Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Christmas Wears a Black Wreath

Until about 40 years ago, when a family experienced a death, they hung a black wreath on the door.  It was message to the world you had lost a loved one, and many cases the deceased was being held "in state" inside. Seeing the wreath on the door of a loved one announced this was the place to pay your respects. It also meant, we are grieving, please give us some time.

It also warned away the frivolous and nuisance calls made to the home.  In those days, salesmen and solicitors of all types knew what the wreath meant.  In most of the world, the practice has been forgotten and I dare say, a wreath on todays door will deter no one.

But I remember wanting a black wreath on my door when my mom died.  She died just 11 days after I had a serious surgery.  I had gone to the hospital for a scheduled surgery but fearful she would die while I was in surgery...she was that close to death.  The day she died was the first day after surgery that I awoke and said "I don't think this is going to kill me".  It was the first day I believed I could survive.  My first thought was to ride out to see my mother.  I did.  She died later that same evening, while all her daughters were under her roof together.

I came home that night and wished I had a black wreath for the door.  Something to tell the world driving by "something big, something important happened to the people in this family". Life wasn't going to be normal for quite some time.  I needed  to tell the world that my mother had just died.  It tells the world, GIVE US TIME TO GRIEVE!  I think the black wreath custom should return.

This week I share the pain of my friend Laura who just lost her mother earlier this week.  For Laura and her mother things went quickly.  I pray God's mercy touches Laura and her family and leaves peace with them.

Over the last 2 months, my sister lost first her mother in law, and then her father in law.  He died slightly more than a month after his wife.  Perhaps he really couldn't live without her.

My sister and her family was grieving the lost of two parents...when an aunt passed away last week.  The whole family is in grief.  I had to counsel my sister.  She was weeping in despair because she didn't FEEL like decorating for Christmas.  She asked for help and got no response.  Now one wanted the festive dinners.  The cookies didn't taste as sweet this year. No one wanted cookies.   My sister didn't want to spend the time to bake more.  She was MAD because this wasn't Christmas.  She was MAD because she couldn't do it all, everyone else seemed to put the pressure on her to MAKE Christmas.

So I told her to take a step back.  Obviously, Christmas is foremost the celebration of the birth of Christ. Everything else was second to that.  She and no one else should beat up on themselves because THIS Christmas, they were hurting too much to boisterously celebrate with carols, lights, endless baking, trees, or parties.  She needed a black wreath on the door to tell the neighborhood "Hey, cut us some slack, we're grieving up in here."

My advice to my sister.  Stop trying to find time to wrap gifts.  Go to the dollar store and buy gift bags.  Call it good and hide the bags until you're ready for the snoopy noses.  The world will not end if you give gifts still in the department store bags.

Curb the activities outside the home.  You don't have to go to the church party, the office party, the neighborhood party..the school parties.  Choose one that you love and remains important to you, if you feel up to it.  But allow yourself down time for the rest of the facilities.

Forget the elaborate holiday dinners.  You're tired...so use that crock pot.  Serve something non traditional...baked spaghetti, lasagna, grill steaks, slow cook the pot roast.  Your family isn't likely to remember this Christmas as the one mom didn't fix a turkey.  They will remember the Christmas that grandma and grandpa died and no one felt like celebrating Christmas.  Pare down the menu and do what you can.

Don't be shy about asking for help.  I was pleased that when she did state how the family was feeling, several near by family members invited her into their home for dinner.  Other's offered to decorate for her.  She turned them down on the decorating.  She has her tree up and she's decided that's enough for this and that's okay.

Be good and kind to yourself, full of grace because you are in mourning.  Hang out the black wreath and let the world know something important happened here.

Celebrate the birth of Christ and let all the other stuff slide.

Matthew 11:28

Amplified Bible (AMP)
 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Christmas Is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For me it started on Dec. 12th, 1985.  The loss of a much anticipated pregnancy turned my holiday upside down.  The bright lights of the season, the smells and the sounds were dulled by a vibrating pain...my own heartbeat.

People laughed and sang.  They exchanged gifts.  I didn't get out of bed.  The pain of an newly empty womb was too great for Christmas cheer to erase.  To most, my grief was unnatural so they left me alone in the dark corner of pain I had painted myself into.  No one wanted risk the entering the darkness for me.

Time went on and with the arrival of another son, Christmas became fun again.  We threw ourselves into traditions, family dinners, gift exchanges and all seemed wonderful.  But time changes things.

In time however, most important people in my life would die in the month of December.  While carolers sang about Joy to the World, we buried my aunt.  The next day we would bury my father.  10 years later, I would endure the pain of mastectomy and then in just 11 more days my mother would leave us to spend her first Christmas in heaven.  My little family trudged home in the cold, and curled up together on the couch.  We stared blankly at the Christmas tree and the gifts underneath.  There was no joy as we went through the motions.

That was 3 years ago and I'm thrilled to report there has been no more Christmas deaths in our family. Over the last year I had bewildering physical issues were diagnosed as a chronic illness.  This year I equally looked forward to and dreaded Christmas.  My heart is willing.  My flesh is weak.  As Christmas approaches I found joint pain slowed me down and the task of "Christmas" seems too big to conquer.  The chores of decorating, baking and entertaining just seems too monumental to even begin.

Perhaps you know someone in a season of life where things are not wonderful.  Death, divorce, disease or distress, all impact how much we can do or enjoy.  Someone asked me today, "What are some ideas of things I can come along side you and help you enjoy Christmas."  That prompted this post.

To start with, listen closely for the wistful sound of their voice when they tell you what they love about Christmas.  Then you can figure out how to dive in.

