When New Years Don’t Always Bring Fresh Starts

“I bet you’re so ready for a new year,” they say with sweet sympathy.

“I’m sure you’re ready to put 2014 behind you,” they pronounce with pity.

“I have a feeling 2015 will be a better year,” they hypothesize with heart.

But I don’t quite know how to respond.

While I love the symbolism that a new year can bring, I don’t get that fresh start when the clock strikes midnight this December 31. On January 1, my husband will still have cancer, fears will still be present, days will still be hard, and unknowns will still be unknown.

And I know I’m not alone in the ‘less than fresh start to 2015 club’. This has been a hard and messy year for lots of us, hasn’t it?

This post is for all of us whose 2014’s will end in a minor key, full of dissonance, with no resolution yet composed. This one is for all of us whose pain from 2014 won’t get the memo to disappear before the ball drops. This post is for all of us who are starting 2015 with the lingering hard of 2014.

There’s no sugar coating it or silver lining for it, there’s no easier way to phrase it: This new year is going to be hard. So was last year (and for some of us, the year before that, and the one before that…) and I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we’re heading into a new year already weary, worn, and wary. But we are not defeated.

So you know what? I’m raising my polka-dotted mug of ginger tea (the calm for my anxious belly storm), I’m turning up my current favorite pump me up song, and I’m cheersing in spite of it all, nay, I’m cheersing because of it all. I’m cheersing to you fellow metaphorical mountain climbers because if there were ever worthy inspirations to toast: it’s “to the brave ones!” We are a great cloud of faithful witnesses to one another of how to walk hard roads by simply walking the hard roads: Imperfectly, sometimes begrudgingly, but ever faithfully.

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Cheers to the brave ones who dare to hope when the odds are not in their favor.

Cheers to the fighters who risk getting out of bed each morning though tired bones and weary minds plot against them.

Cheers to the tender-hearted who refuse to harden that bleeding heart – who keep feeling even though feeling hurts.

Cheers to the gritty ones, who keep being thrown punches and curve balls, and whose faith deepens and widens all the more.

Cheers to the ones who know that their callings are not on hold because of their current situation, but who trust that there is purpose in their pain.

Cheers to the ones who want nothing more than to see God do a “new thing” in their circumstances but while they wait, choose to see all the “new things” God is doing in their hearts in the process.

Cheers to the ones who believe that even if their heart and flesh give way, God is the strength of their heart and their portion.

Cheers to the ones who understand that testing produces a perseverance they would have never known or understood had there been no testing.

Cheers the ones who are convinced that nothing – not death or life, not angels or demons, nothing present or future, no height or depth – can separate them from the love of God.

Cheers to 2015 friends. Though it may not be clean, new, or fresh, it’s still a year to learn, trust, grow, and be brave – and I can toast to that.

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Chemo-Sobby

Yesterday was Adam’s last day of chemotherapy.  Over the last ten weeks, Adam has had nearly 200 hours worth of chemo pumped into his body. It has been a grueling, tiring, challenging journey, and while his chapter with cancer isn’t done being written, yesterday was a turning point in the plot line.

The day seemed to creep by slower than most; for me, because of anticipation, and for Adam because of exhaustion. We watched them hook up the last bag of chemo to his IV pump and squeezed our hands together a little tighter.

I flashed back to a memory of the first day of chemo, when the first bag started dripping and the tears re-welled in my eyes. Last day tears are very different from first day tears. As the IV pump began beeping to let us know the chemo had all dripped out, an overwhelming sense of joy washed over us. We hugged the nurses who we have grown so fond of, we said goodbye to the receptionists who know us well by now, and we walked out of the chemo room.

And the sobs began.

Sobs inspired by how proud I am of my husband. Sobs of relief. Sobs because I’m tired.

We didn’t talk much on the way home. Adam is an internal processor and I wanted him to have space to take in the significance of the day. Quiet came easier for me because I was terrified that I would spill the beans about the secret waiting for him at home. I had kept this secret for a few weeks but the last few minutes felt unbearable.

Over the last few months in the chemo room, I had watched other patients announce it was their last day of treatment without much celebration or fanfare, and I decided that wouldn’t do for Adam. So I cooked up a little “Chemo Finish Line Party” at our house. I pitched the idea to a few friends and family and of course, because our people love us so well, they changed their work schedules and bus pickups to be there.

