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.

Mother’s Day and A Vision

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’m having a pretty fabulous Mother’s Day and am trying to stay in this moment, but this weight, this cancer, is so heavy at times.

I’m trying to be still and know that he is God. So hard to do. I see these faces I love and I think – will I be leaving soon? All information I know thus far says no – but getting this disease reminds me that we are guaranteed nothing. And in that realization, I have moments of stillness and I wonder what that means. I do not know God’s timing, but I know he is healing me and I know he is with me and loves me. And I know my goal sooner or later is Him – not a place, but a person – HIM. How do I live out these waiting, uncertain days? I try not to think about the C word or dwell on it – but live, just live life. To find the stillness in the uncertainty.

Flowers and hugs at church. A lovely friend saying, “God isn’t just saving us – his word isn’t just for us, but for healing too.”

Listening to the end of the For King and Country CD – there is a monologue where the speaker talks about love – how it’s the only thing that remains. And I close my eyes and I see Jesus in a yellow pink glow waving love around me and saying that love is everything and all things; that he loves me. This means everything; I stand in awe of my creator.

I can’t ask, “Why cancer?”, but I want to. I want to know and understand, but the only thing I know – the only thing he has revealed to me is that his power, God’s power, will be demonstrated in my life. Resting my spirit in his peace and power today.

Diagnosis Day

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. Since then, 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.

No one wants to say, “I have cancer,” but the fact is, I do. No one wants to live in that reality, but I must. So here I am writing this story I don’t want to write, but I must write.

The first thing is the peace, the answered prayers already. The preparation of my heart and mind. I start to think back over the last few months. God preparing me to face this reality. I remember driving past the cancer center one day knowing somehow in the corner of my mind that I will be spending time there. There are more and more ways that God has prepared me and I didn’t write them all down. Too many to count or remember.

But back to the phone call, the words “invasive ductal carcinoma”, me kneeling on the floor by the bed, calming my frayed voice and mind. Trying to ask questions, trying to understand. The radiologist is kind and reassures me that I have done the right thing, I went in immediately when I felt the lump. I will get through this, it is very treatable. Her voice echoes around in the white space of my mind. I hang up the phone. I call Jerry and now I’ve crumpled all the way down to the floor and I choke out the words, “It is cancer.” He says, “I will be right there.” I lock the bedroom door. I lie down.

It’s news that I didn’t want to share with people who have hurt so much, my family. It’s what my 10-year-old daughter Kayla so aptly described as “The thing that happens to other people, not someone you know and definitely not your mom.” Yes, my heart breaks for this wiser-than-her-years girl.

The love and support start to pour through my phone – overwhelming, still processing it all, making a list of all that people have offered to do.

I want things to stay normal somehow. I want to laugh and sing and read, run when I can and accept in the pain of life is also the joy. They are inexplicably linked.

Telling the kids is painful. They don’t understand and we try our best to explain it all, what we know, but there are too many unknowns at this point.

We decide to go out to eat at P.F. Chang’s that night. Kayla doesn’t understand. How can we be out and pretend that we are happy when we are so sad? We explain that sometimes in the face of darkness and pain, we choose celebration in an act of joyful defiance.

We put cancer aside. We try the white tea with tangerine. We each sip quietly. We find a way to laugh and smile.

Dare to Reflect – In Reflection is Life

I write out of my weakness, it defines me, the inability to reflect on life. In that weakness I write to discover the divine thread, the God-leading words, the gratitude for the mundane. When I do not write, I am restless and lost, forgetting what I’ve learned, where I’ve been and from where I have come. Despair results and addiction to food, reading, and coloring fill the void, numb the pain.

Coffee flows and steams where I write and obsessive amounts of journals live in jumbled stacks, all written in at one point or another. Coffee paraphernalia, grounds, and mugs strewn all over the kitchen. Pens, pencils, post-it notes, laptop, and lamp.

It is in the reflecting, the looking outside of myself where I find true life. My people busy me with needs, wants, schooling, and general chaos. But it is in the reflection where the purity and beauty of life is lived. The scarlet red cardinal singing on the branch in a background of grey, white, black. The orange pink skies appearing only five minutes at dawn, swept away by the blustering wind. The cherub cheeks of sleeping girl, hair matted, fuzzy sleeper draped. The strong arms of him holding me.

This life also deals its pain, but this reflection is necessary also. Sitting in the chair where my father died, seeing the world he saw in those final moments, leaves swaying and shushing, light fading. Entering in the brokenness of sister standing over infant son’s grave, days marked in black ink that blur as I hang my head. Daughter asking me to read dates on them all as I kneel in damp grass overcome. Friend lost and shattered when brother leaves this world. All life involves loss and each story, experience shines a light warming us to stand and move on, broken, but full of purpose.

