The Tension of Today

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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.

IMG_1603The 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.

Dark Night in the Woods

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.

IMG_9339So 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?).

Camping 2012One 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.

IMG_9338We 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)

IMG_9340We 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.


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One Word for 2015

One Word for 2015

Everything in my Type-A-Self is agitated that I’m writing a New Year Post on January 25.

Perfectionist Allison is highly embarrassed to submit something 24 days late but 2015 Allison gets a late pass because, well, cancer (I can play that card, right?).

I’ve been ruminating on this post for weeks and I have what I think are coherent thoughts, and so, I’m rebelling against my own anal retentive nature and publishing this anyway. Maybe 2016 Allison will be laid-back (but probably not).

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ow14_125x125_custom_125x125A few years ago, instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I started picking one word that would define my year. During the year, I read books about the word, practice the word, and grow the word into my life rhythm. It’s a really beautiful, almost prophetic act that produces intentionality, reflection, and a even a new community to journey with throughout the year.

My word for 2014 was rest.  I shake my head in disbelief that that was the word I chose for 2014. I was way off. There wasn’t much rest in 2014 at all. In a lot of ways, 2014 was a year of frantic, but more than that, it was a year of horrible.

If I had even the slightest inclination that I had control over anything at the start of 2014, it was squashed, stomped, and flushed (to be sure it was really dead) by the close of the calendar. Sure sure, I can find some silver linings. (While we’re talking about silver linings, can I share some insight from my storm cloud? Let the person living the storm find their own silver lining and celebrate their discovery but don’t try to find someone else’s silver lining – it’s less powerful and far less helpful). I’ve gotten way off topic.

2014 had loads of good, actually. But the second half was so shocking and awful that if we took an average of good and bad and added it all up and then divided it out, the year would still come up HORRIBLE (yes, that’s an official mathematical calculation). Give me a few years of perspective and I’ll likely rename it but right now 2014 is still too fresh.

In the last few weeks of 2014, I began to process what felt like a failure of a year of rest – a failure out of my control – but a failure nonetheless, and I started thinking about 2015. And after some thinking, I determined that 2015 didn’t need a word. I decided I was too overwhelmed to think of a word that would shape a year that was already feeling too unpredictable to predict.

I decided to let it go, and come back to the drawing board in 2016.

And just as I resolved no word for 2015, I started hearing this one word, almost in surround-sound, coming from varied and unexpected sources. I heard this word in kickboxing, in sermons, in therapy, in books, and in conversations with friends. And I started thinking, maybe this year, my word found me.

This word has actually been surfacing for months because I’m having a very hard time with this word; physically, emotionally, and even spiritually

This word is simple, elemental even. But these days, basic sounds refreshing.

This word is breathe.

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The act of breathing has been nearly impossible for months. I feel as though the unexpected of 2014 punched the wind right out of me and I still can’t seem to catch my breath.

But I need to and I want to.

So 2015’s message will be simple: Breathe, Allison.

I want to feel like my whole self can breathe all the way in and all the way out. Regardless of the hard and unknown of 2015, I want to be rooted, established, unmoved, and free.

But I’m going to start with simple, mindful, and rhythmic: breathe in and breathe out.

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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.

For Those Who Have Asked “How Can I Help?”

The past two weeks have been a blur of emotions, appointments, medication management, and side effects. Everything has felt very new and very hard, and our normal has been incredibly interrupted.

Had it not been for other people holding us, I think we might have just fallen apart.

So many people have asked, “What can I do to help?” and have genuinely meant it – which is so humbling and appreciated. It has taken us a few days to begin to figure out what we need. We still don’t completely know, but we’re beginning to get a sense of that now that we are learning our temporary new normal.

A dear friend set up a website that will allow us to share how we need help. This site will be a way for us to update our people about prayer needs, praises, and practical needs. Feel free to check it out once in awhile or subscribe for updates. Some wonderful friends have taken the lead in coordinating our care: Meals, House/Yard management, and Fun. Feel free to look around the site and contact them if you want to sign on.

I don’t know about your dreams, but in my nightmares, nothing is good. The only reason the last two weeks haven’t been a full-blown nightmare is because of people loving us, caring for us, and checking on us. Our sweet people have brought glimmers of light into the darkest days and nights we have known.

Thank you for the emails, facebook comments & messages, cards, texts, gluten-free cupcake deliveries, videos of your kiddos cheering Adam on, yard-mowing, lunch deliveries, messages, Scriptures, puns, house cleaning, weird gifs, care packages, handmade love, Gatorade, chocolate, and sour patch kids. (Adam’s glucose test came back a little high today, I wonder why?)

Your love is a tangible reminder of God’s love for us. And as the days get harder, we will continue to appreciate you, our sweet people. We’ve started a Grace Journal to document all the ways we have been shown grace in these days. It is such an encouragement to us.