Adam and I turned onto our street and were met with an insanely joyous 15 minute party with dear ones lining our walkway to the streamer finish line. They had a medal, signs, sweatbands, and unlimited high fives. We toasted with gatorade and we hugged and then we broke up the party because chemo is exhausting.

A and E signs

Nat and Sarah Cheering

Gregg and Debbie Sign

Debbie and AdamGroup GivesHigh Fives

Crossing the Finish Line

To Adam

Brad and AdamCorey Robertson Hug

Today I’m less chemo-sobby and more thankful for our kemosabes – for the amazing people that have been our faithful sidekicks; especially during this chapter. We are incredibly blessed by the people who are cheering us on, caring for us, and continuing to trek this with us all over the world, all over the US, and all over Nashville. We’re raising our leftover gatorade shot glasses to you this morning.

Thanks to Karen McGee and Brad Harris for the gift of pictures so we can remember this day for a long, long time.

The Waiting

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Advent is a season marked by waiting, expectation, and anticipation. It’s a season of hoping for light in the darkness, a season of longing for a day when the wrongs in this world will be made right, and a season dedicated to preparing for Jesus to come.

I couldn’t be more grateful that our cancer journey has crashed into advent because I need reminders now more than ever of the hope, joy, peace, and love that Jesus’ coming brings.

What beautiful timing that we get to focus our attention on a Savior that comes to rescue. What a lovely coincidence that we get to be reminded daily that Jesus became flesh and moved into our neighborhood, into our lives; bringing restoration and renewal.

This year, we’ve crafted an advent wreath and have decided to do daily readings from the lectionary to prepare us for Christmas. Each night, we’ll light a new candle as we read, pray, and listen.  Last night, we were reminded that “light dawns in darkness” (Ps 112:4) -that hope wins. What beautiful truth!

Today, I’ve been humming this verse from O Come O Come Emmanuel as I pray and hope:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

What are you doing this advent season? How are you preparing for Christmas?

 

Gratitude and Grace (A Thanksgiving Post)

photo (1) 2I think sometimes it’s easier to be thankful in the midst of hard seasons than it is during the good ones. Maybe that’s just me.  No, it’s not just me.  At the very least, it’s me and the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

Regardless, I find myself so very thankful this Thanksgiving.

Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of everything; cancer has a way of rubbing you raw and making you sensitive in both good and bad ways. Maybe it’s because I’m more attuned to the fragility of life; cancer has a way of snapping you into savoring every moment. Maybe it’s because I’m more needy than I’ve ever been; cancer has a way of making you feel unorganized, weak, and totally off.

But in the midst of this raw, fragile, off state, I have seen so much beauty. Over the last few months, I have been in awe at the love, generosity, creativity, and grace of the people in our lives. Had it not been for the love of others, I feel I might have fallen apart. I might have fallen apart beneath the crushing weight of a terrible diagnosis, the pressure of working in the midst of caring, and the heaviness of the unknown.

And yet…  (Oh how I’m grateful for an “and yet”) God’s grace has shown up over and over in so many ways; mostly through the love and sacrifice of His people. I feel held together by our community – our community of friends past and present, near and far.

Our people have taken over so that we can just be.

Our people have cleaned our house (or hired people to clean our house), gone shopping for us, cooked for us, taken care of our yard, covered our garden with blankets to protect from frost, and scaled our house to clean our gutters.

Our people have given us treats so that our “just being” can be fun.

Our people have given us sweet treats (literally all the chocolate and candy), date nights, tv shows to binge watch, wine drop offs (let’s be honest, that one’s just for me), books to read, and video games to play.

Our people have been incredibly generous so we can be present without worry.

Our people have treated us to gift cards, amazon wish list items, warm blankets, No-Shave-November fundraisers, and donations to medical bills.

Our people have been present with us so we don’t feel alone.

Our people have come to visit at the hospital and our house (some have driven long distances to do that), they have played games with us, they have texted us and sent us an overwhelming number of cards and post cards and messages.

Our people have prayed for us faithfully.

Our people have formed an army that spans time zones and continents; filling God’s ears with words we don’t have and asking prayers we aren’t brave enough to pray.

We’ve had to start a grace journal to document all of the blessings because we never want to forget God’s goodness to us during this season. And really, in the midst of hard, God has been so good to us. I’m thankful that during this time, God’s love for us has been incredibly evident.

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I read this line in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts this week, and it resonated with this season for us. “Thanksgiving – giving thanks in everything prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ. The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God – even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion – this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.”