1.  Offer to help decorate.  For me, this was a big ugly cry breakdown. It means carrying bins up from the basement, unpacking, building an artificial tree, stringing the lights, unwrapping each ornament and reflecting on the memory.  It took me three days to accomplish and STILL had to carry the bins back to the basement.  This year I was physically unable to.  So I put up one of those unfold and plug in trees.  I used ornaments from one of those discount stores...."everything you need for the tree".  I hate it.  It broke my heart.  I would have loved someone to tell me, I'll help you string the 1000 lights on the tree, and I'll carry the bins up and down.

While you're at it, bring on the hot chocolate, cookies and Christmas movies!

2.  Bring a crew of teen boys and hang lights outside if you know someone really enjoys outside decorations.  I love my candy canes but they will rest this Christmas in the basement because my neck and shoulder can't handle venturing in the cold to set up the display.  I can't handle the physical effort either.

3.  Prebake dinner for them...roast that turkey,  make 2 pans of your holiday special dishes and share one with that person on your mind.  Keep in mind the importance of PREBAKE.  It's not always the financial cost of the dinner, but the physical toll it takes that causes the problems.   I would suggest to church groups who deliver turkey's to families.  If you are aware of physical or emotional difficulties this Christmas, ask if they would prefer the raw turkey or have someone prebake the turkey to take the challenge off their back.   If you ORDER a meal from a local deli, make sure your friends know if you plan to deliver it, or they need to make arrangements to go get it.

4.  Long distance friends and loved ones can benefit from catered meals from their local grocery store.  A credit card and a quick click of the computer mouse can arrange meals and goodies when you can't do it yourself.  If you have the financial means, gift cards to Amazon, Itunes or other online services are a great idea.

5.  Deliver or mail a box of homemade cookies or candies that we can offer to friends who stop by.  I WANT to bake cookies, but know the process of rolling out dough and putting pans in and out of the oven will make me hurt.

6.  Offer to drive them to the shopping centers so they can pick up their gifts.  I have an elderly friend who mentioned that she has asked her son to help her order something online because she couldn't see to drive at night.  She was disappointed he was going to know what his gift was before she handed it to him and would liked a ride to the mall.

7.  Invite them to YOUR home for a night of Christmas movies and popcorn.  It gets lonely when everyone else is celebrating with family and yours is gone.  Don't forget the single parents who have to share custody with the ex.

8.  See that they can get to church services and make the arrangements if necessary.

9.  Bring them along to the Christmas Cantata, stop on the way home for some peppermint hot chocolate!  ;)

10.  Offer to wrap gifts for someone whose hands has lost their dexterity due to arthritis or disease.

11.  Let them know you value them.  Invite them to spend Christmas with you, if you know they will be alone, also remember the next point...

12  Don't forget to give them space.  The things that make Christmas hard are still there.  The memories of those who have gone on.  The children over at their other parents home.  The college graduate who can't afford to go home.  The expectations people around them have thrust upon them.  People who have Christmas pain can't be holly jolly 24/7.  There's going to be painful days with painful memories.  Be a good friend and support them while they have their ugly cry and hand them tissue until they've got their grief out.

Listen and ask first before showing up at their door with 5 lbs of cookies, 10 lbs of tinsel, a turkey and a preplanned day in the city mall.  Accept they may have limitations that despite how loving and caring you are, the trip to the city to see the lights and hear the college choir MIGHT be a tad much for them.

13.  Remember it's okay to allow them down time.  The newly bereaved NEED time to grieve and if it means skipping Christmas this year, that's okay.  You can ask if you can do any of these things, but don't be surprised if they are too numb to care.  When a friend is sitting with a dying loved one, let them be aware of your invitations and offer.  Most likely they will choose to stay close with family at that time.  But it's nice to know you're not forgotten there in your grief.  It's hard to deal with death at Christmas.  It's even harder to feel like you've been left alone to cope.

Having both of my parents die at Christmas - though 10 years apart, I will say it was so nice to arrive home from the services to a message from a friend that she had a hot casserole to bring over.  There really wasn't any Christmas for us that year. I don't really remember it.  I'm sure the gifts were exchanged, but that hot dinner delivered when we were cold, tired, grieving and numb...that we all still remember.

12.  Last, don't forget to arrangements a few days after Christmas to clean up the decor and get the trash out.

May we all have a blessed Christmas this year!

*My thoughts and prayers go out to my friend Laura as spends this season at her mother's side, loving her into eternity.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Seeking Grace

I struggle to find my spiritual groove.

I am NOT Beth Moore.  I am not Kay Arthur.  I am not Lisa Terkeurst.

I have experiences where I feel like I am right there in the presence of God.  He surrounds and fills me.  I am hitting on all cylinders.

But most of the time, I am struggling.  I read bloggers who share "what the Lord taught me this morning during my 2 hours of quiet time with Him" and my eyes blink.  I'm excited that I read the devotional "Jesus Calling" and prayed "Thank you for your blessings to us today".  It's hard to believe I should get the passing grade compared to the spiritual giants who spent hours on their knees.

I attended Beth Moore's simulcast this fall on "Grace" and learned that some of my problem is the legalistic "law based" doctrine that I still FEEL chained to.

I grew up in a denomination of laws.  I was 10 years old when someone at school asked "what does your church believe?"  I started the list..."We don't believe in swearing, drinking, dancing, movies, having tv's, wearing pants, wearing shorts, exposing the collarbone.  We don't believe in gambling or playing with cards, we don't listen to secular music, we don't use crude language.  We don't believe in sex outside of marriage" (actually it was a totally taboo subject so I didn't think it was supported INSIDE marriage either)...and my list continued on.  Like the good little Sunday school attendee I was prepared to espouse the evils of embracing the "world".

When my friend asked, "So what do you believe in?"

I had to think a moment.  "Well, we believe in the Triune God.  Um...we believe Jesus is God's son born in a virgin birth to die and that He arose to save our sins."  I paused.  "Uh, we believe you have ask forgiveness for your sins to be saved and you go to hell if you don't get saved."

