Strength Through Surrender – Giving Up My Hair to Chemo

Indefinite waiting is one of the harder parts of a cancer diagnosis. That, and some of the things you inevitably lose. The first week of January 2019, I had a mastectomy. And for some bizarre reason that I still can’t understand about me…I did not care one bit that I was losing a piece of myself. I still don’t, not at all. A week later, my plastic surgeon attempted reconstruction. Due to complications from the previous surgery, he fitted me with an expander instead. This is a place holder for my future anatomy, that they slowly fill to my original size. This thing is my nemesis but I have gotten used to it. A week after that, I visited my oncologist, thinking I would have some idea concerning whether or not I would have radiation and chemotherapy. I only got one answer: NO RADIATION! Which was fabulous news! But I would have to wait longer on the answer for chemotherapy.

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

I waited and waited and waited. My appointment to discuss the remaining portions of my treatment was postponed 3 times. The night before the second postponed appointment, I was sitting down at my piano, playing and singing my heart out to Lauren Daigle’s “Once and For All” – a song about surrender – when I had this strange sense come over me. It was a little bit like dread. I stopped in the middle of the song and I think I whispered out loud to God, “You are going to make me go through ALL of it aren’t you?” Just a quiet presence pressed upon me as my fingers found the keys again and I sang Ms. Daigle’s words, “Oh let this be, where I die. My Lord with thee, crucified. Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall once and for all.”

Well, I didn’t get an official answer until over 6 weeks after the mastectomy: chemo it is.

The first treatment day arrived and my mother came with me. I wore my prayer shawl that was knitted and prayed over by my cousin’s wife. It was a long, difficult 8 hour day that I don’t care to go into. However, the aftermath of side effects were very bizarre for me, very unlike what most people experience…until my hair began to fall out 3 days ago. That is something very common to people undergoing chemotherapy. I was minding my own business, reading a book before bed, when I reached up to scratch my itching scalp and pulled out several strands of hair. That first small clump drop-kicked my stomach into my neighbor’s front yard. I ran to the bathroom and reached up to my scalp again…more strands just falling into my hand. It unsettled me, horribly so.  So much more than the mastectomy. That night, I had nightmares about it. I awoke in the morning to more hair falling. I put on my lipstick and my biggest, floppiest hat and tried to put on my bravest face for the day.

gi_jane_ver1_7070I realized that night that even the hat wasn’t keeping all my hair contained, so I wrapped my tender head in a scarf. The next day, I had absentmindedly reached up to scratch again but then pulled on what I thought was a bug or a leaf or something but it turned out to be the biggest chunk of hair yet and I involuntarily screamed. Scared my kids. I ran downstairs to show my husband and his jaw dropped. He looked at me and said, “I think it will be less difficult on you and you’ll have less nightmares if we just buzz it down short – like GI Jane.” He was right, I could go for that, channel some grit from my inner G.I. Jane.

So, we got all the necessary tools and walked into our small bathroom, anxiety gripping me. “Are you ready?” he asked. I shouted in panic, “NO!…..Let me put on some lipstick!!!” He patiently watched me run to find it. I chose a lovely rose color that the Almay Trademark entitled “Be Strong.” How appropriate. I marched back into the bathroom and I blasted Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” as loud as I could and my husband laughed. I looked in the mirror one last time and groaned. He tried to pat my arm but I shrugged him off. He backed away with “Okay, okay…” I don’t want sympathy. I need courage.

I threw my head over the sink lined with a trash bag and I sang along with Aretha as my hair piled up in there. He worked painstakingly and carefully. Ms. Franklin only had to sing the song 3 times before he was done, since I cut my hair significantly shorter before I started chemo. Then, I shielded my eyes, took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. For a second, I mistook myself for my brother…a much smaller more feminine version, of course. It was alarming. My youngest walked in and said, “Mom, you look different…like a different kid.” Oh good, I look like a child. That’s fun. Then, I closed and locked the bathroom door, and cranked up Alanis Morissette while I showered off. I think I belted out some of my frustration and dare I say rage? Singing feels better than crying.

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Going, going….and it’s gone!

