“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. Be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the church, it will lose it’s authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail
I type the following in love (and disappointment) to the American Church:
In the last few months, more than ever before, I have questioned whether I still belong to you and whether you still belong to me. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face.
Church, you have been such an integral part of my life. As a pastor’s kid and at times, a pastor’s wife, there have been moments when it seemed you were my whole life. You have been my community, my foundation, my habit, my compass, my caretaker, and my safe place. You have also been a source of wounding, pain, and confusion. I have wrestled with the fact that we, the church, have used theology to justify wars, slavery, oppression, and segregation. I have wrestled with how we have historically and presently excluded female and LGBTQ congregants and disenfranchised those inside and outside of our community of faith. I have wrestled with continuing to wrestle with so much but justified the continual struggle with the knowledge that I am human, you are human, and we are imperfectly trying to follow a perfect God. (And I’m not foolish enough to think that I can follow Jesus without a community of people to teach and support me in how to do that.)
But the last few months have shaken me to the core. This election season has felt like one continual wrestling match within my soul and amongst people I love.
Church, we claim to pray to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, and yet some of us felt convicted to vote for one candidate, and others, the other, and very few others, the other. And afterward, some of us mourned and others of us rejoiced; deeply mourned and deeply rejoiced. I know that part of this mess is that Jesus was not an American, a Democrat, or a Republican, and we tend to forget that every 4 years. But for me, the wrestling goes deeper than blue and red and donkeys and elephants. The convictions behind our votes represent some significant divides in how we believe we should live.
If we claim to follow the same Jesus, how is it that our interpretation of following is so starkly different? If we are reading the same Bible, how is our comprehension so vastly different? I don’t believe that this election season has divided our country or the American church. I believe this election season has highlighted the divide that has long been there. But I also believe this election season is causing a lot of us to question how we can continue to be the church together when there is such a vast divide in our theology, interpretation, and praxis.
I don’t have answers, but I do know that I am not ready to give up on us, church. And here I am crying again.
I want desperately for this relationship to work because even though it’s so complicated, I still believe that we are good for each other. I want to belong to you and for you belong to me.
But I also want us to throw our doors wide open because I believe that Jesus is for all of us, not an elite bunch of us. This struggle I’m having with our relationship is bigger than just you and me.
I want us to be a people who are focused on welcoming others in, not keeping others out. I don’t want to practice fancy invitation-only pressed linen tablecloth dinner party hospitality. I want us to host radical, messy hospitality that look like the dining room table and the card table, and the tv trays are all set with mismatched dishes and chairs (including the camping chairs) because we ran out of room at the dinner table hospitality.
I want us to be people who champion the cause of people and not the cause of causes.
I want us to stop pretending that theology, life, and following Jesus is clear cut, black and white, and figure-out-able. I want us to be humble, to embrace the gray, and to hope for God to continually change our hearts so that with each year, we look more like Jesus.
I want us to see the image of God in every single person. And I want us to fight for others because we see the image of God in them, not because we deem them innocent or not. I don’t want us to be a voice for the voiceless; I want us to give up privilege so that those without a voice have the opportunity to speak for themselves. And then I want us to listen. I want us to be part of the liberation movement, not the condemnation movement.
I want us to do less service projects and do more listening projects. I want us to get out of our bubbles and learn from people who don’t look like, worship like, speak like, and vote like we do. And then I want us to question whether our theology applies to the people we just listened to. If our theology can’t be applied outside of our little church community, it isn’t God’s theology.
I want us to listen to the uncomfortable words from today’s prophetesses and prophets who are calling out forgetfulness, greed, and fixation with current culture. I want us to stop crying for peace and unity when there is no peace, and instead, embrace the tension that might lead us to the repentance we need.
I want us to turn over tables, like our Jesus did, when we see our fellow Christians becoming insular, uptight, and judgmental.
I want us to be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
I want us to be cities on a hill. We are not called to spread fear and scarcity, but to spread hope and light and generosity.
I want us to commit to the hard, complicated, long-term work of making peace rather than the easier, unholy work of keeping peace (or if we’re being honest, keeping privilege – because there’s too much conflict in our nation and world to claim there was peace to begin with).
