Peonies

My paternal grandparents’ farm has one long driveway that is a semicircle. The main driveway was gravel, but there was another part of the driveway, dirt, that went behind the house back to the highway. Along that dirt driveway, my grandpa planted peonies.

Every spring when they bloomed was exciting. When Marty and I were planning a spring wedding, I wanted peonies, but my florist said they were too fragrant.

It is my intention to divide and transplant some peonies from the farm to my yard. I learned, in talking with family on facebook, that some of the original peony bushes came from my great grandmothers on two sides. I also was reminded that there are some already here in Minnesota. Isn’t it amazing how one flower, one scent, can transport you to a different place? Seeing or smelling a peony bush takes me to this farm.

My grandpa died on April Fool’s Day, exactly 31 years after his father. I remember the morning my great-grandpa died. I was in first grade, and I thought it was too awful of news to be an April Fool’s joke. My grandpa’s death was not unexpected, and yet of course it was. Years earlier I had promised my grandma that I would officiate both their funerals. Because I was in the midst of chemo, I couldn’t even attend the funeral, let alone officiate. My cousin offered to drive me, but I didn’t have enough energy for the trip. I couldn’t be there for my dad. Though I knew in my heart that Grandpa would understand why I wasn’t leading his service, and why I couldn’t even attend, that knowledge was not a comfort.

Grandpa was a man of few words. “Well.” A one-word complete sentence that could mean many different things, based on his tone. I’ll never forget the time we were living with them before we moved to Memphis and my mom made him laugh so hard his drink came out his nose. I’ll always be grateful for him teaching me how to drive in the field. He would ask about school, and I never doubted how proud he was of me. He would occasionally type letters, purposely misspelling “dawg” and “Grandpaw” so that you could hear his voice.

So many things I wish I would have asked him. I didn’t have much energy for grief four years ago, so I am grieving today. I love you, Grandpa. Thank you God, for gifts like peonies that will always remind me of him.

Hefted

Before we left for our Celtic pilgrimage, Rev. Mike Miller warned us that we might feel “hefted” to Iona. Hefting is a common practice among shepherds, where sheep are allowed to graze without fences.  The ewes teach their lambs where to graze, and therefore feel a sense of belonging to a certain area.  As predicted, I am now “hefted” to Iona.  I did feel at home there, almost immediately. 

Iona is a small island, about 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, in the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland.  On our pilgrimage walk to St. Columba’s Bay on the southern part of the island, it seemed like a much bigger place (in other words, a challenging hike for me).  St. Columba’s Bay is covered in rocks instead of sand.  It is where St. Columba landed on Iona when he fled Ireland and began a Christian mission there in 563.  We were encouraged to pick up two stones:  one representing what we wanted to leave behind to be thrown into the ocean, and the other to bring back to remind us of what we wanted to pick up or commit to in our faith journey.  It was easy to know what I wanted to leave there, and a bit more prayer time to listen to what God wanted me to do before I made a commitment.  Worship on Iona was of course meaningful and beautiful, and I long to be back in the old abbey with the modern words of the liturgy. 

I want to share with you a prayer from the Iona Abbey Worship Book about commitment: 

God, our Creator, you have wonderfully made us.  You have planted in us different gifts, no two of us are the same.  On our own we may or may not shine, but together, in your company, you turn us into a kaleidoscope of grace.  Sometimes we lament the busyness of our lives, sometimes we bemoan the emptiness.  These are the signs of our longing for a fulfillment we cannot create, but which we can receive from the One who made, knows and loves us.  Lover of all and of each, enable us here to be fully open to you to all you have to offer, to all that you ask of us.  Amen.  

Friends

We need each other. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is how much human connection really matters.

I have always had wonderful friends. In every stage of life, women (and men, but this post is for the women) from all ages have surrounded me with love. During this pandemic, I have been able to reconnect with a few, and I am so grateful for the extra time and technology that enables me to reach out.

Being able to pick right up with a friend after months or years without talking is soul-filling. I am thankful today for:

  • the friend I have had since first grade
  • those high school friends that wrote lots of silly notes with me
  • the friend who took me to countless concerts
  • the one who showed me how fun married life would be
  • she who introduced me to my husband
  • the one who has long, meaningful conversations with me
  • the friend who texts early in the morning
  • the one who teaches me in every conversation
  • the group at church that holds one another up and shares life together
  • the mamas that slogged through toddlerhood with us
  • the friend who would drop everything to be here if I asked
  • she who modeled being a professional
  • the ones who listen, guide, cry, and laugh

This list could go on for pages. I am so thankful for all the women that God has placed in my life at just the right time.

