September 15, 2011

Looking Ahead

Last week at work, I was talking with my boss about some upcoming duties, and in a moment of clarity, I realized that I was in over my head on a couple of projects. I asked her if there was any way we could change things around a bit, and she said it would be no problem.

I let out a huge sigh.

"Ok, I admit it," I said. "I can't do everything."

She laughed, agreeing that she couldn't either. No one could.

That's how I feel again today, only this time in the rest of my life.

Ever since my recent cancer diagnosis, I have been looking forward to the next couple of weeks. I have my sister's wedding to participate in on Saturday, a work trip to Vermont with four presentations to give beginning Sunday, and a fun trip to Texas the following Saturday with friends to visit and a writing retreat to attend. Then, radiation therapy begins.

Once my surgery was scheduled, I realized that it would be exactly four weeks from the time I was in the operating room until the time I would begin my wild two weeks. I was optimistic, certain I would be ready.

Tomorrow, it all starts. And now I'm not sure I can do it.

Would you pray for me?

::

Today, I saw my radiation oncologist who was realistic and optimistic about my case. I have a planning CT scan scheduled for next week between trips, and then radiation will begin on October 4 after I return from Texas. I am thankful for all the kind medical professionals on my team. Jesus uses them to bring healing and hope.

September 13, 2011

Scarred


It's amazing how in four weeks, the eight-inch incision on my abdomen has gone from gaping and oozing to healing and growing. The swollen, scabby wound is now a soft purple scar winding neatly down from my belly button.

When I look at it, I am perplexed that the skin woven tightly together there, just four weeks ago was opened wide, closed only with string and metal. How the muscles and nerves just beneath there were cut, then sewn together by hands I later shook. How even now, I feel those same muscles and nerves finding their connections again, sending out sensations of healing.

Mostly, when I look at the Frankenstein-like scar on my belly, made more interesting by the tiny dots along each side where the staples held my skin together, mostly I see evidence of God. Bodies originally made perfect contain within their DNA a back up plan. Though sin ruined a lot of things, our bodies still know how to heal.

This was not the first time I had an incision on my abdomen. In fact, the eight-inch incision sits right atop a 12-inch incision from a surgery four years ago. And those two sit right next to a 10-inch incision from  a surgery three years ago. Each one healed - or healing. Each one a reminder of where I've been.

::

As we gathered to worship at my church Sunday, two events converged as a day of remembering. The day was September 11, 2011, so with the rest of the nation, we were calling to mind that horrific day 10 years ago when so many more things changed than just the New York skyline. But it was also the last day in our current sanctuary. Half-way through a major building project, next Sunday, our church family will be together in a new room, with twice the seating capacity. So Sunday, we also were remembering the history of our church.

Pastor Mark preached from 1 Samuel 7, when the nation of Israel restored the ark of the covenant to its rightful place in the center of their lives after 20 years. The ark had been stolen by the Philistines 20 years earlier in a battle near the city of Ebeneezer. As the physical symbol of God's glory, losing the ark was like losing God's presence. And even after it was returned 7 months later, the ark had been hidden away somewhere in Israel.

But now, Samuel called the people to return the glory of the Lord to its rightful place, and the people agreed. Just as they gathered together at Mizpah for a ceremony of rededication, however, the Philistines showed up again. The Philistines! Pastor Mark described it this way,
Just when they were getting right with God, another attack comes. Ever felt like that? It is often the case that when things just begin to turn around that the enemy throws whatever he can at us to discourage, dishearten, or destroy the work that God is doing. Just when things were looking brighter, it got incredibly dark.
But God was not finished with the Israelites in Mizpah that day. He brought a great thunder to alarm and confuse the Philistines, then His people defeated their enemy. And before the sun set that day, Samuel created a memorial. This stone is an Ebeneezer, he told the people, for "till now the Lord has helped us."

Ebeneezer now represented two battles. A very dark day in the history of Israel, when the Glory of the Lord was taken. And a very bright day in the history of Israel, when the Lord set everything right again.

::

In the years since my first and second surgeries, I have often felt pain beneath those scars. Doctors tell me there are adhesions in there, extra scar tissue that attaches to muscles and organs and causes problems. Sometimes, the scars would hurt so bad I would swear the cancer was back. (A couple of times it has been.)