I want us to care for the widow, the fatherless, and the orphan. I want us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. I want us to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly.
I want us to be kingdom people, church. I want to be in this with you. Is there hope for us?
Last January, for the first time in several Januarys, I set some goals for the year. I resolved to grow my bangs out (check with praise hands emoji), floss my teeth 5 times a week (hey, going from 2 times a year (i.e. the night before my semi-annual dentist appointment) to 4ish times a week is a success, right?), spend my commutes listening to audio books (gamechanger, y’all), and to read at least 22 books (check in large part thanks to the aforementioned audiobook resolution). Allison’s 2016 Book superlatives: Best nonfiction: The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander, Best novel: Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi, Best on Faith: Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey, Best Audiobook reading: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Andichie, Best Memoir – Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates. Please nominate your best reads of 2016 as I am crafting my 2017 list now.
Goals that I did not quite hit were: make more lattes on weekends and blog about things other than cancer. Whoops. Perfection is overrated right?
For other highlights that weren’t necessarily on a goal list, please refer to my own personally curated #RealBest9 because no offense, your “likes” don’t determine what was the best about my year, I get to do that. (In order from left to right, top to bottom)
- I got back into the gym habit this year and fell in love with a few new workout classes.
- I read (sometimes with homemade lattes) more this year than in years past.
- We got a cat. I adore little Bluegrass Granger with my whole heart. Who am I?
- We sojourned to Asheville for a weekend and I fell in love with that little town.
- Adam kept healing. So much good news on the health front!
- Our little #CasaBuYARD veggie patch continues to be a source of joy (and produce).
- I had an incredible work year, brimming with learning, failing, and travels. I got to share about my work at a national conference in Pittsburgh, was accepted into a national fellowship and traveled to DC and Denver for that, and was able to go learn at a conference in Austin.
- We got to spend time with family and friends and enjoy it (and board games) thanks to good health.
- I love the 2 boys I get to do life with (yes, Bluegrass is a real boy).
Every year for the last few years, I’ve picked one word that will be the theme of my year. At the close of 2015, I was emerging out of the destruction of my husband’s cancer rubble and declared that 2016 would be a year of restoration. After over a year of watching my husband fight for his life and the months of recovery that followed, I was looking to 2016 to be a year of rebuilding after the wreckage. I knew (or I thought I knew) that life wouldn’t go back to just as it was before cancer, but I was hopeful that we could renovate the ruins and piece together some old and new into something that resembled the old life.
2016 was a year of restoration in many ways. In a lot of ways, a sense normalcy was restored to our home and schedule. Our days have been restored to routine things like working, exercising, cooking, cleaning, and doing yard work. And in some ways, my soul was restored. This was a very quiet, predictable, unhurried year. This year, I had the time and space for reflection, which was necessary. I was worn, ragged, and fragile and I needed a year to just be.
Last January, I wanted my life and soul to return back into something that resembled my picture of “normal”. I longed nostalgically for old routines, friendships, beliefs, and purpose. But nostalgia doesn’t operate well in present tense and it certainly doesn’t coexist with change. As it turns out, current me doesn’t actually want my mind, heart, and life to be restored to the old me.
This year, I’d rather have a remodel than a renovation.
I’m ready for 2017 to be fresh.
Fresh in expectations, relationships, beliefs, thinking, priorities, food… Lots and lots of fresh.
I’ve done enough fresh food kicks to know that fresh feels good, but fresh takes work. And so I will look expectantly, I will plan, and I will protect 2017.
I’ve seen a lot of people adding the words #LoveWins to comments about the recent violent atrocities in the United States. But as I read the headlines every day about more violence, more injustice, and more oppression in this country and world, I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t seem that love is winning at all; it seems that hatred is winning.
This week, as I read the headlines from North Miami (and Munich and Kabul and Baghdad and the Ukraine), I couldn’t think of any words to write other than #HateWins. I tried to pray but I couldn’t find any words for that either, so I went to the only place where everything feels right in the world; my garden. And as I watered and weeded and breathed in the smells and sights of creation, I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
The line, “where there is hatred, let me sow love” was on repeat in my spirit, and as I gave pause to that phrase, I looked over at our newly bloomed sunflowers spotlighted by the setting sun.