What all of these friends have in common is that they opened themselves up to real connection. They shared their hearts: the good, the bad, the fears, and the joys. Each one unique. Each beautiful inside and out. Women willing to listen and speak truth, even when it hurts. Women who band together and can do hard things. Friends who lean on each other, even when they dislike accepting help with a passion. For all of those friends, I am grateful.

Grief

Grief is something we are all experiencing right now, to different degrees.  Some are grieving seeing friends or family, cancelled trips, cancelled wedding plans, concerts, plays, and other events.  Some are grieving the loss of a loved one, complicated by the fact that they cannot gather with family. 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Grief is not linear, so we move in and out of the stages.  We have to be gentle with each other, as we each demonstrate grief in different ways.

For example, denial may look like people who are confused about why staying home would make any difference.  Or they may express fear or shock.  They may avoid listening to any news or other reports.  Anger might show up as anxiety.  Everyday tasks may seem more frustrating than normal.  Everyone in your household or even on tv may irritate you.  Bargaining could be as straightforward as I can go anywhere as long as I wear gloves and a mask.  Or, it could be struggling to find meaning in all of this.  It could be sharing your story, or reaching out to others.  Depression is not just for those who often experience depression.  Depression may show up as being overwhelmed with information, learning new technologies, figuring out work or school from home.  It could also show up as a feeling of helplessness.  We might lash out at those around us.  We may have to fight an urge to run away (literally or figuratively).  Acceptance might mean staying home as much as possible.  It could be putting a new plan in place.  Exploring options that are available to you, like visiting a museum virtually, making time for phone calls or video calls with those you love. 

However you grieve during this time of shelter in place, please give yourself time and space to grieve.  Allow yourself or others to feel the feelings they have.  Offer kindness and encouragement when you can.  Express love.  Be gentle with yourself, and with one another.

May 5

Cancer – 1. a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis 2. an abnormal bodily state marked by such tumors

I woke up on May 5, 2004 with a deep sense of dread. Though I knew something was wrong, I had no idea what it really was. I waited until he was at work to call my dad. He was fine, but he said my mom was in the hospital. Soon we learned she had cancer.

Fast forward to May 5, 2016. After six months of appointments and chemo, I have a unilateral mastectomy. It was a long day, but not exactly bad. I handled the surgery well, and was so wrapped up that it would be days before I could see my new reality.

Someday I will write a book about my experiences. In 2016, I said I would title it, “The Things I Lost, and What I Gained.” I lost a breast, my hair, energy, and an innocence. I gained my hair back, a wealth of hats, new fears and worries, weight, a better ability to say no and knowledge of my limits, a new perspective, and gratitude. I learned how to accept help and ask for it. I experienced the compassion and giving hearts of friends, new neighbors, and my church. The resilience of my girls was amazing. While I knew Marty loved me, I learned the depth of it as we made it through those challenging months of illness and healing. I learned how much strength I had.

Cancer became a part of my daily life sixteen years ago, a part of me four and a half years ago. It changed everything.

I no longer want to have a fiesta on Cinco de Mayo. Instead, I want to take stock. I want to grieve the loss, and speak words of gratitude for where I am today. I am thankful that I still have my mom, and that she is healthy. I am beyond grateful for a community and family that continues to surround us with love.

Looking back

This is from my CaringBridge from September 18, 2016. I had completed chemo, surgery, and radiation and was in heart failure when I wrote this. I am still healing.

The nagging questions

Cancer – a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue
Cancer Recurrence – the same cancer coming back after a period of time
Cancer is genetic – it can be inherited, or it can arise because of damage to DNA, or as a result of errors as cancer divides
There are more than 100 types of cancer.
www.cancer.gov

Whenever you hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions is what kind.  Soon we jump to the why.  What caused it, is there a family history, etc.  I think we want to know why as a protection for ourselves, and also because we don’t understand enough about cancer.  We want to know that we can do something to prevent it from happening to us.  We want to know how to protect our children from it.  

I have talked to many breast cancer survivors who have a family history.  They talk about what it was like when their mom, aunt, sister, grandma, etc. went through treatments.  Women with breast cancer in their families, that luckily have not had cancer, are often still carrying the “what if” with them, close to their heart.  They do self exams more vigilantly, they start getting their mammograms well before 40.  