I can’t think of a better preparation for celebrating advent; for preparing for Christ’s coming, than to be thankful and to understand how Christ saves us daily. Praying that whether you find yourself in a season of hard, or a season of relative ease, that you are in a season of thankfulness.

Cancer Tourettes

Lest any of you think it’s been all theological revelations by the fire and completely healthy emotional processing of my husband’s recent cancer diagnosis, please let me shatter those illusions.

But first, I have to start with a story. A few months ago, while Adam was in the midst of medical tests and we were still awaiting a diagnosis for the huge mass on Adam’s neck, we invited a friend over to watch one of our all-time favorite movies: What About Bob? Years of work in the mental health field plus Bill Murray make this movie insanely hilarious to me. Humor is a good remedy for anxious-waiting.

What About Bob? is a story about an emotionally disturbed man (Bob Wiley) who eventually gets well, but in the process, he makes his Psychologist (Dr. Leo Marvin) go mad. There are so many scenes that make me laugh til my stomach hurts.

But on this particular anxiety-ridden aforementioned night, the scene that had me in stitches was the one where Bob Wiley (Bill Murary) and Sigmund Marvin (the psychologist’s kid) are jumping on the beds pretending they have Tourette’s and screaming obscenities in hilarious combinations.

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a conservative Christian home where swearing was not an option.  We weren’t even supposed to say g-rated cuss-word knock offs like “gosh”, “darn”, or “fart” (not sure how fart made it on the list but it did). I grew up learning to be really careful with my word choices.

Combine ingrained word-caution that with my natural inclination toward perfection and people-pleasing and you’ve got someone who has learned to weigh her words to give off the impression that she has things together.

But on October 2, Adam got diagnosed with cancer and I fell apart. There’s been nothing “together” about me for the last few months. Most nights you can find a pile of tissues somewhere around the house (sometimes two or three).  I understand what the Psalmist meant in chapter 42 when he says “tears have been my food.”

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It’s not just sadness (but it’s a lot of sadness). It’s also anxiety, fear, and anger.  And because I don’t have a lot of energy to do much other than get through each day right now, I’ve decided there is no sense wasting energy on filtering my words.

So just like Bob Wiley, I gave myself Tourettes – More specifically, I gave myself “Cancer Tourettes”.

Cancer Tourettes means that I get to say what I’m thinking. This includes (but is not limited to):

* Cussing

* Yelling

* And Cuss-Yelling

At least that’s how my Cancer Tourettes started.

My newfound free vocabulary typically leads Adam and I to fits of laughter. Since I didn’t try out swearing when I was in 4th grade like most kids, I’m like a 4th grader when I drop a bomb now. So Cancer Tourettes is a good humor break.

But it’s also more than that.  Cancer Tourettes, we’ll call it CT for short, has led to me be less calculated and more honest.

CT has paved the way for me to admit when I am sad, mad, disappointed, and anxious without feeling compelled to wrap a nice bow around it. CT has enabled me to say, “I’m having a really hard day” and stop there without having to tack a theological ditty about God’s faithfulness or new mercies being available the following morning or a note that others have it worse than us on the end of it. CT has taught me to be honest in my prayers without trying to figure out what I am supposed to pray (cuss-yelling in prayers is a real new thing for me but God can handle it). Cancer Tourettes has turned into a good thing for me.

So don’t be surprised if in a conversation with me, there’s a new grit, honesty, or even vocabulary; it’s a new thing I’m trying out. The cancer is only temporary, the doctors are telling us, but I don’t know about the Tourettes.

*PS, I know that as a Social Worker, I should probably not even write this post, or at the very least acknowledge that Tourette Syndrome is a real disease that rarely looks like yelling obscenities and it’s not funny and the media has twisted it. But I’m working on not filtering everything I say, so can we just agree to hold this post as a lighthearted one in the midst of a lot of heaviness?

*PPS with Thanksgiving fast approaching, I leave you my most favorite table etiquette scene of all time (of course from What About Bob?)

Why Does Adam Have Cancer?

I’ve been reading a lot lately; mostly novels. It’s nice to have some fluff in my life. I started re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia a few months ago, and had taken a break, but now seemed a good season to dig back in. So I picked up the Horse and His Boy and trudged through. Some books suck me right in but this one felt like a chore until the end, and then it got real good (and much less fluffy).