This year, I planted a row of sunflowers behind our garden beds. I read the instructions on the back of the packet, before digging my little trowel into the hard, weedy, soil of our backyard and sowing 12 tiny seeds. I regularly watered the ground where I had sowed the seeds and I watched and waited. It took weeks to be able to distinguish the sunflower seedlings from the abundant weeds that grow in our backyard, and months for them to show any signs of flowers blooming. Now, the plants are 4 feet high and the flowers that have bloomed are gorgeous. But it took time and work for the seeds I had sown to bear any fruit.
This week, as I gaped at the golden blooms, I thought about what it means to sow love in this world where hatred has such deep roots. I thought about how fast the weeds grow in my garden, and how long it takes for the good things to bloom. And I thought about how gardening requires regular tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and learning.
I’ve been gardening for four years, but I still have so much to learn. Each year, I kill some plants, prune some too harshly, miss warning signs of mold and harmful insects until it’s too late, and sometimes, there are conditions outside of my control that make growing challenging. But I keep gardening, because it’s worthwhile work. I know the same is true about me planting love (and I’ll add hope and justice) amidst hate. This is a messy, complicated, nuanced conversation and I know still have so much to learn. I don’t always go about this work in the best way, I don’t always say the right words, I miss opportunities, and I still have so many biases to uncover. But I will keep planting these seeds and learning from my mistakes, because the world, my country, and my city are not as they should be.
I believe that sowing love amidst hate in our world is going to take work – not the flashy, wordsmithy, often publicly recognized kind of work – I think it’s going to take a lot of quiet, small, humble, routine work – well, a lot of quiet, humble work for those of us in dominant culture. And I think the work will look different for each of us. Every gardener I know has their own methods and practices and yet they help things grow.
For me, sowing seeds of love currently looks like:
- Tilling up the soil in my own heart: Doing a deep dive into unpacking the privilege that I have as a white, middle class, straight, cisgender, Christian person. I’m slowly rooting out my white fragility and unearthing the ways that white dominant culture has benefited me. I believe that this ongoing self-education piece is critical for those of us who want to be about the work of justice and equity, especially for white people.
- Consulting master gardeners: Listening to experts at sowing seeds of love and justice – being sure that I’m listening to people of color as the experts, not just white people who like to talk about this. There’s room for a lot of expertise in the libraries of my heart and home (I’ve linked to a few white authors in this post), but I’m being extra mindful of who I’m listening to and reading these days – being mindful of who is telling whose stories. (Some of my favorite writers: Ta-Nehisi Coats, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Christena Cleveland, and Austin Channing)
- Planting seeds of love in my everyday life: Because of the continued violence, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in marches and vigils and lectures. But in addition to joining in these large demonstrations, I want to be intentional to continue this work in my everyday life so that this work becomes as habitual as watering my garden everyday. Currently, this looks like calling out bias, discrimination, and privilege when I hear it among friends and family and inviting them to do the same when they hear it from me, convening a book club in which I can read and unpack some of the feels that come with understanding white privilege and white dominant culture, and incorporating these dialogues more deeply into my work with teachers.
Each season, I learn better, more effective methods to grow and sustain my garden plants. I hope the same is true about my learning to plant love amidst hate. I’m not a master gardener; I don’t think I will ever be, not with vegetables, and certainly not with fighting for equity.
But I’m going to keep gardening. I’m going to keep tilling up the soil in my heart, uprooting deep and unconscious, big and small biases, I’m going to keep listening to master gardeners about what this work is and how I can join, and I’m going to keep planting seeds in my everyday life. Because this isn’t a social justice hobby garden. This is urgent – it’s literally life and death. I have friends who are fearful for their own and for the children’s lives. If I’m honest, I’m afraid for them, too. Love won’t win on its own.There will be more #Hate Wins, more Orlandos, Altons and Philandos and Dallases and Baton Rouges and Charles if nothing changes. I want love to win and I know that won’t happen unless we all pick up our trowels and dig in.