My hair hasn’t fallen out completely yet – I have A LOT of hair on this head. But this is one hurdle that had me in its grip. It was the falling, the elongated losing that was bothering me and I was helpless to do anything to stop it or fix it. I had to just accept it – so I hit it head on, embracing the inevitable but on my own terms – buzz it off. Anxiety, nightmares, fear are all gone! So now, I make the best of it all with pretty scarves, earrings, lipstick, and channeling Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane. I am trying to fight the idea of loss or even my own ego with surrender. Surrender: a willingness to give it up of my own accord, knowing that this is part of God’s way of stripping me down of anything unessential and refining me into the woman He planned from the beginning…so I may as well do it with some serious moxie. Why fight it?

Be strong.

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Forgiveness 4 Ways – Freedom From Shame (Colossians 3:12-14)

There is a young lady in my home, who has recently had the scales fall from her eyes with intensive PANDAS treatment and now sees the world as it is. She found herself standing in a quagmire of hurt and shame. The young lady underneath that PANDAS veil clouding her brain and nervous system, is a loving, compassionate, caring, empathetic person…and she is now filled with shame at what has happened at her own hands and is hurt by the retaliation others have laid on her.


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Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

I don’t write about this topic lightly or as a theological scholar. NOTHING on planet earth has changed my life so dramatically as Forgiveness. Learning how to forgive is a process experienced over time, yet I could have saved myself years carrying the baggage of shame and bitterness had I learned as a teenager what I know now.  And this entire discussion assumes that the reader understands their imperfect humanity requires Jesus’ sacrifice covering them in the presence of a perfect, holy, loving God. And Jesus’ death on the cross bridges that divide.

Shame keeps us from the freedom we often don’t know we are craving. We get used to the things packed in our suitcases: self-loathing, fear, guilt, and bastardized love. It craves vindication and our own version of justice. The only way to destroy shame is by way of exercising grace and practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t about giving someone a free pass, it’s about healing YOU. When Layla and Eddie were very young, I had them memorize Colossians 3:12-14. I wanted to etch it on their hearts because I knew even as a young mother how vital these words are to healthy relationships:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

For Layla to put these words into practice, I have learned that there are 4 ways to experience forgiveness and put that baggage down. She must learn:

…to receive forgiveness (as the Lord forgave you)

As a follower of Jesus, I understand that He has wiped out every wrong I have ever committed. The list is long and growing still, but He holds none of them against me. He doesn’t forget the wrong I have done but instead He takes my mess and He fashions it through loving discipline into something more beautiful. I knew this in my head for all of my life, but one day as a young adult, I realized I hadn’t actually held out my hands to take hold of it and RECEIVE this forgiveness. It doesn’t come naturally but I just have to open my hands and my heart and accept that He loves me perfectly and I need Him.  I must fix my “eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Love joyfully extended a hand from heaven so we can be near to Him and love in return. So, my Yesterday does not define my Today. I am new every single morning, and if I am still breathing, He is not finished changing my heart or fixing the broken things inside of me.

…to forgive herself (clothe yourself)

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Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

If Layla is worthy of this divine forgiveness, then she can borrow some of it to forgive herself. She must “clothe herself”…meaning she needs to rent that tuxedo of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, etc. from the One True Source. So many people forget this important thing. If you forgive yourself of something, you don’t get to hold that past action against yourself, carrying the weight of it around your neck. Instead, learn from the error and move on. You don’t have to live that way or think that way for one more day. Sometimes you have to remind yourself hour by hour that you are better than you were, and turn your back on whatever you have done. It is hard work, but you are worth it. God Himself thinks very highly of you so live up to that image He created you in. Replace that unhealthy action or thought with something more positive, more life-giving and loving. Free yourself from the weight of guilt. And sometimes this process requires you to…

…ask for someone else’s forgiveness (humility)

Clearing your conscience, vanquishing shame when you have been in a hurtful situation means you take responsibility for your part. It takes two to tango, folks. When I was a teenager, there was one person in particular that hurt me deeply. It took me years to come to a place where I could forgive him. I knew that if I wanted to be able to grow and heal, I needed to apologize to him for anything I had ever done that hurt him. James 5:16 tells us to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” So, after a few years, I called him up and I told him that I wanted to apologize and I expected nothing in return. It wasn’t a long conversation but it was a necessary one. It was NOT, “I am sorry for this BUT you did that…” I just came clean and let go.

