Introspective Insights

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

Community Around

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 5/12/16: Today feels impossible. This cold makes me feel achy and tired. Took a nap for a couple of hours but didn’t really sleep much. Feeling run down affects my outlook on life. I just want today to be normal – no doctor phone calls, no tests, just a normal day – but that hasn’t really happened. I get the MRI results on paper in the mail and call to preregister for the MRI biopsy, which is tomorrow. This cold reminds me that I am not 100%, nor will I be for a long time. I have no desire to go outside even though the sun shines. Jerry texts me about talking to a social worker or a Stephen Minister (a person trained to help those with major life issues from a Christian perspective). No, I guess there will be no normal – at least not anytime soon.

For years I prayed for community. When we lived in our apartment, we lived 30 minutes away from church, so we didn’t get to know people well. When we moved to our house and started having kids, I remember family visiting and just one person making us a meal, but no one else was there. We truly did not have friends that lived close enough to stop by. (Most of our friends lived 30 minutes or more away.) I remember holding one of our sweet babes, alone, and crying out to God, begging him for community, for love, for people who would carry us in difficult times and we would learn to carry them. For someone, anyone, to knock on the door, send a text, call on the phone. The silence was deafening.

Here, now, amid this darkness and pain, our community rises to meet us. People call me, and I don’t want to answer the phone. People text me every day. Cards start coming in the mail.

Hugs and stories from other breast cancer survivors come to my attention. Sister Rachel texts every day and later when I start radiation she calls me every day. I appreciate it all, but I don’t know how to respond. God giving me such good gifts of love, hope, people stepping forward into my pain. God, answering my prayer for community – even when I could not accept it. God, building this community around us over the last five years and beyond. Always Him, always God, working all these things out. Community stepping in all around us.

Somehow, I know that I can make it through this day and the next.

Email of Hope

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 5/11/16: I received an email from my pastor today and his words offer so much hope. Here is what he wrote (used with permission):

Hello Jen,

I hope you are sensing God with you during these days.

This morning you came to mind and I had a thought that I pass on to you from the Lord. It is this. You are a writer, and one of the challenges in writing is writing about something meaningful, something that will make a difference to others. You have that “gift.” I know calling it a “gift” seems like a real stretch, but bear with me.

The word is this: keep a diary. Record what you are experiencing; your emotions, your faith, your God moments, your anger, your struggles, your doubts, your revelations, everything. Then, when you are delivered from this, write about it so that others might learn and grow from your experiences. You may already be doing this, if so, please consider this as confirmation of what you are doing and why. I encourage you not to waste this opportunity. God wants to use you. You have a purpose in all of this and a future. What Satan meant for evil, God means for good. It may seem at times to be slim consolation, but such writing will give you a way to process what you are experiencing, as well as a way to record your experiences for you to write about when all this is behind you. And, it will be behind you. (Emphasis, mine.)

You know that you have many people praying for you and your family. I trust that this word is, in part, a result of those prayers. I look forward to how God is going to use you.

In Jesus,

Pastor Dave

 

As I read this, I cry an ugly, howling cry because I know he is right and I know that I can’t stop now. I reply and thank him, tell him that this confirmed what my dear friend Char told me yesterday. That I’m already writing, that God is with me.

Pr. Dave’s confidence that one day this will all be behind me gives me hope. Hope to share with others, so they can learn and grow and share the hope that I have.

The First Breakdown

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.

After meeting with the plastic surgeon and pondering everything involved with the surgery and aftermath, I break down. I text Rachel and Char and pour out the pain – more invasive surgery than I want, scars inside and out, forced into menopause from medications I will have to take after it is all over. I think that maybe after a while I will be cancer free – praise God, but the scars and effects will be far reaching.

It is Monday and I think about the Women’s Ministry meeting scheduled for tonight. I have the mugs Diana and I bought as a gift for the team. (Ironically, they say, “Today I Will Choose Joy.”)

