Introspective Insights

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

Cancer In A Box

Back in April 2016, 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.

Yesterday I was diagnosed and today I just want it to be a normal day. But normal is different for everyone and that word cancer was already starting to rip the normalcy rug from under me.

My brother Chris and sister-in-law Kristi came over to visit. We planned to celebrate Chris’s birthday and I was laser point focused on this being about him and not me today. In my head I’ve refused to think much about everything because I’m waiting until the next appointment, the next phone call for more information. It seems pointless to obsess over things. But I didn’t really think about what this means to other people – what they may do or see when I see them. There was no way cancer could be anything but the elephant in the room that day.

Chris is the quiet giant of our family and it is easy to believe that not much affects him, but of course that is not true. Kristi needs to talk, to process things, just like most women do. She sat with me practically in tears the whole time. She told me how sad and down Chris was when he found out and had not yet told her what happened. Seeing his expression of sadness, choked up, looking down, it affected me greatly. Kristi invited me to always speak my mind about it in their presence – good or bad – that all emotions were appropriate and OK. I’ve never thought about how important this is – opening the door to speak openly.

She also acknowledged that only talking about this can be overwhelming too. Very true. Cancer was definitely the last thing I wanted to talk about. I told them that I have put this in a box until Tuesday. There is nothing I can do about it until then, so what is the point?

This whole exchange with them made me wonder – am I taking this seriously enough? By some appearances it may seem not. I think that I am, but I just can’t make the words “breast cancer” roll around in my head all that time or I will go crazy.

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.

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.

Throwing Myself Against the Rocks

As many of you know, last year around this time (April 2016) I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through numerous tests, surgery, and radiation therapy. During those days I wrote constantly. Since then, I’ve started to compile those journal entries into the beginnings of a book. This post is a portion of that 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 starting near the end of this cancer journey, because while it seems that I am finished, the truth is that this word “survivor” is only beginning to dig its talons into my mind. It’s August, just 10 days after radiation therapy ended. A mere four months since this nightmare began.

I am starting to get a glance at what cancer can do to the survivor. My body is beginning to heal, but my mind is beginning its spiral into the dark. Yet I don’t really understand the storm still coming.

Me at Camp Arcadia

It is evening at Camp Arcadia on the beautiful northern shore of Lake Michigan. I am struggling, feeling awful about myself – all the weight I’ve gained, the aftermath of surgery, and four months of recovery and radiation treatments. Feeling tired and sluggish beyond comprehension. Yet, I’m in this beautiful place – one of my favorite places in the world. The sun is on it’s way down, but it is still fully late summer evening light.

I am sitting on the raised patio six feet above the pounding surf. Beach hazard in effect, surging waves battering the seawall in front of me. At that moment, the despair envelopes me like a black cloak. I envision myself jumping in, imagining the consequences. The current pulling me under the water and the waves pushing me up, slamming me onto the rusty, jagged, metal wall, rocks, shore. My body continually battered, bloody, lifeless, crushed, smashed over and over. Normally the horror of such a thought is immediately rejected, but the heaviness is too great and in that moment the image replays over and over. I hear Jerry and the kids looking for me, yelling my name. Searching, but not finding.

It is a terrible way to die and I know I can’t do it. I press stop on the mental replay and I choose to walk away, the roaring still in my ears, images fresh and horrible in my mind. I cannot tell Jerry what I’ve just witnessed in my mind’s eye. This week has been challenging enough, the last few months heavy with despair, tears, anger, listlessness, fear.

The next night I am on the shore again, waves crashing again realizing that forward movement seems like jumping into those waves only to be battered and carried along where I don’t want to go. And isn’t that what has happened these months? Death and illness – cancer – sweeping over me, pulling me down with the undertow. Going forward doesn’t seem like an option. I am stuck here for now in the mental anguish of this pounding surf.

But these waves, these breakers, the verses come back to me – Psalm 42:7:

“Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

have gone over me.”

All the breakers and waves HAVE gone over me. I’m battered and beaten mentally, physically. And YET deep calls out to deep. I’m drowning, but the God of the universe calls out to me in my deepest parts. And these waterfalls cover me and what happens when I emerge from all this? I don’t know as I feel that the emerging is the painful process of right now.

Being the “Fat” Mom

Today’s post is from Caty Dearing who blogs over at www.catydearing.com. Caty is wife to Justin and mom to K and is a high school English teacher where she loves her job and says that it motivates her to be awesome every day. Caty’s blog is a safe space for her and her readers to stretch, grow, and live. She promises honesty in her posts, which as we all know is pretty hard to come by these days.

