Safe in the Tub – the love in the midst of the impossible

Five-Minute-Friday: Safe

This post is written with the gang over at Five-Minute-Friday where we write on a prompt, for five minutes, and then post.  Don’t think, just do it!  This week’s prompt:  SAFE

It’s been sitting for nine years, safe in the bin I threw it in when I tried to return to “normal” after Andrew’s last chemotherapy appointment in December of 2007.  I cherished each card, letter, poster, and note people sent to us. But suddenly, that year, I needed to hide them.  We had more than enough reminders of Andrew’s travel through three and a half years of leukemia treatment.

I felt desperate to return to life.

Safe in the bin where I placed them. Reminders of support and love.

This week my school is kicking off the Pennies for Patients campaign for the Leukemia/Lymphona Society. On a search for the Pennies for Patients poster that featured Andrew, I rifled through that plastic tub that I have kept safe, but untouched for years. Just opening the lid provided a lightning flashback because of the innocuous heplock flush valve lying on top of the last MRI results.  I could not read more than 6 or 7 cards, as the tears blurred my vision. The valves, flush syringes and deadening cream in the bottom of tub ensured the return of the cover.

But not before a huge rush of appreciation and love flooded me.  I saw some imaginative and slightly odd cards decorated with love by children none of our family have ever met – those children who prayed for my boy.  There were recognizable post-it-notes that I would find on my desk after returning to work after a nine-hour-day at chemo.  I read hand-written poems and prayer placed in my mailbox by my high-school students and a note left on my clean pile of laundry by a friend.  A couple of empty envelopes baffled me, but just until I remembered the lady who sent us half of her over-time check for 6 months straight to help us out.  I hadn’t met her then, but she chose to bless us anyway.

There are more.  So many more.

A tub full of blessings and love waiting for when I need it, or when I can handle it.

A safe place full of reminders that our world holds beauty in the midst of ugly, and safety in the middle of a storm.

There is still beauty in our world that keeps us safe and grounded through hard times #fmfparty… Click To Tweet

Confessions my FMF friends:  I honestly have no idea how long this took me to write.  I got hung up on the tub full of blessings tonight, which forced me to write when I thought I had nothing on the prompt!

 

Five Tips for Celebrating National Survivors Day

National Survivors DayToday we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day—a day to celebrate survivorship as well as bring attention to the fact that winning cancer doesn’t always signify that the battle has ended.

Life after #cancer exists, but one should never expect it to follow familiar trajectories.… Click To Tweet

It’s a day to cheer on those who survived as well as acknowledge that survivors face ongoing challenges. Cancer changes everything—it changes one both physically and financially; it causes trauma in family members and caregivers; it can alter the course of one’s career.

All too often the survivor never mentions the subtext of those multiple ‘survivorships.’ But the reality of life post cancer can prove just as overwhelming as life during cancer.

In our case, cancer’s ravages left Pedro in a weakened state that took over a year to recover from. To this day, he has neuropathy (nerve damage) in his right foot that prevents him from enjoying hiking great distances. The chemo drugs also caused necrosis (death) of the bones in his hips and about seven years after cancer he had to go through core decompression surgery on one of his hips. Eventually, he’ll need a hip replacement.

Each of those subsequent treatments puts a financial strain on our family. A clean bill of health doesn’t mean that a survivor no longer has to worry about financial stresses and corollary health issues. It took us 12 years to pay off cancer. For some families, it takes even longer.

The emotional toll can nibble at different family members like a piranha, quietly wounding the soul until the wound festers and rises to the surface. In retrospect, I wish I would have signed the family up for counseling to treat the wounds as they happened—it may have made a difference. On the other had, I can’t let regret become a piranha in my life.

Cancer survivorship can cause upheaval at work as well. Pedro lost his job because of his cancer, and it took nine long years and additional schooling to rejoin the education workforce as a full-time employee again.

Of course, his experiences during those nine years working in construction, building a house, substitute teaching, and going to school uniquely prepared him for the job he holds now as the principal of a private school that operates almost exclusively on donations.

Remission from Cancer Doesn’t Equal Remission from Its Consequences

#Remission from #cancer doesn't mean remission from it's consequences. #NCSD2016 Click To Tweet

These five tips for celebrating a survivor will help you think outside the box when it comes to celebrating with a survivor.

