Thursday, October 23, 2014

The What Ifs

What do you do when unexpected, uninvited, unwelcome company shows up?

The What-Ifs have come for a visit.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. I am as human as the next person. But here, the day before surgery, the questions have begun to infiltrate my brain. And like with every other question I encounter, the only way I know to keep them from becoming cyclical thoughts and taking over, is to answer them.
What if it really is cancer?

Then we attack it with everything we’ve got. Curveball? Hit it and return it with more force than when it was delivered. One step at a time, as it comes. Strap on the armor.
What if it’s worse than they thought and you wake up without a breast?

Then I learn how to wear a prosthesis. And take care of what I have left. Or right, in this case.

What if they remove your breast and your husband decides he doesn’t want you anymore?
Oh, come on! Really? Where are these ridiculous questions coming from? Get outta town!

I am not proud of the questions. But they are there, and I will face them down, one by one. And when they come back again, I will remind them that they have already been answered and therefore are not worthy of a revisit. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But the biggest one? What if I don’t wake up from surgery?

That one demands attention and thought. And preparation.
Here’s where I tell you I love you and am thankful to God for bringing you into my life, how I am grateful for whatever part you have played in this grand production, how it would not have been the same without your input, your encouragement, your smile, your questions, your prayers. I am sincere.

We are eternal beings, housed in mortal flesh. We have a choice as to whether we spend that eternity with God or without Him. I choose to spend it with Him, walking with Him now… and forever. So honestly, I am not afraid of not waking up tomorrow, or any day. Not that I want to leave yet: I have so much work left to do! But if I don’t wake up tomorrow, or after surgery, or next week, please grant me two wishes.
One- Continue my work. Continue God’s work. Feed the hungry. Visit the lonely. Encourage the broken. Magnify the beauty. Shine the light.

Two- Do your own prep work. Be ready. Decide if you will choose to be with God or without Him.

And with that word, I send the What Ifs packing. Take a hike, questions! Go! I hear the mountains are beautiful this time of year.




Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Sung’s  arms hung limp at her sides, her face showing sleepless nights, her eyes dull and blank.  Around her scurried others (Friends? Relatives?)—a thin man, vibrant young woman with a little one tied on her back, small children with gleeful smiles—as they unloaded my trunk.

“Many foods!” exclaimed the vibrant one, adjusting the sling as the baby peered over her shoulder. She lifted and swung the twenty-five pounds of rice easily, gracefully, disappearing into the doorway of the apartment.  Sung still stood.  I smiled, met her eyes, and  placed two chickens in her hands. She looked at them, looked at me, turned woodenly toward the door.

Her husband lay miles away, pierced with tubes and lines attached to blinking, beeping machines, wrapped and bound. The accident had come with great force and greater loss: a disabled bus braking ahead, an attempted merge, blind spot, sideswipe, loss of control-- three dead, two injured.  One moment in the black of night changed everything. And Sung stood bewildered in a foreign land with few who spoke her language, her three small children clamoring around her numb legs.

Another took the chickens from her and Sung suddenly enveloped me in a hug. Tight, real, aching, like a hug from one of my own children. My heart ached. Where was her own mother? Back in the refugee camps? Did she know yet?  I wanted to tell her everything was going to be okay, but the only phrase I knew with anything close to that meaning was kaun deh: “it is good.” And this? This was not good.

The others did quick work, emptying the trunk of collard and turnip greens, cabbage, onions and garlic, mangoes and limes and tart apples. Cartons of eggs were met with oohs and the children squealed at the sight of grapes.  The thin man’s face lit with happiness in recognition (Chiles! he cried) at the bag of red and green cayennes from my garden. Sung warmed when I handed her the box filled with containers of fresh, spicy, homemade vegetable soup.

Thank you, she said. Jesu payt. And I was wrapped in another hug. She held on, made a small sound, held on a little longer.

Jesu payt. It sounds almost like “Jesus paid.” Yes, indeed He did.  Kaun deh.

God bless you, I said. Yes, she replied. Yes. I got in my car to go back to my world, where I never have to worry about where my next meal will come from and where my medical bills are covered and where I understand what the doctor is saying and where, if I really wanted to, I could drive four hours to my mother’s house. And Sung stood on the sidewalk, her hand frozen in mid-air.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Night Before

This is the Night Before It Gets Real. Tomorrow, at 2:30 I meet with the surgeon.

 It had started innocently enough, with one of those silly facebook status update games for Breast Cancer Awareness. I have always rolled my eyes at them, wondering how on earth that was supposed to help. But this time, instead of playing along, I simply promised to go have my mammogram. I was a year and two months overdue. It was time.

The mammogram appointment was quick and painless. I arrived home in record time, resumed my day getting ready for our long-awaited vacation. Gave it not a second thought.

Vacation was glorious at the beach. My husband and I enjoyed brisk morning walks around the resort, relaxing floats around the lazy river, leisurely lunches on the balcony. We were out on that balcony when I missed the call. Radiologist. She left a message. Call me back, she said.

I called back and left a message on the voice mail which informed me that all calls would be returned after 4:00, and that there was no need for multiple calls to that number. It was 1:53.