Over the years, I've asked a lot of people to pray about the pain in those scars, because it was mentally hard to deal with. All the questions pain raises, you know. Once, as a friend was praying, she thanked God for those uncomfortable feelings, asking Him if he would use the pain as a reminder of His faithfulness in bringing me this far. I was stunned.

Not once had I thought to be thankful.

::

Sunday, as I was listening to the sermon, the muscles around my incision felt like they were pulling and burning. I shifted around in my seat uncomfortably, trying to concentrate. But as the sermon continued, I realized the pain was not a distraction but an application.

These scars are my Ebeneezer.

Till now the Lord has helped me.


Photo by Mike.D.Green, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

September 12, 2011

Writing Comes from Reading


"Writing comes from reading."

I remembered so clearly reading that line in LL Barkat's Rumors of Water, reading about those two precious daughters of hers, one walking around a farm reading Sherlock Holmes, the other taking on the voice of a favorite author in her own work. I remember LL recommending to one of her girls that she should read a book by Michael Pollan, and I remember all three "girls" reading poetry at dinner, when LL's husband was away on a work trip.

I remembered all of that this morning as I began planning to write about reading, how reading shapes our writing. How writing becomes our own after we have read and read and written and written, sorting through other people's structure and word choice and voice to find our own.

I remembered. I did.

Except I couldn't find that line anywhere in the book. I skimmed through the table of contents, certain there was a whole chapter on it. I skimmed through every chapter, certain there was a main point about it. I found Sara reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at Linsay's farm, and the reference to Sonia's voice after reading too much Clarice Bean. And there are LL and Sara and Sonia, all sitting around the table reading "One Art." 

But what about the quote on reading? Nowhere.

::

When I turned 10, I received the complete collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. I don't remember the gifts I received for most other birthdays, but those books were special. It was also the first year my parents were separated. A girl remembers what books she reads at times like that.

By age 10, I had been reading for six years already. I had been writing for five of those years. In first grade, I wrote my first research essay. My brother, a fifth-grader, was working on a report about one of the 50 states. Not to be outdone, I decided to write a report on a state, too. I chose Kansas. 

My brother, probably on the prompting of my mother, turned my report in to his teacher along with his. Granted, my report was basically just extrapolated from the "Kansas" entry of the World Book Encyclopedia, but his fifth-grade teacher rewarded my first-grade moxie with an A+.

The Kansas prairie was the famous setting in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.

::

In 7th-grade English, I was introduced to "creative writing." Each week, our teacher, Kurt Bullock, asked us to write two full pages of whatever we wanted. I wrote about princesses and fairies; I did a five-part series about a reporter with the last name "Levin." Basically, I was in heaven.

The year I started doing creative writing was the year I discovered I wanted to be a writer, not a teacher.

Mr. Bullock had graduated from Taylor University, a place I had never even heard of, and he told us college stories of things like taking cars apart and reassembling them in the dining hall. He had big, blond curly hair that looked a lot like William Katt's leading character in the television show, Great American Hero. And he didn't even send Mark Timm to the principal's office for yelling out a swear word when the metal cover off the air conditioning unit crashed to the floor next to his desk. (Or was it Kyle Zeronik who yelled the swear word?)

In the 7th grade, my mom remarried and I moved to a new house. That weekend, I didn't have time to do my creative writing assignment, so instead, I wrote something about not having time to do my creative writing assignment. Mr. Bullock wrote me a note on the paper when he returned it, telling me he didn't care what I wrote about. He just wanted me to write from my heart and do the best job I could every time.

I kept that paper for a long time, along with the copy of Silas Marner Mr. Bullock loaned me. George Eliot, the author of Silas Marner, was actually Mary Ann Evans. She used a pen name, Mr. Bullock had told me, because women weren't allowed to write books in the olden days.

Somewhere along the way, sometime after I graduated from Taylor University, the creative writing paper got thrown out and the copy of Silas Marner sold in a garage sale. I didn't need them anymore. I finally believed I was a writer.

::

After several minutes of searching through LL's Rumors looking for the quote on reading, it dawned on me. Maybe I read that bit about the reading and the writing somewhere else.

Sure enough, the quote was right there on one of LL's blogs.
My sweet Sara reads about a six hundred (unassigned) books during a school year and a great deal of poetry. All that reading, I'm convinced, has shaped her writing.
But the Sherlock Holmes, the Clarice Bean, the poetry -- they had already told the truth of the matter.
And so did the little girl on the prairie and the World Book Encyclopedia and the paperback copy of Silas Marner, for sale on a folded card table for 25 cents.