1. When you celebrate a survivor, remember that that battle might not be over—it’s just being fought on a different front.
2. Continue to come alongside a survivor (which means listen more and talk less).
3. Don’t be afraid to ask sensitive questions—What do you find the most difficult part of your life after cancer? or I know you’re in remission, but do you still need support in any way?
4. Offer to help. Maybe the survivor could use free childcare once a month to reconnect with a spouse. Perhaps the survivor needs help cleaning the house or shopping for groceries as they build back their strength.
5. Give advice sparingly (and only when asked). Survivors don’t need to hear about your neighbor George’s second-cousin-once-removed who had cancer and went on to win an Olympic medal).

What about you? Do you have a survivor you’d like to acknowledge?  Tell us a little about them and their battle and leave a line of kudos and encouragement (and don’t forget to let them know in person, too). 

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up an inspirational post.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!


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Do You Have a Life Plan?

Living Forward

 out-of-control focus? A Life Plan Can help: Part II (CLICK FOR PART I)

Have you ever had a focus problem? Mine started when I became a parent (parenting is HARD work and seems to require all of our focus!), and intensified during my caregiving journey. About three years after Pedro’s miraculous healing, I realized that I needed to re-find my health. Our girls needed a mom who could keep up with them as they entered their pre-teen years, and I had a hard time doing much of anything. Suddenly, I had a new focus.

It took nine months of hard work, eating better and exercising more, but I eventually lost my caregiver weight (I may have over-focused on weight-loss and healthly eating, though, because our youngest daughter ended up struggling with aneorexia her sophomore year in high school).

When I took a photography class six years after Pedro’s recovery, I started to realize my my focusing problem. Hyper-focusing on something has its advantages—a photographer can create ‘bokeh’ where the subject matter jumps from the print and everything outside the plane of focus takes on a soft blur. On the other hand, spending the time to stitch together a panorama that shows a larger-than-life view of the subject can produce a startling effect, too.

I’ve learned to ask myself which kind of focus I need in a situation. Do I need to focus intently on something small and detailed? If so, for how long should I spend time on that one thing? Would stepping back and looking at the bigger picture help me more?

Learn to distinguish what kind of focus you need for each of life's problems. Click To Tweet

I actually find looking at the bigger picture a difficult task. Out of the 80,000 or so (but who’s counting, right?) photos that I’ve taken in the past five years, only a fifth of them are landscapes.

Life reflects art. I do ok focusing on the small things and the details, and I can even do some mid-range planning (for a few months or years) but I hesitate to step back and look at the really big picture—my life and where I’d like to be in five, ten, fifteen or even twenty years. That’s why a letter in my inbox got me pretty excited this week. I’m on the launch team for Michael Hyattt and Daniel Harkavy’s upcoming release, Living Forward.

Living Forward is a book about creating a life plan. Other than a vague sense of ‘I’d like to get married, have some children, have a fun job and enjoy life’ I’ve never had a life plan. I’ve had a great life drifting, but it’s time to step back and focus on the really big picture. I want to stop drifting and start living intentionally. You can find more information about the book by checking out this post. 

After reading the first chapter, I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and start charting a life plan (aka, focusing on the really big picture).  What about you?  Do you have a life plan or are you like me, just drifting along?

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer—just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I'm joining my friends @blestbutstrest and @caregivermom for some inspration for my Monday! Click To Tweet

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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Out-of-focus Caregiving Can Harm Your Health

watch your focus

I learned the hard way what happens when I lose my focus.

I opened the box and quickly tore the wrapper from around its contents. Ah. Pure bliss—a thick layer of dark chocolate covered an incredible sweet bar of chocolate ice cream. “How do you spell relief?” I asked myself. “H-A-A-G-E-N D-A-Z” I said under my breath as I bit into heaven and I started trudging up the eleven flights of stairs to Pedro’s hospital room.

I took the stairs because I wanted to eat an ice cream bar, and I figured the climb might cancel the calories. A niggle of doubt wormed into my brain. After all, I’d already put on about 45 pounds since Pedro’s initial diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six months earlier.

