Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection

Power Lines and Parabola Trees

Up the road from my childhood home are Parabola Trees. That isn’t their proper name, of course. My siblings and I dubbed them as such when I was in junior high or younger. They used to be quite ordinary, common trees, on the edge of an ordinary front yard along an ordinary country road.

Then it was noticed that the trees were growing beneath the power lines. In fact, the leaves at the top of the trees might have touched the lines if they stood on their tip toes. Something had to be done. Instead of trimming the whole top of each tree though, the powers-that-be decided to cut out the branches most directly beneath the power lines. The result was a deep and vacant U in the center of the tree. An upturned tunnel. Thus the name, Parabola Trees. It proved a lasting solution, as that empty space has never filled back up with new growth.

It feels a bit like my sister’s cancer is sawing into our family like they did to those trees. Core branches being cut out. The threat of creating an empty space that cannot regrow.

A daughter, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother. A friend. A giver. Core branches.

It also feels as if our prayers for a miracle are like begging the city workers to stop sawing and then petitioning them to move the power line rather than trim the tree. It’s a petition that’s difficult to expect to succeed, rendered even more unlikely if the workers were already as far along as the cancer in the cutting.

We petition anyway. We ask, and we believe in our cause. Reaching out to everyone we know, we encourage them to take up the same petition. We are certain there is power in the numbers dedicated to the cause. We keep asking, and we keep believing because, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

We know that if He chooses, He can move the power line and leave the tree intact.

It’s Cheryl’s 54th birthday today. I enjoyed some time with her and others in my family for the first time in months. Celebrating with her today, praising God that she reached this birthday, leaves me longing for certainty that she will reach the next one and the next and more.

I’ll wrap up these thoughts by sharing what I wrote in Cheryl’s card today, repeating to myself again that we do believe.

Happy birthday, Cheryl. You are a warrior in the truest sense, fighting relentlessly with faith in your battle and hope in the success of it. We love you and we believe in what the Lord can do.

20200530_202911.jpg

Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

We Don’t Know

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t feel like writing it.

I thought about writing it immediately after reading my sister’s message Friday night. I thought about writing it first thing Saturday morning, when I saw other family members’ social media posts. I wrote it in my head while I made breakfast for my kids. Still, I avoided sitting down at my computer and typing it out. Instead, I scrawled out some notes I didn’t want to lose, and went for a run.

I ran and I thought.

I thought about what I’ll feel toward God if the cancer takes my sister in the end. I thought about the anger I’ll experience. Would I feel it toward Him? Toward everything? Or maybe toward nothing, a fiery arrow of anger with no target for release?

I thought about timing, wishing pointlessly that I could tell God my preferences and they’d be taken into account with weight equal to His wisdom. Timing. If the cancer has returned, if her remission is slipping away, why is it happening during a pandemic? When we can’t be with each other? When hospital stays are endured alone, with no visitors? Timing. Her second grandchild is on the way. Growing, developing, taking shape in her daughter’s womb. A gift. A rainbow baby. I have some things to say to Him about timing.

This post sat in my head the remainder of yesterday but I knew I needed to write it this morning. Sunday morning, barren of congregations gathered to worship and pray as one. This is exactly when I should write it.

The reason to write is simple: to ask all of you to pray for my sister’s healing from lymphoma. Simple, and something I’ve done several times already. Why the avoidance, then?

I didn’t want to write it because it feels too much like admitting defeat. Feelings can lie though. They’re masters at it. Asking for prayers is not admitting defeat. It’s admitting faith.

Due to 35 days straight of low grade fevers, and being bedridden for much of that time, they have tested Cheryl for any possible explanation for her symptoms. The only one reasonably left is that the cancer is relapsing. The doctors have admitted this to be the case and she will undergo new scans and biopsies to check the truth of it.

We don’t know yet if the cancer is growing again.

We don’t know yet if God has a miracle for Cheryl.

I’m going to stop getting ahead of myself and admit that just as much as I don’t know the former, I don’t know the latter either. So, I ask you to pray. I ask you to believe in your prayers. I’ll do the same.

