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Posts tagged ‘Cancer Diaries’

Sing

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes (Matt Redman)

Return to the scene of the crime – the day I let the music die – and rewrite the final line, and this time…. (Sara Bareilles)

There’s a picture in my head of a lady I once knew.

She loved to sing.

In the photo I remember, she rests in a hospital bed.

Singing.

Waiting.

Left arm raised, eyes closed.

Singing, waiting.

There’s another picture in my head of a girl I once was.

She too loved to sing.

And for the better part of a decade, it seemed that wherever she went, people wanted her to sing. Not so much because she was good at it, but because she put her whole self in it.

There’s something powerful about a song that demands all of you.

It’s the kind of song that transcends both lyrics and music to something else altogether.

It’s the kind of song I used to sing.

Used to.

Two months ago, a group of leaders I know were asked to share the people who’d had the biggest impact on who they’ve become.

I volunteered to go first, but by the time I’d heard from the rest of the room, I wished I could take my answer back, or at the very least, edit it.

The maturity of the ladies in that room humbled me.

See, in my early years I’d learned that the sweet spot of growth is when we’ve got the input of those wiser and further along the journey than us, and when we turn what we’ve received from those wise people to invest in those just a few steps behind us.

Except I’m learning now that the sweet spot is less traveled than many of us would wish.

In a season where I’ve been navigating loss on a few different levels, I was now faced with the newfound realization of just how much abundance I’d been given

in those I deeply respect

who’d bothered to take the time

to patiently,

persistently,

and

gently

not only know me and all of my weaknesses,

but also to

experience the

full-blown immaturity

of those weaknesses,

while not going anywhere.

You know those moments where people describe their lives flashing before their eyes?

I had one this week.

Only it wasn’t a near-death experience.

Pulling ourselves together in some of the coldest stretch of weather us weak-willed, easily-chilled,  west-coasters have ever seen,

our family pressed through the remaining achy-ness of the flu

and trekked our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

only to find out that most of Abbotsford

and Langley

had come along with us.

It was a night like no other,

filled with reunions

of all those who knew us when

and songs we all used to sing

led by those who’d inspired many of us to sing in the first place.

And that night I went back to this moment I’d had a few months ago.

It turns out that many of those who’d had the greatest impact on my growing up years

also taught me to sing.

When I woke up this morning I read a story about two men who were singing in the middle of the night –

in prison.

Jailed, shackled to each other, and shivering, they led those around them in songs of

joy,

even through an earthquake.

I mean, what kind of insanity is that?

What reason did they have to sing?

Fourteen years ago this February,

I stood in an old barn-turned-gymnasium

on a Sunday night

with hundreds of others

who’d dedicated their time

to capturing a glimpse of what our songs were like back then.

It’s not a recording I listen to often.

Not only is it strange to hear your own voice,

the memories are so fresh I don’t need to consciously remember them.

And it’s not a coincidence that the lyrics assigned to me were ones of certainty amid trouble.

As I opened my mouth to sing the last song, I looked up at the crowd around us.

Thirty feet in front of me stood my dad.

He would die in the next six months.

And while I didn’t know that then, I still had this sense of a moment happening.

I remember saying something right before we sang that last, oh-so-well-known-song,

something to the effect of

Some of us here need to sing this even though we don’t feel it.

It’s when things are least well that we need to remind ourselves that we are well.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the decade and a half since,

it’s that

it’s the things we don’t feel like singing

that we need to sing the most.

Which is why is surprises me to think that within half a decade of that Sunday night

I wasn’t singing much of anything.

I could point to a thousand different circumstances

or the sins of a hundred different people

to explain that.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is,

I just. stopped. singing.

Then came January of 2009.

Drives to the chemo clinic replaced treks to the grocery store. Plans for vacation became plans for getting through each day.

Feeding my babies.

Making meals.

Wrestling with the worst pain of my life.

Until one day, coming off the Patullo Bridge, a tiny sign in a corner of a strip mall caught my eye:

Pianos.

Pull over, I told my husband.

I needed to see my old instrument.

And in this warehouse of more pianos than I could count, it was a shiny black one off to the side that tugged me towards it.

Perhaps it was the lack of audience, perhaps it was the fresh knowledge that there are no guarantees,

but for the first time in six years

I let myself sit down

and play.

After about twenty minutes, I startled to find an older man a few feet behind me.

He introduced himself as the owner of the store.

Sorry for taking over your instrument, I quickly apologized.

Don’t, he said. You can come and play anytime you like.

It’s like he knew we didn’t have a piano at home, or that something far more serious was going on.

I thanked him and got up to leave.

