Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Retreat and Recovery

In April 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During those days, I wrote constantly. This post is a continuing series of the book I hope to one day publish. I survived cancer, which is a tremendous gift, but cancer continues to remain a shadow in my mind.

Journal entry 5/28/16: I’m sitting on the porch at Camp Arcadia twenty feet from the lake in disbelief that I am even here, that we drove all this way in the midst of pain, allergic reactions, anxiety, and achiness.

It is nice today – 74 degrees with the sun peeking out here and there and the wind constant at about 13 mph. Lake Michigan is crashing and turbulent and I’m trying not to stand out too much and feel guilty that everyone is working and I am not. We are here for opening weekend, which is a volunteer weekend to get camp ready for the season. I did not think we would be able to go this weekend, but I was given the all clear by the two surgeons and the camp director said I could be an “encourager” this weekend.

Thankfully most of the work near where I am sitting is done. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do anything, but I cut fabric for three hours this morning in the craft shop. But my cutting hand is on the right, the same side as the surgery and it started to ache. I don’t want to push it, so I’m here after resting in the room a bit.

Everyone is telling me to write, especially Jerry. He sees my potential, even when I cannot. I have two journals – a gift from Clare and another in the basket of love. Yet this pressure to write makes it hard. I’m an avoider. All of these emotions and pain, I don’t want to write them down and have to relive them again.

When I think back to surgery day, I think of how awful it was and YET every blood pressure check was calm and normal. I had a needle with wire in it, in my breast for hours – when I was awake, and I lived through it. I somehow made it through the nausea, recovery, sleeping propped up for days. Vicodin dreams, hazy days. The allergic reactions to the iodine and surgical tape. I’m still itching, skin still weeping under my arm. When I look at my chest and abdomen, I see a war zone. There are bruises, pin holes, red angry dots, stitches, steri strips, sutures, red, purple, blue, green, and yellow. My breast looks the best of all of it. My right underarm angry, red, raised, and fiery reaction and heat and sweat. Sore, but not painful. My belly swollen and raised and puffier than ever. I wonder how it will all look and feel in the end? I have partial feeling in my breast and it is unclear if all feeling will return.

I’m trying to keep my thoughts to right now, to the churning waves, and the cool breeze. Because when I think about the test results and next steps, tamoxifen, and testing every six months, my heart hurts and I am overwhelmed. I lay there last night unable to sleep, the anxiety too much and I let the sobs shake me until I coughed and choked and woke Jerry up. It’s a head game, Mom said. Yes…and I have fallen prey to this cruel game more than once.

I want to sit here and believe that the surgery is done, therefore cancer is done. But I don’t really know yet, so I try not to think about Tuesday – likely when I will hear the tumor testing results and the lymph node tests. I have a feeling that this continued healing will also involve more pain.

I keep thinking that it has only been one month and one day since I was diagnosed and what have I really learned?

  • We are only dust.
  • We know so little.
  • Planning is a pointless venture.
  • God forces us to pause for a reason – what is mine?
  • Life is on a grander scale than just my purposes and pain.
  • I can’t avoid the inevitable (death).
  • I am not afraid of death itself, just the bumpy path that may lead to it.
  • I am afraid of leaving all I love – I’m afraid for them, how they would cope.
  • I love Jerry more today than I could ever express.
  • I don’t know if I will be OK or not and somehow, I have to live life and find joy in that tension.
  • I can laugh and choose joy everyday – even in the face of this evil disease.
  • I will never by holy enough or pure enough to enter God’s presence – therefore sin and disease may do its work in me as they have this past month.
  • I will never claim this cancer as my own or call it as such but will continue to pray and discern why it was here and in fear and trembling pray it will never return.
  • I don’t want to become one of those people who is ruled by and obsessed by their condition.
  • As much as I love gifts, I hate it that I have so many right now because of cancer. I would rather be well and never receive another gift again.

I sit and gaze at the fury and beauty of Lake Michigan still in awe that I am here. Thankful, humbled, broken. Yet alive, joyful, grateful.

Connection

For years when the kids were infants, I craved community. It seemed as though other people had relatives, friends, and acquaintances that helped when their babies were born and while we had that kind of help, we had very few meals made for us. Sharing a meal, to me, was what community was all about. My fondest family memories were around the table. My husband cooked for the first full year of each of our children’s lives and I am very thankful for that.

At times, when the days were tough and long and the baby was crying or my ears were ringing in the quiet, I angrily asked God why we didn’t have neighbors or close church friends that could come along side us during this time. God was quiet, as he is sometimes.