My internal argument raged as I huffed and puffed up flight after flight to the blood cancer ward.  “Everyone says I need to take time for ME,” I thought. “If I want to eat an ice-cream bar, that’s taking time for me, right?

Unfortunately, I had lost my focus. I had focused so intently on helping Pedro get well, that I lost sight of myself and the bigger picture of my life. I coped with stress by eating—too much, too quickly and too often. I had quit exercising (I had a perfect excuse—big cities had dangers around every corner, and if something happened to me, what would happen to Pedro and the girls?).

My focus had caused a severe case of denial. As in, I thought I needed to deny myself everything good and healthy in my life in order to help Pedro, and then I ignored the results of my denial (increased feelings of tiredness and ability to cope without resorting to crutches—like chocolate).

It's unhealthy to deny yourself everything good in life when you become a #caregiver. Click To Tweet

Photography eventually became the catalyst to help me understand balance in my life. But that’s a story for next week (and my five minutes have ended).

(You can find my first caregiver self-care tip here.)

What about you? Have you ever had a season of caregiving or extreme stress that caused your focus to slip?

The Shocking Truth About My Neck and Calves

Living with distortions

Dealing with Distortions

I have a huge, thick, gargantuan neck. When I wear something with a rounded collar, my face doubles in width and takes on a moon-like glow. Ever since I noticed this amazing propensity of necklines to change the proportions of my face, I’ve avoided athletic t-shirts and turtlenecks.

My legs resemble those of a chicken’s. I remember reading an article in Glamour magazine back in the dark ages—I think I had started my freshman year of college—where the authors detailed how to measure your legs to see if they had perfect proportions. Mine came pretty close, according to my measuring tape and my best friend (who envied my lanky legs and my comely calves).

“But you have a nice neck and a tiny waist,” I pointed out (my theory was that women have either a waist or nice ankles and calves—but very few have both). Later that same year, my friend confessed that she’d stopped at a bakery and purchased a dozen chocolate chip cookies—and eaten the whole box.

I shrugged. “That sounds good,” I said, “although I can’t imagine eating 12 cookies.” It wasn’t until years later that my friend confessed to me that she struggled with bulimia. Her tiny waist came at a great cost to her mental and physical health.

Food has played a sinister role in my life as well. I discovered its self-medicating properties when the world seemed scary. During Pedro’s bout with cancer, he dropped to 130 (five pounds less than my pre-pregnancy weight) and I blossomed to 185 (his pre-cancer weight). The only known photo of me during this time is on my school ID card—I couldn’t avoid having my photo taken. My neck looks even larger than normal—but I consoled myself that my calves and ankles still looked pretty good.Dealing with distortions

Two years before my fortieth birthday I decided that I didn’t want to be a
‘fair, fat and forty’ statistic and end up with gallbladder problems. I wanted to have energy to keep up with my almost teenage daughters. I wanted them to take pride in their mommy. I went on a low-carb diet and over the course of ten months I slowly returned to my pre-pregnancy weight.

The negative thoughts about my weight remained—in fact, I hate having my photo taken because I want to live up to my ideal image of what I should look like and all too often the photos that others take don’t meet my expectations. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror putting on make up (I got too lazy to wear that stuff about six years ago). My daily hair routine involves running a wide-toothed comb through my curls and making sure I have a part. That’s it. I have no feelings about my looks—unless someone snaps a photo that I deem ‘horrible.’ It’s possible that I’ve asked my children to erase photos of me that they took on their phones.

The struggle with food didn’t end with my initial weight loss, though. I will never have the metabolism of a hummingbird. Food will always sound the siren call of comfort when I feel stress and pressure building in my life.  In January, after an extremely stressful year, I realized that I had slowly gained back twenty of those 55 pounds I had worked so hard to lose.

I decided I needed accountability, so I bought a FitBit and started keeping track of what I ate on the FitBit app on my phone. A few of my blogging friends have FitBits as well, so we challenge each other to keep moving during the week and on the weekends. My employer’s health program gives rewards for weight loss and exercise, and so I decided to enter my stats in their database as an additional form of accountability.

About the third time I entered my stats, I came to the shocking realization that the measurement for my calves is THE SAME as the measurement for my neck. All these years I’ve lived with the distorted belief that my neck is gargantuan and my calves are slim.