…and to forgive others (compassion)

My foster children come to my home neglected and broken. I have friends whose lives have been shattered by people who abused them or failed to protect them from evil. Things that will never be ok. But I have also seen healing, broken things made beautiful, and impossible relationships reconciled when we put them into Jesus’ nail scarred hands. Friends, I don’t know much but I do know that when you have been wronged, that you need some time to hurt and grieve. But we can’t stay stuck in that cesspool marinating in bitterness. It permeates and stinks up our lives. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness, it doesn’t mean everything is alright. It simply means we hold no ill will against the other person. We release them of any debt we feel they owe to us. We release ourselves from anger, hatred and bitterness. It doesn’t happen all at once, it is a process. I always tell my children that hurt people, hurt other people. Mean, abusive behavior is usually a symptom of some unmet need or an old festering wound inside the aggressor. You recognize that the brokenness in them, is the same brokenness in you – it just comes out differently. Jesus looked straight past bad behavior to the need deep down inside the soul. If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we will do the same and pray for that person’s healing. “That person” who hurt me as a teen? If he ever comes to mind, I pray for him and it has changed my heart toward him completely and all bitterness is gone.


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So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36                      Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is the “before and after” of Layla’s life: Before IVIG treatment in Chicago, and after Chicago. At this crossroad: we can only hope that she will continue toward healing, that this treatment will take root in her body and mind, and by the grace of God, she will clean up this mountain of shame in her life. Forgiveness is the path to wholeness, to reconciled relationships, to strong arms open wide in boundless joy and rooted in love. But Layla’s forgiveness journey starts with her.

Of Feathers & Shadows: The Promises of Psalm 91

I was a troubled and angry teen.

I hurt a lot of people, but mostly I spent a lot of time hurting me. 

When I was 17 and at the zenith of my self destruction, I had gotten myself into some really big trouble. I looked into the mirror and could not recognize the person I had become. My eyes were a cold steel grey, they had lost their bluish green hues. I decided I wanted the girl that God had intended me to be back again. I asked my parents to let me move to a new place to start over. I knew if I stayed at home, I would go back to my bad “habits.”  My grandmother was gracious enough to let me live with her while I attended a private Christian school for my senior year of high school.

From the very beginning, I decided to surround myself with positive people and devote myself to rediscovering faith. In my Bible classes, we spent time studying the book of Proverbs. We were asked to choose a theme to focus on. I chose to study “wisdom & understanding” so I circled and wrote out every verse that talked about wisdom. And I prayed fervently for God to give me the gift of wisdom. That was the beginning of a long, slow road of redemption. If there is any good in me today, it is not because I am good, it is because of the amazing, transformative and earth-shattering love of Jesus. It is His goodness in me.

On this road, I have endured years of heartache from circumstances beyond my control.  And I am still in the middle of it. Through it all, I have always looked to the Lord, sometimes even with angry eyes blazing. But, I came to realize that every difficulty set in front of me offered something to learn, a way to stretch and grow. I received a glimpse of God’s goodness and He wove it into me through scripture and encouragement from others. He taught me to see Him everywhere and in everything. Over the years, one passage has been my steadying, safe place – Psalm 91. I have read it and cried over it more times than I can even count. I have placed my trust in King David’s words:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, 
my God, in whom I trust…”

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart…

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone…


 

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Two months ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Moving through this diagnosing process has been extremely challenging. But Psalm 91 has returned to me again & again. I believed it in the past and He is faithful to me with these words today through the gifts and messages of many family members and friends…it is almost hilarious. God still speaks, God still sees. It is as though the heavens are shouting an endless theme at me:

…I am covered…

 On a very hard day, I received a small package from a former co-worker of mine. I was emotionally exhausted from a very rough 24 hours with Layla, even from afar as she languishes in the residential treatment center. But this friend had been praying for me and sent me a piece of art set on a clipboard. I cried as I read Psalm 91:4…reminding me that He is near.

 


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I visited family I don’t often see while in Colorado over Christmas. While we visited our family’s ranch, my cousin’s  wife took me aside and furtively pulled out a beautiful prayer shawl she had made just for me – To cover me while I go through surgeries and treatments. When a person is creating a prayer shawl, they begin by praying, blessing the piece as they are knitting the shawl and it is intended to wrap the recipient in peace, blessing, comfort. Covered in this shawl, I have been prayed for, and it will keep me warm in cold hospitals. It is the very essence of Psalm 91 as it symbolically covers and keeps me. 