My third pregnancy was challenging with gestational diabetes, my terrible attitude, and incredible stress at my job. In some ways, Abby’s birth was a relief and a stark realization that my negative outlook needed to change. Our doorbell was quiet, the phone collected dust. Community seemed like a utopia. And it was then when I needed it most.

After leaving my job, I remember feeling like I was on a free fall. In those first few months, God answered my prayer for community. In fact, he answered it a few months before when I was invited to a women’s Bible study. I joined MOPs a few months later and from there we finally found a church that we loved. We were welcomed with open arms, wherever we went. That leap of faith, leaving my job, broke down barriers for the connections we longed for.

Now I’m blessed with many friends, along with those faithful few that I’ve always had. I’m reminded of this transition today as I sit in my parent’s house full of family. I realize that when I am home, my church family and others fill my heart, ring my doorbell, and chime my phone every single day while away from my biological family I love so much.

Connection, community, we were made to crave it, seek it, and engage in it. I’m grateful for this yearning and the beautiful community God has given us.

Who is in your community? What was your path discovering those connections?

Learning To Love

In the last couple of weeks, God has put people in my path that are challenging. Challenging to the way I think, do life, and my perception of what is right and wrong. While this feels like something new, the reality is that God has done this throughout my life. Last week, he presented me with these two people and I avoided the inevitable. So of course, I knew that I would be presented with it all again. Today, I felt like I got it right. I chose to love and engage in tough interactions. I let myself be open and listened and was surprised at the questions I received. I know an element of this post is vague, but that is on purpose. The point is that I’m learning to love others in ever expanding ways. The truth is that I didn’t want to interact, or learn, or be open, but that is what growing and changing is all about.

Tense Remorse

I’m trying to capture the tenseness I’ve been living under the last couple of weeks. It all started with a cold and extreme shoulder pain last Thursday. Add that to an over committed week and my attitude and behavior took an enormous drop. My family suffers when I allow myself to get wrapped up in my own pain and stress. I’m short with them, I ask too much, I become annoyed at the messy house and I constantly ask them to pick up this and do that. My standards for cleanliness reach fever pitch utopia. I am harsh and unwieldy, unrealistic in my expectations.

When it is quiet and I reflect back, I am convinced that I have done permanent damage. I’m sure I negatively affected them at the DNA level. My remorse is bottomless. I pray and I think about how to change. And that still, small voice reminds me that He loves me and I’m so thankful for His grace – this unmerited favor. And I know that only He can change me. When I look back I see how I am changing. I am thankful and I realize that I can start again tomorrow.

Greatness

The student speaker at a recent graduation I attended spoke these compelling words about greatness saying, “Do we see it, perceive it, know it when we see it, appreciate it. Do we deny it for ourselves?” I do that – I deny the greatness in myself. She repeated this phrase over and over. She spoke of having greatness before us in everyday places such as nature or beautiful music and how so few of us take notice. We all have the divine spark within us – greatness and yet, we deny it for ourselves. We deny it for our own good and for the good that we have been given to share with the world.

May we all turn and pause and observe the wonder and grandeur that we see each day right where we are and embrace it knowing that we are part of a greater story.

Closeness Issues

I struggle getting to know people, getting close. In this age of social media masks, flat, emotionless text messages – we don’t have to get close. But I realized the other day that in addition to those modern barriers, I block closeness because as I get closer to someone, I get closer to their problems and that is when I want to run.

I know this isn’t right. If I am a true friend, I have responsibility to bear their burdens in Christ. But wow – I still don’t want to. Life is messy and hard and that horribly judgmental part of me recoils in the face of the brutal truth. I am just as messy and difficult as they are. Maybe my shiny veneer makes me feel superior, but the bottom line is that I see my own flaws mirrored in theirs.

When a person doesn’t want help or to progress, change, improve, I’m turned off, I give up. But this is the same in my life – when things aren’t going my way – when changing seems impossible, I give up. I run to a restless, painful existence.

So this time, I’ve decide to persevere – face their pain, problems, fears with prayer and hope and a listening ear. It seems that this type of therapy may just change me also.

Perseverance

My 63 year old dad graduated from college recently. He always wanted to go to college and here he was cap and gown on, first to walk across the stage – me and sister and mom cheering loudly. He has overcome so much, especially in the last year. And when I look at it and think that everything he has ever accomplished was through hard work and sweat and mental anguish and never giving up and do I really know how to live my life that way? He – selflessly giving to us in the only way he knows how – work, hard work, repetitive, head-down work. He – fighting his own demons and falling down but always, always getting back up.

