Tree Days

Once upon a time there was a girl who stood tall and believed that she was beautiful.  She moved in a spaciousness of soul and a wideness of grace.  She trusted her instincts as a wife and mama.  She didn’t get her knickers in a twist if the house wasn’t picked up or the laundry put away because she KNEW WHO SHE WAS AND WHOSE SHE WAS down to her toes.  She didn’t define her worth by the number on a scale or the number of tantrums her children had that day.  Her beauty wasn’t tied to the state of her home or the lack of worry in her mind.

Some day I want to be that girl.

I get tastes of it every now and then.  Today I feel content and rooted in who I am.  I feel comfortable in my own skin and safe to step out without doubting my every step.  I received some uplifting encouragement over the last couple of days and it’s left me standing taller and believing in myself more.

Days like today make me feel like I could be here more often if I could just remember whose workmanship I am.

He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:8


I’ve thought of this as “my” verse for a long time, so is it any wonder that one of the things that God seems to have been working on me on the longest is my rooting myself in Him and taking my identity not from the opinions of man (or women) or the assumptions I make about what people must think of me, but from Him and the knowledge of who He made me to be and that he has proclaimed who He made me to be to be good.

Days like today I hope for that.  I hope for this peace and this contentment to sink deep.  I hope for my roots to sink deep and to soak long in the waters of his delight.  I long to know that His face smiles upon me not because of who I am, or what I’ve done but because of His grace.  Because He chose to love me first.

I remember on these days that my response to Him can simply be to stand tall and beautiful in trust moving the way He made me to move.

I want more days like today.  Tree by the water Days.





Take the Scales off My Eyes

I’m playing again with Five Minute Fridays along with The Gypsy Mama.

The mission:  To write for Five minutes, unabashedly, not worrying about editing but just letting the words come.  You could play too!

Today’s word:   Beauty (Val groans and hides, but tries anyway)

Sometimes I forget who I am.  Sometimes I forget who made me.  I forget that my heart is good, and that, as John Eldredge says women are the pinnacle of God’s creation.  I reflect the image of God and there ain’t no ugly in that.

I drink beauty in when I see it out my window–the mountains blushing around me at sunset, little girls twirling unabashedly in my back yard, puffy clouds exploding in glory.

I had forgotten how essential it is to turn within and remember who made me.  Remember that he calls me “Very Good.”  Even more, that he calls me beloved.

I’ve watched the pounds creep on and the wrinkles deepen and the hair gray in the last year.  Most of the time I wear at least the last two as a badge, but sometimes a girl just wants to rise above her ‘Queen Frumpy’ status.  And sometimes the word ‘failure’ creeps in like a poison, blinding my eyes when I look in the mirror and down into the depths of my soul.

Oh God, take the scales off my eyes.  Help me to proclaim in my stature that I *am* fearfully and wonderfully made.  Help me to again love the wrinkles, and the scars and smiles behind them.  Help me to again love the heart that you gave me and said was good.  Help me to stand straight up in the knowledge that I carry your image.  And You IN me is beautiful.

My Wholly Other Abigail

We named her after a long-gone First Lady.

Andy and I had read some of the letters of John and Abigail Adams and they resonated with us.  As we read we couldn’t help but think, “Their love and the language that they use with one another, sounds like ours…  sounds like us.”  We probably give ourselves a little too much credit.  *shrug*  We got a good name out of the deal just the same.

She was different from the beginning, my Abigail.  Her older sister had always been a fire-cracker.  Literally.  As a baby all of her emotions were explosions and those explosions were either delightful or devastating.  Abigail, though, from the beginning brought two words to mind:  Sweet and Fierce.

By the time she was one she had shockingly blonde hair.  When she stopped being a baldy baby and her hair really thickened people couldn’t help but comment.  Looking at the dark hair that Andrew and I both have and Carolyn’s chestnut colored hair, then seeing Abbie’s hair so pale and blonde, people would look at us and raise their eyebrows.  Where did the blonde hair come from?  I still don’t know, but I can tell you she’s the spitting image of my Grandmother–Dad’s Mom, and a child who looks so much like her Daddy all at the same time that I can’t quite figure where she got any one feature.  I just know she’s ours through and through.

As Abigail has been thrust more and more into the growing-uppy things that happen to kids–preschool, Sunday school,and play date kinds of things, we discovered that she is shy, sometimes painfully so.  It never really surprised me all that much.  Even when she was itty bitty and doing mommy and me story times and finger plays at the library she would look around wide-eyed and quiet, hunkering close to me.  The facilitator would look at me with questions in her eyes wondering if there was a developmental concern and I would know there wasn’t…  especially when we’d drive home and Ab would sing each and every word and do all of the finger plays after hearing them only once or twice.  No the shyness and tendency to hang back and observe was no surprise.  The ferocity that comes out when she feels backed into a corner and unable to maneuver in a group situation that overwhelms her has surprised me.  Like I said:  Sweet and fierce right from the beginning.

