Monday, November 13, 2017

My Life: The Grace in My Fight Song

The heart my 4-year-old daughter gave me after trying to make my bed.

I wake up each day to a new reality. Get the kids ready, get myself ready, and see if Jacob needs help getting ready. I flush picc-lines, sit with my husband through chemo, blood transfusions, and ER visits. Most mornings, I put on makeup even though I rarely wore it before the cancer. My war paint, I think. It's like a mask, but it isn't artificial. It's a real part of me, a part of me I'm getting to know better.

In the car, Rachel Platten sings a fight song. I sing with her in my loudest voice. This is me strong. This is what I want to write about. Invincible me. Making it work out me. I like that me. I like being stronger than I thought I was.

But it's so small. A tiny bit of the truth.

The truth is this:

When they come to put the picc line in my husband the first time, I want to stay. Why would I leave him to face something like that alone? I am shuffled into a corner and told to stand near the window of the tiny, closet-like room. They hook up their computer and tell him "See, that's the vein we are looking for. It will go right up your arm and almost to your heart. Instant access to everything we need without having to put in an IV every time."

My knees tremble. The spotted linoleum wavering below my feet might soon become my seat. I sag against the wall. This isn't the strong me. This is the me that passed out during a college class on dialysis.

"I actually need to leave." I say.

My husband agrees. "Don't stay. I'm worried about you more if you stay."

I walk into the hallway and the door closes behind me. I've been down this hall every day for a week and I haven't cried once here. I've been holding on with two hands to the strength I've found inside me.

Now, I break down. I sit the waiting area in front of the elevators and hide my face as I lean over my lap. I cry. I'm too weak to stay while he gets his picc line.

My phone beeps. A text.

It's Aunt Marcy whose husband passed away from cancer this summer. "I'm close by the hospital today. Can I come see you and Jacob?"

Yes. A thousand times yes.

Today is the picc line. Today is the first chemo. Today is cancer being reality. I'm not strong enough today.

Aunt Marcy comes in like sunshine. Nothing is too big for her optimism. She takes me and she takes my husband and she sits right in the middle of that tiny room and talks to us. And makes us laugh. And tells us about Uncle Roy. And reminds us that we are going to be okay.

Until we are through the first round of chemo and we don't even know what happened.

When she leaves, my husband and I look at each other. "I needed her today." I tell Jacob.

"So did I." He says.

This is the truth, then: I can't do this alone.

As time passes, we are flooded by offers of help. Things left on the doorstep, neighbors mowing our lawns, child care, dinners, and even an offer to make my daughter's birthday cake.

Birthdays? I can hardly think about tomorrow, let alone birthdays.

I feel guilty. I can buy a cake from the store. No one needs to make us a cake. No one needs to drop off apple cider and cookies. It's too much and more than I deserve. I see it then, how I've been keeping a tally. I used to think service was like a cycle. If I did something for someone, it would come back to us eventually. Sooner or later, it would all work out.

This time, there is no balance. No matter what I do for the rest of my life, I can't make this even again.

But when I think about telling people "No thanks", the Holy Spirit whispers "Say yes."

Every time, it turns out that I need them.

I need the prayers, the kind words, the baskets left on our porch, the reminders that we aren't alone. They come right at the edge of the cliff, just when I think I can't do it anymore. It's God's love in all of these people, and I need them even though I feel like a burden.

I tell Jacob one night.

"I understand. I feel like that too," he admits.

"There will never be a balance." I say. "I can't pay all this back. Ever."

He's silent for a moment and then, "It's like our Savior," he tells me.

Like Jesus.

The words hit me in the chest. I've never quite felt it like this, so real, so stark. No matter what I do, I'll never be able to repay my Savior for what He's done for me.

My friend brings my daughter a birthday cake and leaves before I can tell her how much it means to us. I'm too stunned to do anything but weep. My daughter loves her puppy cake.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Jacob is back in the hospital. I've got a writer's conference to present at that I've been planning since March. I can cancel. I don't have to go.