 


On Christmas Eve, we opened gifts with my parents after attending a candlelight service. My mother had purchased a piece of art made by a friend of ours. This artist uses her artistry as worship: as she paints, she prays over the piece. Her art is extraordinary and unique. She prays over each one as she sends them off to customers. The painting my mother chose for me was entitled “Over My Head” and it represents God’s presence hovering, covering me. It is breathtaking and brilliant. My iPhone doesn’t do it justice.

 

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“Over My Head” By DeAnna Nellist of Painted Prayers. To see more of her work visit: https://www.facebook.com/paintedprayersbyd/ 

 

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge…

 

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We had a very busy holiday season and Sue’s usual visit with her “Tummy Mommy” was put off until after the New Year.  In the big pile of presents for Sue, there was a gift especially for me. As I opened it, I was overwhelmed to see Psalm 91 shouting at me AGAIN. I would have laughed had I not been so touched. I will not tell Tummy Mommy about my cancer until after surgery, when I have more answers – She had no idea she was giving me something that had so much meaning and gravity.


 

I will be going into surgery tomorrow, and while I have some serious misgivings about this whole thing, I know that I can trust that the Lord who fashioned me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) is with me. He will not let anything befall me that is not intended to mould me into the woman He wants me to be. I was once destructive, angry and selfish, but the saving grace of God changed my life. I still want to be wise and I still want to be good. He has a lot of work to do yet, but I know He is reshaping me in the heat of His fire. Whatever it takes for Him to perfect the faith He began in me. I cannot do any of this on my own

So, in the operating room, I will count backwards from 100 and inhale deeply the thoughts and prayers of my loved ones and strangers, resting in Psalm 91 – in the shelter of the Most High, He covers me with His feathers.

I will NOT be overtaken.

December Roses – Levity in Hard Things

Upon receiving my brand new cancer diagnosis, my surgeon referred me for an MRI back at the breast cancer diagnostic center. I arrived the day of my appointment calm and ready to go. I joked around with the radiologist and the techs and then as Nat King Cole crooned about chestnuts and open fires in my headphones, they slid me into the machine. When the contrast dye hit my chest and throat, I did my best yoga breathing through a panic attack and a closing throat but I was able to get it done.

A few days later, my surgeon called to tell me that another part of my affected breast lit up like a Christmas tree. So more testing awaited me.

771D2EB6-10A2-4996-BC35-F0A2756B64B3The day arrived and I was feeling pretty calm as I stepped into my backyard on my way to the car. I happened to look over and saw pink roses blooming in December under Layla’s bedroom window. That NEVER happens! I enjoyed it with gratitude for a moment but I had to go. As I walked in the door, despite the fact that I had been here many times already, a primal fear sent me running upstairs to the bathroom to compose myself. In all the things I had done until now, I never felt like THIS!

My ultrasound tech remembered me and we chatted as she took some pictures and then left to find the doctor. I waited quite a while, resting my eyes in the dim lights. All was quiet. And then it wasn’t. My eyes flew open as I suddenly felt another person in the room. So tangible but not visible. Call me crazy if you will, but Jesus was sitting right there in the chair across the room. I sense things, dream things, sometimes I know things and it is difficult for me to admit it to a world that often does not believe it. But it is true. And I felt in an instant things I could not quite put words to, but it was essentially this:

I AM here. Get yourself ready for this.

These were not words of comfort – I now knew how everything was about to go: I would be here the rest of the day testing and finding more cancer. I just wanted to cry but I pulled myself together just as the doctor came in and told me in his gentlest voice that we had to do an MRI biopsy. I wasn’t surprised.

They ushered me downstairs for the MRI, I saw all the same people as the first time. We joked, we talked, they stuck me with an IV and gave me Benadryl in hopes that it would lessen the throat closing and panic. I got on the table again. It took 10 minutes to position my small body just so the surgeon could reach the place he had to stick that giant biopsy needle. I had to hold my hands above my head like superman again, perfectly still for 45 minutes this time.

They sent me into the bowels of the machine and I was shaking as still as I could. As the contrast dye entered like ice in my veins, it hit my throat and chest, forcing me into a panic attack as the machine banged like pots and pans next to my head. After 10 minutes they opened the chamber door, slid my table back out, and sat there talking quietly for forever. The doctor put his hand on mine. “The place we saw light up before, has definitely lit up again. I’m sorry but I do have to biopsy this area.”