Screenshot_20200328-084659_Facebook.jpg
Cheryl and her husband Tom, March 2020
Advent, Christmas, Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

God Does Not Sleep

Christmas doesn’t always bring a person home to a warm hearth and an idyllic pause in the strife of our days.

I typically post only on Facebook about my sister Cheryl’s battle with aggressive, advanced lymphoma. Periodically, I have asked for prayers and support from family and friends while sharing the current status of the fight. The nature of the battle now brings me here, to a broader collection of family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

Cheryl will spend Christmas at the Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, MN. Under the superb care of their doctors and nurses, she and her beloved husband Tom are awaiting the delivery of her genetically modified T Cells to be transplanted back into her ailing body. These cells, with newly gained superpowers, will try their hardest to attack the cancer cells that have spread and grown in recent months. She has literally been sustained this month by chemotherapy and steroid treatments, biding her time until the T Cells are ready.

As Christmas, that must joyous of celebrations, approaches, the only gift my faithful sister hopes for is life.

IMG-20191214-WA0003.jpg
Cheryl, her husband Tom, and their children Catrina and Ryan, 12/14/19

I can’t write that without tears streaming down my face. At least once a day, I let the tears fall and plead with God to restore Cheryl to health and vitality. I release the valve for a few moments and allow the sadness, anger, and feeble hope to rise to the surface. Cheryl’s warrior spirit has taught every member of my family the astounding depth of true faith and strength that come from a divine source.

From-the-heart honesty: I don’t want any more lessons. I want healing. I want Cheryl to land on the right side of the statistics and odds. The only thing I want us to learn in the weeks to come is that miracles do happen.

Please add your prayers to mine. I rest in this: God does not sleep. He does not look away. He does not set us down from our place in His hands.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

 

He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade
on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day,
nor the moon by night.

 

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 121

IMG-20191125-WA0004-1.jpg
Cheryl, me, and my children Annabelle and Timothy, 11/24/19
Faith, Family, Hope, Personal Reflection, Prayer

Run Harder

I ran this one for Cheryl. On my drive to the 10k trail race I ran this morning, I made up my mind to dedicate the run to my sister.

20191012_093244.jpg

Let me tell you about Cheryl.

Cheryl is my oldest sister. She is a beautiful, generous, resilient rock star of a woman. She is a bottomless well of faith. Three times, Cheryl has come out victorious against cancer. Today, she is a patient at Mayo Clinic in her fourth battle. Her hardest battle. I’ve witnessed the physical misery, the sadness, and the loneliness for home as she spends more strings of days in a hospital than outside it. I’ve watched the decisions to fight, to believe, and to hope. I have seen real faith.

FB_IMG_1570911041472.jpg

So, this morning, I set the purpose in my heart to run for Cheryl. I kept her in my thoughts as I waited at the starting line with 110 other people about to run 6.2 miles through the woods. As we all headed up the first hill, a steep one right after the start, I said a prayer for her. When I ran through easier stretches along meadows, enjoying the sun-soaked fall colors, I prayed for her to have easier days. While I trudged up the frequent hills on the trail, breathing hard and wanting to walk, I thought of my warrior sister fighting for her life and I said to myself, “Run harder.”

Eventually, I crossed the finish line. I felt strong, much stronger than when I ran the same race last year. My body surged with energy and I smiled as I reached the bottom of the last hill with the finish line only yards away. When I crossed that finish line though, I nearly broke down. I felt the tears pressing against my eyes, trying to escape. I felt my breathless lungs become even more constricted as a sob rose up in my throat. Then I saw a coworker standing with other finishers, drinking their water and eating their bananas, as we all do at the end of a race. I stepped over to where she was and exchanged a high-five with a smile and a compliment to her race. And I was ok. The very brief conversation made that sob dissolve and those tears retreat. I was relieved to save my crying for later, when I was alone with my thoughts.

Today, I wore the Warrior shirt designed by friends of Cheryl to support her and her family, and there were a handful of times that I glanced down at the word across my front and thought, “Run harder.” Run like Cheryl fights. Run like Cheryl believes and hopes. Run harder.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31, RSV

Faith, Family, Gratitude, Personal Reflection

Plans and the Preposterousness of Them

I made a lot of plans for August. Confidently, I planned. It all seemed so reasonable. It felt good.