Writing comes from reading.

Want to be a better writer? Read more.

::

I'm a writer-in-training, embarking on a master writing journey. Want to join me? Leave me a note in the comments about how you are improving your craft, writing books you are reading, or ways you are living intentionally as a writer. Need some other ideas?
If you write about writing, or reading, or the intersection of reading and writing, drop a link to your post in the comments, and I'll link back to you in my next writing post.

September 8, 2011

There and Back Again: So You Had a Bad Day


On Monday, I had this thought, "I'm going to die of cancer."

It wasn't a premonition; it wasn't a revelation. I didn't get new information from the doctor that I'm just now sharing. In fact, it wasn't even a new thought. If I had a nickle for every time I thought I might die of cancer, I'd be rich.

But I still might die of cancer. And some days, the reality of that possibility turns my blood cold. Thankfully, I called down the Spirit on those thoughts, fighting through the discouragement of them. But they have popped in and out of my head off and on the past few days.

I'm also so tired I could sleep for days, and my abdomen hurts a little all the time. I have not completely recovered from surgery, though I'm trying to live life as if I have. Part of it is denial. I wish I didn't have to have surgery. Part of it is reality. I have two trips to make in a little more than a week, and if I don't push myself, I'll never even make it to the airport.

And here's the worst thing, nothing sounds good to eat. I have food in the freezer that friends have graciously made. I could drive anywhere and buy any food I want. And it's not like I don't have an appetite. I'm just not hungry for anything.

Did I mention I also have a headache?

This is real life for me this week. It's tempting not to write about the every day dirt that accumulates in my heart. Again, the denial. But what if you're sitting there reading this, having a bad day, and you think, "Maybe I'm alone." And I have it in my power to promise you, You are not. Alone.

Kelly did the same thing for me today. A link to her blog popped up on Facebook: "The Good, The Bad, and The Things I Don't Share." When I read it, I nearly wept. Because I was sitting here reading, having a bad day, and thinking, "Maybe I'm alone." But most assuredly, I am not.
I acknowledge that the bad is there, and I live in it – but there is ever so much beauty to be found within it all. I’d rather live there – in the true, the lovely, the pure, the good, the happy, the light – than dwell on the awful.
Still in the end, the awful does mix in – it can’t be left out, not here – and it is what makes life exquisite to live. If you can find real good within real pain, you’ve learned art, you’ve learned what makes a routine, ordinary day worth living.
I'm not always sure what to do with hard days, though. Pulling art from them certainly does feel redemptive, and if I am ever to become a master writer, than I need to write from all the angles. So does reminding myself of what's true, so that my whiny, grumpy side doesn't win the battle in my head. That's what Kelly does, too. She writes,
The only thing I have to hold onto most days is the fact that I am God’s. That Jesus became sin for me so I could become – in Him – the righteousness of God. So I could know Him right here where I am – in the good or in the bad.
But somehow, though it feels trite and though my heart bucks against it and though I would be hard pressed to preach this advice to others, today, what it seems Jesus wants most for me to do is be grateful.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I'm not talking Pollyanna, pie in the sky, everything's fine kind of gratitude. That would be denial. I'm talking about the hard acceptance, the God-centered risk, the way through suffering. Or as Ann Voskamp calls it in One Thousand Gifts, the choice "to allow the holes to become the seeing-through-to-God places."

I'm not grateful so this bad day will end. I'm grateful that all of these circumstance have given me a greater hunger and vision for Jesus to be next to me, though the bad day continues.

This is real life for me this week. It's hard, and I am thankful.

Go THERE and then come back HERE again!


Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.

Each Thursday, consider going "There and Back Again" yourself. It's simple.

Photo by naydeeyah, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

September 7, 2011

Life Is a Highway

 
I'm not proud of it, but a few weeks ago, I received a speeding ticket.

I was driving from my sister's house on one of the national highways that runs through my rural hometown and was just half a mile from turning off onto the gravel road that would lead to me to my mom's house. I had had my cruise control set to 63 mph, even though the speed limit was 55, but I had just passed through an intersection with a stoplight, and I had forgotten to reengage the cruise. Plus, I had one of my favorite CDs playing and was singing along at the top of my lungs.

