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.

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.

31 Days

I don’t easily become emotional, but there are a few movies that get me every time. At the end of Night at the Museum, the director of the museum fires Larry the night guard and as he is walking him out and sees multitudes of patrons walking in, he silently hands Larry his keys and flashlight because he knows that it’s because of him that they are there.

Or when Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, is at the Emerald City watching the hot air balloon fly away without her and she is overcome. Glinda the good witch appears and tells her she always had the power to go home. She clicks her heels together and chants, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” It’s scenes like this that bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Times when the hero of the story knows that he or she has finally made it past their fears.

Today is that day for me. I have met my goal to write and post to my blog for 31 days in a row. I’m honored and humbled that you have gone with me on this journey and I’m grateful for all of the encouragement and comments you have shared. Writing everyday has been a long term goal and I was too mired in fear to believe that I could do it, but here I am! Praise God!

What’s next? I will continue to post here a few times a week, but it is time for me to write quietly for awhile, to come to terms with what is stirring in my soul. There is a book in there, I’m sure, but I don’t really know what that means or what it looks like.

Thank you all again for reading and I will be back here soon.

Blessings to all, Jennifer

Bread & Wine Book Review

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, just wrote a new book – Bread & Wine – A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  When I heard that I could get an advanced
copy and write a book review, I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance!

My best, brightest, and most positive memories are around
the table.
 While that includes the big
holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving at my Grandparent’s house, it
also includes the simple day-to-day gatherings. 
I remember laughing until I cried many nights at my childhood home over
any typical weeknight dinner – pizza or meatloaf or porcupine meatballs.  Five kids and my parents telling funny
stories and barely resisting spitting out our food or milk in fits of

I remember afternoons when a neighbor would show up and
there would inevitably be coffee and a snack – around the common kitchen table
– never in the living room.  I remember holidays
at my husband’s childhood home when we were dating and first married – in-laws
and siblings and nieces and nephews cackling and telling the same stories over
and over – crammed into spaces too small and nobody minding the tables between

I can see the table with splattered food that reached to the
walls, ceiling and floor when our three were little – loud and crying, and
spilling and even in that chaos, I see myself smiling, remembering.  I see Jerry and I at our favorite Italian
restaurant, the elderly waiter singing in Italian, the wine glass in my hand,
smiling and toasting and basking in my wonderful husband’s love. 

Around the table I see the people I hold onto and love. Even
when there is illness or pain or confusion or heartbreak or tension in the
everyday, when we are around the table, we can laugh and tell those same
stories – the ones that knit us together in an unbreakable bond. 

Shauna’s books have always met me where I am – right in the
midst of the same seasons in my life.  Cold Tangerines met me in the joys of my
life, Bittersweet met me during the
heartache, and Bread & Wine weaves
together all of those good times and bad, highs and lows into this everyday
necessity that is so much more than eating, but nourishment for both the body
and soul.  All of her books have left me
crying at one point and close to throwing them across the room at another – digging
deeply into the wonder and joy and striking the chord of pain and suffering.
Bread & Wine is no exception. 

The chapter entitled “Start Where You Are” has become my new
theme.  I’m an all or nothing person, so
I want to immediately start and master the next big thing with gusto –
controlling all its parts and accomplishing remarkable things.  But the truth is that I have to start where I
am – take small steps to move in that direction that results in those
remarkable things – whatever they are.
Running starts with walking and jogging and then logging miles – but
never in an instant or even over a single month.  Writing starts with single words strung into
sentences that result in moving thoughts and change producing vision.

“Open the Door” is a chapter that reminds me that true
authenticity when opening your home is being who you are in your own space even
if your space is like mine – perma-crumbs on the floor, dishes forever by the sink,
laundry baskets acting as multicolored living room accessories, splatters on
the bathroom mirror.  My mother always
welcomed neighbors and friends in the front door even when she was in her
pajamas, even when the kitchen was undone from the last meal, even when we kids
had left toy after toy strewn in the living room.  The door was always open and I aspire to have
that open door policy, in hopes that people will understand and know that they
can come as they are to this place where I am who I am.