I tried not to cry with my face planted firmly inside the doughnut pillow and my body rigid with fear. I groaned “OK.” So they prepped me in a gentle yet Medieval torture style, slid me back in, and shut the chamber door. More banging pots, more immobile shaking. All the while my mind holding on to refuge in Psalm 23: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…Green pastures…Thy rod and Thy staff shall comfort me…We repeated the out-in, adjust, take pictures a few more times, with more hand holding and some back rubs, and then they pulled me off the table as I bled all over myself and my poor nurse. I was so woozy from 45 minutes of adrenaline and fear that I could hardly walk or think or talk.

She stopped the bleeding eventually, taped me up and then walked me upstairs for another mammogram. I think that made a baker’s dozen of those. I drove home and went to bed. Thankfully, my inlaws had graciously watched the kids, were baling rainwater out of my flooded basement and had cooked dinner for us. I was useless the rest of the day.

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Heading the right direction to the Cancer Center!

My surgeon called me two days later and explained what I already knew – I had more cancer. She haltingly told me that I had to have a mastectomy. She waited for an emotional reaction and I just blurted out, “Can’t you just take them both? I don’t want them ANYMORE!!!” and she laughed. None of these people ever know what is going to come out of my mouth…I usually don’t either. I had to go in that afternoon to meet with both the surgeon and the oncologist to discuss my options. On my way, I noticed a sign, that told me I was going the right way (in my upside down alternate universe) to the cancer center and so I laughed and snapped a photo.

I know that I will be just fine when this is all over. Some of my parts will be missing but I won’t particularly MISS them. I am learning to trust my instincts more, appreciate the little signs of hope that God is with me all the way – like Pink December Roses in my yard,  all the beautiful people everywhere whom I love a bit more deeply than 6 weeks ago, I laugh at all costs, allow people to help me…and so much more.  [I] have this hope [Jesus] as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19) and my faith in Him is stretched and broadened, buoyed by this wealth of beauty and goodness all around me that permeates my world in ways it hadn’t before, giving levity and guiding me through heavy things.  I want to be sure I bring the good things out on the other side with me.

And I hope, that somehow I can share these things with you, with my limited language and (my) unprofessional or stock photos. My only prayer in all of this is that these things I see from here – all this rich goodness – you will find in your world too, and a faith that takes you further than you ever knew you could go.

Left Out of the Jesus Club: 10 Ways Churches Can Include People With Special Needs

One evening, not too long ago, we picked up my son, Eddie after youth group. As we were driving home, I started in with my usual questions, to which he gave his short, one or two word answers. He just isn’t a man of many words.

“How was youth group tonight?”
“Fine.”
“What did you guys do?”
(pause) “Sang songs.”
“Did you sing along?”
“No.”
“Buddy, I’ve noticed in church that you don’t participate at the service. In fact, you and Layla always look like you hate everyone in the room. How come?”
(long silence)
“Eddie, you can tell me why. There isn’t a right or wrong answer.”
(loooong silence)
“Mom is giving you the car ride home to think about it and then I need you to try to talk to me.”
(I am only pushing the subject because I can sense there is a real problem for him.)

Ten minutes pass and he is still silent in the back seat. I know he is trying to think it through – process this question and formulate his answer. Just imagine if someone asked a pointed question of him in youth group! As we approach our driveway, I ask the question one more time.
“Why don’t you participate in what we do at church? You loved to when you were little.”
He is silent a minute more before he quietly speaks.
“I can’t really have a relationship with God.”
“Why not?”
Pregnant pause.
“Because I can’t even remember the stories.”

10,000 daggers into his mother’s heart. I will respect so many reasons from my children for not having faith in God, but this is one I cannot accept. Because this reason means that he believes that he is not smart enough to know God. In his mind, he can’t be in the Jesus Club.

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Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Why did he think this way? I do daily kids Bible devotions, I read from the children’s Bible so he can understand, I pray with the kids, we do what we can to help them understand that God is with them and He is for them. Church is supposed to be a place where everyone belongs like in a family but too often and for far too many people, church can feel like a club…a very exclusive Jesus Club.

