Just Breathe

I got the final phone call this morning. It’s benign. I feel as if a month-long asthma episode suddenly released my lungs, opening every gasping cell. I keep taking deep breaths, filling and emptying the lower lobes, confusing them with fresh air. Deeper and more cleansing than a perfect yawn, I’m breathing in new life and exhaling yesterday.

A month ago, I went into the ER with stomach cramps and emerged the next day without an appendix, but with the knowledge of a mass that didn’t belong. A week later I got the biopsy done. Ever since they found the mass, I’ve been taking the situation to God; trying to be reasonable, trying to remember that the fear was not my reality, trying to trust. I wasn’t even aware of the tightening in my chest and my clenching jaw. The biopsy came out benign, but we couldn’t be sure until we removed the mass and had the whole thing tested.  The surgery was set for one month after the appendectomy. Day before yesterday, in a lavender colored disposable nighty, I went to sleep in a brightly lit room, and awoke to hear the mass had been successfully removed and sent to the lab. Today, I was given the news that it’s time to breathe again.

Three years ago, cancer didn’t scare me, because it hadn’t yet grabbed me by the collar and bellowed in my face. Having felt its hot breath seeping into every crevice of my life, I can’t ignore its possibility as I used to. Will I ever face anything in this life before me that won’t be effected by that year, that disease, by death? I can see that I’ll carry that year with me, but I believe that someday, I can be free of the chest-squeezing fear. The more I abide in God, the more cognizant I am of his love for me; the more cognizant I am of his love, the less I am afraid. That’s how perfect love casts out fear. Time to breathe deeply, inhaling life and exhaling yesterday!

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My Friends Are Amazing

There are some details I don’t think I’ll ever forget from the timeline of the year we lost Doug. Hospital stays and emergency room visits don’t fade. The whole year is like a milestone. Wonderful, special friends and family walked with us, came alongside us, offered shoulders to lean on, and helped us maintain stability. Many helped us financially, giving more than we thought possible. As you can imagine, just as trauma and grief don’t suddenly stop, our financial problems didn’t either. This little story may be dry and a bit slow to start with a bunch of timeline facts, but hang in there. The awesome God stuff is coming.

During the year that Doug had cancer, we were supported by a couple VA programs that helped with rent and utilities for part of the time, by Evan, Quinn, and Aleina giving almost everything from their jobs, and by our family and friends giving finances, groceries, dinners, rides to and from Rochester, trips to Costco (Sam’s Club?), and so much more. The basics of life were covered. We survived. We had a home, food, and electricity. Without the love and generosity of friends and family, I honestly don’t know what would have happened to us. Every month I would tell Doug that all the pertinent bills got paid, he would cry and thank God. Our gratitude was overflowing. There are too many people to list, and uncountable kind acts and words.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say we lost both cars. I’ve been without my own car for two years. A good friend gave Quinn her car. It needed some work, but it has limped along and been the stop-gap we needed. It was an act of kindness and another answer to prayer. Another friend let us borrow a couple cars until he got them sold. Then, Aleina used a big chunk of her savings to buy two older cars  that we hoped would help us at least get to work and back. Together they were less than $1,500. Well, we don’t know cars or what we were doing (Doug always bought and maintained our vehicles,) and the people weren’t honest about the condition of these cars. One broke down before we owned it a month. Our close friends, the Dammeier’s helped us get it towed away.

We had spent as much as we could, and still didn’t have safe or reliable transportation. Luckily, Aleina works within walking distance, and the boys work within a few miles of home. I’m the only one who has to drive on freeways, and I work half an hour away. Joel Dammeier, who’s like a brother to all my kids, gave us his old car that he was going to sell. It was a lifesaver. Not especially safe or reliable, but better than what we were using. We had three limping cars for about nine months; and then, our most reliable car’s brakes gave out with a sudden swoosh of the brake pedal and a puddle underneath; luckily it was in our driveway! Then, we could finally breathe a little when Aleina bought herself a good, safe, reliable car. (She is really good at saving!) She let me use it for work, but I felt guilty every day taking her new car from her. All of that happened in less than two years.

Now here’s the part of the story I’ve really been wanting to get to. Jeremy and Stephanie are long time friends. They were in the youth group when Doug and I were involved in youth ministry. A while ago, God told them to set aside money that they had been using for something else each month; just set it aside until he told them what to do with it. After some time, he told them the reason they were saving it up was to buy a car for me. Stephanie called me and said, “We’re going to buy you a car.” I mean, who says that? Who does stuff like that? Jeremy and Stephanie, that’s who! That’s just the beginning! They had shopped around a bit and looked into some options that didn’t work out, when a friend of Stephanie’s said she had this little 2008 HHR that she got for her bakery business, but was selling it because it was too small. It ran well, was very safe and reliable, and the miles weren’t bad for its age. We went out to look at it. It had some issues, one being that the back doors wouldn’t open from the outside. We all felt we should pass on it and keep looking.