Even I realized my list of what I believe IN was way shorter than the first one I pounded down.  I didn't add that "we believe if you don't follow all the rules of the church, you will lose your salvation and still go to hell."

About 8 years ago switched from that denomination to a grace based non denominational church.  After a time, I began to see that Grace was much larger and so much more than I had been taught formerly. I began to shed some of the "rules" I had been following.

The simulcast showed me that I still had a lot of shedding to do.

I spent so many years trying to measure up to the perfect "Good Christian woman" that had been laid out for me.  I tried to toe the line and follow the rules.  Most of the time, I fell short of those expectations, I felt a Christian failure.  I no longer consciously follow those rules, but in reading this morning I still FEEL the failure when I can't meet the expectations of others.

The good news is that I believe God is MORE than happy that I took 2 minutes to spend with Him with thankfulness and pleasure than if I had forced myself to spend 2 hours with an open Bible, a pen and a journal.  He is thrilled that I shared the time with him and went on instead of pounding my fist against a table insisting I would NOT leave my quiet time until I had learned some spiritual truth.

Yes.  I still struggle with the rules.  Though no longer governed by the church, the lack of them makes me feel like drifting flotsam. It's a little scary to live Christ likeness by the law of God and not falling onto the laws of "me" or the denomination.  Realizing this means I can lean back, close the cover of my "Jesus Calling" and rest in the grace of knowing I will never "do" enough to earn God's approval.

I've had that since He created my life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Coming When Called

This morning, I stepped into the brisk morning air to call in our pomeranian "Leia".  This is her...3 legged and one eye, she is a tail and ear away from being named "Lucky".  Because she has a tendency to hurt herself, we limit her outdoor time.

This summer I noticed a tendency she developed to ignore me.  At least that's how it felt to me.  I can stand on my deck, hollering, dancing, calling, and whistling and I get no response.  But when I step onto the patio and into her line of sight, her little tail begins to beat it's furious rhythm.  Her 3 tiny legs churn in her haste to get to my side.  I walk to the door and hold it open as she rockets inside.

It amuses me.

It also irritates me a tad as it requires me to step out of the shelter of my deck to get her attention.  I'm sure there's a lesson for me in that somewhere.

This morning as she rocketed into the house before me, the prompting from the O Most High stopped me in my tracks.

"You're just like her you know."

I must admit I rolled my eyes just a bit but the divine word still came.  "I've told you I'm here, that I'm always here.  Yet you don't believe Me unless I step out so you can see Me."

Ouch.  Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20 that HE was with us always as we went through our lives for Him.  But it's correct that many times I fret and fuss that I can't SEE Him, because I can't FEEL Him.  So that must mean He is not there.  I pray and beg Him to show Himself to me.

While I believe it goes against the nature and character of God to get impatient with me and want to thump me on the head, I can at least imagine that He like me...gets tired of always having to SHOW me He is there before I listen for His voice.  That I must see Him when He calls before I will move toward Him.

I sit here honored that He met with me and spoke to remind me "I am with you always, to the end of the age."

I must work on moving to Him when He calls.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Pink Ribbons ~ The First Visit with a Plastic Surgeon

This is a copy from my journal dated October 2010 while I was going through treatment for breast cancer.  I opened the journal to share with others who are going through treatment or have loved ones doing so.  It is not current events and it does not substitute for medical doctors.

Tuesday morning, my birthday - was difficult.
  I was getting dressed, putting on makeup to give me the confidence to speak to a plastic surgeon. Let me tell you that is intimidating...knowing how often they look at perfect bodies. In the process I found that sometime between Sunday and Tuesday I had lost nearly all the eyelashes on my right eye. It stinks! I can draw a fake eyebrow but I still have eyebrows. They are lighter but quite adequate. 

But the lashes...I have like 10 lashes total left. The left eye has lashes missing in spots.  There are blank spots but when I add mascara you see the blank areas very clearly. Ever tried to put mascara on one eyelash? It doesn't happen. It was deflating. I felt like everyone at the hospital was looking at me and wondering “what is wrong with her eye!”

We loved Dr. Puckett.  I had been told by some of his patients they loved him.  Then others told me was kind of serious and reserved.  Totally not that way with me.  The resident noted it was my birthday and told me it was also Dr. Puckett’s birthday.  He came in and I sang Happy Birthday to him, and told him it was mine too.  In seconds, we were laughing, joking with each other and I thought he was pretty spectacular. 

His resident was very good too, so cute and that was awful. Picture a cute man picking up your boob cupping it and lifting it up to wherever it should sit. (Apparently laying across the tummy isn't the desired position.) lmbo But it was uncomfortable to have a Matthew McConaughey lookalike playing with your boobs with icy hands. Of course the girls perked up...the betrayers. I told him his hands were freezing – like this was the reason! He agreed it was cold thank goodness.

He was clear. He explained Dr. Puckett does the surgery I want - implants. He went over the other options tummy flaps, back flaps...I told him I wasn't interested for a couple reasons. It was a much more painful recovery and longer. You have to be in ICU for 2 days to make sure the flaps blood supply stay intact.  But also I said I have to lose weight again to lose more estrogen in my belly. And I lost boob bulk from losing 70 lbs. I don’t want to do those surgeries and lose my new boobs in fat loss. He agreed that could certainly happen.

The other reason...I have gone through pain, nausea, vomiting and the two - three surgeries.  I want, no I DESERVE perky boobs as my reward for getting through this.  The resident’s name was Dr. Daniel. He tried to not chuckle but I told him he could. So he did and he told me that it was just as valid as any other reasons.

So what happens is during the reconstruction, they place the spacers behind the muscle walls. Then they inflate the spacer with a small port (I will have so many freaking ports in my body.) using saline at that point.

