I am a Partner in Breakthrough

Words are society’s most powerful way of framing the issues of our time.  For thousands of years, philosophers have discussed how language affects perception.  The words we use, shape our filter around an issue; yet, in the age of people first language and politically correct speech, there remain many blind spots where we continue to utilize labels that feed into outdated and inaccurate perceptions. Living in an era of medical and technological breakthrough, we must often embrace new labels in order for our thoughts to grow and change with the times.

Individuals living with cancer are one of the groups that have been held back by old labels.  Currently, it is acceptable to call anyone impacted by cancer a “cancer patient”, or “cancer survivor.”  Why have these labels been allowed to identify 500,000 individuals living with cancer in America? We do not label someone with diabetes a “diabetes patient.”  People first language teaches us that a person is more important than a disability/disease. So why do we continue to allow cancer to be more important than the individuals it effects and use our speech to determine that a disease can define a person’s identity?  

To gather perspective on these labels let us look at their origins.  From the 1940’s until the 1980’s there were very few, if any, effective treatments for those with a cancer diagnosis.  The term ‘cacner patient’ was an accurate descriptive in that time. There were few cancer survivors. A person with a cancer diagnosis was without choice except to submit oneself to the guidance of a doctor.  Little to no information was available and therefore anyone with a diagnosis of cancer could be correctly labeled a “cancer patient” because many of these patients would not experience life after cancer. In the 1980’s, with the rise of technology, came effective imaging and screening for cancer.  For the first time, the death rate of cancer patients began to decline and a scientist spoke for the first time of “cancer survivors.”  The new term caught on because there was a new hope for cancer patients, the hope of survival.

Neither of these terms accurately describe a person impacted by cancer today.  By definition ‘patient’ is an individual who submits his/herself or is acted upon by a physician. Though this may have been accurate 20 years ago, it no longer is an accurate description of cancer treatment.  Presently, within hours or days of receiving the news of a diagnosis of cancer, one is given treatment choices and are urged to make significant treatment decisions, immediately.  I have personally known multiple individuals who were given the choice of which treatment to receive first: chemo or surgery. The implications of such a decision are significant, yet as a newly diagnosed patient, such a choice is often decided by when it would be convenient to be sick for 3-6 months.  In the moments after diagnosis, most of us have no idea what type of questions to ask to help make such choices, and usually, no one is there to help guide us. Furthermore, studies show that for the newly diagnosed, the fear that fills the mind minimizes decision-making skills and limits one’s ability to process information around such stressful decisions.  

But this is just a one example of how those impacted by cancer design their own treatment choices.  Once an individual is diagnosed with cancer and moves beyond the initial shock, s/he will soon learn of a plethora of treatment paths available. By talking with other individuals impacted by cancer or researching treatment plans from physicians around the world, an individual impacted by cancer can soon become empowered with a variety of treatment paths available today.  Cancer treatment is a dynamic process, a two-way discussion, and there is no expectation of quiet submission.  

Next, let us look at the term ‘cancer survivor’ and it’s implications for a person impacted by cancer today.  Until a cure/vaccine is the typical treatment for every individual impacted by cancer, there is a large population of people who question the label ‘cancer survivor.’  Today, many cancer treatments simply postpone cancer’s impact on lives.  In some situations, treatments themselves may kill the current threat of cancer in a body but will, in fact, create cancer over the following 10-15 years.  Other treatments may simply push cancer back, to a level where it can no longer be detected, only to be found at a later date.  Today’s label of ‘cancer survivor’ is misleading and inaccurate.  Those impacted by cancer long for the day when every individual who receives a cancer treatment will be called a ‘true survivor,’ not simply living for a 5-year benchmark but living long and full lives without fear of cancer’s return.

We are living in an era different than those that created the labels of ‘cancer patient’ and ‘cancer survivor.’  Today there is a whisper of a cure. Every individual impacted by cancer sits on the edge of their seat thinking, “The next big breakthrough could save my life, and so I will combine knowledge and wisdom and push myself so that I may be standing when that breakthrough comes for me.”  It is a new era for the community impacted by cancer and it is time for a new identifying term.