For the last four Januarys, I’ve picked one word to hang as a banner over my year; one word to proclaim my hopes and dreams and resolutions for the three-hundred ish days to come. Most years, my words have come easily – birthed out of need for change or desire for growth. This year, however, I’ve wrestled with my word. I’ve wrestled because I’ve simultaneously given up on the idea that I can predict what a year will hold and I want this year to be a lot of things.
As I slowly emerge out of my husband’s dark cancer cave and my eyes adjust to the uncomfortably bright light of possibilities on the other side of survival, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’m taking in colors and shapes and sounds that didn’t exist in the deep of the cave. I stare at my friend’s kiddos who I barely recognize after our extended friend-absence. I sit around full dinner tables and welcome chatter and laughter as a blissful reunion. I mount the spin bike at the gym as if I were reengaging with an estranged friend.
As I stare at normal life from a cautious distance, even still, while my senses adjust to fresh open air, I know that I want to reenter to normal life. The problem is that I’m afraid I won’t ever be “normal” again. Brene Brown writes, “Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to the moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to.” And so I’m readjusting my expectations of normalcy and starting the process of reconciling what of pre-cancer life I get to keep and what I have to let go of. I think this is all part of recovery.
I recognize that the discomfort of healing is a gift – one that I assure you we don’t take for granted but one who’s emotional weight we couldn’t have predicted. As I wade through cancer-trauma rubble, I find myself getting more and more curious about what redemption and renewal and rebuilding will look like – in Adam’s life, in my life, and in our joint life.
In the last month, as I have pondered “my word” for 2016, I landed on a few that resonated; all of them starting with re: . Even as I wrote this post, so many re: words tumbled out. I toyed for a few weeks with picking a prefix for my word. But as a compulsive rule-follower, I just couldn’t go through with it.
So I waited and ran my favorite re: words through my brain; let them dance on my tongue until one stuck out enough to declare it “my word”. I think it’s the re: word that encompasses all of the other words that I was mulling over and one that encapsulates my hopes and longings for this fresh air year: Restore.
I know that there is no going back to life just as it was before cancer, and honestly, I don’t think I really want that anyway. But I do long for restoration –of new normalcy, of holistic health, and of my soul. So, this is me nailing up my banner with hopes and prayers this this year is a restoring year.
Did anyone else pick one word for their year? I’d love to hear about it!
You know, because you journeyed with us, that 2015 was a horrendous year (feel free to nominate a better adjective – it’s hard to pick just one that encapsulates the general feeling of the year). I have no desire to hash out (yet again) all of the repugnance in the year. If you have some macabre desire to reflect on our year, please feel free to peruse our many rather depressing 2015 blog posts.
There’s this hashtag going around social media this week called #2015BestNine. It’s a compilation of the 9 most liked pictures users posted on instagram during the year. My “best 9” are all actually my worst 9. (chemo bald Adam, ICU… you know, the real downer pictures that got lots of likes because we were posting that Adam was alive despite some incredible odds).
In my non-cancer wife life, I typically use social media as my highlight reel – an opportunity to share the sweet things. This year, however, we were able to share with the masses the ugly truths and rope in community near and far into real life. We were so grateful for a wide platform on which to share about life this year, but there were a whole lot of lowlight reels.
But even in the midst of an overpoweringly awful year, there were glimmers of light, of fun, of joy. I’ve decided to honor the end of 2015 by highlighting some of my favorite things – The #2015RealBestNine if you will. I would love to hear from y’all some of your 2015 superlatives.
- Best Books: This year, I read 20 books. Given the intensity of the year, I will consider that an accomplishment. It pales in comparison to the 365 books one of my friends read, but we are all on our own journeys so I’ll cheers to the books we all read this year. Here’s to being part of the 76% of American adults who read at least one book this year!
Fiction: I used to be a strictly non-fiction reader. I simply couldn’t “get into” novels. Then I found young adult fiction a few years ago and my reading world changed. This year, fiction was a welcome escape. I read so many dear old books (shout out to CS Lewis and LM Montgomery) but the highlight of my fiction reading was certainly Harry Potter. Adam and I both read the series for the first time in our lives this fall and absolutely adored it. We’d like to take this time to apologize to our First Pres Monterey Koinonia group for not listening to you in 2006 and reading the books with you. Adam’s youth group illustrations would have taken on a whole new element. 2 admissions: Hermione Granger and I are 2 peas in a pod and I’m sad to admit that I’m probably a Hufflepuff even though I want to be a Gryffindor)
Nonfiction: I did squeeze in a few nonfiction books this year and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson wins this category. While Stevenson is a lawyer, he is also a storyteller. This book weaves in story after story of glimmers of justice in an unjust legal system in America. Go ahead and add this to your 2016 book list if you haven’t read it yet.