She’s my enigma, Ms. Abigail.  She’s got all the cliché angst going on that you hear about middle children having.  So often, already, I just want to pull her aside when I see the surliness rising up inside of her that I know comes from her feeling invisible or powerless as kiddos, especially middle kiddos so often do.  I so often want to hold her in my arms and tell her, “Abigail, my love, you sparkle.  You glow.  You are my little golden girl.  You are so much more than you even imagine and you are so much more cherished than I could ever express.”  Even if I did that, she’d shrug it off with a dimply giggle and prance off pretending to be a pony.  It wouldn’t sink in.  Yet.  So I try to tell her in other little ways throughout our days together.

She’s different and she’s special but sometimes she doesn’t know it.

She, even more than Carolyn, my firstborn, has taught me that even though they are my daughters–birthed out of my body, created inside of my being out of my own raw materials–they are wholly other and different entities than me.  They are not an extension of myself and they will interact with and interpret the world in perspectives that are foreign to me.

My Abbie struggles so much, not yet fully realizing that she is golden…  Alternating between that sweetness and fierceness. Stymieing me as a disciplinarian needing firm sternness and tenderness almost simultaneously,  And I struggle too to parent her without crushing her, to give her boundaries and firmness, but also the freedom she needs to be her.  To be gentle, but unyielding (even in the face of that dimple).  I struggle and so often I am at a loss.

And just now…  Just now, I am finally learning to pray.  To pray for her.  To pray for her heart.  To pray for me and my heart.

And then to continue to watch my beautiful little girl unfold.

Google has it’s limits

I’ve spent a lot of time with Google in the last year or so.

When my doctor called to tell me over a year ago that I had a Carotid Paraganglioma, he had to Google the term himself.

Since then I’ve spent time reading about my diagnosis, trying to find out if there could be a genetic cause, trying to understand what exactly the tumor was, finding out where to get the best treatment.  All on Google.  I learned more than you’d guess plugging things in to that magic little rectangular with a blinking cursor.  Had I not spent so much time researching with search engines, I wouldn’t have gotten to the doctor I needed.  I wouldn’t know most of what I do about my disease.  It was a powerful tool.

When I had the tumor removed in February I was told I had a ‘nodule’ on the other carotid artery.  I was told that there was a good likelihood that this little nodule would grow into another full-blown tumor.  I was also tested for two genetic mutations that might be the root cause of these tumors.  As I waited (and waited, and waited) for those test results I found myself turning to Mr. Google again.  I read and reread every article I could find about the genetic mutations involved trying to guess which one it might be.  I Googled the name of my medical institution and “how long do genetic test results take?”  I wanted answers and in the absence of the official answers, I tried to use my own resources to come up with something to satisfy my mind in the meantime.  It didn’t really work.

Then I found out that I was negative for the mutations for which I was tested.  Which blew my mind more than just a little bit.  And that, ironically, led to more questions.

If I don’t have a genetic mutation, but it does look like I have another tumor what does that mean?  Could I have another genetic mutation?  How many people without genetic mutations have tumors on both carotid arteries?  Does having bilateral tumors increase my risk for metastasis?  See what I mean?  Lots of questions!!

There’s a pattern to the searching and a predictable emotional spectrum that I experience when I do it.  Initially I’m just curious about something.  Then I’m finding all the different combinations of search terms I can think of.  Then I try another angle.  At some point I feel like I really must be on to something.  By the end I realize that my questions don’t have easy answers.  The doctors I see might not even have conclusive answers for me.  It’s a rare and somewhat mysterious disease.    Then, I realize what a thud:  The answer isn’t on Google.   I realize in these moments my search is futile.

Google doesn’t hold the answer to all of life’s mysteries or even most of life’s mysteries.  An amazing amount of information exists on the internet and can be accessed by things like Google.  It’s true.  But some questions just don’t have easy answers that can be dredged up with exactly the right search terms.

Sometimes you have to wait to talk to the experts.  Sometimes you have to talk to someone who can look at all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together.  Doctors are good for that.  I’m hoping to get a few more of those answers in the not to distant future from people with fancy degrees who know how to make sense of more of these things that I do.

But sometimes my questions are bigger than Google, and even bigger than folks with fancy degrees.  I’ve realized with a start several times that the real question I was looking to answer was bigger than the one I was typing into the search engine.  The real question I wanted answered on many days and late nights of Google Perusal was this one:  Why?  Why did this happen?  Why did this happen to me?  Why have so many other cancers and illnesses befallen my family?  Why?

