The Biggest Relief

I don’t know if I can even start to describe how big of a relief it was to wake up last Tuesday afternoon in my hospital room, looking at my loving husband, one of my fabulous sister-in-laws, and one of my daughters grinning at me, with no tube in my throat, able to talk and smile.  My previous surgeries had been disasters, and this one went phenomenally well.  The palpable sense of relief kept me smiling and empowered and energized for the next three days.

When your airway is a mess, it gets complicated.  But Dr. Daniel Liu, anesthesiologist, did a fabulous job giving me the right drugs so I wouldn’t remember the camera he put down my throat the show him how to put the other tube down without making a mess.  I was awake, but sedated, so I could follow directions and so my airway muscle tone wouldn’t collapse like it does when you’re out.  There are now directions in my chart for how to intubate me safely, in case I ever need surgery again.

The Cumulative Effect

Chemo is “interesting.”  The fact they can put medicine (poison) in you in the right amounts and combinations to kill mostly the cells that need to die, is pretty amazing.  Some of the side effects, though, not so much.  And then, the dr said recently, there is a “cumulative effect.”  (This is what explains why it is getting harder and harder to show up for work every day). Things get harder as this stuff builds up in your system.

My particular drug combo is Taxotere, Herceptin and Perjeta.  Every week is different.  The treatments are every three weeks (one more to go! – then just Herceptin until March). Treatment was on Wednesday, and Thursday I managed to work two hours before I had to go home and collapse.  I slept 16 hours that day.  Friday I worked.  Saturday, we had kids and grandkids over for father’s day, and I made it until 3 o’clock before my battery was completely unplugged.  I spent the next 16 hours asleep, then slept all day Sunday.  My hands, once again, are showing the burns and blisters from the chemo, and my fingernails appear to confirm I am going to lose about 6 of them before this is all over.  But today, it appears I can function (as far as the new, temporary version of normal goes).

Last treatment, it was necessary to take anti-nausea drugs twice a day for the first week.  This time, only once so far.  This morning I am waiting for it to be 8:30 so I can go get a nice bag of IV fluids added before work.  Countdown to surgery = 43 days.

 

Night Songs

There have been so many times, for me, it seems God can’t get my attention during the day, so He’ll wake me up at night.  I know to some people that sounds strange, but I’m still a simple country girl and that kind of thing just seems normal.  Last night was one of those times where my busy little brain had been running in circles and I woke up to a song in my head I hadn’t thought of for many many years.

I Need to Be Still, by BJ Thomas, was a song a friend taught me years ago.  Part of the words are “When there’s trouble all around and my soul cries out for rest, when it feels like I’m failing even though I’ve done my best, when decisions get so heavy, there are answers that I need – you know it’s time to just be still and let God love me…..”  (click the link).  This was the gift last night.  A reminder that God knows where to find me, and that sometimes I just need to be still and not try to figure things out….easy to say, hard to do.

 

Sometimes it’s just time for a meltdown

I try to be pragmatic, practical, reasonable and emotionally stable.  But once in a while, that just doesn’t work.  Last week we went for the pre-surgery appointment to make sure we could schedule surgery for August.  Everything looked good.  I was thrilled to finally have this “end” of this stage in site and on the calendar, but that night I lost it.

A whole new range of undefined challenges come with having surgery scheduled.  Radiation will follow surgery – how will I react to 5 days a week for 6 week while working full time?  How tired do you get?  What if the hoped for “100% pathological response” to chemo (the one that means you are a lower risk for re-occurrence), doesn’t happen?  What if the MRI shows that not much really changed after the 6 treatments with Taxotere, Herceptin and Perjeta that I am in the process of enduring?  I want some good news here!

While I try maintaining an attitude of gratitude (I have a truly amazing husband who loves me (the kindest person I’ve ever met), fabulous friends, neighbors who are kind, coworkers who are supportive, three children who are fiercely loyal and loving, and four little grandbabies who know who to drive depression and anxiety far away.  I know God is in control of my outcomes.  But some days, fear creeps in.  Words like aggressive and invasive are scary words.

Thursday was my day for a meltdown.  A good cry (if there is such a thing), a warm blanket, a hug, and some sleep, and Friday I was ready to drag myself through another fun day.