I am scheduled to lead the devotion tonight. It is mid afternoon, and I cannot shake this off. I collapse on the couch and sob an ugly, terrifying sob. Panic and pain and pure despair wash over me. I was diagnosed just 12 days ago and most of my attempts to continue with normal activities have succeeded, but not tonight. I can’t figure out how I’m going to get off the couch. I cry to Jerry. My thoughts swirl into a black hole. I lie down. The kids kiss me and bring me a blanket. I lay there and stare. I can’t eat.  Abby kisses me and wipes my tears. Kayla flees to her room in anger and tears as we tell the kids we can’t go to Camp Arcadia over Memorial Day weekend.

I text Diana, “I can’t do this tonight, I’m so sorry. Can you pick up the gifts?” She is over two hours later, flowers in hand…I am still on the couch. I try to sit up to greet her; she says no, to stay there. She bear hugs me in my pitiful state right there on my couch. I am overwhelmed with her care and concern.

This is the first breakdown of many. The mental despair that cancer invokes is cruel and relentless. Months later the mental onslaught continues, but the moments of despair differ only in that they are more spaced out. The intensity and horror and fear of recurrence, any little twinge of pain or discomfort or the sensation of strange tissue invites another session.

Overwhelmed

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.

I was apprehensive to go to church today because I knew that people’s response may be overwhelming. But in the end, it was fine. Countless friends encircled Jerry and I offering prayer and support in whatever way we needed. It WAS overwhelming, but in the best possible way.

Three ladies I don’t know very well came forward to tell me their own breast cancer stories and how well they are doing now. It made me think that if they can get past this, so can I. That I can live to tell about this and praise God for how far I’ve come. (I learned later that two of the three had nearly the same diagnosis, doctors, and experience that I had.)

During communion I prayed for God to heal me. After the service, I asked for the anointing oil because oil represents the Holy Spirit. Pastor Dave anointed me with oil and prayed for me. He said in his prayer that God’s power will be shown in my life – a common theme I believe God is showing me. This blog, these posts, are a testimony of God’s grace, healing, and provision for me.

I believe God can heal me and will choose to as he sees fit. And as I’m praying to him for wisdom, he is showing me the anger I so regularly feel. How it’s infected my everyday life, become too much a part of me. I’m praying for this repetitive anger over me to be gone. It seems key to my recovery somehow.

Diana’s Scare

Last year at this time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through numerous tests, surgery, and radiation therapy. During those days, I wrote constantly. I’m compiling those journal entries into the beginnings of a book. 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.

Diana is my dear friend. We met through church and got to know each other through Women’s Ministry where we served together with three other wonderful ladies for two years. Now we work together, we’ve taught a couple of bible studies together at church, our kids are nearly the same age. We share many things, but what we didn’t expect to share was two very different cancer scares.

Diana texted us that Thursday evening, anxious, upset, asking for prayer. They called her back for an ultrasound and second mammogram. We prayed from our own virtual corners offering her comfort and reassurance. I just knew she was going to be OK. We later learned that her tests all came back negative for cancer.

That same Thursday night I am in bed reading. I am engrossed in my book, I mindlessly begin rubbing my chest just above my right breast. I feel something there…hard, oval shaped. I’ve never noticed it before. Jerry checks it, he is surprised too.

The next day when I put a bra on, I don’t feel it…it’s as if it sinks as my breast lifts. Is this all my imagination? I call my primary doctor anyway and she orders the mammogram and ultrasound as soon as possible. By Wednesday I have had a mammogram, an incredibly long ultrasound, and a needle biopsy in two different areas. By Friday I know the news and it is not good.

Diana repeatedly tells me how she feels guilty. “How could it be you and not me?” She is a compassionate and loving person. She cannot comprehend how she was dealt the scare and I was dealt the real thing.

We taught a Bible study months later and she told the class her story, which is a part of my story. It was October. I finished treatment just two months before. The only person who knew my whole story was Jerry and my journal. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to talk. My eyes filled with tears as she told her part. My throat began to close and burn. “Can I do this?”, I thought.

When she was done, I paused…30 pairs of eyes on me. I told her what I know in my heart is true – that without her concern and her obedience in reaching out to us in prayer, my radar would not have been up. I do not believe I would have found that lump or even been looking. She was part of God’s plan to save me.

We need each other. We are here on this earth to love each other, lean on each other, pray for each other, share our burdens. Diana’s faith and perseverance in asking for prayer are part of my story. When you share who you are, honestly, brutally, lovingly, you invite healing and connection in ways that you may never know.