#1 was returning to a fitness routine. After four weeks, the mild back injury I’d been not-so-patiently waiting to heal was cleared up. I joyously began easing back into running and strength workouts. I set a goal to exercise in some manner every day of the month of August.

Secondly, I set up a giveaway to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Hidden Legacy. I pledged to readers to spend the week sharing tidbits about my experiences in the past year.

I plotted (pun intended) novel-writing plans.

I signed up my son and myself for a 5k fun run.

I bought tickets to attend a concert this week with my husband.

I planned. And God said, “Nope.”

Sometimes my plans align pretty well with what He has in mind. Other times, God shakes His wise head and plays the divine intervention card.

This time the card came in the form of appendicitis and an appendectomy. What started as (supposedly) some bad indigestion warped into terribly painful stomach cramps. After a full night of sickness of which I’ll spare you the details, it took until Saturday morning to identify that the pain was gradually intensifying on the right half of my abdomen. Cue the alarm bells!

Urgent Care, E.R., surgery, recovery, and now home, thankfully, sans appendix.

Plans change.

I won’t pretend I’m not frustrated. Or disappointed. Or sad. This simply isn’t how I wanted the last weeks of summer to look. When I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself though, I remember that my sister had surgery on the same day and it’s her fifth hospital stay in a month. I remember that unlike the woman screaming in pain on the other side of the E.R. exam room but insisting she couldn’t have painkillers due to a past addiction, I’m able to control the pain with strong medication. I remember that I have a husband who will do anything for my wellbeing, and a large family who rallied in prayer for me all weekend. I remember the Cross and the holy wounds. I remember this is minor and temporary, and “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Dignity, Faith, Family, Friendship, Intentionality, Jesus, Marriage, Motherhood, Personal Reflection, Worthy

Enough

Several days ago, I shared a photo on Facebook. Not a personal photo. Just a photo of some words that, on that morning especially, were relatable for me. It crossed my mind that it was likely relatable for others too, so I shared the photo and moved on.

Reactions and comments are still trickling in on that post, and it hasn’t yet left my mind. The text in the photo said this: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.”

I was already feeling this before my workday started on Monday. Although my son loves school and both of he and my daughter enjoy their babysitter, there is inevitably at least one day each week when one of them clings to me a little extra in the morning and expresses their wish that I could stay home from work with them that day. Also inevitably, that is among the hardest moments of my week. Monday morning happened to include that moment with my daughter.

I’m blessed with a good job. It is enjoyable, interesting work in a healthy environment with a solid team of people. I’m grateful for it and challenged by it daily. No matter what though, I am a mother. I am always first responsible to my family and then to everything else. So I work extremely hard to balance it all (again, a statement that so many of you can relate to, undoubtedly). Workdays, meetings, projects, schooldays, doctor appointments, drop-offs and pick-ups, mealtime and playtime and bedtime and everything in between. Balance is a constant goal.

On Monday afternoon, I had a brief meeting with my supervisor. A generous, flexible woman who knows the life of a working mother, I’ve been thankful for her understanding in this balancing act. Among other topics covered in this meeting though, she shared that someone in our office had voiced complaints about my comings and goings. This anonymous individual was bothered by what they felt were too many times I had to adapt my schedule to those school and sitter drop-offs and doctor appointments and sick kids and so on. While I was in no way reprimanded or told to stop adapting my schedule to those needs, I still can’t dismiss the disappointment that this is what someone thinks of the work I put in at my job. Whomever it is doesn’t necessarily know about the number of days in which I work through lunch, or the nine, ten, or eleven hours I put in when I’m working from home while simultaneously caring for my children. They don’t necessarily know why I arrived at 8:10 instead of 8:00, or why I had to work remotely from my home unexpectedly. They see what they see and form their opinion.

I’m going to be fully honest here. I want to look that person straight in the eye, possibly grabbing them by the collar, and say this: “I am doing the best I can do.” I want to inform them that I already know it will never be enough. Their input is not needed for me to know this.

enough-logo-1428923325

The current trend in women’s self-help/self-esteem culture is summed up in one phrase:

I am enough.