Being a mom is difficult. No one tells you just how hard it is. The pressure of raising a human being to be kind, intelligent, and gracious is a heavy burden to bear. I remember being pregnant and reading book after book about how to be a good mom. Now, my daughter is 3 years old, and I think that I’m just now learning what difficulties have been present for me as a person, removed from my kiddo and husband. One of these, and probably the biggest one (no pun intended), is my weight.

“Fat” is a no-no word. We use words like “curvy” and “voluptuous” to mask the negative connotations of overweight-ness. Being called fat would have completely broken me a year ago. I’ve spent a lot of time telling myself about my large bone structure and that the curves on my body are just part of who I am. I’ve also spent a lot of time spewing hateful words towards myself, avoiding cameras, and wearing oversized clothes. Years later, I’m finally at a place where I think I’m ready to face the fact that I am not healthy, and to do something about it.

If I’m being 100% honest, I used to judge overweight moms. You know exactly what I’m talking about: the cute child, dressed to the nines, the handsome and fit husband, and the mom who looks like she woke up 15 minutes ago and just barely pulled herself together to be out and about. I remember the condescending tone I used in my head, an almost smug self-declaration of “That will NEVER be me.” Now, here I sit, weighing more today than I did the day before giving birth, and I’m faced with a choice: how will I handle this issue, and what example will I set for the tiny set of eyes watching my every move?

I found the answer at Disney World.

If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know about the Photo Pass feature. If a professional photographer takes your picture, you can scan your Magic Band and the photo immediately becomes accessible. I felt like there was a professional photographer every 10 steps or so! I packed the only clothes that I could feel comfortable in: Disney t-shirts and work out pants. It wasn’t my cutest look.

When we got to Magic Kingdom, a photographer offered to take our picture in front of the castle. She asked Justin and I to squat down beside K, which immediately brought to mind the image of fat rolls, awkward posture, and all of my other insecurities on display. I looked at my daughter’s face, smiling up at me, at the castle…and I smiled. Then, I squatted down and took the picture.

Caty Dearing picture 1

When my daughter is looking through photos of our family, she’s not going to care if I was overweight. She’s going to comment on the fact that I wore ridiculous Mickey ears the whole time, or the facial expression she made when we rode a fast roller coaster. I HAVE to continue to be present in photos, and to speak positively and full of grace towards myself.

At the same time…(here’s where it gets murky)

My body was falling apart the entire trip to Disney. My feet ached, my back hurt, my knees throbbed…due to the extra weight I was carrying around. I struggled to fit under the airplane seatbelt, and in a couple of the seats on some rides. People can argue all day long until their faces turns blue that you can be healthy at whatever weight, but there is no way anyone can convince me that being overweight and the symptoms that come with it are preferable to a less injury-prone existence.

Caty Dearing picture 2

It’s a delicate balance, brutal honesty and loads of grace. And, to be frank, this pairing isn’t an idea I see being preached. It’s not one or the other, people! You can love yourself and still recognize that you aren’t your best self. As a mom, I want to show K that it’s possible to live a healthy lifestyle and not constantly struggle with food or fatigue. But, even more so, as a person, as ME, I want to prove to myself that it’s possible to love myself at 270 without accepting it as my final reality. Because, to me, loving myself means pursuing my best self.

I was the fat mom at Disney World. But I was also the happiest mom at Disney World. Next time we go, I might not look the same, or I might. But I really hope that the changes I am making, both internal and external, are growing within me a person I can be proud of.

What has been your most challenging moment of introspection? How did you respond?

 

 

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…]

Knowing

It is 9:18pm and I am spent, empty, listless. Mondays can be like this, but today cast a heavier burden than usual. I drove to the kid’s school three times – almost four when I realized Kayla forgot her gym clothes. I baked bread, did dishes, made dinner, baked chocolate chip cookies. Helped Zach with four times as much homework since he missed school today. I drove to two stores and got my eyebrows waxed in an hour’s time. My activity tracker should say I walked the equivalent of five miles, but it only says 2.5 – a typical non-exercise day for me.

This weariness started at 5pm when I realized that today was all “doing” and not “knowing”. I did a plethora of things for those I love, but I didn’t invest in knowing them more and for that, I am sorry. I spent my time unwisely today. Yet, this is a typical pattern for me and I’m not sure how to change it. I sit in the living room, at the table, and look at their faces. I marvel how much they have changed over the years. In a few weeks, Abby will be five and do I remember how she looked when she was nine months old? Memories fuzzy, tasks always at hand. I don’t know how to get to know them better, to help them understand that they matter to me.

My failure to know haunts me with icy words. “They will leave you and never come back.” “You are missing out on everything.” “Why try to know them better, the time is so short.” And I withdraw into this gnawing pain. I don’t have an answer, I only know the question. And I usually have it together, which makes this all the more difficult. I understand the mechanics of the solution, but not the heart of it.

So I am quiet and listening and looking towards tomorrow, searching for grace.

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