There are few things more intimidating than this diagnosis, but making sure that we are not having to walk this alone means the world to us. If you want to check out the site, go here. We love you. Thanks for continuing to hold us together.

Married With[OUT] Children

I’ve stayed away from this topic on the blog completely – Not out of avoidance – I just haven’t had much to say about it.  But lately, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of opinions on this subject and thought “hey, I guess I do have some things to say about it.”

Today, let’s talk about being married without children.

When I was a senior in high school, the most frequently asked question to me was “Where are you going to college?”  When I was a senior in college, the most frequently asked question to me was “What are you doing after graduation?”  And since my first or second wedding anniversary, the most frequently asked question to me is, “When are you having kids?”

It’s in our nature to ask questions.  And we have societal norms, so we ask questions that are appropriate based on our perception of normal.  The traditional middle class American life order goes: college –> marriage –> kids… and so on.

I broke the order by getting married while in college, which was taboo enough, and I’ve been married 9.5 years and still don’t have children, so I’m just blowing stereotypes and norms all over the place.  I think my husband and I are bit of a mystery to some – and that’s ok.  After this many years, I’m used to getting asked rather personal questions like, “Can you not get pregnant?”  or “How’s your marriage?  Are you struggling?  Is that the delay in having children?”

Honestly, I don’t get mad about those questions, I know that the motivation behind the asking is making sure that I’m ok and that we’re ok.  I appreciate that people love me and love my husband and want us to be healthy and happy.  For the record, our marriage remains a beautiful partnership, and thanks for asking.  Also on the record, I feel so deeply sad for my friends who want to have children and cannot.  I can’t imagine being questioned when waiting, longing, and sadness are present – you are brave.

The reason that we don’t have children is that we simply haven’t felt called to have children.  It’s as simple as that.  My husband and I believe that parenting is an extremely high calling.  We celebrate and affirm that calling in our friends and family.  At this time, we feel confident that parenting is not our calling.  We believe that some callings are for a lifetime and others for seasons.  We have yet to determine whether this lack of calling is for our lifetime or for this season, but we will be faithful to our calling.

We don’t want to have children because it’s normal or expected, or to fit in with our other married friends, or to give our parents grandkids (sorry guys), or so we have someone to take care of us when we’re old.  We believe children are a gift not an expectation.  We believe that parenting is a calling, not an obligation.

We don’t not have children because we’re being selfish, as many seem to surmise.  We don’t have children because we haven’t felt called to raise them.  There have been a number of articles posted lately from couples who have chosen to not have children, and to be honest, some of the reasons for not having children sound rather selfish.  I would argue, though, that some reasons for having children are rather selfish, too.  We are humans and we are selfish.  Parental status doesn’t inherently negate or encourage selfishness.  Please don’t assume that all DINKS (Double Income No Kids) are inherently selfish.  Please don’t assume that all parents are inherently unselfish.

I have a lot of parent friends who assume my kid-free life is sort of easy and breezy.  I know they imagine me sleeping in wildly late on weekends, going to grown up concerts and movies at my leisure, eating gourmet candlelit dinners, going on extravagant international vacations, and getting to drink an entire cup of coffee while it’s still piping hot without interruption.

I giggle as I type this.

This doesn’t describe my life at all.

I have a lot of friends who assume that I don’t like children because I don’t have children and that I don’t respect the hardness of the job of parenting because I haven’t applied for that job.  They imagine that I don’t want to hang out with them + kids, or that I don’t want to hold their child, don’t know how to change a diaper correctly, or don’t want to hear about their battles over veggies.

I’m raising my eyebrows at this.

This doesn’t describe my life at all.

I have a lot of parent friends who assume that I am missing out on the deepest joy or that my life is sort of empty.  They imagine that I don’t know about selflessness, sacrifice, and mothering.  They can’t fathom me understanding the depths of the Father’s Love sans children.

I shake my head as I type this.

This doesn’t describe my life at all.

My life is rooted in contentment in this season.  I know what I am called to, and I find deep joy in living out my calling.  My life is brimming with relationships.  I am mentored and I mentor others.  I have sweet friendships.  My home is full more than it is empty and often the decibel level is over the top with laughter.  I know well how to cook for masses, sweep crumb-filled floors without complaining, soothe a crying soul, and give when I’m on empty.  I view this season of life without children as an opportunity that I am choosing to seize with intention.

I love this season of my life because I am living out my calling.  I celebrate with my friends who are in similar seasons and different seasons who are living out their callings with joy.  Together, let’s celebrate that we all have gifts and callings that we are sharing with others.  And let’s stop the assuming.  Let’s stop the fantasizing about the life we don’t have.  Let’s stop imagining our season to be the hardest or most noble or most fulfilling.  Let’s stop projecting our desires and dreams onto others.  Let’s instead celebrate our friends who are living out their callings in seasons.