I have a friend who used to punctuate all of our outings by sending a post-mortem apology email. Most of the time there would be anywhere from two to six stay-at-home moms who had gotten together and talked non-stop to the first adults we’d seen in days. We had a lot to say, and this one friend always worried (after the fact) that she’d been offensive in some way. She hadn’t, but she always issued a preemptive apology anyway. We still laugh at her about this…and then say we hope we haven’t offended anyone by laughing…. She actually starts most conversations by issuing a blanket disclaimer, so we’re good now! And that is how I wanted to start this post – by apologizing for not being more diligent in updating my blog. I don’t actually expect anyone who reads it to be angry about my lack of writing. In fact, the argument can certainly be made that I hurt no one but myself in my procrastination. But then I thought of the apology issued by the meteorologist in the Birmingham, Alabama area who issued a mea culpa yesterday regarding the failure of the weather center to correctly predict where the snow would fall. Contrast that with all the officials in Atlanta who have been blame-shifting. The weather people said nothing, so the news people blamed the city, who blamed…the people of Atlanta for going to work and school and for not knowing how to drive in the snow. One early apology in Alabama let everyone focus on those who still needed help, while most Atlantans are just pissed off. They are helping too…because that is what is needed. We southerners may not be experienced at driving in the snow, but we do take community emergencies just as seriously as do our neighbors to the north. It was the same weather, y’all! It was exactly the same storm at about the same time and meteorologists from both states missed the forecast. Two different cities made similar mistakes and had similar traffic problems. (Because, not for nothing, weather is hard to forecast correctly!) The difference is the reaction of the people in charge in the aftermath. Claiming fault and apologizing is hard, but we teach our kids to do it for a reason: it’s the right thing to do and it often really helps.
So, am I apologizing for not writing more? Sure. Because I’m sorry that I’ve been doing other things when this is what I actually love, and my laziness is no good to anyone. And the part I didn’t mention about my uber-apologizing friend? She infected the rest of us. We all do it. We all love to talk and we love our adult time, even though several of us are no longer at home with kiddos all the time, but we also want to be careful that we are understood and not offensive. We want to communicate well, and even when we are snarky, we don’t want to hurt each other. It’s not a bad thing to be careful of. And it’s fun to laugh at all the apologizing too….
Don’t get me wrong: we are doing really well. Every time someone asks that throwaway greeting question, “How are you?” I am astonished to find that the answer is legitimately, “Good!” (How on earth do I punctuate that correctly…aaaagh! My peace is destroyed again…but hooray for the bane of peace to again be grammar instead of cancer!) I still live in a place of caution, but it is cautious optimism instead of a sense of tiptoeing through life fearing another proverbial blow to the head.
I actually feel a bit apologetic. My new normal is starting to look a lot like my old normal – dealing with household stuff, recalcitrant children, my own inertia – but Adam’s new normal still holds challenges that the rest of us only deal with in the most peripheral way. And that is to his credit. He could make family life all about his pain, numbness, frustrations, and the general irritations brought on by neuropathy, but he hasn’t done that. He is happy to get back to work, back to life, and hopefully back to full health. He can actually work a full day – he can even work several of them in a row! Who knew how exciting that would be?
So where is this whirlwind, you ask? It is all the stuff that we just aren’t keeping up with as well as we did this time last year – all the details of life that we ignored for ten months while we dealt with cancer that are now hovering over us like an imminent tornado. There are receipts to be recorded, categorized, and filed for taxes; there are computer files that were never backed-up and were almost lost (though recovered, thank you God!) when Adam’s computer crashed; there is a pesky budget that needs to be planned and implemented; there are chores to be assigned and overseen and other chores that I can’t pawn off on the kids and actually have to do; and the list goes on. Many of the things that need to be done aren’t difficult or time consuming by themselves – we just aren’t accustomed to functioning anymore. We have to get back to that. We have started cooking and eating at home as a family again. It is actually nice. Most nights. Except when certain small-ish (almost as tall as I am, but whatever) people pitch fits about broccoli, seating arrangements, and other terribly important matters…but I digress. Real life is making an appearance at our house and we are enjoying it for the most part, though I do have moments where I think fondly and uncomprehendingly of how much more together I was last year…when I could only think of roughly 7,284 things that I wanted to be doing well and wasn’t.
That is our new year so far. How is yours?
