Observing the Heavens From the Muddy Bog

Ever have a creative stirring, but can’t seem to find the moment to take advantage of it? Well, that happened to me last week. And this week I feel as if I have to “force” myself to write out of a hollow creativity that was overflowing just a week before. Funny how that works………

So, I’m officially done with the hard chemotherapy. I still have 12 months of weekly Herceptin infusions to dredge through, but like I said, the side effects are minimal in comparison. Here I sit at the edge of my desk, tapping my fingernails on its artificial surface, as I wait impatiently for my hair to come back in. The nurse says Taxol makes your hair fall out too. It was two weeks ago today that I had my last Taxol treatment, and today was my second treatment of Herceptin. Only 50 more to go.

A lot of strange and mentionable things have been happening this past few weeks. First, we went on our family “vacation”, visiting the fine states of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. We went to a Third Day concert, and had a blast. It was such a blessing to meet up with people I have been getting to know via the internet, in the form of a “gomer gathering”. We also visited Al’s brother, and sister-in-law, and their young son, Josh. That was really neat, and we had a great time with them. People in Indiana are sure different compared to us west coasters. We are still smiling amongst ourselves about little Josh standing with his back to me, arms folded, as his parents were telling him to give me a hug goodbye. Jay says, “come on now, don’t be backwards”. And Josh replies in this cute, little, squeaky southern drawl, “but I allreadddy emmm backwaaaaards”. Another highlight of the trip was White Castle. Al, having grown up in Indiana for part of his life, had fond memories of White Castle hamburgers. For years now we have been hearing about what we’ve been missing. So naturally, he was so excited to share that with us. The first place we ate at was White Castle- at midnight in Louisville, Kentucky. I think we ordered 20 of those things between the 5 of us. Well, let’s just say it was gross! Jared had about 2 bites, Amanda stomached almost a whole one, Justin scarfed 4 of them down, and Al and I didn’t really count. But, he was getting rather frustrated at the growing disgust and lack of appreciation. So we drove circles in the parking lot as we tried to swallow these White Castle burgers, Al getting more and more frustrated. It was quite a sight. After everything was said and done, Al had to admit defeat. “They just don’t make them like they used to”, he said.  My fellow gomer, Bonnie, writes “there’s a reason why we call White Castles ‘sliders’ “. Ummmm……..ya.  So Al tried so hard to share a fond memory, and once again felt like he was so unappreciated. But after a day or so went by, and we were laughing about it, I had to point out to him that we made our own fond family memory- just maybe not the way he expected it. Just yesterday we went grocery shopping and he bought a box of frozen White Castle’s just to tease the kids about it. Isn’t that how God so often works- blessing us all the while totally sidestepping our silly expectations?

So we get home from a whirlwind trip and some more strangeness come our way. First, we’re in a drive through and some young girl runs smack into the back of our van with her car. Luckily, she just scratched the bumper, but Al was not pleased to say the least. Then the next day, our neighbor’s son runs into Al’s car with his u-haul truck. That too is relatively minor, but pretty weird to happen in the same week. Then Al gets a nasty phone call from this woman who is married to a celebrity because she has professional relations to the guy who ran into Al’s car, and apparently it is “her money” that is going to repair it. She had some nasty words to say to Al, which was not just shocking, but disheartening. If that’s what wealth is truly like, I pray for poverty.

So then a friend of Justin’s lost his Father suddenly to an undiagnosed disease. That situation demanded a lot of ministry from us- a time when we are so depleted as it is. The devil is indeed cutthroat. And I have felt the weight of his heavy hand, and the sharp sting of his pointy finger. Some people would just call it negativity, I guess. Us Christians have a word for this- we call it “mire”. It’s interesting that “mire” is defined as a “deep mud or slush” or as a “bog”, and the Bible says we are merely made of dust (Gen. 2:7; Job 10:9; Psalm 103:14; Ecc. 3:20). So take a little dust, add the right amount of water, and what you have is “mire”. Indeed, I have felt so bogged down this last couple of weeks that it’s almost as if my weighted feet are sinking into the consuming earth. But it only makes my faith that much stronger, because I know that out of the clay of such experiences great and useful vessels are formed.

So many people continue to tell me what a blessing I am. Hearing that is like hearing your voice on an answering machine for the first time. “I sound like that?” Hearing yourself from the inside of your head you sound so much different than when you hear yourself through your ears from the outside. I think my relationship with God is like that. He’s speaking through me to minister to others, and yet I forget to listen from the outside in. Mud is clogging my ears. And I know I’ve said that for months now- that it’s hard for me to “get it”. Somehow or another, cancer has been a blessing to me. It sure has blessed others. I just gotta get the mud outta my ears. You know Jesus once used dirt and spit as a muddy salve to bring healing to a blind man’s eyes? He didn’t have to do it that way. But He did. I think a lot of people have been praying about this, because I had a neat experience a couple Sundays ago………

