Cultivating the Discipline of Lightness Because I Won’t Be Outdone By a Thistle!

I’ve always been a girl who was good at angsting.  I’d worry or fret or just focus on big things all too often right from the start.  In those moments my mom would look at me and say, “Val…  When’re you going to learn to lighten up?”

I never received the words particularly well.

It wasn’t until I was a grown up and she was gone that I finally had a witty quip to say back to her.  I stole it from Meredith Grey:  “I’ll lighten up, when I feel light!”

It’s pretty obvious I haven’t felt very light in quite a long time.  Life has been heavy.  I’ve felt heavy.  Even regular old ho-hum humdrum days have had a heaviness to them lately.  Emotional stuff, and health stuff, and church stuff, and changes occurring stuff.  They all put me in a heavy as a brick or a massive Wyle E. Coyote-smashing anvil kind of mindset.

I’ve even thought to myself, “Val.  You need to lighten up.”  A few times.  And I’ve of course quipped back, “When I feel light, already, ok?!”

I took a walk tonight.  It’s the time of year when all the plants that have ‘fuzzy things that fly’ are releasing them.  The dandelion clocks are out in full force, but also the thistles, cottonwoods, and the stinging-nettle type plants are multiplying via fuzziness.  I love to watch the white downy puffs flit and flip through the air.  I even saw one rolling along the ground like the world’s tiniest tumblin’ tumbleweed tonight.  They’re just beautiful.

I envy their lightness.  They are exquisite in their lightness.

As I walked I thought about the feelings of ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ and about how one of the reasons I’ve stayed in ‘heavy’ mode is that it’s where my mind is tuned to.  I spoke with a friend about the ‘ungrateful survivor’ stuff I was writing about yesterday.  She’s survived cancer and losing a parent to cancer herself.  We both agreed that we have a hard time involving ourselves in ‘light’ things these days.  If it’s not ‘heavy’ it doesn’t feel substantial enough for us to care about.  She suggested I spend some time with really positive people who would make me forget about the tough stuff for a while, even if that felt challenging.

She’s right.  As I thought about it all sometimes lightness…  Just good old-fashioned lightness and fun and good humor can be good.

Tonight I saw thistle-down shedding itself and I thought to myself–Darn it…  If a prickly old thistle plant had a ‘lighter side,’ then surely I should be able to find mine too.

It reminds me of my friend at the Lemonade Stand.  She’s survived all kinds of mucky heavy things and one of the things she’s done almost as a discipline is write about and share things that are funny, light, or encouraging.  I just love that about her.

That got me to thinking about cultivating a ‘discipline of lightness.’  What would happen if I practiced such a thing?  Just like habits of cleaning certain things each day, or planning my meals every day, or reading God’s word every day are habits that create discipline that create character in me…  Maybe there could be something to the idea of ‘practicing lightness.’  I have a feeling I’ll discover pockets of holiness there.  I have a feeling it just might shift the way I’m seeing things right now.

Besides, I won’t be out-done by a thistle-plant!

So I think I’m going to try it.  I’m going to try to spend 30 minutes of every day practicing the discipline of lightness.  I’m going to giggle with my girls, blow bubbles, have tickle fights, listen to silly music, read jokes, watch funny movies that don’t have a ‘heavier point.’  I’m going to twirl with my baby and play peek-a-boo.  And I’m going to do it for at least 30 minutes every day.

I have a suspicion that it just might be an exciting experiment–one in which I will find new ways to stub my toe on holy.

Where’s the Tastier Tasting Food and The Smellier Smelling Flowers? What am I missing here??

(Also posted at Tomas’ blog)

I read an article recently that was titled something like, “10 Things I’ve Learned From People Who’ve Had Cancer.”  It was about what you’d expect:  stuff like, “People who have cancer cherish every moment of every day.  People who have cancer don’t mince words they tell you what they really mean.  People who have cancer don’t care what other people think.  People who have cancer notice that flowers smell smellier and food tastes tastier.”

I’ve decided to think of my experience with paranganglioma–since thus far mine has been/is localized–as  ‘pseudo-cancer.’  I didn’t do chemo and there’s a lot of fuzziness about the benign/malignant classification in general, but it was a tumor and I will always be looking for recurrence and metastasis.  Pseudo-cancer is how it feels.

So anyway.  I’ve read some of these articles and I’ve heard from other survivors that I really admire and I hear this theme emerge.  It’s the smellier smells, tastier tastes, more colorful colors theme.