I want a c cup at finish. So every week they will pump up the saline a bit more until I get to a c cup. Then we wait for 4 months… FOUR months. You decide in that time if you like the size...are they placed well. Are they symmetrical? And your body takes the time to adapt to the change in anatomy. After the FOUR months, you go in an outpatient surgery to have the spacers pulled out and silicon implants are replaced. Then after you recover it sounds like you are done. That was the good.

Now the not so good.

I had one lymph node biopsied and it was positive. I don’t understand the roll of chemo if not to kill cancer cells. So isn't it feasible that since it was only a few cells that chemo could have eaten the whole cluster? I know you aren't qualified to answer.

So I learned that at my surgery they will most likely do an axillary dissection and send the whole section of lymph nodes off to be checked. It will take 5 days to get the results from the pathology. What the plastic surgeon prefers to do is to NOT to do immediate reconstruction at that time.

For the BEST results he wants to wait and get the axillary lymph results. If I don’t need radiation then we would schedule a new surgery about 8 weeks later to start the reconstruction. :( However under that same plan...with no tissue stretcher in place, if I do need radiation, he will not touch me until I am a YEAR post radiation!!!!! I held it together there but I was dying inside. They don’t have experience with my oncologist or surgery doctors.  Dr Puckett is an University physician so he’s only used to University doctors.
I asked about going ahead and placing the expanders.  Going ahead and doing a little expansion to give me Something for my clothes. He said we could do that. But he said often the radiologist will request they be removed for radiation. :(( sigh 

He said there was also the concern of how my skin would react to radiation. It could get hard and encapsulate the expander, making further expansion difficult. If he places the expander, he can pump me up a bit, let me do radiation. But I would still have to wait an entire YEAR for the final expansions and implant surgery AFTER the four month settling time. He said there was the risk I could wind up with a hard gnarly boob...not the best results.

So I talked it over with Kel. He is the only one besides doctors and nurses who see my boobs..although right now that seems like a few hundred people. My final desire is to wear pretty bras and look normal in clothes. If I have a hard gnarly boob...undressed won’t bother me.  So K and I decided that we were okay with the less than the plastic surgeon’s ideal results.

So I called Dr. Bryer, the radiation oncologist. HE said he has never had to ask for a spacer to be removed to complete radiation. He's never asked someone to go for wait for reconstruction. I asked about encapsulation. (An inflexible pocket around the expander or implant). He told me there is the occasional issue but to keep in mind women who do not have radiation also have had the complication. It was up to DNA and skin type. IF I had to have radiation it would be the arm pit and skin, not deep into tissue like with a lumpectomy.

So it is crucial that I not have radiation. Please pray with me it will not be needed. However we have decided that I have will have the reconstruction and expanders placed. I will believe in faith that radiation won't be required. If it’s God's plan to me to have it anyway...well I will have a little boobies made of saline for an entire freakin’ year before I get the real thing. But it will be something!

I read a case of a woman who had not done a reconstruction. I don't know why. But she was extremely anal about being seen without her "boobs" on. One night while on a business trip the fire alarm went off at her motel. She threw on her clothes and ran out to the parking lot. She looked around and everyone else was in pjs and robes. She realized it had been more important to be seen with her boobs than dying in a fire. She then got a reconstruction.

I told K I didn't need perfect looking boobs. I just needed to feel womanly in a bra and in a dress. Mom goes without her boobs at home. But if she knows company is coming she’s hitting the bedroom to put them on. I don't want to have to think about them that much.  
So I have all that to think about.

The day got worse when we got home.  Our sweet, old Pomeranian Bandit was in respiratory distress.  He had been struggling for 2 years, having the occasional seizure that was awful to see.  He had been on prednisone for serious skin allergies over the years and we knew that would shorten his life.  He was a pretty special, our pomeranian we had him since he was 8 weeks old. He died that very night.  Yes, the night of my birthday.  I don’t know if we will ever celebrate anything again. That was wretched.  He died in hubby's arms.  

We didn't know he was that close to death, but knew he was not doing well.  We made arrangements for the vet to put him down and then Bandit acted a little perkier so we thought maybe we made a hasty decision.  But he quickly decompensated and died before the vet could arrive.  It was awful to watch, and Bandit was more hubby's personal companion than mine....he sobbed.  I cried and I'm sad, but his heart broke.

It’s been such an awful week. I'm weepy and sad. It doesn't take much to get me crying. My sister sent me a picture mail of mom sitting up in her hospital bed and grinning. Yep I lost it!

Sally - well that's really crappy about the lymph nodes....that’s scary.   Praying you don't need radiation.    I saw this today and thought this might give you a laugh.  Boob hats for breast cancer awareness.

Rosey - that is crazy. I have thought about baking boob cakes when I can get back to ladies bible study. Wonder how they'd like wearing boob hats too. lol 

Tricia - Continuing to pray about the things you stated...and I just have to tell you, the part about the eyelashes really got to me.  I'm so sorry for you about that.  There are hats and wigs and things for our heads, but eyelashes?  That's just not right. Just my opinion. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pink Ribbons ~ Last Chemo Treatment – Holler!

**This is a Pink Ribbons post... In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Pink Ribbons are my journal entries from that time frame.  I have to honestly say that this entry has taken a few weeks to complete.  The memories from this time are painful, even though it features the last chemo dose.  These are not current events, this journal entry is from October 2010.**

However right now everyone who reads this must assume the position....nose tipped up in the air...arms and side while hands flap up and down.

Now stomp around. Do the SNOOPY dance.

IT’S THE LAST CHEMO!!!! I am hooked up right now and the premed is going in!

