Tuesday, October 24, 2023


 Let's talk about trauma. 


  1. 1.
    a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

I feel that I can't go forward with posting my thoughts about this journey I'm on without addressing trauma. From the moment the word cancer entered the conversation around Alex's health, it has taken up most of the room.  It was just one month ago that Alex came to Daniel and I and said he was getting an ultrasound on the lumps in his armpit to rule out the possibility of cancer.  "Good." we said. "It's best to rule it out."

We have to acknowledge that cancer is trauma inducing.  I don't think there's a person I know that doesn't either know someone fighting cancer, love someone fighting cancer, has survived it themselves or lost someone to this disease.  It's a terrible, horrible thing, and most of us have been touched by it in some way, shape or form. For myself, the very first time I encountered cancer up close was when my dearest friends mom was diagnosed back in 1991.  Her death ripped apart worlds and shattered every sense of normalcy.  I was young and not at all tempered by the hard things of this life and I'm pretty sure I was next to useless to my sweet friends in their gut wrenching grief. (We are however still friends today, so I think they have forgiven my bumbling inadequacy).  

The second time was in 2014 sitting next to my mom at MCR 4 days after she had a tumor removed from her brain and hearing that the biopsy had revealed cancer.  6 months to live they said.  My mother, with all the calmness in the world, politely thanked the hospital staff for all their excellent care, asked me to purchase See's chocolates for all of her nurses and resolutely declined chemotherapy.  She would not fight it.  6 weeks later I would find myself holding her hand as she took her last breath.  She had resolved to go home to God and she so she did.

Walking with my mother down that road taught me many things.  But maybe the most poignant was her lack of fear around death.  She stepped almost seamlessly from this life into eternity leaving letters for all those she loved and detailed instructions for her handful of belonging.  But of course, she was an unusually strong soul from the start, so it didn't surprise me, but her courage gave me courage.  Do I need to acknowledge that cancer can end in death?  Yes. To not do so would be foolish.  Do I stand at the edge of the Valley of the Shadow and desperately ask God to please, please not ask me to walk down into that valley again?  Yes. I ask. I am asking. Honestly, I don't want to think about it.  But I have to. I have to look the trauma of my past encounters with cancer in the face, and I have to leave the outcome of this current situation with God. It's a very rubber meets the road moment. I either actually believe that Jesus has conquered death, that it has no victory, that there is no evil to fear in it's shadow or I don't.  It's pretty much that simple and simultaneously it's not. Because who among us can walk without knees trembling into that dark shadow?  No one.  Only Jesus.  So here's my deep theology moment for today. The only way forward for me is to tuck my heart and soul into the arms of Jesus and rely on him to carry me through. Today. Tomorrow. Friday and every subsequent day.  Help me Lord.

Friday, October 20, 2023

All I can do...

Ugh. Well, the PET scan results were not what we were hoping for. It revealed a baseball sized tumor in Alex's chest under his lungs and a bunch of other smaller tumors throughout his torso.  So with this information his oncologist has assessed that he's stage 2 unfavorable (the unfavorable part being these extra tumors, that they span 3 regions of his lymph system and the rate at which they are growing).  He begins chemotherapy a week from today. 

Alex being his best philosophical self

What can be said? Are we happy to know that in the midst of everyday life, the laughter, activities, bustle and flow of living, a silent cancer has been quietly growing? No. Are we glad that Alex's university studies, his hard fought for financial aid, his job and happy life rhythms are all on hold while he battles disease? No. Are we looking forward to all that he will have to endure over the next however many months? No. 

None of what we are experiencing at the moment is within my control.  And the truth?  Life isn't within my control, even when I think it is. Times like this bring that reality home. So what does lie within my control? Only my response. And so it is that I am bringing my whole self, my dislike of these circumstances, my anxieties, my sadness, my anger, my disappointments, my fears, my hopes, my questions... ALL the things to the only One who is actually in control. Every day I'm going to do my best to leave the whole heaping mess with Him.  It's all I can do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

God is on the job!

"Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.  

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!

Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.

So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it."

                                                                                                    1 Peter 4: 1,2, 7-13 & 19 MSG

In my minds eye I'm driving back home through the streets of Hamilton late at night.  I've just come from an evening with friends in which we were discussing suffering.  Talking through hard things in our lives and encouraging one another.  I'm sitting at an intersection that is typically a snarly mess to get through, but at this time of night I'm the only one there... waiting for a green light. It's funny how you can know a truth pretty much your whole life, but in one pivotal moment it comes home to your soul and sticks. 