Halfway out the door, I heard him call,

You have great taste, by the way.

I turned back.

Sarah McLachlan bought that piano last week.

And a little smile grew in my heart.

I turned to David:

I think its time we get a piano.

He nodded. I know.

It’s been too long since I sang.

He nodded again.

Months later, as my cancer levels dropped and my hair thinned out, we found a fallen-off-the-truck baby grand that fit our price range.

It barely made the stairs to our house. Two inches longer and it wouldn’t have made the turn into our piano room, a half-level above our main floor.

But as I sat down to play, something else was different.

The song was different.

It fell … flat.

I don’t like talking about this with people who know me.

These years, the era of singing, feels silly and foolish and

over.

The written and spoken word has somehow become an easier, less vulnerable way to work through the unfinished pieces of my heart.

And so I moved on from that Lana.

I told myself I’d matured.

Evolved.

One season was over and another had begun.

It never occurred to me that in doing so I was being inconsistent with myself.

See, my favorite books to read are books of history.

My favorite stories are stories of history.

Not just stories of who-did-what-and-when, but why and how and because of this.

These are the layers that most of us never see or fully understand in those around us.

And its these untold histories that I find the most fascinating.

You know when you witness a reaction from another person that seems disproportionate to the situation and an observer says, there’s some history there,

That’s where you know the interesting stuff is.

It’s also when you know to stop asking questions. These aren’t details everyone needs to – or should – know. Because the places where there’s history there are

often the most personal,

vulnerable,

and less-shiny places.

Not everyone needs to know them,

nor should we constantly let our minds speculate about them

if we’ve not been invited in to them.

But it is curious to me that while these moments that a handful of others sometimes graciously allow me to see are the same moments I’m so reluctant to show.

Perhaps we’re all just a little bit ashamed of our own histories.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have reason to be.

Two years ago this week I wrote about the need to allow those we’ve known the longest become a new version of themselves. True friends – and healthy families – don’t just try to stuff each other back into the same old boxes they’ve always filled out, but genuinely allow each other to grow.

Except now I wonder if that’s only part of it.

Because while we’ve all done things to be ashamed about, knowing our own histories – the ins and outs and where we went wrong and where we turned a right corner – might be essential to our survival.

It all depends on the lens we choose.

We can choose the rose-colored lens, editing out the bad, remembering only the good.

Most people call this nostalgia.

But wistful sentimentality rarely helps us move forward.

If left unchecked, it can inspire a melancholic lust of the good ol’ days that will never be found again.

On the other hand, there is the ashen lens, editing out the good and remembering only the terrible.

Only the terrible swallows us up.

We have no choice but to build a wall between ourselves and the selves we used to be.

We might not call it as it is, but those around us will hear it for what its produced:

Cold-hearted,

ascerbic,

destructive,

bitterness.

And while nostalgia will leave us naively vulnerable to unhealthy repeats of ours – and others – worst mistakes, bitterness will cut us off from any real community, making us allergic to healthy, long-term relationships.

Which is actually what most of us want.

So if looking back both too often and too little will leave us bereft, what’s left in this season of remembrance, reflection, and endless gatherings of those you don’t always know so well and those who know you all too well?

This fall hit our family with a bang on so many levels. School, work, and relationships collided for one of the most intense periods of loss I’ve ever known.

There were moments – many of them – where I didn’t know what was good anymore.

And while they were just a series of really horrible days, they seemed that they would last forever,

that this was our new normal.

And it felt. just. awful.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled on a book called Choosing Gratitude.

It promised I’d find joy no matter what my circumstances were.

Yes, please, and yeah, right warred back and forth in my mind.

Yes, please, must have won out, because I read the book.

I think because I just didn’t know what else to do.

And slowly, over those next sixty days, my stiff, chilly heart started to thaw.

It wasn’t rose-colored or grey lenses I needed at all.

It was the crystal-clear ones

the kind like my oldest daughter puts on each morning,

those that allow her farsightedness to come into perfect alignment,

the kind that permits all colors and lines and shades into her vision for a

more complete picture.

So at the end of a month of challenging myself to a gratitude challenge, I had a blog all ready to go.

I read it now and realize it for the sanctimonious awfulness it would have been.

But it seemed like everything was building to this moment where I, on the heels of my thirty-day gratitude challenge, could march into my oncologist’s office and finally hear those magical words of

in remission.

Back in March, we were so close.

It seemed it was only a matter of time.

We’d even started to make plans as if it were true.

Think positive, our world always tells us, right?

But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change things that are beyond our control.

No superfood or naturopath or magic bullet theory of health and wellness

guarantees any of us an abundance of next breaths and endless days

living exactly as we wish for.