My son is most certainly not the only person who experiences this in church. Kids with:

  1.  trauma backgrounds 
  2.  various medical diagnoses  
  3.  learning disabilities
  4.  living in poverty
  5.  mental health issues

…all learn differently. Adults struggle with these obstacles as well and if they are not accommodated for at church, then the message is lost. Very little can penetrate the soul if the mind cannot understand. I am so thankful that my son could finally verbalize what his problem was in church. I believe his words speak for thousands who are not currently in the Jesus Club and can’t recognize it or say it out loud. Enter into nearly any church in North America and you will find that the teaching is all geared to a very specific level of literacy. If you can’t perform or process at that level, then you are excluded from participating, whether you or the rest of the congregation are even aware of it.

So, what can churches do to help integrate and ensure that EVERYONE in their congregations are able to fully participate and engage with the gospel of Jesus? I have attended MANY churches all over the West Coast and this list addresses problems I have encountered in all or some of these churches:

  1. Do not reward Bible verse memorization and public regurgitation skills with candy, only to leave out the kids who CAN’T perform in this way. No memory verse, no candy, and therefore, no Jesus…is what this practice teaches kids.
  2. Include in corporate worship services at least one or two songs that are more repetitive and less wordy than others.
  3. Provide a few paper copies of song sheets available in large print for people who struggle with reading and processing words from a distance. 
  4. In any multimedia presentation, if there are words to be read on a screen, be sure that someone is designated to read the words aloud. If you are a slow processor, the words are gone from the screen before you understand what it said.
  5. Have volunteers in Sunday School trained to help a child with disability or trauma behaviors. Understanding the reasons behind behaviors can also help prevent future meltdowns and leaves parents with peace of mind. Children will trust and develop positive relationships with their teachers. Nothing is more like Jesus than practicing this: looking beyond the behavior to the need underneath it.
  6. Do not automatically call a parent out of a worship service if a child doesn’t immediately calm down or is needy unless the parents request it. Ask parents ahead of time if there is a time limit to go by before calling them out. Be willing to find creative solutions.
  7. Glean information from families concerning special needs or trauma backgrounds in the registration process. Part of this should include how to help soothe each individual child.
  8. Try to keep class room or teacher changes to a minimum – for children with autism or OCD, making that last minute adjustment is enough for a tailspin.
  9. When changes cannot be avoided, let parents know ahead of time so they can prepare their children beforehand, easing that transition into the classroom.
  10. Find resources and toys for kids with sensory integrations issues (chew toys or gum, weighted lap blankets, play dough, drawing/doodling materials etc) to be used while they are involved in class discussions. They can process and retain so much more with these things available. Youth groups would benefit too!

The truth is that Eddie CAN know Jesus for himself. The Good News of Jesus is simple and it is meant to be so. Jesus came so that ANYONE can know him from the smallest child, to the illiterate, to the marginalized, to the poor, to the rich. That “WHOEVER should believe in Him will have everlasting life” (John 3:16)  We are overcomplicating this incredible message, underestimating the power of this necessary foundation. So much emphasis is on what you can learn with your brain, rather than what you can understand with your heart in today’s American Church. Remember, the majority of Jesus’ followers who spent time near him or listening to him were uneducated, illiterate, or pleading for Him to heal their ailments of body and mind. Jesus is not just a fact to be memorized, he is a being with whom we can share experience and interaction.

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God is just as concerned with our hearts and souls as He is our minds. But if we fail to help both children and adults with real obstacles in their lives to understand that simple and beautiful truth, then they miss out on the most important experience anyone can ever have:  to encounter Jesus.

 

It Is Well With My Soul…All The Time

Several days after I checked Layla into the hospital and admitted her into the psychiatric unit of our local hospital (see Then Sings My Soul (No Matter What), the music that is usually rolling around in my head every day suddenly stopped for a moment. You know how in the movies when someone is being told really bad news, he or she is watching as the bearer-of-bad-news lips are moving but they can’t hear a word being said? All is silent, even to the person watching the movie. That’s a real thing.

I think I was getting ready to go see Layla in the hospital. As I got dressed I noticed a suspicious lump. I put the weirdness of it aside and went about my day. I checked again that night and at the insistence of my husband, I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor. Upon my visit with her, she checked, she prayed with me and we set up an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound at a local breast cancer diagnostic center.