One of the reasons I feel like I haven’t found my story is this:  I haven’t had this major epiphany that other survivors have.  I still spend too much time on Facebook.  I still take my kids and my husband for granted too often.  I still forget to stop and smell the roses.

And so I kind of feel like:  What’s wrong with me?!

Why haven’t I had this experience of enlightenment?  Why am I not blissed out all the time just basking in the blessings I’ve been given?

Am I the most ungrateful brat of a Pseudo-cancer survivor that anyone has ever met?  Is that it?

Throughout the experience I really have tried to focus on gratitude.  And my family is pretty darned important to me and while my kiddos can and do tromp all over my very last nerve on a regular basis I adore them and I’m surprised by my delight in them daily.  Still, I get bogged down in the banal and frustrated with the tiny and frankly I don’t feel like I’ve had a major shift in my experience and perception of life.  The changes that I sense in me aren’t nearly so inspiring and touchy-feely.

My sense from these articles and from the stories of survivors that I’ve read about though is that they keep themselves in that head-space of sweetness and ultimate perspective.  I don’t feel like I’ve developed any heightened sense of that perspective and I am easily led astray into being stressed out about my dentist appointment (two fillings today…  ouch!) or my lost keys or whether or not I paid the credit card bill last month.

I feel like there must be something wrong with me for not reaching this zen post-pseudo-cancer experience place of clarity.

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just not there yet.  Maybe it comes after some of the shock and fear and the initial looking over your shoulder and just plain tiredness start to wear off.  Maybe it’s part of the reality that we all ‘feel and deal’ differently.  Or maybe it’s part of the overly idealized cancer survivor story culture that has been created.  I’m just not sure.

I think that part of me is afraid that I’ve missed a big God message here.  Was there a sign in the sky that I was missing to tell me what the positive nuggets of this experience were supposed to be and how my character and my world-view should have been transformed?  Did I miss the boat?  Because instead of having this new higher-level perspective I just feel more boring.  I don’t laugh as easily, I’m more serious and sober.  I don’t quite do ‘just having a good time’ very well anymore.  I’m no Eeyore.  I am still looking for the ‘gratefuls’ and holding onto faith while I “Count It All Joy,” but my happy-go-lucky got up and went elsewhere.

So…  Am I missing something?

I hope that God will fill in the gaps, if the gaps do indeed exist.  I hope that He will continue to help me make sense of it all as I process all this.

In the meantime, if you know the trick to making your food taste tastier and your flowers smell smellier, could you let me in on the secret password?  This experience was big and hard and scary enough….  I don’t want to have to go through a hairier one to get that point!

Big or Piddly–Consider ’em All Joy

“Consider it all joy my brothers…”

You know the rest.  I know you do, “When you face suffering of any kind.”

Right…  Joy.  Right?

That’s usually my first response when yucky things happen.  Isn’t it yours?

Ok, I admit.  It’s not really my first response.  Often it’s not really even my second or third or fourteenth.  I’m a girl who has to whine and writhe a while before I can get to the joy stuff.  I just am.

I’ve had some suffering here and there of various degrees, but I don’t think it was until I thought about how this verse might apply to the ‘small stuff’ that I really started to get it.

Consider it all joy my brothers when you deal with health challenges, when your world is falling apart, when your child is sick, or your marriage falls apart, or, or, or….  It just sounds so hyper-spiritual in those situations that I almost don’t get it.  I mean, sure….  “Consider it all joy,”  Right.  But that’s what Mother Theresa does.  That’s for the giants.  And really it’s only supposed to be pulled out for the really, really big stuff anyway, right?  So…  When my family is healthy, my husband is home instead of on a boat, and we’re not dealing with tumors I can ignore Mr. James surely.

I don’t remember who I heard talking about this verse in ‘smaller’ contexts first, but it finally just recently hit me:  Well duh.  This verse doesn’t just refer to terminal illnesses, and car accidents, and absolutely terrible life circumstances.  It’s for the piddly stuff too.

It also applies when my kids are fighting and when I can’t find my keys for the umpteenth time.  It applies when I’m frustrated with my husband and want to yell at him.  It applies when my six-year-old argues with me for the 17th time that day and when my 4-year-old digs in her heels and refuses to get ready to leave the house for the third day in a row.  It applies when I’m trying to reign in my Mommy temper and not blow a gasket when those things happen.  It applies when I’m tempted to beat myself up for not doing a good job of that.