Firmbeliever - Praise God for whom all blessings flow! Oh Tina. I am glad that you can have a blessing out of this week. I have been praying for you. ((((((((Tina)))))))

Danica - I will do the snoopy dance in your honor~ thankful you are done with this part...praying your after isn't as intense this time.   (((rosey)))   love you,  danica

My joy over this last treatment is dampened by news about mom. *sadness* She had her surgery 2 days ago.  I was so happy when she got out of recovery and I got to talk to her on the phone.  Last night she was moved to the ICU. They believe she is doing something called “Third Spacing.” It happens when blood vessels have thin weak walls and they leak fluids into spaces like the peritoneum, lungs, or brain. So far it’s leaking into the peritoneum so she's not peeing. All her excess fluid is flooding into her belly.

She runs fevers nearly daily but now suddenly the nurses are concerned. So they are tapping her belly and then they will culture the fluid to see if it grows. They are convinced that's what the fever is from.

Her doctor took 6 liters about two weeks ago. If they do it again my sister Bug, is concerned what shock it might cause. That's equal to 3 - 2 lt bottles and one half. I don't mean to talk down to anyone. I had someone ask “How much is 6 liters?” so she could picture it. I'm not physically able to drive out and hang around the hospital. But my heart is so heavy. I do know if the doctor says call the family in...we will make the trip. 

Mom will stay in the ICU. Her bp was 65/35 and they freaked out. But we girls suspect that her bp has been dropping low for several weeks. She had fallen several times at home, that led her to using a walker. A low BP would explain her falling.

So today, I was spreading sunshine at the chemo suite because I was so darn happy to be done today! I taught a new cancer diagnosis getting her first chemo how to do a head wrap with a scarf. It was good to help someone else at the beginning of this. Because of my nausea in the last couple infusions, I had to fill a script for nausea. It cost $400 but it was to stop my vomiting so it was worth every penny. It was one of those hidden costs in cancer treatment. Insurance will cover it eventually. The only pharmacy in town open overnight was a non-provider. So they will reimburse 80%. But I have no nausea today!

I'm so emotional. Talking to Mom made me cry. I cry over the least thing...Bug’s cards. Losing our Bandit, Leia have her eye trauma and then losing her eye. I listened to our worship team cd when mom came out of surgery the other day and I wept for an hour. 

When my infusion was over this morning, I stepped out the cancer center and burst out crying. I stepped into the sunshine, took a deep breath and tears filled my eyes. I couldn't control them. They just fell. Mr. Rosey took my hand, held it and kissed it. That just made me cry harder.

I couldn't really define why other than from relief of knowing all this chemical caused pain would be ending. So I spoke to mom when I got home and she got teary telling me that this was all wrong. I was her baby and she needed to be mothering me. That she should be celebrating my last chemo and not in the ICU. What could I say? So I cried some more. 

Maryland Crab - I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I can only imagine how difficult it is dealing with your own stuff let alone dealing with your mom. But yippeeeyaaahoooie on this was the last treatment! I have a feeling everything else will just fall in place. I have a sneaking suspicion if you are a little patient, it will work out.

Let us know how your mom is doing, I'll be praying for her, and for you to fly through this with minimal "aftershocks".

Abeybabymama - I'm sorry to hear what your mom is going through. I hope that they are able to make her comfortable. Tina, I am so sorry you have all of this going on at once. But I am doing the snoopy dance for the end of your chemo. I understand what a relief that is. My mom has been feeling a little of the with the repreive she is getting these couple of months until she returns from Israel. (((Tina)))

Paula - I hope you can see the little Snoopy dancing! I'm so sorry to hear about all that's been going on. I pray for you whenever you cross my mind. I hope and pray that you will now be able to feel better and at least not have the anxiety of worrying about another chemo treatment. I wish I was a millionaire and could cover your expenses during this rough time, but I know that God is in control.

Continued prayers...

Tracy - I'm so glad you were able to pass along something you've learned to someone new to the chemo. YAY that today was the last one!! I'm so sorry about your mom. That has to be hard to deal with all of your health issues, plus what your mom is going through


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Announcement - LIFE with Cancer!

There has been excitement bubbling behind the scenes and I have had to keep my mouth shut.  Several weeks ago, I was approached by a writer from DaySpring's (In)Courage group.  She asked me to consider leading an InCourage group for cancer survivors.  She was not aware how I dislike that term.

But I prayed about it and had an experience in my plastic surgeon's waiting room.  A young woman sat next to me and in the sparse conversation revealed she was having breast reconstruction.  Her mother, sister and aunts had all battled breast or ovarian cancer, so she had a mastectomy.  She told me she was a believer in Christ and believed He had led her this direction. She was experiencing pain with her "fills" so I chatted with her about that.  She thanked me and as she stood to leave told me, "I wish there as place online where women of faith can gather and share how cancer impacted their life and support each other through it.  I smiled and waved as she walked off and then I thought about what she had said.

I had prayed about finding an open door if God wanted me to lead such a group and there I sat...looking at the proverbial doorway, God had outlined it with neon lights flashing ....COME ON DOWN!

I have worked with the leadership team and today our site goes LIVE!

We are women of faith who have experienced cancer up close and personal.  This place is for women with any type of cancer.  My "ribbon" is pink but it matters not what color yours is.   We are here to walk with the warrior in battle, celebrate with the survivor and encourage the caregiver. We hope to create a place where you find support, education, tips, encouragement and a place to vent your frustration. We will SHARE burdens, prayers, support, tips, strength, courage and yes hope.

Most of all we desire to live our lives to the fullest and share it with others on their walk through LIFE with cancer!

A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. John 10:10
You can sign up TODAY at http://www.incourage.me/life-with-cancer and join our group of ladies.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Myth of the "New Normal"

I was in pain.

I was mutilated.

I was burned into oblivion.

I was exhausted.

Kind people smiled benevolently and told me I had to get used to a "new normal".

I waited for the new normal.  I thought maybe it would come with the implant surgery.  I waited but it did not arrive.

I awoke each morning, wanting to feel normal and it didn't happen.

It's been 3 years and I have concluded this fact.

There is no NEW NORMAL.