Breast cancer is not in my family.  It is in my husband’s, so I have worried about his sisters, but never about me.  If you told me that I was going to get cancer, I would never have guessed breast.  The cancers in my family are not in the “family of breast cancers,” or at least that is what doctors have told me.  In my mom’s side of the family, there is a lot of cancer.  It seemed to skip a generations, so even young, I knew there was a good chance I would be the one to get it.  But then my mom got cancer.  It wasn’t skipping a generation.  I began to think that maybe I wouldn’t get cancer after all:  that I could dismiss that nagging feeling I sometimes got to be on top of all preventative care.  The more I kept hearing of people getting diagnosed, the more I added to my new theory:  cancer followed some sort of trauma.  The stress the body was under physically or emotionally allowed the cancer to grow.  This made me feel safe, especially as I married and have created this wonderful life.  There is no simple explanation of why I got breast cancer.  There are many of us from my high school graduating class who have had breast cancer.  I wonder if it is environmental.  You can drive yourself crazy asking why, wondering, trying to figure out the cause.  I got genetic testing, and I don’t have the BRCA genes, which I knew in my heart I didn’t.  One marker was odd, but it is one that they don’t yet know what it means.  They don’t think it is related to the other cancers in my family.  My genetic counselor thought the gene testing center might be interested in my family since 3 of us in a row had cancer before 50, and 2 of us under 40.   My mom got genetic testing.  No markers.  None of us have the same kind anyway.

They say you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis.  I do feel like a survivor.  I so want to protect my girls from getting cancer, though I certainly have not been able to protect them from a sick mommy.  I wish they didn’t know about surgery, ports, chemotherapy, radiation, hot flashes, carcinoma, wig, or mastectomy.  I hope the memories of all of this soon fade for them.  I am now to the point where the oncologist and surgeon mention the word recurrence.  It is an awful word.   Because they said from day 1 that my cancer was 100% curable, I knew I was strong enough to fight and win.  Recurrence, though, comes with worse statistics, and the never ending nagging questions of: what if, when, is it back?  The first time I heard it from my oncologist, I felt so defeated. All of this treatment wasn’t enough.  I am still in treatment, this time to prevent.  Radiation was to make sure they really did get it all and no little cells were lurking in my chest wall.  I have done everything they have recommended, even when I did not want to.  
There are no easy answers.  I will probably never know why I had breast cancer.  I have fought it with all I had.  I have lost a lot of things, and gained some good and bad things.  I am still fighting, still healing, and it is going to take a long time.  

The Next Right Thing.

The movie “Frozen” was a hit at our house.  I loved that it centered on sister love rather than romantic love.  “Frozen 2” was also a hit.  I commend to you the song “The Next Right Thing” that Anna sings about her sister Elsa.

I keep thinking of the lyrics these last few weeks:

Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing

We don’t know what life will be like in a few months.  We know that life has changed and “everything will never be the same again.”  I invite you to do the next right thing.  To take it one day at a time, one step at a time, knowing that Jesus is right with you in each step. 

Be still and Know

Last week I was on vacation.  It was the ultimate staycation, I suppose, because I stayed home the whole time.  I had lofty goals of cleaning and organizing my closet, reading books for fun, catching up on tv shows, going for walks every day, and many more fun activities.  I didn’t do any of that.  Instead, I spent my time resting.  Sometimes I just sat and stared at the pond across the street.  An egret moved in, so that was captivating.  I helped the girls with their elearning.  I napped. I felt so guilty throughout the week for not accomplishing anything. 

Luckily, Marty is the perfect partner for me.  He was working, and kept telling me that it was ok that I was doing nothing.  I used to be a good “be-er” and now I am a good “do-er.”  I tried to lean into being, and focus on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”   That Psalm begins, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.”  God is with us. 

This pandemic is such a weird time for all of us.  Some have been furloughed or laid off.  Some are trying to work to work from home and parent.  Some are so tired of virtual meetings.  Some need other people and are missing hugs and family.  Some are lonely.  Some are still showing up at work every day.  Some are fearful.  Some are grieving.  Some are sick.  Some are bored.  Some are afraid to admit that they are enjoying being at home. 

I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but it is ok to just be.  It is ok to feel however you feel.  God is with us, and wants us to “be still and know” that God is here.  In those trying moments, look to God, our “refuge and strength.”  You are a beloved child of God whether you accomplish anything or just sit all day.  You are a beloved child of God whether you stay home or whether you are an essential worker that has to work to serve others.  You are a beloved child of God whether you are employed, furloughed, laid off, retired, a homemaker, or otherwise.  You  are a beloved child of God whether you are able to be productive or not.  Be still and know that God is God, and God loves you. 

CAREY MEYER

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