They’re all trials.  They can all be used by God for good stuff….  to refine me…  And in that, I can find the joy stuff.

The whole passage looks like this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Then it goes on to say:

 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

James 1:2-5

I love that.  The big stuff and the puny stuff are all  working together to develop perseverance in me.  And then that perseverance is going to help me to become mature and complete–not lacking anything.  On top of that, when I’m stuck….  when the perseverance is slow in coming I can ASK God who gives generously.  Oh, there I see the “joyful” parts.  At least glimpses of them.

So, I’m starting to get it.  I’m starting to get it in little things.  In the nitty gritty day to day being a Mom and a woman doing her best at things ways.  Here’s a recent example that’s clicking into place: I’m reading (and re-reading) Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Made to Crave.  Yeah.  It’s a book about food.  And God.  And food and God.  In a paragraph where Lysa is talking about not giving way to her cravings she says she found that they could be avenues for prayer.  In her words,

“I used my cravings for food as a prompting to pray.  It was my way of tearing down the tower of impossibility before me and building something new.  My tower of impossibility was food.  Brick by brick, I imagined myself dismantling the food tower and using those same bricks to build a walkway of prayer, paving the way to victory.”

That made sense to me.  Oh!  So…  yes it stinks that I have made choices that dictate that for my physical and spiritual health I need to address my eating.  That’s a trial even if it’s not a ‘biggie.’  Yes, its’ frustrating that I don’t get to be like those perfect people who seem to be able to be effortlessly thin.  A trial, even if not a ‘biggie.’    Yes it feels unfair sometimes that I have to plan every bite of food that goes into my mouth these days…  Sure we can call that a trial too.  But…  Those are trials to rejoice in!  Those are trials that God is using IN me.  Those are Bads that when framed the right way I can see God is transforming into Goods!  Right in front of my very eyes.

This afternoon the kids were really being stinkers.  Not only were they not cleaning their room as instructed, but they were also bickering and fighting and all in all about to punch each other’s lights out.  And I wanted to yell.  And I wanted to eat a nice comforting bowl of granola.  Which, really…  is better than a chocolate bar or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, right???  But I didn’t.  I recognized my trial and I said–Ok….  Let’s dismantle this not so good wall and make it into something good.  And I prayed for wisdom.  And strength.  And peace.  And the supernatural ability to not devour granola or to scream like a banshee at my kids.

It didn’t feel immediately good.  But I didn’t eat the granola or scream like a banshee.  And I got a little more perseverance.  I used it as a bridge to talk to God about my weakness.  Aha!  That’s where the joy part comes in.

And then there are the “biggies.”  I had a similar aha a few months ago.  I found myself again battling depression.  It comes and goes for me and the seasons of bigness that have been going on around here helped to trigger it.  For whatever reason when I was really in the thick of it I picked up Mary Beth Chapman’s, Choosing to See.  Guess what?  She struggles with depression too and she wrote about it.  I found myself in her chapter about dealing with depression and I remember making a sharp intake of breath at this line,

Depression became my friend, in a strange and painful way, a pushy friend I really did not want.  But this strange friend made it so clear to me that I couldn’t just buck up and feel better, or try harder and do better. I was helpless.

I read that and kind of went…  Did she just call depression her friend???  And then I got it.  Because it *does* make you know you are helpless.  You can’t fix it.  Your friends can’t.  You can’t try harder to dig yourself out.  It’s not something you can control or snap out of.  You can’t “try” yourself out of it, and believe me…  You have no idea how much I do try to “try” myself out of it.  But that aspect of it, that reality, if you let it, can actually push you toward God.  He specializes in being strength in one’s weakness and in displaying His glory through broken places.  It’s another bridge.  Where my strength and trying stop, God’s begins.  It’s not about DOing anything to get to Him.  It’s just an avenue where I realize I need Him and then it becomes a touch-point for me to direct myself to Him.  Depression does end up being my friend.  And even in what seems to be the antithesis of joy, I find that that kind of suffering produces joy.  I rely on God (and with His help I get the help I need) and I persevere through the suffering and if I let it, it draws me closer to him.  And then, voila!  Joy!  No, not the rainbows and unicorns kind right away….  Instead it’s a reminder that I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t “handle” this on my own.  And I don’t have to.  I’m not supposed to.  He rescues me in it and therein lies the joy.

So as counter-intuitive as it is, I’m starting to get what James was talking about.  In the big stuff and the small stuff.  It can ALL be used to propel us toward Him…  to recognize our helplessness.  It can all lead to places of surrender and strength in weakness.