In the immortal words of a dear friend: Farewell 2013 – don’t let the door hit you on the way out. We have not enjoyed much of this year. (That is what one refers to as understatement…I understand if you didn’t recognize it as it is underrepresented in my communication!) So no…not much fun over the last year, or at least for all but the first two months. But here I sit in my suspiciously clean and tidy living room with a fire burning and a tree lit, drinking a cup of particularly delicious coffee and aware that I feel pretty good. Adam is back. He hurts and he’s often frustrated by the lingering side-effects of chemotherapy, but he is here. Which is something I won’t take for granted anytime soon. He even looks the same again…only thinner. I am trying not to hold that against him…. He has often tried to share his weight-loss plan, but I’m not actually that desperate! We hope and pray that 2014 will be an easier year – a time of healing, repairing, and reaching out. We have no guarantee that we will get that kind of year…and we will deal with that when and if we have to. For now, I am going to enjoy my hope. I’m going to plan vacations, budgets, and daily routines that don’t include trips to the Cancer Center. I’m still going to have to make allowances and adjustments for the ever-changing landscape of life and I’m going to hope that some of those unexpected moments bring joy instead of grief. When I see truth – even devastating truth – I settle more firmly into the skin that God gave me. That is what I want for this year: the opportunity to settle into this new skin our family has been given. I guess I’m still taking deep breaths and trying to stay present. I’m just enjoying these moments more than most of the ones from the last ten months.
This is now the third draft of this post. I hope it will be the final one, but there is certainly no guarantee of that. I have so much that needs saying and so little capacity to say it well. So. Merry Christmas. We love you all and are so thankful for your love, prayers, and support over this year. And, oh my, thank you God for the end of this year! We are at an end and a new beginning. It is apropos. All treatment is complete, and we begin the remission journey. For the next five years, Adam will be scanned, examined and tested at regular intervals. If, by God’s grace, he is still cancer-free at that point, he will be considered cured. We will at some point be capable of being happy about that, but for now, we are simply numbly grateful that we are done with treatment.
For right now, we are trying to recapture a home and family life that aligns with what we used to have. You know, the kind where we spend time together instead of each hiding in our rooms. I want to start cooking and eating together and planning for the future again. Adam has to relearn how to do all sorts of things – from buttoning buttons to typing to balancing all his responsibilities at home and at church. We have to forgive ourselves, each other and everyone else for hurts intentional, accidental, real or simply imagined. And we still cry a lot. We hope we’ve learned to be gracious with others and with ourselves through this ordeal.
This Christmas isn’t about giddy excitement – except for with the kids who absolutely CANNOT calm down…. But for us, it is about comfort and consolation. Peace. It is a quiet sort of joy and that is all I have the capacity for. We barely made it…and only by the grace of God and with the help of loved ones. But that isn’t a bad picture of life.
So here is your virtual Christmas card in blog form…with no pictures because…well, you know. I look like crap! Everyone else is cute…. We are here. And we have great hope for 2014: we are tentative and wounded, but we are trusting and healing.
Farewell 2013. You are the year brought to us by cancer and we will not miss you, but we will never be the same and will be thankful for the lessons we have learned and the love we have given and received.
Good things can be really hard. Or hard things can be really good, maybe. This weekend we had a concert celebrating the end of Adam’s cancer treatment…even though he is only 20% done with radiation. (Which finally started – praise God!) We had a hard time getting all the details together, we had a last minute scheduling issue, and none of our family was able to come. Adam is so much better, mentally and physically, but he still has a long way to go to get back to anything resembling where he was this time last year. Our kids are also doing so much better…but they are still adjusting to Adam as parent again. And me? I’m still trying not to be angry about the things I can’t fix and the things that I have to do, largely by myself, because of Adam’s continued fatigue, weakness, and neuropathy issues. Sounds like a recipe for a great time, right? Or maybe a disaster? But it was great. So amazingly great in it’s real life imperfections.
The concert was wonderful and we so enjoyed meeting and chatting with Jeremy Casella, the amazing artist who graced our church with his music. It was emotional – he played a favorite song of mine that was sung at the funeral of a dear friend. I bawled. It was also joyous, musically and socially. We saw friends who’ve been praying for us faithfully for months…and as a church family, we took the chance to take a deep breath and be without worrying. At least, that’s what I did, and I hope everyone else did too. Sometimes life sucks…but God is good all the time (all the time, God is good!). I loved our Veteran’s Day…because I love any day that involves sleeping in and then reading for an hour or two. But after that, I actually got some details around the house taken care of…and it is so freeing to feel vaguely on top of life! I also spent several hours shopping separately with each of my kids. And we all enjoyed all of it! It is amazing! We got new shoes for Ethan amidst extended explanations of the inner workings of the world of Pokemon. His feet are now only 1/2 size smaller than Adam’s…we are calling him Big Foot. He also finally got a haircut. He probably lost two pounds of hair. We were just a bit overdue on that…. Kara and I went shopping and she got a dress that 1. I approve of, 2. she loves, 3. fits correctly and 4. was on clearance!!!!! That never happens. So, yeah, she did decide that her stomach pain was appendicitis…but we got over that. And yeah, the winter coat I got Ethan is too big, so I have to go back again and return it…but it was still a great day with my kids. And we needed that.