Jacob doesn't even blink. He's laying in the ICU, but he tells me. "No. You are going. I want you to have this opportunity."

It's a flurry of chaos. I need help. Help cleaning the house, doing the laundry, packing my bags, tagging my books. I need God's help with my power point. And I need help for Jacob. I need his mother and my niece and my sister-in-law to be with Jacob while I can't. I need my parents to help me get to the conference and watch my children. I present at my first writer's conference. There are million things I can't do, but somehow, there are people everywhere picking up the slack.

Not long after that, I sit with my husband on our bed and pull up a version of Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" that has been on my mind. We listen to it together. This is what I'm am learning from cancer. We fight, we are strong, but in the end, we will always need the Grace of God to get through.

We can't do this alone. We can't do everything ourselves. But we don't have to. There are angels standing by with amazing grace, each one employed in the service of God.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My Life: Cancer and a Storm God

Image from picjumbo

I'm driving my husband to a chemo treatment in the pouring rain. It's mid-morning and early September, but the road is so drenched in water and fog, the white line on the side of the road is almost invisible. Wind rocks the car, and my fingers grip the wheel so tight they hurt.

But I can't let go. I can only breathe. And pray. Heavenly Father please help me get through this.

In another life, just a few weeks ago, we'd never have left the house in a downpour like this. If the storm hit unexpectedly, I'd have pulled off the road. Waited out the storm. But we have a ten o'clock appointment with a small bag of poison and not going isn't an option.

Ahead is a stretch of road that terrifies me in bad weather. Low in the valley, it collects the fog like a bowl and the water pools on the freeway instead of running off. I'm terrified of hydroplaning and the truck we pass that is turned almost completely around doesn't do anything to ease my fears.

Just before we hit the dreaded spot, the fog lifts enough to make the road visible a few more feet ahead. My windshield wipers catch up with the water, clearing the view, and a calmness settles in my chest. We are going to be okay. The rain drenches us all 25 miles we drive, but we make it in one piece.

Later, when we are done and the sun is elbowing through gray clouds outside the treatment center, my husband tells me he wasn't afraid as we drove.

That's all fine. But he wasn't the one behind the wheel. Remember how you used to drive in stuff like that rain, I think, back when I got to sit in the passenger seat and close my eyes when things got a little scary? I can't close my eyes now. Not anymore.

My husband, ever the Ancient Near Eastern Studies with a Emphasis on the Hebrew Bible graduate, doesn't leave it there. "Did you know that in classical classification, Jehovah was known as a Storm God?"

I didn't.

"There were war gods and fertility gods and any number of other gods, but Jehovah had control over the elements. A Storm God. That is why it was significant when Jesus Christ walked on the water and calmed the seas. He was essentially saying 'I am the Storm God. The God of the elements. I am Jehovah of the Old Testament.'"

My heart lifts a little at this, images born of years of sunday school lessons and seminary. Jesus walking on water, Jesus rebuking the storm. "The master of ocean and earth and skies."

He keeps talking and his voice is breathy and scratchy. Talking this much is hard for him. A side effect of all the procedures done and medicines given to him. "It was like we were going to chemo with the Storm God. I felt comforted and safe. I knew we were going to be okay. I could tell that you were nervous though. I told God, 'I know you can control this water. You have control over all the elements. If it be thy will, please lift the rain a little so she can see.'"

I remember that moment, the easing of the rain, the peace settling inside me.

That evening we realize my husband is almost out of pain medication. It's 4:30 on a Friday and we have no idea which of the sea of doctors we've seen we are supposed to contact for refills. He has spent the afternoon visibly shaking under a mound of blankets. Now he has a fever. If he runs out of medication over the weekend, what will we do then?

I pull out the discharge papers from the hospital he spent twelve days at. Other than when I had my babies, I've never stayed overnight at a hospital. I'm 31 years old. I've never dealt with a serious illness and my 36 year-old husband has never either. Not until cancer. I feel like a frightened teenager again. Someone tell me how to do this. I don't know how. 