Depression, kids fighting, delectable bowls of granola dancing before my eyes… the big, the piddly…  They really all can be considered joy when I let them pave the way to God and let Him develop my character through them.

The Skin I’m In

I do so love just writing for five minutes and five minutes only.  I love having a topic and letting my brain curl around it a little.  And then I love reading the ways that other people’s brains have curled around it.  So that’s why I’m back with another Five Minute Friday with The Gypsy Mama.  She asks us to just write for five minutes straight without worrying about editing or polishing.

 

Older

Ever since my Mom died at 59, way too young as far as I was concerned, I determined that I will NOT mourn my birthdays

Just the same, I expected more out of the journey of aging than I’ve gotten so far.

A friend of mine told me once that she loved the decade of “30.”  The thirties, she said, were a time when she finally felt comfortable in her own skin.  So for about a decade, I looked forward to the 30s so I too could start enjoying this skin that I’m in a bit more.

Well, 30 was a doozy birthday this year, what with having my third little cherub for only a few weeks and being a month away from having a tumor out and just in general being knee-deep in bigness and angst.

And I can say that I feel far less comfortable in my skin at this point than I expected.

I have hope though.  I’m talking to God about a lot of it, trying to deal with a lot of it, I’m working on it.  I have moments of spacious breathing and feeling ok right where I am.  I have moments where I get outside of my ever-whirring brain and smell the scent of the air and the squeezes of my kids and just soak in it.

So maybe, just maybe it’s not something that ‘magically happens’ when you have that third-decade birthday.  Maybe instead it’s a process…  the very one I’m tuning into right now.

We Think You Have the Gifts

His name was John and he was a co-dean of Baby Fold Camp.  The words he spoke into my life were some of the most deeply impacting ever spoken over me.  They were then and have been such an encouragement.  But….  they have also been words that have haunted me.

It was my fourth and last year at a camp where us high school students helped to put on a camp for disabled children.  I found a lot of who I was at that camp.  I felt as though I found my center and my purpose.  Those weeks I served joyfully feeling like some of the truest parts of who I was were blossoming into reality.  After watching me work that camp for four years, hearing my questions and my heart, and being a quiet mentor during those special weeks, he pulled me aside one afternoon and whispered, “Val.  We think you have the gifts.”

I took those words to heart and with me to college where I pursued a special education degree.  I took them into my first year of teaching.

And then…  My husband went to boot camp.

I got pregnant.  My Mom got sick.  My Mom died.  I had two more kids.  My husband stayed in the Navy.  And, well.  You know the story.

I chose to be a Navy wife, a stay at home wife, a stay at home Mom.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made.  I don’t regret staying home.  I don’t regret staying out of the workforce to maximize every spare moment we could have together as a family.  I don’t regret being with my babies.

But sometimes I wonder–Is this where the gifts John spoke of were supposed to be served?

I know it’s not considered couth of me to say so in stay-at-home circles especially in the church.  I know that a lot of people would want to rush in after these words I’m saying and say, “You’re giving your family and your kids the best gift you can.  You are serving your gifts.  Just in a different way right now.  There, there dear.  These are the best years of your life.”

Maybe that’s true.  I’m sure much of it is true. But so many days I feel like I’m floundering.  So many days I feel like I suck at this job.  So many days I wonder if I’m cut out for this, much less anything beyond this.  Some days I’m definitely NOT sure I’m using any gifts at all effectively.

Am I serving those gifts, John?  Am I?  If I’m not, how do I change that?

Maybe these questions are questions of despair.  I know that the Lord HAS gifted me and that He has done so with a purpose.  I know that these seasons are short and are to be cherished.  I know that there may be seasons when some of the gifts I believe John were referring to WILL be more directly served.  And I believe that somehow, some way these cherished but often barren days of wifing and mothering are going to serve as stepping-stones and gift-sharpeners.

I want to serve the gifts that are in me–the ones that John saw and called out.   That might look different from what I imagined as a snot-nosed 18-year-old, dewy-eyed and ready to change the world one kid at a time.  But those words felt holy.  The words have carried me on dark days and I will not let them run me into hiding now.

I must somehow try to stand up into them even on the days I feel like slouching and hiding.  Even on the days when the laundry is undone, and I’ve lost my patience, and the house is a wreck, and I’m fully out of sorts.  Somehow they are still no less true even when their promise feels so empty and unfulfilled.