I found myself in the lobby of what felt like a luxurious spa and I went upstairs. Everyone spoke so softly and gently, like all the ladies in there might break. I dressed in a white bathrobe with my rain boots and jeans still on. As I sat trying to distract myself with cooking magazines or repeating phrases from a song at church in my head like a mantra “Jesus, Jesus…You make the darkness tremble…” just trying to keep the darkness from closing into my mind as I waited my turn, I couldn’t help but notice that I was by far the youngest woman in there. I almost felt silly, like I don’t belong here…maybe I should come back in 10 or 20 years.

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

I had my first mammogram and then an ultrasound. After I had finished both, I just waited on the bed in the ultrasound room. Again, I felt so silly “Why are you here?… this is so dumb…” and then “it is well with my soul…” But then a man in a white lab coat walked in with my ultrasound technician. He shook my hand and introduced himself and began talking. He lost me at the words “solid mass….” and I had to work so hard to keep my face composed, I couldn’t hear a word he said after that. I had trained myself to nod my head with my best active listening postures after raising so many children and I used that well-honed skill with all my heart, as if it were the last thing I would ever do. That was when the music stopped and was bursting in silence.  Somehow, I got all my clothes on and then another overly kind person came to make a biopsy appointment for the following week.

I went out to my car and I sat down but I couldn’t drive yet, I felt paralyzed in the parking lot. So I called my mom and then my best friend with all my ugly cry voice and face in full swing. Funny how those two gave the exact response to my news: “Oh shit.” It just signifies why they are who they are to me. I pulled myself together and drove to pick up my kids. Everything is going to be FINE.

And then began a harrowing week. And songs from church echoed in my mind as I went through my days. Sometimes the fragments and phrases buoyed me and at other times the tears would just leak from my eyes as I carried my foster son to his new home on Monday…checked Layla out of the local psychiatric unit and took her straight to the airport to visit my parents a few days on Tuesday….as I took a day on Wednesday for myself with coffee and a manicure….as my husband and I went to my biopsy appointment on Thursday and I had to hear the words….”Oooohhh, such a YOUNG girl…” as the doctor walked in. She scrunched up her face when she told me they will have to use double the numbing medication they usually do because there are so many nerve endings in the location of the tumor…and Lord Jesus, she was NOT kidding…and then Friday morning, I caught an early flight to Reno to check my daughter into a long term residential treatment center where she will remain for the next few months….and then I caught a flight home Saturday morning. I came home and I slept and cried and I cried and slept all day long.

And all week long, I kept everything about these tests and appointments close, only telling a few people because I didn’t want to freak anyone out unless I had to. So while people are giving me the biggest, warmest, and most painful hugs of my life for Layla, my biopsy incision and bruises are screaming inside my head “Ow, ow, ow!!!! Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…ow ow ow!!!!” I do yoga, so I know how to look like I am at peace on the outside.

And then the morning of my results appointment arrives. My husband and I grab some coffee, I throw on my brightest shade of red lipstick and all the while that old hymn, just a snippet of it on repeat in my head. I sang it in the bathroom as I brushed little Sue’s hair before sending her off to preschool:

…Whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say “It is well, it is well with my soul….”

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When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say “It is well, it is well with my soul” It Is Well With My Soul (Horatio Spafford, 1876)

 

It circles as we wait in that luxurious lobby, as I partially disrobe so another stranger can see all my bits and bruises to make sure I am healing ok. And I am. And then as I am putting myself back together she says, “Unfortunately, I have to share some news you don’t want to hear…” and just like that, I have breast cancer. Three weeks ago, I thought I was at the pinnacle of excellent health. Just three months ago, I had an exam and nothing was found. But since I am so young, I don’t think anyone was really looking.

She asks me if I have a good support system. Based on the past 2 weeks, I told her in full confidence “I have an AMAZING support system.” She asks me if I work. To which I quip “I can’t work, I have three kids with special needs.” And then she tells me, “So, you WORK – You are going to have to call in all your troops for this.”

Thankfully, moderate to aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma can be treated, although this will not be an easy road. I have no doubt that with all the prayers and love and support available to me, I can fight like a beast and heal completely. But I falter a little when, as I told my loving uncle I think, “How the hell am I going to do chemo AND keep Sue from eating all her brother’s deodorant??” I realized I was asking him: How do I take care of myself and take care of three kids with medical issues of their own? This is all new territory. I am too young for this. But here I am. And so with my songs and the prayers and all the love pushing me forward, we begin the fight for MY healing.

What choice do I have?