In this age of breakthrough, much attention is placed on fundraising and on the large research entities’ race to glory.  In the excitement, though, we have forgotten that for every medical breakthrough during these last twenty years, there have been thousands of engaged patients who chose to participate in clinical trials, risking their lives for a cure.  In this breakthrough era, those affected by cancer continue to die from treatments. In fact, they must. Someone must provide the data. Someone must be resolute enough to present his/herself to try what has not been tried before. Physicians and researchers cannot change treatment norms without participants in their studies.  Individuals affected by cancer must risk his/her life every day in pursuit of a breakthrough, in pursuit of a cure.

Yet when and where have we ever celebrated their courage?  On a t-shirt? On a hat? With a color? As a young adult living with stage four breast cancer, I must say I have never felt more alone than in the month of October when stores turn suddenly pink.  There is no celebration of me. There is no mention of individuals impacted by cancer. There is no face attached to the sales. There is only one marketing ploy after another that feels completely disconnected from the people it says ‘pink’ represents.  

So how, as a society, do we recognize the courage and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of individuals living among us with cancer? While they wait for a cure, those impacted by cancer offer up their lives in pursuit of a medical breakthrough. It is their strength that overcomes the odds to reveal what is possible. Those impacted by cancer are the driving force of medical change. They are the breakthrough. So instead of labeling them as ‘patient’ or ‘survivor’, it is time to acknowledge their place in finding the solution to cancer. Progress cannot occur without them.

I am not an unengaged patient. I am reading the research. I am designing my own treatment plan. I am changing the statistics. I am living longer. I am not yet a ‘true survivor,’ but I am a partner in breakthrough.  



The State of My Post-Cancer Life

This is the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, my second cancerversary.  In honor of this moment, I want to serve others by taking time to reflect on where I am emotionally and physically, and what I have learned this year.  I hope my reflection is relevant to those who are learning to embrace survivorship and helps those newly diagnosed to not feel alone.  I hope these thoughts will help us face what is ahead, with greater strength.  

I spent this year learning to function within my new limitations.  The things I have not done since chemo, well those pathways in my mind are gone. Even if I did them 1000 times before cancer.  So whenever I meet someone new,  try to solve a problem, or remember a book a once read, I am stopped.  Words evaporate and my brain is blank.  The archives of my mind run like a slow computer.   

I spent this year adjusting to scars.  I am covered with scars. Scars that itch, and then bleed when I scratch.  Scars that span from one side of me to the other.  Scars that send shocks of pain, while retaining no other sensation.

I spent this year learning to limit the stress in my life. 

I spent this year learning to manage my emotions.  I cry under any pressure at all.

I spent this year learning how to empathize.  I feel other’s suffering.  Especially others with cancer. I hear of a mom with breast cancer and I am brought to tears, though I have never met her.  I don’t want anyone to walk this road.

I spent this year wondering who I should be.  I, like most every survivor I have ever spoken to, struggle with the idea that now that there is hair on my head, I should feel normal.  I don’t. I have only begun to heal.  My life is raw.  Like the skin on my body, I seem to be paper thin. Too thin to withstand the abrasions life brings my way.  

I spent this year with a cancer filter.  Every new pain in my body creates a flashing alarm in my mind, alerting me to the fact that perhaps there is new cancer growing.  Every mistake I make, sets off a chain reaction of fear that the chemo damage will never heal, I will never recover.  Walking into a doctor’s office is an ominous experience.  The smell of the building, the view of the magazines on the table, or the taste of the water fountain creates a blaring warning that something bad is coming or may be already present.  These alarms do not resonate like polite cricket-like clocks but rather blare deafening alerts that I must manually reset within me before I am able to respond to the receptionist or answer a doctor’s question.  I spent the year training my body and mind not sink into that type of fear. 

This is where I am, an honest look at me and my my struggles.  Though I cannot escape these experiences, I have set my heart on something different. Walking in this season has created a heightened sense of life and many transcendent moments, because of the presence of fear.