Faith: Gold by Moonlight by Amy Carmichael was this year’s spiritual guidebook for me: A beautiful reminder of hope and truth in the midst of darkness.
- Best Food: So much of this year was holed up at home, eating bland foods and subsequently not caring about food. It’s been fun over the past few months to start cooking yummy food and get out and enjoy someone else’s cooking. Our favorite new Nashville eatery is Chauhan Ale and Masala House. We can’t stop eating here. If you live in Nashville or come for a visit, we insist you stop here.
- Best Movie: We didn’t do a lot of movie watching this year. You would think it would have been a good year for that, but no. We did, however, have a Harry Potter movie marathon after finishing all 7 books and it did not disappoint. Our friends drove in from out of state to enjoy the festivities. We ate and drank our way through all 8 movies (and two UK games) and had the sweetest weekend. Close second does NOT go to Star Wars. I realize the following statement may result in some broken friendships, but I don’t get it, y’all. We watched 4,5, & 6 and I’m not watching any more. Help me, friends, what is it that you love about these movies?
- Best TV Show: Well, we binge watched all of the Chuck seasons during surgery recovery (because why wouldn’t we?). But if we’re talking about new TV shows, this nomination goes out to Life in Pieces. I adore this new show. It’s funny and sweet and full of good characters. Have y’all seen it?
- Best Game: I don’t know what we would have done without Yahtzee this year. We wore out our dice on this game. It was a great low-energy pain-distraction game. Close second goes out to Farkle – but I always lose that one, so it can’t be my favorite.
- Best Activity: Gardening. I love our little raised-bed empire housed in #CasaBuYARD. Every year, I learn new things about our Creator, about our environment, and about sustainable food. This year, our garden was my safe place, my prayer place, my sunshine, and my joy. I’m missing my daily dose of vitamin D and fresh tomatoes these days.
- Best Pictures: Not chosen because of their artistic quality, but rather for what they represent, here are my #BestNine2015:
Top Row (left to right)
Game marathons with Adam, planting #CasaBuYARD 2015, canoeing during our #MonthOfFun
Middle Row (left to right)
Speaking at a conference in Chicago (work has been such a fun challenge this year), living it up on a Jamaican beach, our Harry Potter movie marathon menu
Bottom Row (left to right)
Books and journaling, fun time with friends during our #MonthOfFun (we could have posted many more sweet moments between yuck with friends this year – our 10 year reunion was in this highlight reel), and New Year’s Even when we put on our dancing shoes and sipped champagne and welcomed in a new year.
- Best Silver Lining: While frustrating many days, this year forced us to slow down and stop buying into the culture of busy. This year, I found glimmers of joy in simplicity, in quiet unplanned nights, in reading in front of the fire, in endless Yahtzee tournaments, and in an uncomplicated calendar. I found time to think and write some letters and rest. We’re ready to embrace a little more zest in life, but I truly hope we can maintain rest and Sabbath in health.
- Best Surprise: Our friends got together and sent us on a GOURMET vacation to Jamaica. We had our own personal butlers (yes, you read that right, we had more than one personal butler). We rested and read and lounged and ate and cried and took in so much sunshine. It was amazing.
So there you have it. Those are my #2015RealBestNine. What were yours?
Happy New Year, friends!
Not all anniversaries are happy ones. We celebrate some anniversaries, we mourn others, and we loathe still others. Today is a hard anniversary in the Buzard house.
One year ago today, after an agonizing month of testing and waiting and speculations, Adam was officially diagnosed with cancer. The expanse between October 2, 2014 and October 2, 2015 feels far greater than a year should, and yet my memories are all so sharp.