I drag myself from warmth in early darkness, stumbling for coffee, shuffling to favorite chair, soft light. I read always, books stacked to my right. I crack open black journal, embossed flowers and words flow from my heart. And when they are typed in, I look back at what I have missed those months. I marvel at the words, the images. Who wrote this? Surely, not me?

Yet, it is only me as I pause in the half-light. I have found and remembered those things I wanted to forget, lost those things that I wanted to remember. They are here, if I have pause to write about them, this scrawl crooked and slashing on page, small and perfectly formed on the next.

My passion rises from this broken down, ugly, stricken world and finding joy, gratitude, divinity as close as my living room, back yard, and across the miles. They are all there if we look, but we must have eyes to see, time to pause, and practice to truly celebrate it. I am not always good at it, but when I make it a habit, I always find it.

My friend, dare to reflect. Even in the pain that we inevitably all must face. And in that pain there is always joy hiding at the next turn.

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.

Seeking the Light

I recently wrote a post for my church’s blog. Read the introduction here and click on over to check out the full post.

There is a mourning, a fog of sadness that covers me when I take down the Christmas decorations. For five weeks the sparkling silver, red, and green have overtaken our house. Lights twinkling in the darkness, glowing, guiding me during my early morning reading. But today, it will all be put away. The white cold, stark days begin. Days of waiting until we can decorate again. And as much as a dread the undoing, I crave the cool, clean crispness of January unfolding forward into spring, summer, and beyond. [read more…]


You’ve heard it before and maybe even fell victim to the entitlement trap, believing you deserve something when you don’t. Popular thinking states that I was wronged by this person / organization / workplace and therefore I am entitled to apologies / compensation / salary adjustment. While that seems plausible, the world doesn’t work that way and we would all be happier if we stopped engaging in these unrealistic expectations.

Let’s try a different way of living. Here are some ideas:

  • If you loan money to someone, don’t expect it in return. They likely won’t repay you anyway, so why go through the pain? Make sure that you are not enabling and not giving in a debilitating way and don’t repeatedly do it for the same person.
  • If you fall victim to an accident, don’t sue the other party. They feel bad enough about the incident, especially if it was their fault. Of course, there is a chance they will think they “got away with it”, but in the end, their choices lay on their own heads.
  • If you are insulted and ridiculed, ignore and walk away. Better yet, find a way to sincerely compliment the person, within the right time frame, of course. After repeated incidents, they won’t know what to do with you. If they continue, you have the right to cut off contact to secure your own mental health.

Expectations kill relationships. We expect a certain response, behavior, or outcome and when we don’t get it, our opinion of the person plummets even further. How about accepting them as they are and taking responsibility to change yourself and your situation if that is what is warranted?

Every single person you know will disappoint you at some point in life. No one is perfect and putting anyone on a pedestal of perfection and expectation is a dangerous, relationship fatality.

Fighting The War

Writing for me is mostly cathartic – a way to heal and reflect and move on. But today, I can’t put together any words that resolve my angst, worry or pain. This human condition we face lends itself to negativity and loneliness and aching. And some days, you just can’t put a spin on that. It seems it is time to get back to basics. I have clothing, food, shelter, and clean water, which automatically puts me at a serious advantage over most people in the world. Yet, I have the audacity to want more. It is programmed into us to move past the physical and to the spiritual, to seek enlightenment where we can find it. We each have our own path and our creator beckons us on it. So while I face these temporary distractions of the physical, I look up and seek the divine in gratitude:

  • Impossibly orange, yellow, sunny day
  • My favorite yogurt with lunch
  • Soft, furry boots

I continue to do what I don’t want to do and fight the war within myself, but when I give thanks, I return to the center.

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.

Pain In The Preparation

When I look back over my life, I see valleys and mountains, just like anyone else. And it occurred to me tonight that those valleys of pain were the places where God was working on my heart, preparing me for the next, big step. Of course, when I was wallowing in that low, I couldn’t see it that way, but hindsight always offers its wisdom at the proper time.

I remember going to work each day at my corporate job and asking God why I was still there when my heart was at home with my children. I remember breaking down one day and pouring my heart out to my best friend asking her why we all believe that lie that as women we can “have it all” – the career, mommy hood, and all other sorts of nonsense. And in those trying times, God was showing me how to be content no matter what happened, to be grateful for those moments, to choose to see him in the details around me.

When my situation changed and I came home, it was in a way I never imagined or could scarcely explain to others – amazing evidence that God cares about the details in my life and I only need to trust him.

So if you are in a time of preparation and the way is painful, look around and see God smiling at you in the little things – always looking for him, because he is there.