I would argue that there are two types of fear, good fear and bad.  Secondly, the best way to fight bad fear is to replace it with the good.

As I minimize my natural fear, the kind that sets off alarms in my mind and stops me from moving forward in life, I am able to make space for good fears which come from taking risks, walking in hope, and stepping out in faith. 

Let’s take a look at good fear.  We remember with great detail, a first date.  Why do we remember it so well?  Fear.  We are scared of rejection, scared of making mistakes, scared our breath smells bad, just plain scared.  Yet when all is said and done, fear makes the moment better. It gives us awareness of every detail. It locks moments into our memories with accuracy.  It heightens our emotions. In essence, fear provides the capacity for us to feel emotion in a big way.  In the right time, fear is a gift.

This same kind of good fear exists in sports, roller coasters, and adventures of every kind.  We pay a lot of money to experience fear.  We go to a scary movie, ride a roller coaster, climb up the side of a mountain, and paddle down a river because fear for a moment is exhilarating.  

Fear, makes us feel alive.  It drives out every other thought, focusing the mind, bringing joy and a sense of accomplishment.  We love this type of fear and so we go in search of another ride, another river, another moment to hold onto.  

Unfortunately, these experiences are fleeting.  We cannot truly achieve lasting peace or joy through back-to-back moments that expose us to good fear.  Eventually the ride won’t feel scary and the river will be tame.  

In our day to day life, we can experience fear by embracing risk.  Risk means embracing something that has no guarantees and looking at the situation through a filter of hope.  

When we head out on the adventure, with no guarantees of what we will find, risk is there.  Therefore, on our adventure every experience is heightened.  Every memory locked in for a lifetime.  

Why do we leave our house if there is risk? Because of hope.  

Hope is needed when taking risks. We set our minds above the problems that could arise.  We hope for a beautiful day, despite the forecast, as we set out on a hike into the wilderness. We put our mind, our thoughts, and our faith in what is not readily evident. We embrace hope and put that hope into action through faith.  

Unlike fear, these emotions are a choice. Unlike fear, the heightened sense of life that comes from hope and faith lasts for more than a fleeting instant.  As long as we can hold onto our hope, clarity and peace remain.  

Life with cancer does not on its own provide a fear that is good but it does create ample opportunity for hope and faith to thrive.  In fact, in many ways, a diagnosis of cancer leaves a person with two choices.  To live in involuntary fear, or to choose hope and the act of walking out that hope through faith.  

This year I learned to hope in the strength of my body, in cures, in the kindness of people.  I placed hope in love’s ability to rise above.  I placed hope in my ability to release all that I was and find something new, perhaps something better.  I hope for these things. I have not found them and so I choose to walk toward them everyday in faith.  This risk, this faith, has raised my eyes above all that I currently am.  It has given me sense of calm in the the storm.  This hope has heightened my awareness of life.  Like the experience of fear, living in a state of hopefulness and faith creates abundance in the mundane.  

My year of hope has also gifted me an opportunity for clarity. Clarity is a common experience among cancer survivors, though we may not readily call it ‘clarity’. Many of us have a sudden awareness of priorities, and how our lives align or don’t align with those priorities.  We actually experience joy when partnering with what we find valuable. Conversely we carry an increased burden in the tasks that pull us from those things. We live with a sense of urgency. Do not waste the moment. 

I would argue, this common experience is the result of hope in our lives.  We are walking riskily, investing our hopes in things that we find valuable but cannot guarantee. We are experiencing faith, by choosing to adjust our lives to our hopes; by moving closer to our ideals everyday.

Cancer gives us the ability to experience life like never before. Though it may not be the roller coaster ride we would have chosen, we are in fact on the ride of our lives.   Though I see myself grow tired and emotionally weak, it is what I cannot see that keeps me strong.  My eyes are set on all that I can imagine and hope for and I intend to keep walking in faith until these too are seen.  