I can call to mind where each of us sat with feet shaking to the sound of the white wall clock ticking, ticking, ticking as we waited hundreds of seconds for the oncologist to enter the room and deliver concrete news. I remember the boulder in my stomach and the tears that choked my vocal chords as phrases like, “stage 4”, “aggressive chemo”, and “we don’t have time to wait” spilled out of a stranger, who is no longer a stranger. I recall walking out of the exam room, grasping Adam’s hand tightly, and walking toward the receptionist desk to schedule chemotherapy with tears racing down my cheeks.
I remember the silent slow walk toward the park across the street from the hospital and I remember the sound of the sobs that escaped in turns from each of us over the next three hours. I remember delivering news to family and friends through texts and calls, and I can call up the sounds of our friends sobs, too.
While this year has felt like a million years, it hasn’t been a blur. The memories from this year are incredibly vivid. I remember the sounds and smells and feels on Adam’s first day of chemo, I remember blubbering in the bathroom watching Adam take control of his hair loss before chemo did, I remember the weeks of battling nausea and anxiety in supportive silence, I remember the feeling of exhausted accomplishment on the last day of chemo, and I remember the lonely cold winter. And the surgeries: Even if I tried, I will never forget the nausea-inducing surgical waiting room, the plastic pull-out sleeping chair, the whirring of the IV machine, and the countless complications.
But I have other powerfully distinct memories from this year, too. I remember the friend that came and cried with us over Chipotle on the first day of chemo. I remember the consistent presence of my sister in every surgery waiting room and in between. I recall the friends who were with us while Adam buzzed his head. I remember the meals, the gutter cleanings, the full mailbox, and the amazon wish-list delivery extravaganza. I remember the presence of Adam’s parents on all of the hardest weeks. I remember the friends who drove long distances just to sit with us because that’s what friends do. And I remember the other friends who kidnapped Adam for a 2-hour road trip against doctors (and my) wishes because laughter and friends are really good medicine.
I remember the loving text messages and the videos of our friends’ kiddos praying for Adam. I will never forget the joy and love at Adam’s chemo finish line party. I remember all the sour patch kids and chipotle gift cards and essential oils (and all the wine and chocolate that was delivered just for me).
And I remember the pervasive, goodness and faithfulness of God this year. In the silence, in the dark of long nights, in the waiting rooms, and in just the plain old waiting, God’s goodness has been evident. God’s faithfulness has been present through his people, through His quiet presence, through the miracles, and through the setbacks.
In the Old Testament, Samuel commemorates the end of a battle by raising up a large stone and naming it Ebenezer (which means stone of help) to remind him and the Israelites of God’s help and faithfulness. I don’t know if we’ll go out in search of a big rock, or if this blog post will suffice, but as I remember this awful, heavy, unbearable, unbelievable year, I will also remember beauty in the ashes and pain dotted with grace.
I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was in high school. I packed ankle length skirts and modest tops (and matching bandanas for my hair, of course) and headed to Managua, Nicaragua. In my short week there, I observed a culture very different from my own, I experienced what it felt like to be a foreigner, and I was exposed to extreme poverty. As I walked through the tents of a refugee camp that housed families who had been displaced by a devastating hurricane, I began to grasp my own privilege.
When I landed back on U.S. soil, I was simultaneously relieved and uncomfortable with the things that had previously been my normal – from meals to clothes to social norms to routines. It took me a long time to fully comprehend what was happening in my heart and mind and soul; I was somehow changed. The things that I had seen had impacted me deeply; they had begun to shift my worldview.
The tension was that while my worldview had shifted, my real-life non-mission trip world as a high-schooler hadn’t shifted. I had to return to school, to my part-time job, to friendships, and normal teenage social pressure, but my normal life didn’t feel quite so normal anymore. I had a hard time sorting through how what I had experienced and what I was thinking about fit back into everyday life.
I’ve been having a hard-time articulating how I am feeling as of late. And because we have the best people in our lives, we are getting asked how we are doing a lot these days. As I’ve been doing some emotional self-assessment, I have decided that I’m feeling a lot like 11th grade post-first mission trip Allison. I have experienced, observed, and been exposed to some incredibly heavy things this year as I have walked with my husband through cancer treatments. And now, while we’re on a break from treatments and normal life can resume (at least temporarily) I am experiencing that familiar tension. I’m not sure how what I have experienced fits in with pre-cancer life.