Google is NOT that good, Y’all.

Sometimes there just aren’t answers. Sometimes only God holds the answers.  Often, they reside tucked into the folds of His essence so deeply that only He can see them fully.  Only He can comprehend them.  Only He can make sense of what seems senseless.

Moreover, while I can be lulled into thinking that seeking answers to questions like these has some intrinsic value, the reality is that the importance of my searching is minuscule in comparison to seeking after He who holds the answers my heart really needs.  He is the answer to many of the most important questions and He whispers reassurances to so many others my heart asks:  Is it all really ok?  Really?  (Yes.  All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him).  Am I alone in this?  (I will never leave you or forsake you?)  If all of this is so bad….  what does that mean about who He is to me? (For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.)

My brain, coupled with the wonders of the internet and Google are limited.  Sorely limited.

God isn’t.  And it’s Him I must seek first.

Whole Smacks of Heaven

My second time around in Five Minute Friday.

The Rules:

  1. Write your words without editing them.
  2. Tell your readers you’re linking up here and invite them to come and share their unedited stories too.
  3. And most importantly, go visit, read, and compliment the person who shared right before you.

The word smacks of heaven to me:  Whole.  Hearty.  Hale.  Healthy.  Heaven.

It seems like so much of this life is loss.  The price of loving anyone in your life will eventually be losing them in one capacity or another.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.

I never did death well.  As a girl and even as a teenager, even the somewhat ‘minimal’ losses I suffered cut me to the quick.  And they somehow started cutting closer and closer.

When Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 23 years old, and died 8 months later when I was 24 I really started understanding loss.  I started to comprehend what it is to live with a gaping hole in your heart that scabs over and time heals, but never really goes away.

Losing a baby to miscarriage…  Another piece torn away.

And then, the loss of complete ‘health’ for myself.

“If you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything,” people say.  And I say, “Really??  Really??”  God breathes gifts to us in all circumstances.  God MAKES good out of all circumstances even those which really are bad (because some things REALLY ARE bad).

But on the other side of the veil, so much will be restored.

I often wonder what that will look like.  When Jesus appeared after his resurrection He still had His scars.  Maybe sometimes our collecting of scars and battle wounds is part of the wholeness-making on this side of the veil.

But there we will be whole and those we love will be restored and we will be with him wholly known, wholly loved, whole.

How do I get to “Normal” from here?

This is cross-posted at the Tomas Blog.

I stumbled upon this article today with a sigh of relief.

You mean I’m not the only one?!!!  Paraganglioma not quite exactly being cancer notwithstanding, I find that I’m relating strongly to stories of how people feel after surviving the Big C.

We evicted Tomas in February, had our follow-up in March and in the meantime we’ve kind of been marinating in this new space.

I wish I could tell you we were marinating in normal.  But I don’t feel normal.  I mean…  Tomas is gone and we finally got the genetic testing results and they were unbelievably–NEGATIVE?!–at least for the two most highly suspected mutations.  And yeah I’ve got little nodule Tomasito on the neck but here we are in a holding pattern which means that I should just be sprinkling fairy dust and rainbows of happiness behind me with every step I take, right???

Oh.  I wish.  I just don’t work that way.  I mean….  I can be whimsical, but I’ve never been light enough in any sense of the word to do the whole Tinkerbell routine.  It’s just the truth.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve got the important kind of joy:  The kind that is unshakable in the face of even things like Tomas and worse because I know that I am Abba’s beloved and He cares for me.  But I find that outside of that particular stream of joy the rest of my emotions can be rather variable.

I’m a girl who battles depression off and on.  And this was a tough year.  A really tough year.  And as I mentioned in the previous post there are still plenty of  loose ends.  By and large I just keep waiting to feel happy and relieved and instead I find I just feel discombobulated.

I can’t just “Go back to normal,” because I’m a different person now.  I’m a person who has not just been hit with a serious illness as a family member, but now the dragon of cancer or at least pseudo-cancer has come knocking at my own door.  No, I didn’t go through radiation or chemotherapy, but from diagnosis to surgery it was 8 full months.  Plus the post-op infection and now…  the other nodule.  That’s a long time to live in the shadow of an illness.  I didn’t come out unchanged.  Neither did my family.  We know now for better or for worse–and yes, some of it is definitely for better–that ANYONE can be that 1 in a million person.  We just can’t take it for granted that the crazy story or difficult misfortune won’t happen to us.

(On the flip-side, we’re now more likely to sign ourselves up for drawings and take those surveys they give out at restaurants with the potential promise of gifts and good-fortune….  You gotta make the Zebra luck work for you once in a while!)