No lump-still cancer

Somewhere, a long time ago (a lump decades ago), I remember hearing that a breast cancer lump doesn’t hurt.  So when something was hurting, I wasn’t that concerned.  I had regular mammograms, it  hurt=it couldn’t be cancer.  I had a mammogram scheduled in a few weeks.  I feel pretty fortunate, that unlike some of the women in the video below, my doctors recognized right away what it was.  Since a lot of people have never heard of inflammatory breast cancer, I’ve included the link to the video below.  Good information.  Hope you and those you love never need it.

 

Afterflash (a poem)

No longer helpless, unloved or alone—
A woman with choices.
Redeemed to the bone.
I’ve come through the fire-
Felt the heat of the flame.
But I am God’s daughter,
Called by His holy name.

Empowered by His Spirit
By grace I can stand,
My face towards the future
Fulfilling His plan.
A channel of mercy,
A bearer of light
Redeemed by His goodness-
I will not fear the night.

The God of creation
Walks each day by my side.
I will trust in His mercy-
There is nothing to hide.
Though chaos surround me
And angry winds roar
I am safe, I am strengthened
For He is my Lord.

The Lamb is a Lion,
The servant, a King.
He is my shelter.
Of His grace I will sing.
He will lead me and guide me-
I have nothing to fear.
Jesus is victor.
He loves me…He’s here!

5/21/93

The View from the Front

This article yesterday in the Seattle times tells about the struggle refugees are having making ends meet in the recession economy and how the budget cuts are impacting them here in Washington State.  I took some time to read the comments that followed the article, and was made aware of how great some of the hostility is that people hold towards not just illegal immigrants, but also towards those our government has invited to be here.  While I understand their financial frustration, and fear that their piece of an ever-shrinking pie will somehow disappear, I am also aware that my friends who are refugees have faced things beyond my comprehension.  The link here is to an article from the Bangkok Post, written by a friend of a friend, highlighting the situation these folks needed a refuge from.

The Fear of the “Other”

Thosepeople are different than us….”, my usually reasonable co-worker said this morning.  She was trying to explain to me why immigration and immigrants and all those “other” people make her mad coming into “our” country.  (Not sure which country her ancestors immigrated from-mine were German, Norwegian and Swedish).  It was hard not to get mad.  But we were at work, so there wasn’t enough time for a full-blown rebuttal of “why so many of my friends and the people I respect are refugees or immigrants” and why I believe our country is enriched by what they bring or that those of us who are not Native American need to walk a bit softly and with humility on this one.  She knows how much we love our “adopted” Burmese granddaughters so, she just wanted to tell me that the Somali refugees next to her house were blocking the driveway with their car and she thought they should be deported. Oh, and, that we let too many of those “other” people into this country!

I’m sorry her neighbors had bad manners, or maybe didn’t have her understanding of property rights.  But stereotyping everyone from every region (except of course, white North Americans who forgot that they too immigrated) is a really bad idea!

Refugees go through a stringent screening process to get here.  Article 1 of the Geneva Convention as amended by the 1967 Protocol provides the definition of a refugee:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..”[3]

Taking a deep breath, saying a pray for those, like my friend, who do not understand the value of diversity, the necessity of compassion, or the richness and beauty to be gained by learning from what each person created in the image of God has to offer.

Standing by your bed (poem)

Standing by your bed
Watching you breathe
Holding your hand
Preparing to grieve
As slowly your life
Is slipping away
It may be soon
Or some other day
The gift of your life
Brought me my greatest joy-
(I’m the lucky girl
That married one of your boys)
Now as you embark
On this journey unknown
That probably soon
Will carry you home
Please know you are loved
Know how much we care
Know the God who made you
Will greet you there

Wandering between worlds….(poem)

(working in a job that helps connect people with semi-affordable dental care…..)

Each day is a study in contrasts….
The poor coming seeking treatment,
The rich come seeking a deal.
Under the different designer labels
(Or lack thereof)
The human thing still goes on….
Each person in need of love,
Of being seen and listened to.
Each person wanting to not be turned away.
A study in contrasts-
Money not making you a better person-
Just giving you better choices.
Those who offensively demand their own way
Thrown in with those who just hope someone will make a way….
Each of them, in Mother Teresa’s word “Jesus in disguise”
Can I see Him in them? Can they see Him in me?
God, give me your eyes, and your kindness
To meet the day, and be a bearer of light….

Yo, what’s up? (ramblings)

Not always an easy question to answer, even when it comes from a very respected, caring friend…sometimes it’s complicated. While I’ve kind of expected the question, I still don’t have an answer I’m satisfied with.