(That requires Someone outside of us.)

So when I learned that instead of my levels of the cancer gene being not findable or in complete molecular response or even closer to that magical level of remission,

but instead a little bit worsenot a lot worse, still good, still okay, just not what I wanted –

I came home and cried.

I was so, so ready for this to be over. For the era of cancer to be complete.

What use was gratitude in this?

It took a week or so, plus the firm words of those who know better than me –

to climb the seven steps to the half-level above our living room

where our slightly-dented, too-often-under-used, shiny black baby grand sits.

And I sat.

And I opened the books of the songs I used to sing.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, You have taught me to say

It is well with my soul.

Friends,

the complete picture of our lives

is not the tiny little fragment we can see right now.

Its the snapshots from all the moments that make us who we are today

and all the moments left to come

even though we have no idea what they will be.

If I’ve learned one thing this fall, its that on the mornings I wake and see nothing to be thankful for,

I can dip into my history.

And it turns out there’s plenty of reasons to sing.

Not the least of which is,

I’m still here.

Eight years later.

The thing is,

There’s so much responsibility that goes with it.

How many get an unusual extension on their lives and use it on themselves, cultivating selfishness and greed in the name of carpe diem, or worse, take it as a sign that God-loves-them-better-than-others or that they-had-more-faith or took-better-care-of-themselves and then develop a five-step plan for how the rest of the world can be awesome like them?

It’s nauseating, really.

What my children would remember of me if I’d died when the disease said I should have, back in the wee moments of 2009, would have been, well,

nothing.

There’s the great responsibility: I’ve lived long enough for them to remember me.

Oh dear.

I asked Noelle the other day if it was better that she remember her mom or that she didn’t? What would be easier?

Ever so thoughtfully, she spoke with her usual conviction.

Definitely that I would remember you.

It was the end of a truly horrible parenting day, one in which at least two apologies were required of me if my children were going to have any sort of compassion for the nastiness they saw in their mother. So I’m not sure if its bravery or an insane need to know the whole truth about myself that prompted me to ask them at the end of this kind of day

what they would remember about me.

Elliana said:

that you stayed in your pyjamas every day until you had to go somewhere.

(Truth).

Noelle said:

that you taught us… everything. You teach us everything, Mom.

That’s the thing – I do.

Good, bad, ugly. Everything I do and say teaches them something.

And if I’ve not taught them how to sing in the fiercest storm, I haven’t done my job.

So, self.

So, friends.

It’s time. Old songs, new songs, and everything in between.

It’s time to sing.

I warn you,

It’s the kind of song that will demand all of us.

But I think we’ll find

that at the end of it

the words will be a little more true,

things will be a little more right

and our eyes will see a little more clearly

just how well it is.

 

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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.

 

 

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

 

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

Living Light

Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong. – Leo Buscaglia

He was tall in the bed and I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.'” – Marcus Zusak

Shall we accept good from Him and not trouble? – Job

It has been a week of tears.

Not all tears are bad.

Wednesday’s tears were beautiful. The girls happily ensconced in their dance teachers’ capable hands, I enjoyed a built-in pause in the middle of my day at Tim Horton’s, sipping steeped tea with one of those people who gets me better than most – someone I feel just as comfortable crying with as laughing.

And we laughed.

Then we cried.

How did the world got so much darker than it used to be?

Read more

Superwoman and the Impossible Dream

I sit in the middle of a half-painted room.

Green painter’s tape encases the semi-white trim of my stairwell. A gallon of  Swiss Coffee paint sits opened two feet from me, a two-inch paint brush on the newspaper-covered floor next to me.

I am tired.

Two years ago, David and I remodeled our kitchen. We took out a wall, replaced the cabinets, and painted it – white.

White has a dramatic effect on a small house. The walls look cleaner, less enclosing, somehow.  And when I saw the kitchen results, when I realized how much white opened up the room I spend the most time in, I thought, maybe I should keep going with this color.

So I did. I stretched the Sandstone Cove into the hallway and down the stairs.

But I got tired.

Read more

Definition

I have a friend who’s really good at something.

Actually, I have lots of friends who are freakishly talented at one thing or another. David and I float in a variety of accomplished crowds. We know alotof big-dreamers, sky-reachers, place-goers, and world-changers.

We – not so secretly – love living vicariously through them.

But to us, they’re just them.

We recently attended a party for one of these place-goers. Everyone who spoke about her mentioned her incredible talent.

I wasn’t surprised to hear how gifted she was. But the more I heard people refer to that thing, the more I thought, yeah, she’s really great at that, but…

…But to me, she’s just her.

Read more

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