Some hours are longer than others. The afternoon had turned sweltering, so we had decided on a quiet indoor time. And there we sat; he, watching a replay of a football game on his laptop, blissfully unaware of the call, and I, researching and writing for an upcoming women’s retreat, reading scripture after scripture about seasons and cycles of life, alternately calm and churning.

4:56. The return call came. I was being called back in for a second look. Don’t worry, she said. It is common to come back in. When can you get here?

We scheduled for the earliest time on my first day back. And all the rest of the week, I saw pink ribbons in the souvenir shops and on the tailgates of cars and in the hot pink bikinis at the pool. I moved my own pink shirt to the bottom of the drawer.

The appointment came and I once again subjected myself to the Pancake Machine. Extra views. More extra views, with magnification. Technician left and returned with a doctor. Calcium deposits, she said. No need to worry, it’s a very small area. But you will need a biopsy. Just to be sure. When can you get there?

I left with a pink folder and an appointment for the afternoon at the Breast Center. Next to Day Surgery. At the hospital downtown, the big one with all the latest and greatest technology. And my bewildered husband drove us and we circled around and around under the low ceilings of the parking garage and the biopsy was done and they said expect a call by Thursday and we went home and ate soup and went to bed early with ice packs and Tylenol and prayers.

At 10:54 on Wednesday morning, the radiologist called. It’s not malignant, she said. But there are two types of atypical cells and we need to schedule a consultation with a surgeon. What? Ok. She said the surgical office would call me directly to schedule. Ok.

What next? Sit and wait? No, the fridge is empty because I cleaned it out before vacation and there’s nothing in there and the cats need litter and it is grocery day, like every Monday. Wait. It isn’t Monday, it’s Wednesday. Somehow I missed grocery day. The schedule must be upheld. Order must be maintained. Grocery store, it is.

And at 2:08, as I stood in the middle of the meat aisle, between the chicken breasts and the gluten-free nuggets, next to the sign that announced the 25% off sale, my phone rang.  Do you have a preference for a surgeon, she asked. Is there a day that’s best? Monday, I said. Monday. And as my phone chimed its battery warning, she gave me a date. And I fumbled in my purse for my notebook but came up with my sketchbook instead and wrote in pencil on the back of the cloud study. And suddenly, my stomach complained about the smell of the butcher counter and the red slabs of meat and I needed to find a neutral aisle, with orderly boxes and cans and no people.

And now, it is The Night Before.

And I haven’t even done the paperwork. And the appointment is still written in pencil in the sketchbook behind the clouds, as if putting it in ink somewhere gives it power.

So now the rubber meets the road and I have to decide, again, like every day, multiple times, for the past two and a half weeks, if I am going to worry or if I am going to trust. And I will choose to trust. Because God has been whispering through scripture and through the hugs and prayers of friends and the songs at church and the card from my Nancy and the soft, strong hands of my husband clasping mine. I know Who goes before me and Who stands behind. My God carries me. Whom and what shall I fear?

I get out the ink pen and start the paperwork.




Thursday, September 25, 2014

Turn, Turn, Turn

I open the closet door and Sammy’s arms fall at my feet.

Don’t worry. He’s a mannequin. Sammy had an accident earlier this year, tumbling off his rod when I scooched him behind the curtain in the sewing loft. So his arms now reside in The Closet.

A long, narrow attic space under the eaves at the top of the stairs, carpeted with the remnants of a 70s era shag, The Closet is my version of my Granna’s storage building. She named hers “Purgatory”. It fit.

Here reside, in a holding pattern, all generally-past-prime or rarely-called-into-service things I keep tucked away for a rainy day. Literally, it is raining today, and I need to find some floral wire to finish an autumnal wreath. That’s appropriate, too. Fall is to me the season when everything vigorous begins to wane, to be tucked into bed (or a cozy closet) for a long winter’s nap, awaiting in hope that Spring will, indeed, come.

Spring resides in The Closet, in the Very Back. It shows itself in my box of childhood and youth memorabilia: the resin Cocker Spaniel bank, the sheet music for flute for Scarborough Fair, the cheerleading plaque. There lies the flower garland from my friends’ wedding. I hold it in my hands and remember the beauty of the day, the laughter, the utter joy. Spring feels invincible. When we’re in it, when we are living the Spring of our lives, we feel invincible. Days stretch forever. And then we turn and it is Summer.

Summer is in the boxes of toys and books, vestiges of the Good Old Days when I was young and fearless and full of children and song. I love summer, with its greening and its growth and its fruit. I always hate to see it end and turn into fall, when the baby birds move on and the leaves let go. I’m not so good at letting go. I thought I was, but evidence crowds the close walls of The Closet.

Ah, Sammy. His open palms are turned up. Let go, he says.

The leaves are turning, breathtakingly gorgeous, gloriously blazing in their true colors after slipping off chlorophyll masks of green. Soon, they will release themselves from the branches and become airborne, flying in the wind or freely floating on the calm. It is a new season, one of harvest and gratitude and acknowledgement of winter’s approach, when the migrating birds will settle and nights lengthen.

I turn up my open hands to release, that I may receive the blessing, embrace the cycle.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1