Stephanie let her friend know that we weren’t going to buy it and told her about the doors. (She didn’t know because she used the hatch and hadn’t tried the doors.) Then, about half an hour later, the friend texts back and says that if I still want it, she’ll sell it to them for about a third of her original asking price! Even in its condition it was worth a lot more than that. They bought it and had more than enough left over to get the issues dealt with. We’ll get the doors taken care of soon, but it’s been detailed and had a couple issues fixed. I LOVE my car! It is so cute, and I feel like a super awesome, slightly sassy, reasonably responsible person when I’m in it. I actually feel younger driving around! The AC and heat work great, which is really important in Minnesota. I just can’t fully express how grateful and happy I am for this car. I’m blessed; very blessed. Not just blessed because I have a new car, but because I have amazing friends who listen to God, and care for me and stand by me as I figure this new life out.

God has once again shown up in a big way. He is a kind and loving Father. Stephanie and Jeremy, the Dammeier’s, and others who have walked alongside us and helped us financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually have all shown the kindness of God to us. These are the new details and the new milestones I will remember forever.

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On Track

So much going through my mind these days. What an interesting time I’m having in life. I’m slowly recovering from the appendectomy. I had the biopsy on Wednesday, and we’re just waiting on those results to plan treatment. Cancer was brought up as one of two possibilities. I don’t know why a medical professional would say that when it isn’t even in the top 20% probability and say it to someone who has just had surgery. My whole family and I had to brace ourselves. We’ve gone through the scourge of cancer and it was traumatic and had the worst outcome. But, that lack of bedside manner gave me the opportunity to trust God in a new way, and I am so thankful for that. It was hard for a few days, but I was able to choose where I would focus; on God rather than fear.

—An Aside—

It didn’t help that Vicodin was messing with my mental and emotional equilibrium. Once I got that out of my system, I got my focus back. I think one of the most detrimental aspects of drug use may be how it robs you spiritually and emotionally. How do you choose to stop when the drug affects your ability to choose? Choosing to trust God with my life and future may be a hard decision to make in my current circumstances—for most of us it would be easier after getting a “no cancer” report from the biopsy—but I can and have chosen to focus on God for my everything; the choice of Love over fear. On just the minimal prescription of a pain killer, it was not a decision I had control over. While the effect made me seem calm and helped me sleep, it could not deny fear or help me reason myself out of a fear loop. With the Vicodin out of my system, I’m back to the place God has spent all these years bringing me to. I feel right side up again and can make my own mental and emotional choices.

On with my ponderings!

My current physical condition is part of the amazing journey that God has been directing. I am so excited about the changes and growth in myself and the new things I see coming. This situation is not an attack or a sidetrack from the good things happening; it is part of the good things happening. This would not be part of my experience if it weren’t good for me. What does God want to be for me in this time, that he couldn’t be in any other? That’s an exhilarating thought! The forward momentum in my life has not paused or slowed down, it’s continuing to race forward, and I’m excited every day when I wake up.

This attitude in itself is exciting for me. I haven’t always been able to trust God and have peace and joy through something like this. I cannot express how beautiful life is when you can see God for who he is, and you begin to understand just how complete and deep his love for you is. It is possible to walk in freedom from worry and fear. I plan to find the place where I don’t fall into fear before finding trust. I’m not there yet, but it’s what I’m fighting for, and every decision like the one I made a few days ago is a victory.

I love my life. I can see God’s design in the phases and the hardships. I can see the stepping stones leading to big changes. I can see the sudden and abrupt change in my quality of life when I finally got it; when I realized that God was on my side. Hardships are not punishments and difficulties are not discipline. He’s a good, good God, and the kindest of Fathers.

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What Was I Up To Last Week?

My plan for Thursday, August 9, 2018:

8:15am – Leave for work
9:15am – 3:30pm – Special prayer time, farewell reception, and private lunch for friend and colleague who is retiring
3:30pm – pick up Aleina and head out the Stephanie & Jeremy’s house to spend some time hanging out with them and their awesome kids and pick up MY NEW CAR THAT THEY BOUGHT ME!!!
7:00-ish – Drive my new 2008 Chevy HHR down to Lake Elmo for a slumber party with my friend Cate while she’s here on business

What actually happened Thursday, August 9, 2018:

8:15am – Left for work with upset stomach
10:15am – Left work with worse stomach problem
10:45-2:30pm – Continued getting steadily worse until pain was crazy bad
3:00-ish – Went to urgent care
7:00-ish – Had laparoscopic appendectomy–they stole my appendix!

So, instead of getting a new car and visiting with friends and having an awesome slumber party in a hotel, I got to spend the night in a hospital losing an organ.

I’m working at healing up and keeping the pain under control. They literally said to “take it easy” for a week. This is not taking it easy! This is freakin’ painful!

I would appreciate your prayer about another issue, as well. Unrelated to the appendicitis, they found a mass on the CT scan. I have a biopsy scheduled for Wednesday morning. I’m not freaking out and have a pretty good attitude about it, but the meds make it difficult to keep my mind and emotions level.