At the very end of the book (spoiler alert), Shasta (the main character), encounters Aslan on a rocky, foggy trek (he doesn’t yet know it’s Aslan). And in that encounter, Aslan reveals that He has been the one who caused some of the hardest, most confusing, and seemingly unfair moments of Shasta’s life, and that He has also been the one who caused some of the most redeeming and beautiful moments of Shasta’s life. And Aslan reveals that both the hard and the good had a greater purpose.

And in the middle of Aslan revealing the purposes for both the hard and the redeeming moments, Shasta asks about some painful moments that his friend has experienced.

And Aslan stops Shasta and says, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one his story but his own.”

And then Shasta asks, “Who are you?”

And Aslan responds:

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time, “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

And after I re-read the page several times, I put the book down and did some good thinking.

We’ve had a lot of friends tell us they’ve been wrestling with why Adam has cancer. It seems as though some of our dear ones are struggling with ‘why bad things happen to good people?’ and others are struggling with ‘why Adam and not someone else?’, and still others wondering ‘who or what is the cause of this?’ They’ve told us they’re wondering, ‘Did Satan cause this to happen?’ or ‘Did God allow this to happen?’

We don’t know why Adam has cancer, but we also aren’t really asking that question. I’m not saying that at some point on or after this journey we won’t wrestle with this question, but to be honest, neither of us are asking God why Adam has cancer. Instead, we are clinging to the knowledge that God has already written our story, that he will reveal that story to us in time, and that God is good.

It doesn’t help to ask why our path has seemed steep, narrow, rocky, and unrelenting in seasons, while others seem to have a wide, flat road to travel. Comparison doesn’t help navigate our path. We trust that God has caused good and bad in our lives for His purposes.

We have lived through hard seasons before. Not this kind of hard, but hard nonetheless, and here’s what we have learned each time:

*  God is faithful

*  God redeems

* God can make all things new

* God is good

I’ve been reading some less fluffy books, too, and the same week that I finished The Horse and His Boy, I read this bit from Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow: “God doesn’t sit back as a passive observer and allow circumstances of Satan to hurt us, only to step in afterward and say optimistically, “I can make this into something good.” He has a purpose and design in what is happening to us from the beginning, and even thought what is happening to us might not be good, God intends it all for ultimate good.”

We don’t know why Adam has cancer, and I suspect we will never know. And that’s ok. Instead of pondering questions we’ll never know the answer to, we’re resting in the knowledge that God has a purpose in the story of our lives.

“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” – Romans 8:28.

I Don’t Have Words

blog picI’ve always had a lot of words.  As a baby, I found my words early.  As an elementary school student, I got frequent notes from teachers telling my parents that I needed to be less chatty.  As a social work student doing lots of introspection, I learned that I was a verbal processor with a side of extrovert.

But lately, I’ve struggled to find words.  Many days, I simply don’t have words to text, to email, to talk on the phone, or even to pray.

There are no words to describe the depths of sadness I feel about Adam’s diagnosis. There are no words to describe the heights of fear I feel about cancer. There are no words to describe the weight of exhaustion I feel to my bones.

Lately, I find myself being silent and craving silence.  I’ve been commuting to work with no music and sitting on the back porch listening to only the wind.  There’s been something so calming and peaceful about silence in the midst of the swirling diagnosis that’s been screaming for so much of my energy.

I worried for a bit that I wasn’t praying enough.  I worried that God might not heal Adam if I weren’t asking for it often enough. Cancer tests all the differing theology you’ve been taught over the years.

But then I was reminded that Adam and I not alone in this.  We have hundreds of people praying around the world for Adam; praying the words we’ve lost. I was reminded that God doesn’t need my words to be who He is. I was reminded that the Holy Spirit is interceding for Adam. I was reminded that silence is sacred.

And so I sit in guiltless silence often now. And in that silence, I know God’s goodness and I feel His sweetness. And I gain strength.

My friend sent me this poem by one of my favorites, Amy Carmichael, and I wept.  This is what I wish I could write:

Wordless Prayer – by Amy Carmichael

O Lord, my heart is all a prayer, 

But it is silent unto Thee;

I am too tired to look for words,

I rest upon Thy sympathy

To understand when I am dumb;

And well I know Thou hearest me.

I know Thou hearest me because

A quiet peace comes down to me,

And fills the places where before

Weak thoughts were wandering wearily;

And deep within me it is calm,

Though waves are tossing outwardly.