Reflections From the Spray Park

I always struggle at places where tons of moms are because I can’t stand the Pinterest-bragging-cooking-from-scratch-organic-food-designer-kid-bathing-suit-perfectly-coordinated-everything that is here. The talk at times is the worst – I did this, I did that – the constant “one up” banter. Since when did we decide that we were all in a competition? That somehow being better is the goal?

This is my cynicism talking and I know not everyone here is in the perfectionism race. But I feel it around me here and it makes me grateful to be alone scribbling in my notebook. But I’m looking too – seeing the two moms who can still sport bikinis. Wow – that’s never going to happen here. The mom with the over sized t-shirt and hat hiding her beautiful face. The momma nursing her newborn, bleary eyed kissing her baby’s head.

Maybe the truth is that I hide here alone because I don’t want to take a chance on truly knowing others when the external fronts we all display are so off-putting. We all struggle and we all fight guilt and self rejection and perfectionism and is my facade better than yours?

Finally, after all this time, the community I’ve longed for I have in abundance. Friends and invitations and I am humbled by God’s providence. Yet how do I allow a larger community in – always allowing new interactions? To become what I longed for back then – to return it back? Mostly its laziness, tiredness, excuses.

But I know I need to change, so I offer the ice pack and the band aids and she smiles and thanks me. And I realize that we all are looking for acceptance and love and we can easily give a smile, a hand, a kind word.

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?

Falling Into Community

shoe pic

I fell when I was running today. It caught me by surprise and for a moment, I sat on the ground assessing what hurt, was I bleeding, is there anyone around to be wary of. My left knee was scraped badly, and with both hands burning from mild abrasions, I stood up to figure out what to do.

A man and his dog quickly crossed the street to check on me. “Did you fall?”

“Yes, but I’m OK. Thank you for checking on me.” He handed me a tissue to mop up my knee. For a moment we paused, not sure what to do next.

“I used to run years ago,” he said. “Ten miles at a time, felt guilty if I didn’t go.” Quietly I pondered, do I walk home? Keep running? This man, he seems to want to talk and isn’t community what I’ve been asking God to give me for years?

I listened to his story of running with no sidewalks and cars not paying attention and carrying rocks to throw at dogs, just in case. “But I gave it all up and now Bowzer and I walk four miles a day.” We stop at the corner and I tell him my name and he gives me his and I shake his hand and I thank him. And all I can think as I walk away is that only another (former) runner could have noticed me running through the trees and across this busy street. I have never seen him before and I am grateful that I was not seriously injured and doesn’t God watch over us in unimaginable ways?

I do not know his situation, but I believe that all interactions with other people are God-planned and he is constantly reminding us that we are not alone, that community and love and respect are there if we just open our eyes and fall into it, accept it, take it as it comes.

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.

A Piece of Me

This summer we traveled to a family camp up north on the shore of Lake Michigan. While the weather was not perfect, the setting was and having lived by Lake Michigan for many years I have never seen the lake so calm and peaceful. Most days there were hardly waves, incredibly glassy and still. One day I wrote in my journal that we could not see the lake, but we could hear it, the mist and fog hanging low. And isn’t that a metaphor for life? Our sights murky, but yet we hear and see patches of life around us.

I truly left a piece of myself at camp – the serenity and slowness, the majestic splendor of orange and pink sunsets, dunes, multicolored rocks, constant waves lapping. I’ve never had a place tuck its way into my heart as this.

love camp

A friend asked me what it was, the “big thing” that made such an impression. Truth is, there was no breathtaking “ah ha”. Only the quiet, repetition of sun, sky, water, sand, walking, playing and breathing this rarefied air.

One night the rain stopped and as we sat by the fire I heard snapping and cracking sounds in the forest. I realized in the utter stillness and quiet I was hearing for the first time the sounds of rain drops rolling off one leaf to the next in a splash, smack and crack. Utter amazement.
The stars were twinkling lights as densely cluttered as the fake ones on my Christmas tree. Glittering and sparkling, an infinite number. My neck aching, refusing to shift my gaze. Each moment the simple beauty of this place forever weaving it’s way into my DNA.

Now that I am home I know that I must always go back, take every opportunity, reach out and return and embrace that piece of me.