There is simply a new reality.

There is nothing normal about the way I look or feel.  My reconstructed breasts are flatter than I expected.  They do not fill out my blouses like I was used to.  The radiated side is scarred, contorted and misshapen.  It is nothing like "normal" of any kind...new or old.  I look in the mirror and my eyes are drawn to the difference of where one side sits normally and where the other side sits high and twisted.  I sigh and stuff a bit of gauze into the front of bra on this radiated side, where radiation scarring has left it puckered and flattened.  Nothing normal or new here.

I lift a basket of laundry to carry through the house.  There is the uncomfortable rippling of skin and muscle over the implants.  It doesn't hurt...just feels weird like a live creature moving beneath my skin.  I amuse myself by flexing the muscles like a muscle builder and chuckle at the sight of the implants bouncing up and down.  But it's not normal.

By the second load of laundry I feel the pull of the muscles across my chest, shoulders and back.  The placement of muscles were distorted to create these new breasts.  The altered physiology causes them to tire, then spasm and cramp.  I learned to rest when I feel that pull.  It keeps the spasm from happening and I avoid the pain.  I rest, but it's not normal.

I am an old 50 year old woman.  I stand and listen to myself groan more than my 90 year old grandmother did.  I walk across the room to the chorus of snaps and creaks from joints that shouldn't feel this way.  Nightly I add a drug to my body to lower the natural estrogen in my body.  I removed the ovaries to end their assault on my estrogen fed cancer.  I am in surgical menopause.  This drug lowers my estrogen LOWER than menopause levels and my body reports it's complaint.  The natural effects of estrogen are gone.  It makes me old, but it is not normal.

I no longer feel sensual or feminine...not in a sexual way.  The loss of estrogen altered my female parts so they no longer function as they once did.  I can not love my husband as I once did.  I still love him.  He loves me and I still share my love with him, but no longer do I share my body.  I do not feel normal.

I mop the floor and soon the back muscles spasm in complaint.  The loss of breasts changed my distribution of weight.  It changed my posture.  It causes my back muscles to carry new responsibilities and they complain.  It's not normal.

 I have come to determine that this new normal is a myth.  Well meaning doctors, clinics and friends advice you to get used to and accept this new normal.  Most of them have never experienced cancer, the mutilation of mastectomies or the effects of chemo and anti cancer drugs.  They never felt the pain of radiation burns and the loss of skin.  They THINK there is a new normal that will come about, but the reality is simply I will never find "normal" again.

This is my new REALITY.  Nothing about it is normal.  The reconstruction, the drugs, the lymphodema sleeves, the altered muscles.  I change the way I move, the way I sleep, the way I look and dress, the way I hug and love.  It is not normal.  But it is my reality and I can live with it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's Not About Me

In 1989, my husband of 10 years became seriously ill.  He had an emergency surgery and recovered at home for a couple months.  But my world had been shaken.  I had been a homemaker for 10 years and now had an infant soon.  Stark reality had been shocking....I had a baby to raise.  Alone, should something happen to my husband.  So I did what is sadly kind of typical for me.  I panicked and then enrolled in nursing school.

There were things I learned in nursing school that has served me well.  Things that have nothing to do with medicine.  I learned I am not a dumb blonde.  I learned I can learn and retain complicated procedures.  I can follow directions. I am capable, and can make decisions.  I know how to research and educate myself in new situations.   I have a deep well of compassion.  While there are still shortcomings that make up who I am...I am grateful I was given the opportunity to learn these things about myself.

But the culture I found myself was very different than how I was raised, behaved and socialized.  I was raised in a Christian home and even when I didn't believe...I still behaved.  I was immersed in a culture that claimed science trumps faith.  Secularism was political correct.  Profanity was accepted and encouraged.  Fidelity was mocked.  Society in America act (and believe) their personal rights supercede the rights of anyone else. It has made us morally corrupt, insensitive, vulgar, paranoid, and abusive.  Free will was protected by amendments at the expense of our humanity.

My basic personality did not change.  I didn't become a swearing, lecherous party machine.  But raised that people living outside of faith couldn't be happy, I saw a lot of new friends who at least looked happy.  I walked away from my faith in God at the point believing that I could control my destiny as well as God had up to that point.  I didn't have faith He knew what he was doing as far as I was concerned....or perhaps just didn't really care.

It was the suicide death of a fellow nurse that brought me back to my knees.  Living outside my faith had only brought me stress, paranoia and anxiety.  One late night, I came face to face with God and what I felt was my "last chance".  I chose faith.

It was later working as a church secretary that I shared with the pastor how far I ran from God in that time.  I told him I wondered if it had ever been God's will for me to go to nursing school.  He asked me a few questions...

In your years working at the hospital was there ever a special patient that you KNOW you ministered to?  One that you KNOW you touched their life in a positive, permanent way?

And yes, there were several that came to mind.  The woman with the miscarriage.  The young teen with the unsupportive parents.  The successful couple who nearly lost their baby in childbirth, but bravely did what we instructed because I had previously warned them...this is how we roll if we see these signs.  So I told Pastor Bean these things.

He asked me, "Do you believe God loves them enough to send you to nursing school, so you'd be there to minister to just them in their time of need?"

It was disconcerting but I agreed...I believe God loves us that much.

It was years later, conflict arose in the congregation and this man of God was forced out by controlling families.  As we packed up his office, he grieved and told me, "I was so certain God called us here to this church.  Now I'm being ran out.  How could I have been sooo wrong?"

I stood up at him and asked,

In your years pastoring this church was there ever anyone that you KNOW you ministered to?  One that you KNOW you touched their life in a positive, permanent way?

He hung his head and sighed as he told me "Well I'd like to think so anyway."

I shook my head at him and with my hands on my hips I told him, "We both know that the reason my husband and I are here in this church now, is the ministry of you and your wife.  No one else bothered to reach out.  So tell me Pastor, does God love us enough that He would have sent you here, even if it was just for us?"