It was a weekend of joy with friends, but bittersweet memories of one who is missed here, as she has gained heaven sooner than those here who miss her. She was brought to mind by a song, by a tv show and by the knowledge that she would understand that I like being with my children more now than I ever liked it when they were little. It was a weekend of remembering those who have served all of us by the work and sacrifice in the military – including all four the my kids’ great-grandfathers. A combat Vet and family member thanked me for the inspiration that my blog has been on his personal journey home. I’m humbled by the very idea. I want people to like what I write, but I never imagined that God would use my words to reach and inspire people as He has. It was a weekend of preemptive celebration – cancer treatment isn’t over, but the last phase has finally started, and the end is in sight. And not for nothin’, Adam has felt no side effects at all so far. Talk about a contrast from chemo…. We are doing well and the end of my rope is back in my hand, instead of being barely visible in my rear-view mirror. “One day at a time” feels manageable again, rather than feeling like walking blindly through a sandstorm. So I will enjoy the gift of peace and leave tomorrow’s worries till tomorrow.
I don’t want to be one of the angry bloggers. I don’t want to complain all the time. I do want this year to end already. I want my septic and/or electrical system to miraculously be fixed. I want the cars not to need tires and brakes and fuses and oil changes and headlamp bulbs and…you know…stuff that costs money. I want people to ask us how we are and if we are having problems and how we can best be served in those areas without having them jump to conclusions about our spiritual health. I want people to stay at the church…or if they must leave to do so as graciously as possible. I want radiation to start already so that we can get to the end of it. I want insurance companies to act like…well NOT like insurance companies. (Not only are we trying to get next year’s coverage squared away – with limited success; but we are also now waiting for pre-authorization from the insurance company for radiation – which can take 30 days. I was also hung up on twice by said company. Displeased is putting it mildly. Furious not an overstatement.) So I’m a bit put out with the doc’s office that failed to send the request sooner. I want to treat Adam with respect in the midst of his fluctuating chemo-brain. I want others to do so as well. I’m not doing super well at that sometimes, and I’m afraid I’ve infected everyone. He is doing so much better…he’s mostly back to being himself…just a less inhibited version. So chemo turned him into me. I’m SO SORRY. Though his temper is still less volatile…. Sad…. So we’re sad and tired and frustrated and trucking along because that is all there is to do. Please God, can we have a few easy days?
We’re tired. We feel
Life is full of hard things. I get discouraged by little disappointments as much as by major catastrophes, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Dealing with Adam’s cancer diagnosis and treatment this year have not changed my concern over my kids’ issues with school, friends, activities, and behaviors. I have also had plenty of time to be occupied with my personal angst…. I’ve had days where I couldn’t stand to look at facebook or twitter – happy posts made me rabidly jealous (or I didn’t believe them) and sad posts grieved me as though the struggles were my own. Did I mention a preoccupation with my own angst? I don’t think I can call this year anything my a year of crisis. Medical crisis, emotional crisis, political / financial crisis is even in there. But it was never a year of spiritual crisis. Not liking the ugliness of a fallen world – even feeling rage at it – doesn’t make me mistrust God. It makes me know that He is better than this world. That this is temporary and that is a good thing. This is the only world I know, and without a picture of its brokenness, I would paint it as heaven in my mind. I have a real hope – not just in the world to come, but in my life here and now, that there is purpose even in suffering. I think of the verse that says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). How I wondered at that verse as a child! How can trials make one happy? For me, it’s not that. The beautiful mystery of trials and suffering is that I still have joy. I’m not happy and I rage…and I have joy. “Oh look – joy in the Lord. Huh. Where did that come from?” Duh. So I consider. And yes, I know the rest of the sentence is about perseverance and being made complete in Christ. All that is a peek at why, but I am still considering the simple fact that I can consider it all joy. My mind, heart, and soul are simply too scattered to think, feel, and know only one thing at a time. And some of those things seem inconsistent with each other. But there you have it. Joy. So crisis doesn’t mean loss of hope. It’s not always something to be afraid of. It’s one of the hard things, but it isn’t without meaning.