Gift of Cancer

Cancer treatments create a massive physical struggle and a daily fight for survival.   Constant medical scrutiny leads to insecurity. Treatments strip take away strength both physical and mental. Then one day, my last treatment is done and it hits me:  What comes next?  Is the cancer gone?  How will I know?  Isn’t there anything else that can be done?  Where do I go from here? The season after treatment is very difficult, filled with emotional instability, questions, fear, and uncertainty.  

Unfortunately, for many of us, once treatments are complete, we enter a season of feeling stuck in a post-treatment anxiety. There are many fears and unanswered questions.  These thoughts fill us with a new type of need but they are needs that cannot be easily revealed nor clearly communicated. How do I start again?  Has everyone already forgotten that I had cancer?  How will I pay for these past two years?  How long before this all begins again?  What is this pain in my side? On and on the questions roll, controlling our emotions and crushing our ability to thrive.  

In this emotional process of beginning again, the question ‘Who am I?’ emerges.  This question might seem trite, but in this season of significant change, it deserves proper attention before we are able to heal emotionally.  

Before cancer, I would have described myself as a confident, centered person on the best path for my life. Then my life stopped.  I was stripped of my confidence and my path. I was left with nothing but the question, ‘Who am I?’. All of the adjectives I would have used to answer the question before cancer, no longer apply.  At the same time, I came face to face with new truths about myself.  Before cancer I would have stated with confidence “I am more than my circumstances”, yet when terrible circumstances, came my way, I was left changed and shaken. Before cancer I would never have thought, ‘I am defined by my physical appearance,’ yet when my hair fell out and my eyebrows and eyelashes gone, I truly struggled to find myself, in the mirror or otherwise.

Cancer’s impact on my self-image showed me that I have a lot of room for growth.

The truth is that I am more complex than I will ever know. There are pieces of myself that I put on, and bring forward daily for all to see.  There are parts I do not even want to show myself.  

Upon honest examination, there are an unknown number of layers that make up who I am. Each significant story in my life created a layer. Some layers happen to fall on the surface and receive the spotlight while others lay hidden despite their significant value.

One exercise for escaping a post-treatment anxiety, is to take time to find an honest answer to the question “Who was I?” and the follow up question “Who do I want to be?”.  

These are not easy questions to resolve.  I am fractured.  I am different at work than at home.  My ideal “me” is different than who I am everyday.  There are many versions and many visions of myself.  Fortunately, this complexity provides opportunity for who I can become.  

Cancer took at least one version of me.  It disappeared and was left in my past.  As treatments end, it is important for me to take time to mourn for that version of me.  I have spoken to survivors who wrestle with picking up the pieces in order to put that old “self” back together, with minimal success.  I feel we must be reminded that whatever picture of self that was lost during cancer is not the only version of you. Perhaps it is not even be the best version of you.  

Cancer stripped me of both good and bad, but I have the ability to rebuild.  I have the power to recreate myself not as who I was, but who I want to be.  I have the opportunity to minimize the negative aspects in my life and replace it with what I want to define my future.

Post-treatment is a unique moment of time to become whomever I want to be.  It is a moment of vulnerability and rawness.  A moment when I am not healed but I have moved beyond the sickness.  There is stillness, as the routines of life have not swept in, but there is also churning within my thoughts.  My old expectations are gone along with many of my fears. So what do I want for myself now?  Post-treatment is a season of freedom.  Freedom is a gift that is both liberating and terrifying, and beginning again requires significant courage.  

So let us fortify ourselves as we consider who we are.  

As a cancer survivors, we have accomplished an impossible task.  There was something in our life, in our body, trying to kill us.  

You made difficult decisions, that only you could make.  Perhaps when you received the diagnosis, there was no question that you would proceed with treatment or perhaps you struggled with where to begin. Either way, it requires significant courage to willingly submit yourself to chemo, radiation and surgery.  Once treatment begins, it requires more and more courage to continue through the process.  The night before a scheduled chemo is filled with choices.  Can I handle another treatment?  Do I want what tomorrow will bring?  Then despite the knowledge of what is to come, you moved forward, pushing through treatments and in the end accomplishing impossible things.  You pushed back a disease that wanted to kill you.  You beat the odds.  You are triumphant.  You are fierce.  You are strong.  You may not feel it today, but it is there inside of you. If you choose to own this piece of your new self it can monumentally change how you answer, “Who do I want to be?”.