I have a set of Russian dolls – much like the one that
Shauna refers to in the chapter of the same name.  They sit on my mantle – six elegantly
decorated ladies all tucked into each other. 
In this chapter, she brought me to tears with this – looking through
pictures of her Grandparents with her Grandmother.  Her Grandmother said that she remembered just
how that thirteen year old felt and that nineteen year old bride felt and that
thirty year old on the motorcycle felt. 
“She said you carry them inside you, collecting them along the way, more
and more selves inside you with each passing year, like those Russian dolls,
stacking one inside the other, nesting within themselves, waiting to be
discovered, one and then another.”   And in that moment tears welling out of me, I
realized that all of those selves I’ve collected along the way are lost – that
I don’t know them anymore, that I seldom look back and reflect and remember and
reach deeply into myself to stack them all together and come to the full
realization of who I am today because of them.
Some of the baggage those selves have collected needs to laid down and
some of that past joy and wonder, and fun-loving personality need to be picked
up.  I sobbed realizing that in doing
this, it will change the person I am today and I so desperately need that.   Whenever I look at my Russian dolls, I will

The chapter entitled “Take this Bread” brings home to me
what it means to live this life around the table, acknowledging our physical
limitations by taking the time to sit around the table for bodily
nourishment.  But it doesn’t end there –
although our culture pushes us to use mealtimes as quick fuel stops for the
body – it goes much deeper than this. 
The table nourishes our body and soul and brings us together in that
singular place where we are all one.  Shauna’s
friend Shane so eloquently says – “bread is the food of the poor and wine is
the food of the privileged, and that every time we see those two together, we
are reminded of what we share instead of what divides us.” Yes! This physical
and spiritual act of communion – sharing bread and wine is the heart of this
book – the table that brings us together – but only if we fight for it and
cherish it and allow ourselves to be open to it.

The recipes – so fun and delicious!  I made the Basic Vinaigrette and loved the
simplicity of it.  My next go around I
will adjust the acidity using less balsamic vinegar and more olive oil, but I
have tried the original recipe on Greek salad and chicken and potatoes and
enjoyed them immensely.  I will likely
buy a better jar for it – my jelly jar has a high maintenance lid, which
results in more mess than I care for.

The Goat Cheese Biscuits were out of this world!  I do not have a cast iron skillet – but now
after making this I am inspired to purchase one.  They were dense and rich without being over
the top.  I gobbled up four in one
evening – I couldn’t resist!  (Looking
forward to eating more with eggs for breakfast!) I ended up making 14 biscuits
with the recipe instead of 12.

Overall, Bread &
is a real treasure of the mind, heart, and mouth.
  Each chapter weaves together a beautiful
tapestry of how the everyday table is one of the richest and most beautiful
places to be. 

I was given a free, advanced copy of Bread & Wine to review. 
However, my opinions are my own. 

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold
 and Bittersweet,
and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois,
and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She
is married to Aaron, who is
a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is
recording a project called A New
. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry
and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday
life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books,
celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and
reveal to us the heart of God.


I’m restless tonight…I have this sense that I should be doing something, but when I look around at the messes made, to do list unfinished, books unread, sewing projects ½ done, I know that those are not the things that I should be doing. I look at my laptop on…then I turn it off entering the avoidance once again.

But this time, I walk through the rooms of this tired house looking for something, looking on my phone for something…always looking and not finding. Irritated I pick up the laptop and turn it on knowing that this is my destiny yet fighting it kicking and screaming.

The screen glows blue and then white…my fingers begin moving, creating, searching and maybe this time finding.

I stumbled upon a book recently called “You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)” by Jeff Goins. I stared long and hard at the cover. I knew at that moment that I did not need to read this book, I only had to do what the title said – start acting like a writer. (I’m reading it anyway.) The truth is that I’ve been hiding over here and allowing the distractions of the day-to-day to get in the way of who I am and what I’m supposed to do. Only until now, there was no guilt or pain or discomfort in doing so. Over the last several weeks everything I allowed to distract me has lost its luster or has been removed. I can’t focus on anything for any length of time if I even have the desire to begin it.

This same author, Jeff Goins says in another short book he has written called “The Writer’s Manifesto” that a writer writes because he cannot NOT write. If I had read this six months ago I would have laughed at the idea of that. Now that I’m here in this desolate, unrelenting, purposeless place, I can’t agree more. These words will push their way out of me one way or another and it seems lately they are intent in coming out in painful ways.

So, I’m writing because there is this part of me, once small, yet growing and pushing and relentlessly calling me to put the words out there and maybe I will just find what I’ve been looking for.