I’m going to post this now because I’m afraid if I keep going I’ll embarrass myself. Keep me in your prayers, please, and I’ll keep you up on what’s going on.

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Looking Back

They say looking back isn’t a good thing. “You won’t be able to move forward if you’re looking backward.” A C.S. Lewis quote says, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” I believe those things, but I find comfort in the past, too. The future is bright and exciting, but Doug isn’t there.

Looking back at Facebook memories and old blog posts, I’m struck by how easily I talked about Doug or mentioned that he was home or at the doctor or doing some mundane daily task or messing around with the kids. It’s obvious that I didn’t know our time was limited. When I look at those times, I think in terms of how long it was before we knew he had cancer, or how long before he was gone. I’m glad we didn’t know, and I’m glad we had a life that had mundane activities and family fun. I’m glad our children were blessed with a dad who, no matter his mistakes or flaws, they knew that Dad loved them more than life itself.

Looking back, I work at not letting myself wish I could have those moments to do over, to be with him again. My regrets are minimal. I know what it is to be fulfilled and fully loved in a marriage.  He adored me, and I was always aware of that. We went through so much together. I am filled with gratitude to the Lord for all he brought us through and where he brought us to. Our marriage was made in heaven. No matter how the outside world hurt or rejected me, I could always run to Doug. Our circumstances were filled with chronic crisis, but our love was a solid foundation. I was able to become myself in the safety of that relationship.

Looking back at my own spiritual journey, it’s as if I walked in the dark through a barren emptiness, holding God’s Lush Garden Waterfall Waterhand, and as the sun rose I finally made it to a beautiful, lush garden with a cool, clear natural spring. Then God says, “Look back at the path you walked.” And what I see sends a shiver down my spine. I was walking the eyebrow of a cliff the whole time. I am so grateful that God faithfully cared for me, preparing me for what was to come, and what was coming after. Doug’s illness and during the time we lost him were faced from within that garden.

Looking back, I can see the pain and strain had become too heavy for him to carry. It was emotionally, mentally, and physically wearing him thin. I never knew him without pain. From debilitating migraines and a concussion shortly before we got married to more migraines and worse injuries after. He was healed of a lot of emotional scars, and he walked in gratitude for his life, but somehow, it wasn’t enough. I saw him grow and heal, and I saw that he still wasn’t complete. The cancer was like an illustration of what had been happening in his mind and emotions.

 

I asked God, “Why now? He isn’t done yet! He’s still broken.”

He answered, “Because he’s healed as much as he can here. I’m
bringing him home to complete his healing and bring out the
whole person I created him to be.”

 

Looking back, I start to grasp that even more than I wanted to see him healed, God wanted to comfort him, to show him safety and full acceptance, to hold him close like the child he was robbed of being. It’s Doug’s time to receive the comfort and love of our good, good Father. That brings me great peace.

Looking back, I see how beautifully God was orchestrating my life; how my future needed my past. I have a new future that I’m becoming excited about as I see it starting to unfold. I couldn’t do it without the courage that Doug gave me with his adoration and unwavering confidence in me. Who he was taught me so much. How he lived with his pain gave me strength. How he believed in me gave me courage. How he loved me filled me to such an extent that I am content and happy, energized by the possibilities of life on my own.

Looking back allows me to eagerly look forward. Indeed, far, far better things lie ahead, because it is God’s way. Not because I have to leave my past in the past, or forget grief, but because God only knows how to improve and build and grow. There is no going backward in him. He loves my future more than I do. He has greater faith in who he is creating me to be, greater love for me than I could comprehend, and more excitement for my future than I could dream for myself.

I’ll look back, but I’ll walk forward. No, I’ll run forward, because my future is looking pretty freaking awesome!

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Change, Grow, Balance

My story has been one of balance. God keeps showing me areas in my life and in the world around me that are out of balance. I believe we put ourselves in danger of being out of alignment with God when we become defensive instead of pensive when our beliefs are questioned. Continue reading

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A Short, Inadequate Word

Like a master craftsman, carving excess out and beauty in, God works his thinking into our spirits. In my own life, mindset changes that he directed brought about healing that was the catalyst for a freedom in spirit, mind, and emotions that words cannot describe. Continue reading

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Anticipation is Building

My heart feels as if it’s breaking, and I don’t even know why. It’s not like grief or sorrow. It’s more a yearning; an anticipation of birth. Continue reading

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New Me, New Dreams

Things are starting to move in my spirit again, so I want to catch up with you before these new things start rolling and life gets ahead of me. I have had a couple (few?) months of internal struggle. Ever since losing Doug, I’ve been seeking my new purpose. Continue reading

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May I Have a Word, Please?

I thought that once I got through the year of “Firsts,” things wouldn’t be so hard-edged. I thought maybe the second birthdays and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day wouldn’t hurt as bad. Somehow, it all still feels new. Continue reading

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