The possibility that the two areas shared a circumference never occurred to me. I passed judgment on my calves and ankles years ago and consoled myself about my giant neck and thick waist by putting down other women’s cankles.I passed judgment on my neck and consoled myself by putting down other women's cankles. Click To Tweet

Dr. David Burns, author of Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy, would call my distortion “Labeling and Mislabeling.” I don’t need anyone else to put me down. I do a fine job of it myself, thank you very much. It’s time to give up the idol I’ve built on my dimensions and just accept myself for who I am (even in photos). Dr. Burns also says, “Only one person in this world has the power to put you down—and you are that person, no one else!”

I’m ready for more accountability, so snap away—I promise to never ask you to delete a photo from your camera or your phone (it might take me awhile to view the photos without wrinkling my nose, though). My neck and calves measure the same—and I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My neck and calves measure the same--and I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Click To TweetMy job is to keep my mind on positive things and my body as healthy as possible.

That Glamour article promised perfection if my legs measured up—but I’d rather have perfection in my relationship with God and with my fellow travelers.

How about you? Do you have any distortions that you’ve discovered and are ready to let go of?

Tales from the Border Tell Two Sides of a Story

Every story has two sides
The Beggar’s Face Again

I sat quietly on the steps of the farmacia on the corner, fanning off flies, vendors, and heat.

Almost directly in front of me, young soldiers guarded the square dusty space between the town and the border crossing; the gateway to my own country waiting to welcome me back.

To my left lay the town—the town that tourists don’t see. The shops that the locals frequent. The shops without air-conditioning; flypaper hanging in the doorway and globs of cement forming steps. The part of town where houses cram indiscriminately between the street and the businesses. Houses that may or may not have running water or electricity.

To my right stretched the street that was designed for me to see. Fancy tilework and nice storefronts invite one in to shop –into the air-conditioning and out of the stifling heat of the dusty street. Vendor stalls lined up in front of the stores and the hierarchy was clear: Air-conditioned stores first, vendor stalls second, vendors on foot third and of course, beggars last.

I’ve known that for years—it’s true of most countries or cultures around the world.

But this day, because I had lost my family, I had a different view.

Neither a tourist nor a local, once I waved away the on-foot vendors, I became invisible while sitting on that fake marble stairway.

And the clash and the mesh of the different worlds kept me captivated.

The children, the ones with the professional beggar faces? I watched as they approached other tourists with the same sad faces and slumped demeanor. But I also got to watch as they ran back by me, giggling and poking each other to rest in the shade I had found. They stood around and laughed and joked until someone new came from beyond the crossing. One little boy poked the other, “It’s your turn.” A new little girl was prodded into activity. “What is it again? Twelve for one dollar?” Eyes rolled as they went through the prices again for her and off she went, to look sad and helpless and try to sell some visiting Meester her quota of chicles. The waiting children spoke of school and their families and which street vendor would be most likely to give up some taquitos.

The street vendors bustled back and forth trading freely with each other according to who needed what. “Hey, I got a lady who wants a dress in purple…hurry!”

“Fine, then bring me back a green.”

They brought lunch or maybe a water bottle to one another.

One street vendor ran into the farmacia where I sat and a moment later burst out the door and ran over to an over-dressed couple who waited in the street. He handed them what they wanted, and I wondered how much he made on the 15 steps he took to sell it to them.

I almost laughed aloud one moment, listening to a vendor bargaining with a tourist. They hassled and harangued and jostled back and forth with the vendor whining about feeding his family and the tourist declaring she only had so much money with her. The lady walked away happy with her deal and the vendor turned down my street to check his iPhone for messages.

I loved it every time one of the vendors would dash into the farmacia for something, because the air conditioning from inside would blast out onto the dusty street, cooling me as it went by.

The two faces of a poor border town. The beggars with smart phones and the well dressed store workers walking around the corner to have lunch in their electricity-less houses.

Every story has two sides, right? So often we judge on the side that we see and forget there might be another view, or more information.

Earlier on, before I misplaced my family, we had passed an old woman, sitting pitifully on the sidewalk, waving her Styrofoam cup at passersby. She called out in a pathetic voice for change, for money, for help. After seeing the one guy whip out his smart phone, my son turned to me and asked, “Do you really think that old lady needs the money, or will she go around the corner to her luxury car?”