Sue had said in the course of the evening with literally no fanfare whatsoever that God is taking the time to shape and forge our character in this life and that it's the one thing we take with us into eternity.  And for whatever reason, that went deep in me.  The whole city is quiet but my mind is zipping through the conversation and it's implications.  What I saw within myself in that moment was a push back against the very artistry, the unimaginable craftsmanship of God himself.  What I had essentially been saying to God in the hard place I was sitting was, "Make me more like you but please don't use the chisel, the hammer or the forge to do so.  Write my story, but please include these edits, oh, and I have some great ideas I'd like you to incorporate for how this chapter of my life should go!"

(As an artist myself I know that if you find an artist at the top of their craft and you commission them to create a piece for you, you're gonna just have to be happy with whatever it is they give you.  You don't question a master artist or give critiques!)

So here I am questioning the methods of God.  Giving Him my suggestions, critiques and criticisms.  Sometimes even demanding He do things a different way.  On that late night drive home I could see clearly that at it's core the question is trust.  Do I believe God creates masterpieces?  Do I trust His methodology?  Can I be still and let Him do his amazing, masterful work even when it looks like a mess to me?  Even when it's hard, uncomfortable and (to my eyes) ugly?

Now.  Can I just say right here that the pain and sometimes agony of the chisel, the hammer and forge is by no means easy, fun or something that I would sign up for.  I am not glossing over or trying to make this process look like it's glorious.  It's not.  There are no rose petals falling while soothing music plays as character is being shaped.  It's gritty, hot, sweaty, gross work.  There is nothing easy here.  But God is.  He is present in every gut wrenching second of the process and He's not going anywhere.  He's committed to finishing the work and I'm glad He's on the job!

Friday, October 6, 2023

Just a little something I wrote...

This is a little something I wrote while we were still living in New Zealand in 2018.  Alex was 17 at the time and I feel like it just gives a glimpse into the very solid soul that he is and the very sloppy job that parenting can be sometimes.  Life is not a point A to point B endeavor, it's paths take us into uncharted territories, up to unbelievable vistas and along many an unmarked trail.  It's been 5 years since I wrote this, but it's just as true today.

She stood at the sink shoulder to shoulder with her son up to her elbows in dish water.  He was trying to help, keeping the mood light and throwing that sharp whit of his around with all the confidence of youth.  She was half listening, half pondering.  This had become a pattern for her, she couldn’t help but turn over and examine carefully the myriad of memories, thoughts and yes, worries that rolled around in her head.  She took another dish from his hands and scrubbed thoughtfully.  How had this boy, her boy, come to be almost grown?  In her mind’s eye she could see him as a happy go lucky 2 year old, loving his train table and constructing with blocks.  She had to stretch to reach the memories of those early days when she actually sat on the floor and played with him, reading him story after story and feeding him endless cheerios.  It was another lifetime, another world and that was just the truth.  She thought about how some families were still living within reach of those early moments of their kids lives.  When they made a pot of coffee in the morning they could look across the kitchen to the same table their now grown children had played playdough on.  But this was not her story.  She had let go of all those things and places, they existed only in her memories and a copious number of photographs.  She was a wanderer.  A gypsy.  What can a gypsy give to her children?