It crops up in articles, books, and social media posts with head-spinning frequency. I’d even wager that the image I used above was designed to serve that message. Those words are the mantra of many tired, over-extended, trying-to-meet-all-expectations women, and they are a lie.

I am not enough. You are not enough.

If we ever want to stop striving until we break, we must admit this. If we want to quit the worldwide, olympic-level competition for Instagram-worthy perfection on the surface while we are unraveling when no one is looking, we must admit this.

I am not enough.

If I were enough for my children, they would not need their beloved father or their dear grandparents and extended family. If I were enough, I would not need my husband’s partnership and love. If I were enough, I would not need my teammates and managers at the office. If I were enough, I would not need my church community, my writing community, my health and fitness community, my neighbors, or even those most precious friends who know the real me. Above all, if I were enough, I would not need my Lord.

I am not enough.

Certainly, I can understand the intentions behind the popular message of being enough. It is answering the emptiness countless men and women carry inside of them. It is speaking to the ways we punish ourselves for not living up to our or others’ expectations. It is reminding us that our worth has been forgotten. I do understand. But believing you are enough doesn’t admit your inherent need for others. Believing you are enough doesn’t admit your need for the Divine.

I am not enough.

I cannot do it all. I literally cannot. I only have one body, one mind. I only have 24 hours in my day. I am only capable of being in one place at a time. Unlike God, I cannot be all things to all people. Admitting this is not a detriment to my self-esteem. It is an enlightened self-awareness. It fosters a great amount of freedom, clipping the binding ties of strife and disappointment.

I am not enough. I am a member of a marriage, of a family, of a friendship, a community, a church, a team for that very reason. While I will always work to be my best, I will not misguidedly carry the weight of striving to be enough. I am not enough and I am happier for knowing it.

Faith, Family, Hope, Jesus, Personal Reflection, Prayer

Sunbeams and Prayer Time

There’s a quote from Flannery O’Connor that resonates with me as a writer: “I write to discover what I know.” Within the act of writing out my thoughts on a matter, there is often a sorting-out that occurs. Clarity arises. In writing a fiction story as well, certain ideas give me pause, making me question where the words came from within me. Writing teaches me a lot about myself.

This morning, that quote came to mind after I spent a bit of time in prayer. I thought how appropriate it’d be to say instead, “I pray to discover what I know.” Because sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – at the close of your prayer, you are left with nothing more than what you know, and that is enough.

I had dropped the kids off at the sitter a few minutes ahead of schedule and was on my way to my office. I’d only driven a quarter mile though before I pulled over. I stepped out of my car, sat down on a curbside bench on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan, and stared at this:

20180713_074843.jpg

I stared at the sunbeams. I stared at the clouds. I stared at the barely-there waves lapping the beach. Then, I prayed.

My family was exchanging text messages for the past hour or more as my oldest sister Cheryl prepared for her latest doctor appointment in Milwaukee. Today she’ll have a biopsy of one of the growths they’ve found, then she’ll wait approximately a week while it is analyzed to determine the exact type and stage of the cancer that has spread throughout her body.

Sitting on that bench, I thought of the specific things for which Cheryl had requested we pray. Then my mind went blank, wiped by the emotions that cluster into my throat and chest each time I pray for my sister. My own words disappeared and I resorted to what I know:

“Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

“Hail Mary, full of grace…”

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son…”

I whispered the words, as secure and comforting as home, and I discovered what I know:

I know that God is our father. Our perfect father who has us in his care at all times even as he allows our free will and the natural world to run their course.

I know that God provides our daily bread. He places in our path the people and resources and situations to meet our souls’ and bodies’ needs.

I know that Jesus listens to the prayers of his family, and that like any Queen Mother who has the ear of her son, the King, we have Mary praying for us at Jesus’ side.

I know that God – the Holy Trinity – is worthy of all glory and praise. I know that he is unchanging, all-powerful, infinitely wise, and good without exception.

I don’t know what answer God will give to our family’s prayers, but I do know He’ll answer. Sometimes it only takes three minutes of prayer time and some stunning sunbeams to help us discover what we know.