It’s a valid question, but I think I may have given a valid answer. “For whatever reason, she has the temerity and the stamina to SIT on that concrete sidewalk for at least the 3 hours that we’ve seen – I would say she needs the money. And we don’t know the rest of her story.”

I ended up sitting on those steps after that conversation with my son. One of the boys selling chicles raced by and a clerk stepped out of the farmacia. He called the boy over and asked him what he was eating. The boy replied and told a story about the taco he had been given. The man asked sternly, “Did you ask for it?”

“No, Papi, I didn’t ask for it. She offered!”

“Did you pay for it?”

Eyes widened in innocence, “No, Papi, she said I could have it, she couldn’t sell it.”

He shook his head, “Ok then, but don’t you be asking for food. You should earn that. You could trade gum for tacos.”

Two sides–the sad face to sell, but maintaining the pride of not begging. There’s always more to the story.

Having a child fighting cancer and on chemotherapy for three years provided many opportunities of growth for me as a mother. It also seemed to provide many opportunities of judgement from others; people who assumed we did not discipline him, people who assumed he was well when his hair grew back and people who had not one clue as to what we dealt with at home and hospital. Two sides of a story: the reality side and the viewable side.

I’ve had students with autism, with hearing loss or vision loss, students with real life struggles that I watched be judged. On those rare occasions where I could explain, I would watch faces and attitudes change because the listener heard the rest of story.

I’m sure each of you readers has a similar story you could share about being misunderstood, or feeling that you had another side to your story. What do YOU wish people had done differently? That’s what it takes—if each of us assumes there is more to the story, maybe each of our stories could be more beautiful!

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week (just ONE, please).

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

Please link back to this week’s post or add the button to your post so that we can spread the inspirational cheer :).

I found inspiration for my Monday at #inspirememondays. Join us! (tweet this)

So, go ahead! Take the plunge and share your most inspiring post with us!

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God Has a Purpose for Your Life

Our lives do not happen in a void. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-H8 via @blestbutstrest #kisscancergoodbyeI haunted the hallways, waiting for the doctors to finish their regular morning meeting in the corner room. For days Pedro’s life had hung in the balance while a yeast infection in his blood ravaged his cancer-weakened body. The chemo treatment he had received shortly before the yeast started colonizing had killed off his white blood cells, and his body had nothing left to fight the newest onslaught.

The day before, the doctors had discussed giving Pedro a white blood cell transplant, and had asked about possible sibling donors. I had called Pedro’s only sibling and he stood by, ready to fly to San Francisco and do whatever it took to help out.

I let everyone back home and all of the people on the update email list know about the special prayer request—that Pedro’s brother be a match and that the white blood cell transfusion would turn the tide.

When I saw the resident on call walking towards Pedro’s hospital room, I rushed over and exclaimed, “Pedro’s brother can be here in four hours. Does he need to do anything before he comes to see if he’s a match?”

The doctor shook his head, “A match for what?”

“The white blood cell transfusion!” I exclaimed. I knew everyone discussed each patient every morning, so surely this doctor knew what Pedro needed.

“No one told you?” he asked.

“What?” my heart wavered between my toes and its usual place. The doctor’s stoic expression didn’t reveal much.

“He won’t need the white blood cell transfusion!” A smile broke out on his face. “He’s producing his own white blood cells.” His face sobered. “Now we wait some more.”

I stood there, stunned, as he hurried off down the hallway, muttering something about miracles under his breath.

A miracle of epic proportions, indeed. Pedro’s body had started producing white blood cells again two days earlier than it had at any other point during treatment. The prayer warriors had prayed for a successful transplant, and instead God had provided something even better—he had given Pedro the ability to fight on his own without another procedure.

Looking back, I don’t understand the reason for the miracle (maybe I suffer from a bit of survivor’s guilt by proxy). Thousands of others have prayed for healing and for miracles, and God has answered their prayers differently. My own grandpa suffered a slow death from mesothelioma (lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos).

But this I do know. God has a purpose for each of us. Our lives do not happen in a void. (tweet this)

Maybe that doctor needed to see a miracle in order to believe in God. Perhaps a nurse needed to know that the selfless way she poured herself out each day on the cancer ward really did make a difference.