When we first moved to Seattle six years ago, I was surprised how homeless I felt until we found a church. For all of my life, a lot of my relationships and the roadmap for my life had been calibrated in relationship to whatever church community I was connected with. In the case of a small town, the dividing lines between church and community are a little blurrier than they seem to be in the city. You would see people from the church in your community all the time (they didn’t come from a 75 mile radius from a variety of different cities to get there and then disappear for the rest of the week).

I love my church. Not ’cause it’s cool, or popular or emergent or politically correct/incorrect or newsworthy or whatever. I love it ’cause I have found people there who welcomed an outsider, dreamed with me and taught me to dream bigger and walked through the past six years of trying to figure out what it means to serve God in practical ways. They didn’t ask WHY I thought doing practical things to help people in need was important-they asked how they could help! I love it because there are people there who also dream bigger dreams of what it means to live out their faith, sometimes crazy dreams and then some of them don’t just dream dreams, they actually do them! Magnificent!

But, things change. I am no longer dreaming big dreams or any other dreams. It feels really strange to not be DOING anything except working, loving the people in my life, and trying to walk with God in integrity through the encounters my very well-peopled job provides. Now I get to try to figure out how that fits with the bigger picture, and how a small person fits into a big church. I am not a big church kind of person. I have nothing to contribute in this context. I suck at small talk.

Sunday morning church (important for preaching, teaching, worshipping together, having communion, meeting people, welcoming strangers and sharing information) is only part of being the church. There is this whole other life of community that goes on in small groups, Global Presence meetings, men’s and women’s meetings, intergenerational potlucks, kids ministry…..all the things that break a big church down into more bite size pieces so you can actually get to know some people and develop relationships. If I am not going to participate in any of the other things that go on is it really viable/faithful/spiritual to just “go to church” there on Sundays? Is that enough for them or for me?

Last Sunday, I indulged my craving for encountering God in the midst of His people by going to church at a friend’s house and meeting the small community she is shepherding. It was wonderful because it was interactive, non-overwhelming and personal. I learned from the discussion of Luke as I listened to what each person brought and drew out of their own life of walking with God. It reminded me of a line from a worship song that was popular a few years ago: “Come, just as you are…hear the Spirit call. Come and see….” I left revived, grateful that the presence of God is not confined to buildings, but that He shows up wherever He’s invited. I love my church, but I need to find room in my life to be part of a community of believers at this stage of my “work in process” kind of life. Not sure how the pieces fit right now.

So, yo, not really sure what’s up, but prayerfully trying to figure it out:)

“Because you’re always right….the world will know”

Nope, that’s not what Jesus said.  In John 13:34-35 it says … “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” …. I just got done watching the news and reading some of the posts about immigrants, lesbians, democrats, communists,muslims, republicans, poor people, rich people etc.  The one thing that stands out in what I was seeing, hearing and reading is that too many of us seem to forget what Jesus said was basic-we are called to commanded to love.  Wouldn’t trying to practice love  make most of the inflamatory,  hurtful, hateful dialogue being self-righteously barfed out on each other be radically altered?  Yuck! 

Today’s goal: treating everyone with love, respect and dignity, regardless of ANYTHING else!

I SO agree with Mark Twain when he said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. ” 

Galatians 5:22 “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!”

God, please help us judge ourselves by the right standards!  Teach us to love as you love!

Uncle Ralph….and the politics of nothing new

Amazing what you can find out about your family (and politics) when you start sorting and shredding the collected documents of the last 50 years….

When I was a kid, I knew Uncle Ralph had died in a logging accident. When I was a teenager, I found out he had had the audacity to run for governor. I also knew this was not looked at as a good thing in the 1950’s-people from our side of the tracks weren’t supposed to dream that big or do anything that noticeable. I was very surprised when my brother told me Uncle Ralph had actually gotten 3000 votes. (Judging by the level of family embarassment, I had expected it to be 3 or 30 votes-not 3000). But it wasn’t until today (stumbling across a couple of articles from the Seattle Times) that I found out why he ran, what he was about, and why there really is, like Ecclesiastes says “nothing new under the sun.”