Then Sings My Soul (No Matter What)

Then Sings My Soul…

It’s a refrain I cling to so fiercely that I have it tattooed on my back. It comes from my favorite hymn “How Great Thou Art,” penned after Carl Boberg (1859-1940) witnessed the tranquility of the blue skies mirrored on a glassy sea in the wake of an intense thunderstorm. So the story goes. I grew up singing this classic from my church pew quite regularly, I can still hear the echo of the congregation enveloping me, losing myself to the sound of hundreds as one voice. It sits inside my chest, rolling around my head through the hard days. There was a day when I was brooding in my sorrow over one of Layla’s “storms,” that it came to me: even if my world is falling apart, I can still sing. God gave me this one thing that can keep me from drowning in the thick of heartache. The words are inked upon my shoulder over a purple calla lily. It is my commitment to sing no matter what. Yep, I got all that out of 4 words.

Last night, I found myself sitting in the ER, readying myself to admit my daughter to an adolescent psychiatric unit for the 3rd time in a year. Fluorescent lights glared at me, piercing the migraine that beat in my temple and I closed my eyes to block them out. And the camera dangling in its ominous half sphere from the ceiling as it watched us from above. As if that weren’t enough surveillance, the technicians sat in the hall watching us or repeatedly checking their cell phones in their boredom.

I cracked an eye to peek at the child I can hardly recognize any longer. This past week she had inexplicably fallen so far so fast. One day she came home from school, happy to see us. Later that night she stepped into the shower, and came out completely cracked open. Something shifted in that steamy bathroom and she hasn’t been the same since. Her grasp on reality has nearly been severed, even when her mood is stable. Our world has turned upside down and there is a finality about it this time.

So, then sings my soul.

I needed to shut it all out: the cameras, the technicians, the fluorescent lights, the screaming toddler in Room 7. Everything that feels so ugly.  Under the circumstances of the last 4 years, I have not been able to sing publicly or lead worship as I once did at church. But, I remembered my commitment to sing written on my shoulder. I tucked us inside a cocoon of songs I have always sung to her, since rocking her in my arms as a young mother full of hope and wonder. Each of my children have a song that I sing only for them. So I sang hers. “I just want to snuggle you, Mama. That’s my song, you are going to make me cry…” Then, I played all the songs on my cell phone that she loved so much as a little tiny brown eyed girl. And before I knew it, she was singing along with me. We sang quietly snuggling in the hospital bed for two hours as we waited to move her into the psych unit. Nobody stopped us or bothered us and in those precious moments, I had my little girl back. To find her, she had to be shut tight away from the world, sitting in a cold hospital room, enfolded in the music that took her back to a time when the world felt safer for her. I am so afraid I will never share a moment like this with her again.

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It felt like springtime on this February morning, in the courtyard birds were singing your praise…” lyrics from my song for Layla, As I Lay Me Down by Sophie B. Hawkins. Layla was born on a sunny morning in February 

They came for us, we walked through the hospital’s labyrinth for the 3rd time. We passed the unit she was born in. We passed the gift shop where my mother bought her a purple preemie outfit that was too big for her. I remember that first night she and I napped together as she snored on my chest in a hospital bed after 36 hours of labor. And then we arrived at the unit that no parent ever wants to visit their child in. And yet, here I am again. I was frisked, metal detected and allowed through 2 separately locked doors. We checked her in but will she ever leave for good? She hugged me hard when it was time for me to go. “I’ll see you in a few days. I love you,” I whispered.

I walked 6 blocks in the dark as I have so many times before on a night just as horrible as this one. I was cloaked in the midnight strolling the streets and somehow it soothed me a little. I felt my smallness, my futility in the face of my child’s broken mind. But I did not feel alone. I got in my car and before I could drive home, I cried forever. I thought all my tears had been cried out by now. But this time feels like a strange “good bye.” I don’t understand this feeling but there is this sense that the girl I poured my whole heart into raising, the little girl I once knew is gone for good.

Maybe it is just simple grief. When you break it down, I think grief is just a thousand unknowable, unforeseen, and unnamed goodbyes that hit you in a tidal wave all at once. Everything you have lost before, all that you lose today, and all that will never be. Yet, I always find Him there in the tidal wave. And I find I can accept whatever comes, at least I think I do. Today anyway.

What other choice do I have?

 

photography of barrel wave
…then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee…How Great Thou Art!                                                    Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com