I had been hearing the Lord all week tell me to set aside a day of fasting and prayer. Fasting is something I am just learning to do. So, having had chemo that Monday, I kept saying “no, Lord, not yet. I just had chemo and I have to eat right to get my body through this”. So I put if off and put it off. Saturday rolls around, and I’m still feeling the effects, but I’m stronger. Strong enough to consider a fast. “Ok, Lord. Tomorrow’s the day I will set aside for fasting and prayer”. So many people had been on my heart. Too many. So I get up Sunday morning, after having given a testimony of hope to a mother of some prodigal children on Saturday, and I was thinking in the shower. That’s my private little think tank in there. I was reminiscing about my teenage years, my young marriage and motherhood, my crazy lifestyle and my spiritual seeking. And as I looked around, in my mind’s eye, at my growing and healthy children, at my beautiful home, at my wonderful husband, I was overcome with gratitude at how far the Lord has brought me. Looking ahead can be so muddy. Looking back where the dirt has dried may be dusty experience, but along with that dust can come a certain kind of hope if one looks for it. And I saw it, undeniably, that Sunday morning. So we head out to church and Pastor announces that he’s changing the order of the service. More weirdness. After our time of worship he announces that he has felt a call to prayer. God has never been a God of coincidences. He first shares about a Pastor friend of his and his wife, who is going through high dose chemo at City of Hope. Then he shares about the nephew of the Associate Pastor, in Valley Children’s Hospital. Then he shares about Al and I, and our burden with this cancer. The entire congregation laid hands on us and prayed for us that Sunday. In over a year that we’ve carried this burden, this was the first time a Pastor has brought our burden before the church. We both were prayed to tears, and felt incredibly blessed. And looking back, I believe that God’s call for me to pray and fast was in preparation for this healing time of prayer for us.

But Al and I never really did talk much about it. We never do. I’ve only seen him cry a few times in our 5 years of marriage, and he never likes to talk about it afterwards. Rather than push the issue, I am learning to not make it such a big deal that it becomes an issue, and to just be appreciative for the small moments like that we share. I think God knows I needed to see those tears. So I shared all of this with a confidant, who got very excited for me as we talked about the little intricacies of this experience. She stands on the sidelines of my own personal little race, tape recorder in one hand, and pom pom in the other. “See, this is what you sound like”, she says. The Apostle Paul was an encourager too.

Another thing I talked about with my confidant, ironically, has political ties: gay marriage. You may be shocked to know that although I will vote for Bush this election, as I did the last, no single political label would fit me well. My libertarian streak comes out most prominently on this issue of gay marriage. So it may be even more shocking to know that I support gay marriage. When I use the word “support”, I mean it in the sense of “do not oppose”. There, I said it- I do not oppose gay marriage. One of the arguments of the fundamentalist Christians (of which, I am) is that allowing gays to marry will undermine the social institution of marriage. No, I think the women’s rights movement did that about 35 years ago. This is what my confidant and I were talking about- what it means to be a woman. Femininity, sexuality, breasts. I was telling her about my tattoo, and all the reasons that I painfully refuse to have breast implants done. One of those reasons is rooted in that strong, “feminine” defiance of mine that wants to make a statement to our over sexualized culture that I can be young, totally feminine, and not have any breasts at all. That tattoo is my confidence to rip open my shirt and say, “see”. The tattoo image itself speaks to a much deeper sense of femininity that is unutterable to me at this point. I think that’s why I have to put it into image- my words fail me. So I am on a quest to find that artist who can take my sketchy words, my fragmented experiences, my female point of view, and can put it into a powerful image on my war scarred chest- an artist who does not need to draw it out first to meet my approval, but who can move forward in confidence, bringing to surface the deep and mysterious qualities of my femininity. Boy, that sounded hokey, didn’t it? I told you my writing felt “forced” this time. Anyway, I’m wondering if Kari Barba is the girl to do the job? As I explore this, trying to find the right artist to respect my canvas, I am really motivated to lose some weight. I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, but since being in treatment, I have gained 20+ pounds from the steroid. Colon cancer and lung cancer patients lose weight. Breast cancer patients gain weight. Lucky me. So, I’ve joined Curves. It seems odd that most women are motivated by the upcoming wedding, or the upcoming cruise, but I’m motivated by the upcoming tattoo. I just hope I can find God’s glory in it, because I know I’m too human to succeed at losing that amount of weight without God’s help (you know, that miry clay thing). So if you’re still praying, please pray for my strength, motivation, and commitment to lose weight and get my body healthy, as I transition from being in cancer treatment to being in “remission”.

In a recent online discussion between young breast cancer survivors, the issues of weight gain and sex drive came up. Many of the women were agreeing that they miss their sex drive- an unfortunate side effect of hormone squashing chemotherapy drugs. One woman shares that she feels so lucky to be alive that missing her sex drive seems trite. That got me thinking. Is my desire to lose weight for a tattoo trite? Is my desire to lose weight so I can feel good about my body (now minus breasts) trite in the face of death? Is me missing sexual intimacy with my husband really meaningless, as I have faced a disease that wants to kill me? I have come to this conclusion: I will not succeed if my motive isn’t to glorify God, and yet it is not wrong for me to want to come up off the cliff, from which I hang by my fingernails, gratefully counting every breath as if it could be my last. It is not wrong to want to get up and walk, to live my life again, to leave behind this cancer and it’s devastation. It’s not wrong to want to feel young, and beautiful, and sexy. It’s not wrong to want to live.

As you appreciate living, perhaps your feet firmly plated in the mire, consider taking the time to pitch a lawn chair in a dark corner of your yard this week, as you look to the heavens to observe the annual Perseid meteor shower, which will be peaking on the 12th. Let me know if you catch any…………..

Always in His Grace,



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