I’m doing a lot less “cancer-wife” activities these days and a lot more “normal-life” activities. Life is starting to look more like it used to – it just doesn’t quite feel like it used to. I know that, at least with mission trips, the fusion of new experiences with normal life does happen. Normal life shifts a bit to accommodate new world views, and world views shift a smidge to accommodate the mandatory normal and somehow, in time, there is less incongruence. But ‘in time’ is the key phrase.
And so here I am, in the middle of waiting for normal life and cancer life to fuse into something that feels normal-ish. I’m waffling between cancer-shock and acceptance that this will forever change me. So in the spirit of honesty, I’ll leave this post in the tension that I’m feeling without a nice summary or Scripture-bow on top – maybe those will come with future posts.
11 years ago today, we stood facing each other; hands clasped, gazing into one another’s youthful-faces at an alter in a little white country church. We pledged our vows to one another in front of our God and our dearest friends that we would love and cherish each other in good times, in healthy times, in times of abundance, and also in the times that were not so good, not so healthy, and not so abundant. We also declared on that day, through verse, song, and homily that we wanted our marriage to be a story of God’s faithfulness.
We had everyone leaf through the blue hymnals in their pews and sing our favorite hymn, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ as a testimony and prophetic anthem over our marriage that God’s faithfulness would be our theme. The verse on our not-so-cool wedding program (Thanks Pinterest for being a decade too late) was Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.”
We didn’t know much as wrinkle-free, and nearly carefree 21 year olds, but we knew that we wanted our marriage to serve a greater purpose than ourselves –We wanted our marriage to be as much about loving others as it was about loving each other. We wanted to serve God better as a couple than we would individually. We wanted our marriage to glorify God and point to God’s faithfulness.
As enthusiastic not-yet-college-graduates, we had vague grand dreams of what that would look like and ambition to fill in the plot holes. We envisioned that we would do significant things as a couple that would be a story of God’s faithfulness in mending our broken world.
What we forgot, in our grand, innocent, well-meaning pre-marital vision, was that we were the characters in God’s story, not the author – and characters don’t get a say in their own story. Thus far, the Author of our story has seemed far less interested in compelling plot lines and heroic daring adventures and far more interested in character development.
It seems as though the majority of our 11 years of marriage have been spent on developing our character – individually and as a team. Committed, long-term relationships have a way of developing character, don’t they? For that matter, life stuff has a way of developing character. But marriage has a knack for drawing out the hidden, dark, flawed stuff we can hide from most friends and it also has the potential to draw out the deepest reserves of beauty, strengths, and gifts. Through our married years, character has been forged through fire and desert and valley and straight roads, too. We have learned about perseverance, faith, faithfulness, trust, forgiveness, fortitude, and selfless love.
12 years ago, our soon-to-be married selves didn’t realize how much we needed our own restoration individually and how much we would need it as a couple. We thought God’s faithfulness would be more evidenced through our marriage, but instead, His faithfulness has been most evidenced in our marriage. And while that type of story rarely makes a best-seller list, it’s a powerful story best told around tables filled with good food, on couches with dear ones, and sometimes over coffee with a friend of a friend who needs to hear that story. We have found that as we allow others to see God’s work – the messy, arduous, refining work of restoring us as individuals and as a couple, His faithfulness is most evident.
And so, after 11 years, our story isn’t one about a power duo changing the world, and it isn’t a top seller – in fact, our story doesn’t even have a terribly coherent plotline. But really, isn’t it the messy, imperfect, broken, vulnerable stories that make the best backdrops for stories of God’s faithfulness and not the strong, perfect, neat, and tidy ones?
We couldn’t have imagined the chapters that would emerge when we chose “Not to us, O LORD, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness” as the back cover to our story. But we are grateful that our story is our story, and more, we are so grateful that God is faithful.
Here’s to 11 years of character development and God’s faithfulness and the cherry on top of friendship, joy, and laughter. Here’s to our marriage and our story and the stories that have yet to be written. I love you, Adam.
Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.
That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.
So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).
One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.
We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.
Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.
I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.
I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.
I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”
I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.
But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.
“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)
We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.
When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.
Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.