Somehow, John’s words still hold truth.  He saw a spark and called it out and even now I hope it’s being fanned into flame…  Smoldering even though it seems to lie dormant.

Maybe the trick is to exercise my faith muscles and trust what feels unseen right now:  That those words are no less true today than they were 12 years ago (am I that old???).  That God is using me and forming me to continue to be used even as I type this sentence.

Show me how to use the gifts you’ve given me God.  Right now.  Right here.  And Grow me into a place where I feel that burning purpose served out.  Dream in me and set dreams in me.  Sharpen me to hear your call and answer and in so doing help me to fulfill the words that we sang in tearful nights at campfire.  Help me to find you God in a million little ways.

Holy Ground of Newness

The Gypsy Mama has invited us to play with words.  For five minutes every Friday we just plain, write.  No editing or over-thinking or back spacing.  Today’s word-prompt is “new.”

(As a full disclosure I will freely admit that when I play I allow myself to finish my thoughts and after the five minutes I fix some of the cosmetics.  I just can’t stand to spell ‘their like there’ or use a period instead of a question mark and just leave it…. But then I can be kind of a rule-breaker sometimes…  ;))

 

New…

Newborn babies are so fragile and precious and holy.  They blink hard at the light and startle at loud noises and big movements and they need to be held close and nurtured and cuddled.

How has it been nine months since my sweet little Lainey was “fresh from God” new?  How has time gone so fast?

In some ways, this place that I’m in now of processing all that’s happened since my initial diagnosis and the surgery…  wondering what life will look like now and how my heart and soul have been changed in all that has happened in the last year feels like *I* am brand new…  Blinking against the light.  Startling at loud noises and big movements.

I feel fragile and in need of being held close–swaddled by Abba.

Those things that are most fragile are often most holy so maybe where I find myself now is truly Holy Ground.

As I navigate a new normal blinking at the bright lights and the harsh nature of a world that doesn’t understand this fragility, I need to be gentle with myself.  I need to know this space is holy.  I need to embrace this newness and not be ashamed of it.

When things feel ‘new’ we just might be treading on Holy Ground.

What’s the Story?

At 29 years old, while I was 16 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with a paraganglioma.  So begins the most recent “story” of Val, right??

To be honest, the story part feels stuck.  I have felt strongly lately that God is calling me to use my words and to tell my stories.  In written word, in voice, I’m not sure yet.  Every story-teller loves a good twist in the plot,right?  And surely this has been a pretty big twist.  This has been the biggest happening in my life for over a year now.  God has walked me through each and every facet of the process.  He has been there.  And even though I don’t have answers to why or how or what will come next I know there was purpose to all of it.  This I know.

But I don’t know what the story is.  I can’t tell you what I’ve learned.  I can’t condense it all into a talk to give in 30 minutes or less.

And it bugs me.

I should have something to say.  Getting a tumor when you’re 29–having the invincibility that we all possess shaken up irrevocably….  Having all of that happen with a babe in my womb and two other beauties to care for….

There should be a story there.  There should be words to put forth.  I should be able to tell you what God taught me through the experience, what the unexpected blessings were, and where I found goodness in the midst of it.

God did teach me, there were unexpected blessings, and I did find goodness in the midst of it, but I don’t know how to put words to any of it.  I can’t even concretely tell you about any of those things.

And it bugs me.

Part of it is that I don’t feel like my story is enough in the face of more difficult journeys that I’ve heard about.  I discredit my status as a survivor telling myself it was all really ‘no big deal,’ and I guess in doing so I rob myself of my own story.  Regardless of how it compares to the travails of others, it is still MY story and a part of who I am.  Maybe it’s because I’ve robbed myself of it, but still I’m not sure what the story is….

And it bugs me.

I can’t distill it all into sound bytes or make it palatable for certain audiences, but I CAN inform you until you want to smack me upside the head to get me to shut up.

I can talk til I’m blue in the face about the details of my disease and the nuances of the tumors involved with it.  I can really and truly bore people that way, and I probably do too often.  Still, I just can’t formulate a take-away point or a main idea or a higher-purpose for the pain sort of message.

And…. it bugs me.  Can you tell?

I’ll keep on looking and keep on living in my story and hopefully one way or another learn to own it and stop comparing it to the story of others and maybe one of these days I’ll be smacked upside the head with some profound realizations to share for the edification of others.

Until then, I’m just a girl, looking for her story and playing with her words in the meantime.