I am choosing to embrace the strengths cancer revealed and I have placed this strength on the surface of my new identity.  I consider this a gift of cancer.  Before cancer I would never have described myself as fierce, but now, if I am honest, I know that inside of me is a strength that will rise against any challenge in my life.  I can face any impossibility with confidence.  I have done impossible things, I can do it again.  I have pushed through crippling fear, I can do it again.  I have submitted all that I am in order to accomplish a goal, I can do it again. I am driven by a deep unshakable confidence and courage that I never experienced before cancer.  As I learn to walk in this new strength, I become more and more thankful for my cancer experience.  

So, who am I? I was changed by cancer that is true, but how I was changed plays an important role in my future.  The presence of cancer in my life did not change me, there were months or possibly years when I had cancer in my body and I was unaware.  My life began to change because of what I chose to believe about myself and others after I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.”  Through treatments, did I believe I was all alone in my fight or that I was surrounded by a community?  As a survivor do I believe I have overcome cancer or I only have a few years before the fight begins again?  It is what I choose to believe that changes me, not the cancer itself.  

Cancer provides a platform for deep reflection.  It showed me what was already inside of me. It revealed my insecurities and fears.  I cannot blame cancer for the baggage that was already present in my life, just as I cannot blame cancer for who I am. Cancer taught me many things, and helped me take an honest look into the layers of who I am.  Now, what I choose to place on the surface, for all to see, is different than before. Now the characteristics I simply did not acknowledge before, I choose to embrace. Who I am after cancer is not a puzzle needing to be put together in the correct way, but rather is one layer upon the next.  Like the layers of the Earth, each layer tells a story. Each story cannot stand alone for they are all interconnected and require each other for a true understanding of all that I am. My cancer experience, has become a layer in my life.  A layer that tells a new story of who I am.  Cancer is only one layer though, what I do with that part of my story, is up to me.  