Maybe I needed to realize that my arranging and organizing and control had little effect on the outcome of Pedro’s journey—God would perform miracles in his own time and of his own choosing. I needed to relinquish the driver’s seat and concentrate on prayer.

Almost thirteen years have passed since that incident, and Pedro is living out his God-sized dream as the principal of a mission school for Native students. The work never ends, it seems. I don’t mind, though, because I know that God saved him for such a time as this.

Today is World Cancer Day, and I’d like to thank God, first of all, for healing Pedro. I would also like to thank God’s hands and feet—the doctors and nurses at the University of California, San Francisco Parnassus campus who work tirelessly in the Hematology Oncology clinic and in the trenches on Eleven Long. Thank you. Your dedication to healing and helping thirteen years ago makes a difference in the lives of troubled kids today.

What about you? Is there anyone you want to than

Feeling Guilty?

Feelings of guilt of things we cannot control are the devil's device for stealing our joy. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-GEIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from cancer, it’s that guilt won’t cure it. I’ve also realized that there’s nothing like a pregnancy or a bad illness to bring out the loads of advice from well-meaning friends, family and strangers. The important thing is to understand where the guilt comes from and know what to do with it.

Guilt comes in two flavors—justified (as in you do something wrong or hurt someone and your conscience alerts you to the fact that you’ve done wrong) and unjustified. The unjustified guilt unreasonably pokes and prods you and prevents you from finding peace.

Unreasonable guilt can pop up at any time. For example, I feel badly if I refuse a fitness tip from my Wii fitness cartoon when I’m in a hurry and want to skip straight to the exercising. Unreasonable, I know. The cartoon doesn’t really care if I follow through with its advice.

Of course, when disaster strikes, real people come out of the woodwork to offer their solutions. That’s what happened to me when my husband had cancer. I wanted to please everyone. The trauma of the situation set up an internal dialogue system whereby I would suppress my initial reaction—yet feel guilty if I didn’t take the advice. After all, those who gave the advice had good intentions.

Looking back, I see that I let everyone’s shoulds and coulds practically squash the life out of me.

“Pedro should seek treatment in Cuba, there’s an amazing shark cartilage cure that they’re doing there that I saw on 60 Minutes.”

Well, I wouldn’t mind visiting Cuba, but Pedro has no desire to hang out there as long as there’s a Castro on the throne. But I felt badly about turning down well-meaning advice and researched an article or two about Cuba’s cancer treatment programs.

“I recommend the all-raw diet. Juice everything, cook nothing, and he’ll be fit as can be in just two months.”

Um, he might be dead in two months. He has stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—it grows rather quickly! But I couldn’t help promising to check out juicers.

“Pedro needs to get admitted to the local hospital in Dallas. They have an excellent cancer center, and we’d be able to help him out when he’s not in the hospital. You could stay in Montana and not worry about a thing.”

Not worry? When I’m separated by thousands of miles from my husband? We need to be close to each other in order to survive this. I don’t care if your hospital made U.S. News and World Reports’ top ten list. That’s just too far away. But I did research that hospital.

“My aunt’s ex-husband’s sister-in-law’s neighbor found a cancer cure in Baja, Mexico. Pedro should go down there.”

I’m happy for your aunt’s ex-husband’s sister-in-law’s neighbor. But, no. Of course, I couldn’t help looking at the website, though.

“Why did you let THAT person visit Pedro? Pedro’s neutropenic!”

THAT person happens to be a friend who traveled thousands of miles just to let us know that he cared. Wait a minute! Whose cancer is this? But I did start wasting Pedro’s valuable energy consulting him about visitors.

“You know, the nurses don’t like you. They say you’re pushy and rude and don’t let them do their jobs. Why don’t you just chill?”

Really? And here I thought I sat quietly in the corner, only asking the occasional question when I didn’t understand what they were doing. I keeping Pedro’s spirits up and walking with him and helping him eat will help with his recovery. I must be living a double life. But of course I turned my internal behavior monitor up a notch—eager to prove that I could act as the model family-member-in-the-room.

I’m sure you’ve suffered like this, too, with a litany of ‘you should’ and ‘you ought’ aimed your way. They pile up and threaten to drown you, because you probably already have a fair amount of self-imposed guilt weighing you down.