But I’ve survived.  I am surviving.  I am a survivor.  And isn’t that a happy thing?

Yes of course!  But it’s a sober kind of happy.  It’s a deep breath, long sigh, look over your shoulder kind of happy.

I resonated so much with the article, but especially with this:

  Time to celebrate and move on, right? At least that’s what I was hoping, but it didn’t work out that way. I was glad the cancer was gone, but instead of feeling elated, I was like, “Now what?”…… Everything had changed, and I had no idea how to get back to “normal.”

I looked different. I felt different. Yet I was told to “move on.” Certainly everyone around me had done so, and they wanted me to as well. But I didn’t know how. I was confused and had no one to talk to. I felt guilty holding on to my cancer experience when everyone else was elated at my “survival,” but when it came down to it, I had nothing else to hold on to.

I can’t tell you how emphatically I nodded at these paragraphs.  I mean, you could hear the proverbial BBs rattling around the boxcar of my brain I was nodding so hard.  It’s hard to explain, and yet she did.  I feel guilty holding onto my experience while everyone else has moved on or is in, “You should celebrate,” mode.  But I haven’t made sense of it yet.  I haven’t processed it.  I take a looong time to process things and I don’t do a good job of attending to that job when I’m *in* something.  I need time and distance to start looking at things and figuring out how they integrate into who I am.

I subjected myself to a Mary Kay makeover done by a very good friend, yesterday.  As my girlfriend chatted about the importance of eradicating the wrinkles and ‘lines of emotion’ on our faces, a small part of me couldn’t help but think, “Hey look–I may only be 30 and I may be Queen Frumpy who specializes in Goobie Headed fashion, but Darn it, I earned these wrinkles!”  I feel like an old 30.  A sober one.  Life has piled up high in it’s sweetness and it’s goodness but also in it’s difficulty and it’s travail.  If I have wrinkles and grey hairs already, it’s because I’ve earned them.

I’m not saying it’s all long-faces around here.  I try not to be TOO morose.  I’ve learned to whistle in the dark and talk in humorous terms about things that are serious, and quite frankly, scare the pee-wadding out of me. I’ve been told I’ve even elicited a giggle or two out of this-here blog.  All that said, I’m still not necessarily sprinkling fairy dust over here.  I may be even more thinkative than before–if that’s possible!  I am processing life with yet another pair of lenses.  They are lenses of survivorship, but maybe survivorship isn’t so much about feeling invincible after facing a challenge.  Maybe it is more about knowing your own vulnerability and the vulnerability of the ones that you love and walking on anyway.  That kind of thing is heavier than pixie-dust, and doesn’t look as smiley sometimes, but I think it’s still good stuff.

So I’m working on finding my way to Normal (I’m told it’s a town not far from my Sister-in-law’s place in IL….), but I know from previous walks through difficult times that it will be a new normal.  I can only hope that I will like the Val of the new normal a little better and that God will use the hard stuff–has used it, is using it, will use it even if there is more to this story–to His glory.

Wind-swept Memory

It’s the evening of a warm summer’s day (even in Western Washington!).  It’s finally dark and the kiddos are down.  It’s been an ok, not great sort of day.

At the moment there is the most delicious breeze coming through the open window behind me.  It’s so delicious that, even though I should be putting away laundry or enjoying a manly Russel Crowe movie with the man whom I love, I just had to pause a bit to soak it in.

I sat and felt the breeze on my back, felt it cool me and somehow my sensory memory took me back six years ago to the summer my Mama died.  She sat in her chair, and I sat in mine.  Carolyn was tucked into her crib and for that night at least I had the wisdom to JUST SIT with Mom.

She breathed deep and sighed and said, “Oh Val, that breeze feels soo good.”  I think she said it more than once.  She was in so much pain all the time but just in that moment the delicious coolness of the evening was all she could focus on and she sat in that moment and breathed it deeply.  We talked long that night about things she remembered from summers of her childhood.  Softball games at the church, taking Ken and Kathy to see Mary Poppins.  I remember knowing that she was downloading her memories into mine whether I was ready for her to be in a place of letting go or not.  She talked about how cliché it is when people talk about really seeing things in blazing clearness as a result of terminal cancer, but how true she was finding it in moments like those.  I listened and rocked in the glider beside her and, Thank God…  Thank you Abba that I know tonight that I just sat with her in that space until she drifted off to sleep.

I didn’t know then how a breeze could be so delicious and deep and pregnant with the holy.  How it could refresh you and make you ache in the beauty of being alive.  How it could take you back to the very memories that make you who you are.  To me it was just a breeze.  I didn’t know it could contain so much more.

Tonight I do.