I call the family practice doctor, get a recording to call the pharmacy, who then tells me to call the doctor who prescribed the medicine. A doctor I've never met and my husband doesn't know. The pharmacy gives me the number they have for him and tells me to give it a try. I reach the seventh floor of the hospital when I dial the number. The same floor we left a few days ago. They tell me to call the family practice doctor. I call back and wait until I finally get a receptionist. She directs me to call another doctor, The oncologist we saw earlier in the day. So I call the office who does the chemo treatments.

It's almost five.

Jess answers. I don't know him. We've never met. I stumble through my explanation. How we've never done anything like this before. How we don't know what we are doing, and I don't want my husband in even more pain over the weekend.

He tells me he'll check with the doctor. When he comes back he says "If you can be here in thirty minutes, I'll get you the prescription. Here's my personal number. Call it when you get here. The doors may be locked."

I herd my three-year-old to the car, leaving my husband in the bed and my ten-year-old on the couch with a video game. We drive the 25 miles again and get to the treatment center by 5:30. Jess meets me at the office. He gives me the prescription and talks me through the latest chemo symptoms. I know he must have waited for me. He went out of his way. I can't stop thinking about that.

I've been numb for a little while. Too scared to feel too deeply, or maybe just too overwhelmed to think about anything but what has to come next. It's almost dinner time. I haven't made any food. I still need to fill the prescription. My daughter is hungry and tired.

But out over the valley, the sun breaks through the still overcast sky, and a ray of light runs in a straight line to the earth below, a spotlight on the very place I'm headed for. The storm comforted my husband. The light comforts me. I say a prayer of gratitude. Thank you, for Jess.

The woman who rings up the prescription remembers me from the phone. Another pharmacist lets my daughter have a free sucker. I get a text message from my husband. Someone from the ward has brought us dinner.

When the pharmacists ask me how I'm doing, I almost start crying right there. Not because it's so hard or I can't do it anymore, but because Jess waited. Because everyone who helped me on the phone was so kind. Because dinner is waiting at home. And two pharmacists took time to look beyond the prescriptions they were filling.

The fog and rain have lifted just enough for me to see again. I know we are going to be all right. We're being carried in the hands of the Storm God.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

WIP: Break and You Are Worth It

Here's the latest news on my new releases this year.

You Are Worth It: Eternal Perspectives for a Young Woman received its first review! Check it out on Christy Monson's blog: Connections with Christy.

Break has also been getting some reviews. (Check out this blog review if you are interested: A Creative Addiction)

Also super exciting is that Seagull Book is now carrying Break! My sister-in-law saw it in store and then I did some searching and found it online. This is the first time Seagull Book as picked up one of my books. So I am pretty happy.

We should be getting ebooks up soon and even though Amazon says Break is out of stock, it's usually a pretty fast turn around if you order it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Create: Cookies and Kids

My son has recently discovered an interest in cooking. He's been doing simple meals for a while (think mac and cheese from a box and Ramen noodles.) But since attending his first webelos meeting where they were working on earning an award for cooking, he's been asking me a ton of questions about what I'm cooking and how. He especially wanted to know how to cook a fried egg and just the other day made one all on his own.

My daughter has always been my little shadow in the kitchen, but it's fun to have my son joining us more often now. I'm discovering I'm more of a social cooker. I enjoy it all much more if I have company. The same goes for chores. I blame it on being born eleven months after my sister. I always had someone around to hangout with and do my chores with. (I'm sure my natural tendency toward clutter also plays into my avoidance of cooking and cleaning, not just the lack of social company, but hey, it's a good excuse.)

My mother recently broke her wrist and was craving some chocolate peanut butter no-bake cookies. One morning, we whipped some up as a surprise for her. The kids loved it. (And so did my mom.) Though my son did mention that the cookies look a little bit like . . . something gross.