And have I truly learned it yet? That it is the everyday commitment, the grind, the still, small effort that makes the difference and not the lightening bolt moment.

Six Years

To my Zachary on the occasion of his 6th birthday.

Six years ago, he was born – our second child, a son, Zachary John, which means “remembered by a gracious God”. We were in awe of this precious boy – crying softly, hand tightly clenching Jerry’s finger. He cooed and sighed in his sleep foreshadowing the loud, joyous, boyish sounds we now hear every day.


He preferred one of us snuggling him to sleep instead of a lovey, thumb, or pacifier. A whole year of nights he only wanted Jerry. He smiled at everyone, everywhere, always looking for a smile back. Every picture in his baby book is a grin. To my astonishment, he laughed at 10 days old, on Valentine’s Day. A precious love gift for this exhausted mama. I’m still in love with him today.


His first steps were terrifying to him, but that dimpled smirk and sigh of relief boosted his confidence. Now, he never stops running.


When I’m angry and tired, he gently comes to me and says, “I love you, mama.” My heart melts. He likes to listen to us read to him, but yesterday he read his first sentence.


This mama aches for that little baby boy, but loves this delightful, six year old boy in front of me. Time marches forward, ignoring my pain, but gifting me with the joy and discovery of my Zachary.

Subtle Deception

I finally started reading my first C.S. Lewis book – The Screwtape Letters. I’ve often wanted to read his classic works about Christianity and haven’t had the chance. I’m only a few chapters into this tale of a senior demon mentoring a junior demon and am struck with the simple deceptions used against humans.


This (just a few short pages into the book) made a huge impression on me: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Wow, yes, it is the things we forget that often are our downfall. It is God’s truths kept from our minds or replaced with deliberate lies that take us down the wrong path.


How many lies have we believed in this life?


  1. I’m ugly, stupid, no one could love me.
  2. I’m afraid of _____.
  3. This will never work.
  4. I could never do ______.
  5. I will just get sick like everyone else.


Several years back, I started keeping a notebook with two columns in it. The first column listed the lies and the second column listed God’s truths and what he desires for my life. The second column to the above lies looks something like this:


  1. I am a beautiful, intelligent child of God loved by God and by my husband and family.
  2. There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear. (rough paraphrase of 1 John 4:18)
  3. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  4. I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. (rough paraphrase of Philippians 4:13)
  5. I am healthy and strong and my body works the way God intends.


Reading The Screwtape Letters reminds me that when the enemy is keeping the good, right, honest, and true thoughts from our heads, we must bring God’s truths back into the equation.


What truths do you believe are kept from your mind?


Not Safe


Three years ago, I witnessed a horrible tragedy that caused
the death of a friend.  The incident
replayed over and over in my head in those dark days afterwards and I pleaded
to God saying, “If this is how life is – ending in a twisted moment where one
human attacks another and it is over in an instant, I don’t want to live safe
anymore.  I don’t want to make decisions
that are predictable or expected.  I want
to live a different life – a life where I’m stepping out into what you want,
God.
  Into what I cannot see or
understand – a dangerous, jumping off a cliff kind of life for you.”  I was terrified of what I had just seen, but
this prayer was definitely the most dangerous prayer I had ever prayed. 

It was a prayer of despair and I didn’t fully realize it
then, but it changed my mind – how I thought about everything; transformed how
I wanted to live.
  I remember later that
day at home feeling frozen, unsure of how to move forward, what direction to
take. 

I remember praying again, “God, I am terrified to pray this,
but please take this life and this fear and I will do whatever you ask.  I don’t know how and why and when, but I will
do it.”  I didn’t know if I could follow
through, but I knew that God was with me.

Months later, I left my job under circumstances I never
could have predicted without financial plans to make that reality work.  For the first time, I was living that
“unsafe” life.  I wrote here about free falling.

As I look back three years later, I see that God has allowed
me to “jump off my cliff”.  I have a new,
calm rhythm to my life.  While from the
outside, it looks ordinary, quiet, and predictable.  Back then, today’s reality was unthinkable,
scary, undoable. 
 

I’m grateful for that “unsafe” prayer that I prayed.  I believe it opened a door for God to work in
my life in ways I never imagined possible.
 
I am humbled and honored that God brought me to this place. 
   

What “dangerous” prayer have you prayed and how did God
change your life because of it?