Reflections: First Descents

I sit in a red Adirondack chair in the Adirondack mountains. A few lightning bugs flickered along the grass line, at the edge of the cliff as I wait. The Adirondacks are lush dark green mountains that stretch far beyond my view. The ranges begin bright and inviting and while stretching into the distance they begin to wear darker and darker shades of greens. Lush, greens grow in abundance, happily covering every crevice, every bump as if in testament that this is a good place to be. A good place to grow. From my chair I can see perhaps six layers of mountains as my eye stretches to determine one line from the next as they intertwine on the horizon. The final rows of mountains are dark and dominant against the white clouds that seem to always be on course, emerging over the peaks, bringing refreshment to the millions of waiting trees. The high clouds bring sheer curtains of rain that saturate everything in its path with showers that come and go in a moment. The rains roll in simply to make the campfires steam and the grass glisten. The smell of rain and fire mingle to create a perfect balance of that which draws us in and that which drives us away. Once the curtains of rain move past, the mountains respond with their own adornment. Clouds rise from the ground, pushing up to drain the color of the trees and rock, creating a feeling that the hills are softer inside the fog. The low rolling clouds cling to the tree tops and push slowly as they creep between ground and sky. These earth bound clouds emerge from low points and peaks, floating atop the highest trees only until the sun breaks through the dark mother clouds to shine until they all melt away.
I sat in the fading golden light that spread out to touch every tree, every rock, every soul. It was my initial First Descents campfire gathering. A lead staff built a fire and participants, drawn to it’s warmth, began to gather. A simple question was presented to break the ice, but most of us came to this place prepared to share our unique perspective on the themes of our deeply similar story. We were a circle of strangers, soon to be friends, and we didn’t have to explain our laughter or tears. From diagnosis until this moment, our lives began a similar path destined to intersect, though we never knew it. This place of convergence lifted us above any awkwardness or fear. We came here to climb rocks and mountains and push ourselves into new places of body and soul.
Each of us had spent the last few years climbing beyond the crux of our young life, the initial diagnosis. Finding ourselves at the bottom of what seemed to be an impossibly high mountain. Like climbing, surfing and kayaking, moving through cancer is an independent process. Each of us must truly walk the path alone. When you are in treatment, there is little else you can think of. It is simply you, looking at each step, one at a time. Like climbing the rock face of a mountain, people from the outside can only make suggestions on how to move forward, they can only encourage you to be strong, they can only tell you to trust your supports. Ultimately the individual must have the presence of mind, while hanging from a rope, to face a challenge that is completely new. Whatever strength that is needed, must be found within. Only you can see where you are, only you can make the choice to continue, only you can determine whether or not you have the strength.
When you are on the rock, there is no time for thinking of life, anywhere else. There is only the challenge directly in front of you. There is that which you can hold onto and that which you cannot. The rock is full of challenges but also potential solutions. Your mind must sort through scenarios that deal with the idea of failure and success. Then as soon as you push upward, another challenge is waiting and over and over the process goes. A quest focused on upward movement and nothing more. Similarly, as you push through cancer treatments, there is little time to process beyond pushing forward. There is no time to understand the circumstances. There is no time not to be strong.
But on our first day of rock climbing with FD, we came to the top of our mountain. Each of us stepped onto the ledge and looked down. From the top, there is no work to be done, you simply stand and view the mountainside. You have already proven you have the strength to go up, now it is time to show you have the courage to look straight back at that challenge and recognize all that was at stake. It is a different view, a different set of emotions, a new perspective. This is where we are as we come to FD. Finished with the fight, now looking at the obstacle we overcame and wondering where to go from here.
As I look out over the lush mountains of northern New York, I wonder how dramatically these mountains would change if a raging forest fire swept through. The green would disappear, leaving only blacks and browns and greys. The vegetation would be destroyed, death would reign in a place that had once overflowed with life. Blackness would settle upon the mountains for years, yet the mountains themselves would remain. The seeds of the life that once thrived, would remain, waiting for the moment to begin again. From this mountain top, I ponder a question I have been rolling over and over for months. When will it be my time to begin again?
So much of the life I knew before my diagnosis has been destroyed. Cancer wiped me clean both outwardly and inwardly. On the outside, my hair has grown and doctors reconstructed my body. Outwardly I have been restored. Inwardly, the seeds inside my soul are only beginning to break free from their shell and take root. They are still small and almost imperceptible. There is a tiny, fragile tint of green beginning to spread across the landscape of my heart. It is a tender growth that feels every pain and every joy with great intensity. It is a beginning but nothing more. As I study these tiny growths inside of me, I wonder what they will become. Are they seeds of vines and shrubs that will clutter my heart and choke me, or are they the seeds of great Coastal Redwoods, released by the testing of my soul, to grow and connect and stand with dignity for the rest of my days.
At the last campfire of my FD1, I considered the falling rain, I listened to my peers and thought of the tears shared. I reflected on my week and how we threw our hurts and pains into the river for them to be torn apart and sent far from us. I observed how each of us wear a bracelet as a reminder that we are a part of a new family that will support and protect us. I thought of all of those who have gathered before me and how time on the mountain has offered each of us a new perspective. Then I contemplated the change inside of me, and my desire to accomplish impossible things. First Descents gave me a gift. I have been moved from broken to inspired.

Waiting for Change

There is a color, deep and glistening, a turquoise-black-blue. And when I see it, the world is shining and I cannot turn away. There is a contrast of white on black that is unmoving yet unpredictable, and when it pushes upward, it mingles with its antithesis that always floats away.

There are blades of grass that cover this place. But instead of inches, they have grown and grown and grown.  Their black, brown, green stretch far above me, forming patterns in the light and darkness, purpose in the shapes and forms.

There is water, so much water.  Water that is dark and cold, water that is blinding in excitement.  It forms liquid parades that quietly march through the feet of unknowing bystanders.  It forms gushing forces that surprise and astound all who see it.  Water produces transformative changes in a moment and through a millennium, both with dramatic results.