The sound of a question hung in the air and brought her back to the sink and dishes and the tall boy who was no longer a boy standing there.  “Sorry, what did you ask me?”  She knew it sounded lame.  He had been talking about life and how it wasn’t so bad and that his future wasn’t really in jeopardy,... he was a hard worker.  Did she know that he could catch up?  That all the starts and stops of the last few years could be ironed out with hard work?  “Sure, of course I know you’re a hard worker!”  And she did.  It just all looked so very different than she had imagined.  She’d had no choice but to live exposed… heart out there for all to see, no chance to hide the mess away and pretend.  Maybe that was good...maybe it would mean that if a dark night of the soul came for him he would be able to wade through it with courage and hope.  Surely he had seen enough such times throughout the last 7 years.  But what was his take away?  Was he going to apply that black and white leaning brain of his to the murky greys of this life?  Would the inconsistencies and mess make him doubt… push him too far?  She felt it keenly, the mess of their lives, the churn that it had become.  She worried about the toll it exacted from each of them and if in the end it would prove to be too heavy a price.  It was difficult not to feel that if somehow they had held onto those golden, sunny days of life on Suri Trail that all would be well right now...the family would feel intact, safe… far from the edge on which they currently teetered.  Did he remember what it felt like to live in one place for years on end?  To have routines and traditions, the reassuring lullabies of a life at peace…  Why did it bother her so much?  How was it that the loss of the meadowlark’s song in the morning and a little red wagon in the driveway waiting for another adventure could bring her to her knees so easily?  He’s handing her another dish and reassuring her the best he can that is all is well, that New Zealand is such an amazing place to live.  And of course he’s right.  How many women would stand in line to be in her shoes.  Still, it’s not really about a place, is it?  She holds this thought out from her, examining it a bit.  No.  It’s nothing to do with location,   It’s 100% internal.  The heart.  Immediately she knows the truth of it and it resonates deep.  The heart is the well-spring.  It’s either feeding out living water to those gathered at its edges, or it’s gurgling out yuck.  And the truth is suddenly smacking her in the face ugly and bold… she’s been serving up bitterness and anger.  Slapping down the muck of her heart’s contents in front of them all, praying for survival and poisoning them simultaneously.  She drops the dish down into the murky water staring glassy eyed at half hearted soap bubbles and a whole lot of ugly.  She can see it clear now.  There is only one way forward, repent.  Be broken, acknowledge the ugly… don’t pretend… turn it all over to Jesus and ask Him for the impossible.  For a way forward out of the dark into hope.  For a new heart and living water…

He’s still happily chatting...cheery and full of life, doing his best to pull his gloomy mother out of her funk.  She asks if he’ll do a chore for her and he willingly obliges, quoting the Princess Bride at her over his shoulder as he sails out of the kitchen.  She smiles.  He’ll probably never really know how much she loves him and what it feels like at 44 to be broken and messy when the assumption is you’ll have it all together by then.  To be on a crazy journey with your children more than guiding them through while safely on the other side…  But if at the end of the day he knows Who to turn to for the answers, with the brokeness, in spite of the hard while laying down the ugly, then she’ll know he’s gonna be ok.  He will know what it looks like to be vulnerable and real and he won’t take any substitutes… his life will be unwreckable because he’ll know Christ’s love is unstoppable.  He will have seen it firsthand, a front row seat to life lived raw and broken… handed over to the Restorer, never perfect, but held open handed... and hopefully, {please God!} with love.  Because love covers a multitude of sins and heaven knows she needs a whole lot of love to coat this messy life and fill in the gaping holes and pock marks of failure.  She breathes out a prayer, an exhaling of hopes and drains the dish water.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

When hard things hit

 Let's be honest.  There isn't a human on the planet who longs for hard things.  There are millions who walk through, deal with, endure and bear up under hard things constantly, but I am very confident there was no longing in their hearts for these circumstances.  None of us wants to sign up for the hard road, we just find ourselves on it.  The last week has been a hard left turn onto a road we would not put on our bucket list of journeys we want to take.  On Thursday Alex was given the news that the 2 lymph nodes they surgically removed a week ago today revealed he has Hodgkins Lymphoma. So that pretty much sucks.  

We're currently in a week of limbo while he waits to see an oncologist this Friday.  And if you know me at all, you know that I've spent quite a bit of time in limbo.  I've done my best to make it cozy here, so hopefully you can find a comfy place to sit, cause that's what we're doing... sitting in limbo. I'm never sure if dead air time like this is a good thing ie. it gives one time to adjust to the news, ponder the meaning of life, straighten out wiggly priorities, give the house a good once over, finally clean that gross fan you've been putting off, plant a few bulbs in very unhealthy soil in hopes of flowers next spring, decide to organize every mislaid paper, purge the closet, etc, etc, etc.  But it also gives room for unhelpful thoughts, the desire to crawl into bed and disappear, eating your feelings, re-living past cancer experiences, lamenting loss, hating hard left turns, discouragement, sadness, and basically all the negative emotions available. Setting the mind on the good is always a challenge, but this?  It feels like a pop quiz. 

So what do I remember from previous hard roads?  

1. Don't borrow tomorrow's trouble, today has enough of it's own.  Just do today.

2. Cry if you need to.  Don't put it off, stuff it down or think it can wait.  If you feel like crying, do it. 

3. Remember that there is no human experience Jesus hasn't walked through himself.  He knows.

4. This unforeseen turn of events for us is by no mean unforeseen by God. (This one can be tricky as it raises all kinds of questions that I'm not even going to touch at the moment.  But I might get back to pondering some of them later.)

5. Give yourself and others leeway, grace, patience and margin.  This is hard.  Everyone responds to hard things differently. It's ok.