He stared hard for a moment and then grinned as he told me, "It's a humbling thing to have one of your parishioners quote your own sermon back to you."  He began to whistle as we finished packing his office.

I learned something that day and I suspect he did as well.

It's not always about me.

Sometimes the choices, trials, challenges and even misery we go through is not for our benefit but for those whose lives we touch.  I may think I'm being mistreated.  That I strayed from God's best for me.  But it's just as possible that I am here, right now, in the thick of battle because I am touching someone else's life in a way that God needed ME to do.

courtesy http://www.gracewayrecovery.com

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wretched and Unworthy

The sanctuary was not unique in any way.  The same high ceilings, the thin tall windows were as any other church.  There was a platform, with the pulpit in the middle.  The musical instruments were placed along the sides.  A line of mike’s stood where the worship team led the music. She sat in the same place every Sunday. She looked at the same blue carpet, and the same purple chairs, in the same church.  The cross hung in the spotlights in the front center wall.  Some Sundays, the typical purple cloth draped from side of the cross to the other.

Every Sunday.

She tried to be faithful to read The Word but seemed to continually fall short of her own expectations.  She couldn’t meet her own expectations; she had no hope of ever meeting the expectations of God.

Weekly, she attended church and she worshipped as the worship team sang.  On occasion she tried her hand at teaching, she volunteered at the senior center. She directed VBS and deserved a chest of medals for that endeavor! She took notes as the pastor spoke.  She was working hard at the business of being a good Christian woman.  Yet as hard as she pushed to check off each box, she felt empty inside. She had prayed for her forgiveness several years ago.  And she believed she had been forgiven. 

Sort of. 

Hidden beneath the “proper” exterior of this woman who sought after God, the whole mess was still churning.  Deep inside, she hid those things that still shamed her.  The wretched decisions of her past still scarred her soul.  The pain was deep and alive within her. There were times that she thought she had left it behind.  She thought she was successfully moving forward, but a song, a sermon, a testimony from one of those “charmed” women who never had regrets or made a bad choice would bring the pain to life.  She kept on, kept on pretending she had it all together.  She pretended that she wasn’t shattered inside.

Maybe if she was good enough, God would find her acceptable.  But she could not seem to ever reach that pinnacle of “good enough.”  She felt she couldn’t even reach “adequate”.  It was so tiring to keep trying.  She slumped against the back of her chair and began her pleading with God to make her good enough, to make her acceptable.  She jumped when a man walked up to her row, pointed to the seat next to her and asked “Is that seat taken?”

She glanced around the sanctuary, nearly empty, frowned but told him it was not.  She squeezed her knees together as he walked around her to sit in the very next seat.  She was not exactly thrilled that he chose to sit so close; she shifted comfortably in her seat. She turned to pointedly look down the row of vacant seats.  He wasn’t catching the hint.  She brought her attention back to the lite cross at the front of the church and began the litany of sins to be forgiven of.  Her sins were too big for simple forgiveness.  The shame she lived with, stuffed inside. 

She barely started her prayer telling God she was unworthy of his forgiveness, and she would try harder to be worthy…to make up for those wretched choices.  The man shifted restlessly in the chair.  Again he was interrupting her prayer….

“I have a message for you.”  He quietly spoke.

She huffed at the bang that fell over her forehead and into her eyes.  Just a little irritated that he interrupted her quiet time before the service, she answered.  “Okay.  What is the message?”

He looked up at the lite Cross in the front of the church and nodded to it.  “Intriguing how something so simply made could be so wretched and beautiful at the same time.” He spoke quietly in his observation.  “The message is, God wants you to know He loves you.”

She pulled away from him slightly, thinking okay just another freak.  “Yeah,” she answered.  “That’s what the Bible tells us.”

“It’s not just what the Bible says, it’s what God says.  He wants you personally to know He loves you.”

Just a little irritated, she shifted in her chair, planning to reach for her Bible bag and find another spot.  The stranger took her hand, and shocked by his audacity, she looked at him.  His eyes were amazing.  Again, he spoke “Sophie, God loves you.”

Okay that was a little freaky but she had attended this church for months.  Surely someone knew her name here, someone told him.  But he squeezed her hand and again told her, “Sophie, God LOVES you.” 

Her lips trembled as she whispered, “Only because he has to.  But He doesn't even like me like He loves Miss Atha, or Laurie, and Pam. She gestured around her, but the stranger stopped her, “No Sophie.  God loves YOU.”

She moved that annoying piece of hair away from her eyes again and looked at him warily.  “That’s nice, thank you for the message.  It’s been delivered, so you may go on to where ever you came from.”  She really hoped he would move on. She picked up her purse and looked around the sanctuary.  Where had everyone gone?

The stranger sighed and shook his head, “No Sophie, I gave you the message, but you have not yet received it.”

She objected slightly snarky, “I heard it.”

“But you don’t believe it.”  His voice reached toward her.

She looked at him again; this time she gazed into the most amazing eyes. Deep browns, amber swirls, his eyes drew her back into the chair. Tears began to well in her eyes.  Angrily, she wiped them again.  “You don’t understand what I have done.  I have to try to be worthy of the sacrifice Christ made for me, and I keep failing him.  I know He forgave me but some - it’s too awful to be forgiven.  I’m too ugly inside for Him to love me.”

“Oh Sophie, you are so close yet still you are blind.”  He turned his head back to the cross and spoke, “The blood shed on the cross wasn’t just for the little sins, or the acceptable sins.  There is NO sin acceptable to God.  When you pray for forgiveness, the Father does not pick and choose which sin He will forgive and forget.  Grace covers it all.  No one is worthy of the price but that is the beauty of the act.  Every person comes unacceptable but is made worthy by the sacrifice.  Every person Sophie, even the person you don’t let anyone see.”