Streams push past pebbles, and clouds push past peaks, each initiating a newness upon that which is still.  Though it is impossible for mountains and trees and lakes to change what they are, they are consistently transformed.  That which can only flow and trickle and mist, initiates change upon that which is insurmountable and unmoving and waiting.

While drifting waters perform the task of bringing forth change, while those that are still, perform the task of waiting.  An empty and exceedingly difficult duty.

Waiting for water to fill, blanket, and flow. Waiting to be formed, reborn, transformed. Waiting for the revelation of beauty amidst the change. Waiting for a new season to begin.

A Song for Every Sunrise: a Lenten reflection

Today I begin, everyday I begin again, but today I began by sitting with you. I sat in hopes that today you would explain to me, why. Why me? Why now? You knew I would be faithful. You knew I would not desert you. Why? And why are you silent?

In the past, in the pain you, taught me so much. Yet now I sit, begging for your perfect love to drive away these new fears.


So my heart is broken twice.  Once in search of you and once within itself.


It cannot keep its own pace, yet it is you who give my heart its reason for beating.


My heart has no reason to beat, no inspiration to pursue, no path for healing without you. Since the days of my childhood, I heard your voice.   You spoke of blessing, protection, the special love of a father. You set me apart. You ensured my heart would remain solely yours. Yet now, after struggles and hurts, you pile hurts on top of me and break the very heart you have preserved and only given silence for an answer.  I have always understood your words; I have seen layer upon layer in pictures inside my soul; but silence I cannot comprehend.

Where there once was song, now there is only a new hurt every morning.

I can carry sickness, loss, abandonment of security or purpose; but I cannot bare to walk day by day without your song over me as I rise.  I cannot continue without you smiling as a proud father. For this is where my strength comes.  When you withhold this, my hurt has no purpose.  My joy, no life.

My Love

The best stories contain both impeccable moments as well as moments of complete disaster. First there must be a hook, something that draws you in and makes you want to stick around to see what is to come. Then the disaster hits only for redemption to rise up in a glorious finale. This is the kind of story I have been given. We love to love a love story, particularly the beginning and the end. The initial excitement that draws two people together is intoxicating. Then life flits by until we see the amazing beauty of an elderly couple holding onto one another while letting life itself slip away. 

Those are the bookends of the best love stories, but what occurs between the bookends is more significant. Love cannot be proven authentic until it fills years that turn into decades. 

I am blessed and honored by a love that if written, would capture the heart of all who see it. 

First, the hook: two adults, in their young twenties, from opposite ends of rural America. One day, the girl is stopped in her tracks by love at first sight. Like every great couple, despite the power of the initial moment, there is struggle. A realignment must occur and at one point the couple isn’t sure whether or not such a significant alignment could or should occur. In a flurry of emotion, one day they push through the past and are in an instant bound together with a singular purpose. 

As soon as they are married, the wife is injured in a car wreck that nearly takes her life. The couple must rise through the fear and trauma to heal and bond and learn that love and marriage is more than simple choices. 

They travel the world simply for the purpose of coming home smarter and well fed. They leave family and friends for the sake of adventure, more than once. They create three beauties as reminders that action is an integral part of loving. They see dreams come true. They endured severe sickness. They see the best in each other and become better because of how they are seen. 

They serve one another to the point of exhaustion. They see the wonders of the Earth. They live in trust, peace, and love. And no matter what has occurred in the day, they hold one another in the night.

This is what happens between the bookends of a love story. These moments hold the substance. A beginning and end are meaningless without hundreds of thousands of choices in between. 

A relationship with God is structured the same way, your final day is not as significant as everyday before. In relationship with God, the treasure of life is not found in the bookends but in the unraveling story that is formed. Each day, each moment, can be filled to overflowing with the love and provision of God, despite circumstances of heartache and struggle. This is the key to truly amazing love. 

Thank you, My Love, the gift of my life. I am eternally grateful for all that you are to me. Happy Valentine’s, dear. 

The Experience of Renewal

I am not the first person to cry out in the darkness. To not see an enemy, but yet be overwhelmed by the desire for one who will remember me. 

