Who knows?

If we each embrace our own crises for the bends in the roads they were meant to be,

we might all come out of this week more ready

to be that external force of change

the world so desperately needs

in order to get better.

Home school moms: Don’t believe that inner devil. You can do this.

Private school moms:  Good on you for recognizing where your kids needed to be and making the sacrifices to get them there.

Public school moms: You’re doing the right thing. You are the plumbline of the new generation. You are the warriors of our children. You are champions for change. You are the ones who insist that all our kids can grow up, get better, be more, and find success.

Teachers: You know what you sacrifice for your kids. Most of us with half a brain know too. Breathe in. Breathe deep. No truly great work is ever easy.

To all of you:

You are amazing, beautiful people.

Your children – at home and at school – desperately need you in whatever capacity you feel called and able to give.

You are not alone,

Which is a good thing.

Because we know

that

All things left alone for too long only get worse.

 

 

Resurrection

 

Some day we will all find what we are looking for. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we will find something much greater than that. – Anonymous

Let the ruins come to life. – Joel Houston

 

Two and a half years ago, I stared at a computer screen and gripped a scrap piece of paper in my hands.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? 

Then:

Does it even matter?

I was 31;

three years into my relationship with leukemia,

and not too many more into my relationship with motherhood.

I struggled to juggle

kids who were no longer toddlers, not quite school-aged children,

with a job I mostly loved, sometimes hated.

I’d graduated from one phase of life

here is where we have children –

to one I never thought I’d see

here is where we try to keep me alive so I can raise those children.

Read more

Hidden

For now we see as in a glass, darkly; then we will see face to face. – Paul

World.

We have a problem.

Slender rectangles dangle in our pockets, our purses, our coats. They call out to our hands, our hearts, our minds.

I wonder if so-and-so responded to what I said yet. I wonder how many people liked my picture on Instagram. I wonder what crazy thing so-and-so has posted on Facebook today. 

And while the wondering isn’t harmful, necessarily,

the constant triggers

of these

personal secretaries,

social assistants,

mini-information-superhighways –

just might

be beginning to rule us.

Read more

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