Uncle Ralph had concluded elections were mainly popularity contests and that the party who wants to get elected makes extragant promises to get elected, then when they’re in office, finds they can’t deliver what they promised without raising taxes, even if they meant to. Then, according to him, the party who’s not currently in power does the same thing and this goes on, and on and on and now it’s 60 years later and it still goes on……

My uncle had some unique ideas….having been really really poor, he was sympathetic to poor people. He thought there should be surplus stores (food banks?) where poor people who needed food could get food and pay whatever they could afford (even if that was nothing) and that they should also be able to get help heating their homes. He thought some of the things being wasted should be turned into other things (recycled?) so people who needed them could use them ….. he thought there should be a limit on campaign expenditures ($1000 tops) so rich guys couldn’t just buy the office.

Uncle Ralph paid his whole life savings ($200) to file as a candidate because he thought doing something was better than just complaining about what wasn’t being done….

Not sure what Uncle Ralph would say about today’s political insanity-my guess is he would probably say taking care of the poor is important and remind me of the words in James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” God, please help us be the change we want to see!

Betrayal and Job’s Friends (poem)

One of my favorite relatives sent me a message last night that it was her cousin whose ex-husband  killed her at a church in Federal Way this week.  A mom with three little kids….a big loving extended family in SO much pain….what can you say?

If one of the lessons in the Book of Job means anything, it might best to not say too much.  Not think there is an answer to why, or what it means, or how this could happen.   Job’s friends came to “comfort” him and ended up making him feel worse.  They talked too much.  Said things they had no right to say.  In the end of the story, God toasted them for misrepresenting His heart.  The only time they really did Job any good was when they sat in the ashes with him as he grieved.  There is a lesson there about presumption and talking way too much….there is a time to talk and a time to listen.

Years ago, I was present at court while a young friend told of her step-dad’s crimes against her humanity. Going home from that experience, I was struck silent by the depth of his betrayal of her and of her mother.  As a person of faith, I wanted to encourage, but words seemed so USELESS!  This poem was the result…..

The Betrayal

The night is dark and stormy
There’s a cold wind in my soul
Seems like I’ve been torn apart
And never will be whole.

The suffocating weight that rests
Upon my broken heart
Holds me in my silence–
Lord, when will the healing start?

I cast about in frantic hope
That there might somehow be
Someone who can reach out
To break these chains and set me free.

But who can know the torment?
Who can really comprehend
Unless they too have been betrayed
By lover or by friend?

As I cower in desperation
And in fear of what shall be,
A picture comes to mind
I know that You have given me…

I see you hanging on a cross
In agony betrayed,
Naked, torn and bleeding
So from sin we can be saved.

The one who lived and walked with You,
With whom You shared Your soul
Was the person who betrayed You—
All my agony You know!

©Teresa Norman 1988

Daffodils and Uncle David

Easter always reminds me of daffodils.  Daffodils always remind me of Uncle David. When I was about 4 or 5, Uncle David gave me a beautiful book of poetry (it had daffodils on the front and lots of pictures of beautiful flowers).  I was trying to learn to read at that point, sitting on the couch, when I asked my Mom, “What is d-o-g spelled backwards?”  She told me that was God.  I knew this was significant.

It’s even more significant that Uncle David is thus directly tied in my little kid brain to finding out about God.  Uncle David was not on everyone’s A list.  He was, in the terms of the day, “slow” or “different” (not dumb, just not quite functioning at the mental complexity his particular decade and community preferred.  He had gotten in some pretty awful spots when someone misunderstood his assessment of different situations (think “padded room”).  Uncle David spent a good part of his later life shuttled off to a halfway house on Capital Hill in Seattle.  Some of the relatives breathed a sigh of relief, and except for coming to the island to pick blackberries and thimbleberries and huckleberries once a year so I could make him a pie, we didn’t see much of him for quite a while.

Uncle David died quietly at home.  A funeral was planned for our little community, with some folks figuring immediate family would be the only ones who showed up.  Boy, were we surprised!  From David’s delightfully diverse community, carloads of people came to our small town and filled the funeral home.  After the formal part of the service was over, someone from the back spoke up and said, “We would like to say something…..”  The minister let her come to the microphone.  One by one, a parade of people came forward to speak about how David’s simple ability to love and encourage those around him, to do practical things, to serve, to help in any way he could had blessed their lives over and over again.  We sat their dumbfounded, humbled and incredibly grateful for the profound lesson unfolding in front of us. God, in typical fashion, chose the humble of the world to teach us that his ways aren’t our ways.  That we had missed the point entirely by talking more than we listened.  That there had been much to learn from a humble man with no guile who sought to love his community.  I am grateful each Easter, especially, as I think of the lessons Uncle David gave me on living in the grace of God.