I do not remember myself, and cannot resolve the issues inside. 

When I try to recall, I cannot identify what is missing, I simply do not recognize my reflection. 

I was a wife, mother, teacher, friend but weren’t there other pieces? And these pieces, weren’t they good? Didn’t I love and live above reproach? I simply can’t recall. 

It is interesting that the body isn’t simply made up of pieces that can be removed and returned. It is also a whole. Any part removed, for any amount of time, leaves an ache, a need. The whole must be redefined in its absence, for there is no whole without each and every piece. And is it the same with life?

I have felt the whole of who I am, or who I will be. I have seen shadows of it in dreams and whispers of it in song. Still, I must wait for the pieces to be revealed. In order to experience this “who I will be,” old versions of myself must be washed away. 

Washed, such a passive word: scrubbed, scoured, and scraped away is more accurate. 

If we must use the word “washed” then this washing is the kind that occurs when the tide has pulled you under. Tumbling with the sand and shell, washing, the water taking hold and not letting go. Washing by thrashing, until your mind finds itself incapable of escape. It is by this means that I have been washed. 

Grasping for air, listening for the light, hoping for freedom, desperate to be released. For there is nothing in turmoil but to hope. So I hope that when I break through the wall of washing water I may rise to find myself full of life giving breath. 

This hope lifts my eyes. My strength reaches upward. Hope yearns toward the breakthrough. 

Then the moment comes. It happens, the turmoil subsides and, rising, I find my feet, firm and ready. 

Finding their path they move away from the abrading wash. Walking quickens because the old burdens were pulled away in receding water. Who I was, has fallen behind. To turn back or search for it in the depths, is not a choice. 

Hope raised me from the water. Now, on dry land, hope stirs my eyes to search for a new path, a new piece and renewal inside this freedom. 

Birthday Reflections

As I consider my birthday, another year behind me another year before me, I think about the unpredictability of life. This coming year, I am not sure of who I should be or what I should expect. Cancer survivors say it is a common mental struggle that gets better as time ticks forward. But here I sit, today, and I realize my doctors have never declared me “cancer free” or even stated that I am in remission. There is no clear line to distinguish that yesterday I was fighting, today I have overcome. My conversations with doctors leave me feeling that cancer is inside of me hiding, silently waiting. So a sense of insecurity hangs over me. 
When I stop and consider life, this sense of insecurity should not come as a surprise. In college a friend died of an aneurysm. Another childhood friend was told from birth that he would not live past 18, yet lives productively into his 30’s. Another friend died in his 20’s in a car crash, only to find his body had unknowingly been eaten by cancer. On and on I could reflect on unexpected tragedies and physical triumphs that I have witnessed. Experience shows me that our bodies are not reliable, the medical community is still learning, and without any security in our future, we all move forward. Some people move forward because they have faith in a doctor saying “you are cancer free.” Some people place their hopes in diet and exercise. 

The only response that makes sense to me is placing my faith in my God. Since I was a child, I accepted that only my God knew the path of my life. It was for me to understand one step at a time. It was His job to reveal and create the foothold that would carry me forward. Truly, forward motion is the goal. I have never wrestled with the “why”. My heart remains steadfast on the job that is mine: to step forward on the path that is revealed. 

This year taught me that pain is a great motivator. Difficult times push you to reach out to family, neighbors and even society. Pain creates a platform of interconnectedness. As I reached out in need, I was able to observe the web of love that had been built throughout my life. A web that seemed invisible in certain moments of life, but as tears dripped onto the web, it began to glisten and the most beautiful accomplishment of my life was revealed. 

Once observed, this web of love has become motivating. No matter where my path turns or climbs, whether my journey lasts five years or forty, it is this web of love that hangs before me, glistening in the light of my life. I want to see its strands grow and reach to the farthest corners of my view, including as many others in my interconnected masterpiece. 

No matter what I choose to do in the coming year, how I spend my time, or where I invest my talents, all that will truly matter is how well I have loved. This revelation, learned through pain, will carry me forward.