Her eyes widened, no longer aware of anyone else, she whispered to him “But you don’t know who I really am.  What I am capable of or how wretched parts of my life are.”

She looked up again into the eyes of the man as he answered, “Yes, Sophie I know who you really are.  I know what you keep hidden.  You keep taking them out and YOU decide that grace was not enough.  So you refuse to believe God’s grace is big enough for you.  But it is and God loves you.”

She lowered her head, took her eyes off his and looked away.  She bit her lip a moment, then shaking her head she told him, “I understand what you are saying.  Okay.  God loves me, but you don’t know the kind of things that I did, or the kind of things that torment me.  I don’t deserve forgiveness or His love.”

“Sophie.  How do I make you understand?  You were created for God to love.  God created you, and then he chose all the parts of your ancestry needed to produce the woman that you are.  God loves you Sophie.  You prayed for your forgiveness.  God granted that for you.  You are holding on to sins and anguish over things that your Heavenly Father has no memory of.  You are the new creature!”

He picked up her Bible and recited to her, “2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is hereSophie, that’s how God sees you.  The beautiful woman He created.  He loves you!”

Sophie’s heart began to throb.  Her heart wanted to believe.  She so wanted to be new again.

Her stranger took her hand, and looked into her eyes.  She could not turn away as he held her hands and told her, “That is why God is so wounded by your unforgiveness.”

She could not stop the cold shock the rushed through her veins.  God was wounded?  She protested…”I have forgiven everyone who hurt me, every single one!  The ones who didn’t deserve to be forgiven, the ones who never apologized, even the people who did despicable things to me.”

He nodded, and held up her Bible again.  “This Word says in Colossians 3:13  Accepting one another and forgiving one another.  If anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  Sophie, there is yet one person you have not forgiven.”

His eyes held the wonder of the world, and Sophie saw everything that was pure and good in them.  She  trusted this man.  Her chin trembled as he spoke to her, and everything in her started to shake at his words, “Sophie, forgive yourself.”

At this point, the sobs erupted from the most deeply damaged parts of her heart.  The stranger placed his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to his side.  She should have been offended, but she was not.  She should have been frightened, but she was not.  She was feeling loved and comforted.  Her storm of tears subsided and she asked him, “How do I forgive myself?”

He reached over to pull her notepad out of her Bible bag.  “Let’s try this. First we determine that you are no longer accountable for things you have been forgiven for.  You are going to let them go.  Write down every ugly thing that you think is unforgiveable.  Write down the ugliness and the actions.  You write down all those thoughts that make you FEEL that God can’t love you.  Write down what shames you, and Sophie, You know God is not the author of shame.  HE is not the one who keeps you cowering in His presence.”

She looked at him a moment before asking, “If I was guilty, shouldn’t I be ashamed?”  He shook his head again and explained, “Guilt is good.  Guilt convicts and admits you did something wrong.  Shame is different.  Shame says there’s something wrong with you, something that makes you undesirable, unlovable and unforgiveable.”  He leaned toward her, his breath in her ears.  And he said, “Beloved daughter.  Release the shackles that bind you.”

She gasped.  That was exactly how she felt…shackled to these past memories.  She started writing hesitantly and then as the pain bubbled out, her words poured out onto the pad in scorching intensity.  The stranger sat back and watched her.  Looking up, she handed him her finished list…all the reasons she believed she should not be forgiven.

He tore the page off the tablet and held the sheet up with both hands.  Then he tore the paper in half.
“It’s been forgiven, covered by the blood, washed clean as if it never happened.”  He tore it again.  “God’s love is deeper than any shame your enemy can conjure up.”  He ripped it again.  

“But God demonstrates his own love for Sophie in this: While you were still sinning, Christ died for Sophie.” And again he ripped the paper.  Sophie watched the pieces of paper grow smaller and felt cracks of light entering her heart. It was pushing out the darkness as he continued to tear apart her shame. He spoke as he continued to tear apart her shame and fears.  “Who then is the one who condemns you? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is interceding for you!”

Sophie’s smile beamed to him, as the pieces became like confetti.  She leaned back in her seat, and rested her head against the padded back.  She took a steadying breath and she said it to herself, “I forgive me.”  His voice was so gentle as she remembered his words, one’s she had read in dozens of Bible studies, but this time she believed them.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is hereSophie, that’s how God sees you, the beautiful woman he created.  He loves you!”

Sophie smiled as the cleansing peace filled her from inside.  A tap on her shoulder stopped her, it was elderly Miss Jensen.  “Sophie dear, are you okay.  You have sat alone here for quite a while.  Is that seat taken?”  Sophie turned to introduce Miss Jensen to her new friend.  He was gone.  Only pieces of confetti littered the chairs and floor.  She moved down a seat for Miss Jenson, and turned to her.

Sophie smiled at her, and asked “Miss Jensen, do you know that God LOVES you?”

My dear reader, this is something that I worked on, trying to express my own journey to grace.  I too believed that some sins were just too big and bad for God to overlook.  I let Satan tell me that God couldn't forgive ALL my sins.  The hardest thing for me was just accepting that God's grace covered all, that He doesn't pick and choose.  It's a work done once.  Forgiving myself took a lot longer to process.  Some say, you cannot forgive yourself, that God never asked us to, nor does the Bible suggest to us that we do.  But my experience was that I was able to forgive many people for the damages done against me.  But I still held myself responsible, and sought justice against myself.  I needed to punish myself by withholding some sin out of God's grasp, not giving it over to Him, not accepting His Grace.  

There was a day in the most painful day of my life that I felt in my beat up weakened and painful state, that God came and sat on the end of my recliner and held a similar conversation with me.  It was the day I accepted that nothing I could do was needed to earn His love and relationship.  And nothing I have done would take it away.  He loved ME.