The state trooper was apparently flashing his speed radar at oncoming cars while driving westbound. Because when I sped by him going eastbound, he made a U-turn so quickly, I was sure there was an escaped convict in the car just ahead of me that he was chasing. When I slowed down to let him pass, he instead pulled in behind me. I felt my heart in my throat; I hadn't gotten a speeding ticket since I was 18.

"I clocked you at 66 miles per hour," the officer said when he walked up to my car.

"Oh, well, I had my cruise on earlier, and I don't think I was going that fast," I said, trying to defend myself. When the U-turning officer had first swung around behind me, I had glanced at the speedometer and it was hovering around 64 mph.

"I just need to see your license and registration," he said, not really caring about my cruise control.

While he was running my plates, I sat there embarrassed and mad. I wasn't going that fast, I thought. In Indianapolis, if I don't go at least 10 miles over the speed limit, someone will rear-end me, I reasoned. Maybe I should mention that I have cancer, I plotted. Maybe I should tell him I have cancer and that I'm going to visit my step dad who has cancer, I thought, feeling justified.

I was right, sitting there fuming behind the wheel. All of those things that I was thinking, they were true. When the officer walked back to my car just a brief three minutes later, I was sure that he had seen the light and decided to give me a warning.

But about the warning, I was wrong. He was apparently just very quick at writing tickets. The charges were made, and after giving me the standard warning, "Slow down out there, ma'am; the speed limit is 55," he sped off, not even waiting to make sure I safely merged back into traffic. Not that there was any traffic.

Later, as I was looking over the ticket, determining how much my speeding indiscretion was going to cost me, I saw three options on the ticket. I could either plead guilty, and pay the fine. I could plead innocent and defend my case in court (and pay the costs). Or there was a third option. I could plead nolo contendere or "no contest." In that case, I would still pay the fine but at least I didn't have to accept the charge. It would be power to the people! I could stick it to the man!

For days before I made my plea and submitted payment for the fine, I thought about nolo contendere. Choosing to accept or not to accept the charge actually had nothing to do with whether I was guilty. And even if I wasn't going 66 mph, I certainly wasn't going 55 mph.

When it was finally time to complete the form and mail the money, nolo contendere was no longer about sticking it to the man or even standing on my principles. It simply meant choosing not to accept responsibility for my actions. And that was not acceptable.

So I took a deep breath and checked "guilty."

 And when it was finished, I was free.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

September 5, 2011

Becoming Masterful


It was the end of May, and I received an email from a friend.
I really want to work on my writing this summer. I was very convicted/inspired by this blog post. If you can think of any writing thing to work through together to get better I would love the suggestion.
I was intrigued. Certainly I was not under the delusion that my writing was perfect, that I had nothing further to learn about the craft. And I had been thinking, myself, about experimenting more with collaborative writing. But then I clicked through to the blog post my friend referenced.

"A World Short on Masters" was posted by author Russ Ramsey at The Rabbit Room. In the piece, he discusses a story of the master Dutch painter Rembrandt. Though Rembrandt is known as one of the greatest painters in history, he himself was aware of his limitations, that he couldn't "paint the way they want me to paint."

So rather than focus on what he couldn't do, he became a master at what he could: painting and painting to become the best Rembrandt he could be. But to what end? Ramsey offers this explanation:
For what? For mastery. And why? For joy, because the mastery of something leads to a greater enjoyment of it. Singers, musicians, painters, writers, athletes and artists of all stripes know this. The harder we work at something, the more we are able to enjoy it. Rembrandt knew it too. Later he would advise, “Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.” Annie Dillard said it another way: “Who will teach me to write? The page, the page, that eternal blankness.”
I have been writing long enough and often enough to realize what I can't do. But I had not yet been inspired to take what I can do to the next level, to do the work to be the best Charity I can be as a writer.

Most of the leg work for preparing me for this master training had been prompted by the Lord over the past several months. The process of emptying my life that began early this year helped me clear my schedule, making more time to write. My increased involvement with online communities like theHighCalling.org has given me more opportunities to write. And ironically, my recent cancer recurrence has given me more to write about.

Now, I'm ready for the joy. I'm ready for the joy that results from coming to the screen, the page, day after day, the joy that comes from pushing myself in the craft of writing. It's not so much about tackling skills I don't have. It's about mastering the skills I already have by investing the time, learning from others, and not giving up, even when I feel like it.

::

I intended to write this post three months ago. In fact, I started it on June 2, just a few days after my friend first sent me the link. But the idea of becoming a master writer was something I needed to sit with for a while. And then, the cancer came. It's not a good time to work on becoming a better writer when I have appointments and scans and surgeries and radiation to go through, I reasoned.

But something unusual has been happening over the past few weeks. Instead of shrinking back during this season of trial, the Lord is giving me confidence to engage, to keep writing honestly and to push through the inclination to self-protect. In the process, I have unwittingly begun the master journey.

And then there is LL Barkat's new book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing. I knew I would get the book early and read it quickly because LL is a friend, and her writing is always good. But I had no idea that the book itself would be framed as a master training program for writers, or that she would address the very issues that keep writers like me from taking their art to the next level.

Maybe now is not a good time to really commit myself to becoming a master writer. Or maybe now is exactly the right time to commit to this pursuit. 

Maybe the joy awaiting me by coming to the page day after day is actually the strength of the Lord to see me through this and other seasons of sorrow.

::

Russ Ramsey ended his post with an invitation. I end this post with the same.
What are you mastering? What are you practicing in order to make clear what you don’t yet know? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you reach points where you begin to wonder if it might just be easier to plateau. And if not plateau, then quit altogether.

Don’t. Please. This world is short on masters, and consequently short on joy too.
::

What's next? Want to join me in my master training?
Photo by lowjumpingfrog, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

September 3, 2011

Bound

 
Wednesday, the doctor removed the staples from my surgical wound. 

From the minute my bandage was removed and I saw those metal fasteners crossing from one side of the incision to the other, 25 of them, or so, lined up meticulously down the center of my belly, I dreaded having them removed. 

"It won't really hurt," the nurse had told me when I asked about it there in the hospital.

"Really?" I asked, not believing her.

"Well, you might feel a pinch, but it's not that painful," she said, backtracking a bit.

Having been a patient more times than I care to remember, I've learned the ways of the medical community to bend the truth a little about how much things like that hurt.

But on Wednesday, when the rubber met the road and the doctor was standing there with glorified tweezers actually pulling the staples from my reddened skin, it did pinch a little, and I could feel a little tugging. Also, a couple times I had to look at away as the folded skin released when freed from the metal giving me a little sickish feeling. 

But this time, they were mostly telling the truth. It didn't really hurt.

::

Being free from the staples which were itching and irritating my skin seemed like a relief directly after they were removed. But by Wednesday night, I was actually more worried than relieved. Though the doctor had assured me otherwise, it felt like my incision was going to burst open.

I texted my friend Verray who is a nurse. "Is it normal that my incision feels more tender just after staples out? Also, is it normal that I feel like my guts are going to fall out? I know, I'm a drama queen!"

She texted back, "I am laughing so hard right now!!!! yes dear one - both things are very normal-and your guts will NOT fall out :)"

So far, she's been right.

But as I considered how I could relieve some of the discomfort I was feeling, I remembered the large elastic "binder" I woke up from surgery wearing. It fit around my midsection kind of like a corset, firmly holding everything in place. I couldn't find the one I brought home from the hospital, but a quick trip to WalGreens and $30 later, I was bound up snugly, the constant pressure of the elastic doing what my wounded abdominal muscles weren't strong enough to do on their own yet.

Plus, I thought to myself, if my guts start to fall out, the binder will catch them.

::

I've been thinking about that word, "binder," and it's other forms like "bound" and "bind." Usually, these words have a negative connotation. Prisoners are bound to incarcerate them; the Chinese practice of foot-binding seems cruel and painful, leaving the women unable to walk normally. A binding contract is usually restrictive to the party wishing for freedom.

But there are better uses of the word "bind," redemptive meanings in which people willingly bind themselves to each other, in which disciples bind the teaching of their master to their hearts, and in which God himself tenderly cares for us by binding our wounds, bringing healing to the broken-hearted..
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   a planting of the LORD
   for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The giant binder wrapped around my abdomen feels uncomfortable at times. After wearing it all day, it sometimes rubs and irritates the very wound it was meant to protect. But when I take it off now, I feel vulnerable again; I feel unprotected and unsupported.

Sometimes being bound up, even though its restrictive, is exactly what we need to heal.

Photo by ddrekus_gr, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.
Related Posts with Thumbnails