But I discovered something important. Just like there are two flavors of guilt, there are two places that guilt comes from. Justified guilt comes from the whisper of the Holy Spirit, and the intent is always to bring us back into a right relationship with God.

Unjustified guilt comes from the devil and he uses it to burden us and take our focus off the One who offers peace. (tweet this)

Both types of guilt require work, though—but we don’t have to work alone in either situation. For the justifiable guilt, God wants us to come before him in faith with a repentant, sincere heart. Not only will he forgive us (1 John 1:9), but he’ll cleanse our guilty conscience as well (Heb. 10:22).

The second kind of guilt—that feeling of regret, remorse or inadequacy—requires a different kind of work. First, we need to recognize it for what it is—an attack by the deceiver. Second, we need to put the devil in his place in the name of Jesus. (Mark 8:33). Third, we need to train our minds to remember that the ‘you shoulds’ and the ‘you ought tos’ are merely suggestions.

In retrospect, I can see that my guilt and consequent actions were misplaced. Those should statements* made me feel inadequate and guilty because I worried that if I didn’t do what someone suggested, I might mess things up and Pedro would never get better. See how tricky satan is? At no point in Pedro’s cancer journey was his prognosis or healing in my hands. It never depended on me. I am not God.

When someone makes a suggestion prefaced by ‘you should’ or ‘you ought to’ or ‘you could’, simply ask yourself, “Do I want to do this?” If the answer is, “Yes, it sounds wonderful!” smile and ask the person for more information.

If the answer is, “No! Are you kidding me?” smile and politely reply, “Thank you for the suggestion.” By calling it a suggestion, you subtly remind the person that what they are offering is simply a suggestion and you have no obligation to follow through or actually do what they suggest.

God doesn’t want our view of him fouled by false humility and misplaced guilt. When we’re justifiably guilty, we need to make it right with him. When we’re unjustifiably guilty, we need to ask for God’s help to banish the insinuations of the devil and train ourselves to tackle the shoulds and oughts in an appropriate manner.

Remember that feelings of guilt over things we cannot control are the devil’s device for stealing our joy. tweet this

*Dr. David D. Burns, in his excellent book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy points out that should statements are cognitive distortions. He offers excellent suggestions for dealing with the debilitating habit of should statements.

A Letter to Caregivers

A letter to #caregivers.  You need to read this. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-FR via @caregivermomDear Caregiver Friend:

I’m sending you this letter because I used to send letters. I used to do a lot of things…

I used to be a great aunt. Well, I’m a great-aunt now, but I used to be a great aunt. I sent post cards and birthday cards and letters. I remembered birthdays and celebrated with my nieces and nephews when they accomplished something. I used to be a great sister too. I sent multiple choice and fill-in-the blank letters to my sister who didn’t write much so she could return mail easily. It was a joke between us. I used to be a great friend. I remembered birthdays, sent notes of encouragement and often corresponded with far-away friends.

I’m afraid my nieces and nephews don’t even remember those far away days. If someone were to send me a multiple-choice letter now, it probably wouldn’t get returned. The last time I wrote a letter to a friend? Well, maybe that was back in 2002? I remember birthdays if Facebook sends me a notification. Notes of encouragement might be dashed off, but usually I just write “praying” under someone’s prayer request. And general correspondence? It does not happen. Ever.

I realize that our culture has changed with emails, Facebook, twitter and texting. But I’ve changed more.

When our son was diagnosed with leukemia, our world, by necessity, shrank to the 4 walls of the hospital room where he resided. On a good day it involved the hospital corridors where we could walk and on a highlighted day I could run to the store while someone stayed with my boy. Treatment protocol lasted three and a half years and in the process of keeping my head above water, I completely forgot how to write. I forgot birthdays. I forgot to celebrate successes and I lost touch with friends and even family. I forget a lot of things!

I carry a lot of guilt for that. Don’t do that, my friend.

Let that guilt go. Caregivers have a LOT to deal with and it’s real and it’s every day and it’s a fight. Go ahead. Deal with the emergencies. Your brain can only handle so much (If you don’t believe me, read all about Chemo-brain by Proxy) and it’s not meant to handle more. Handle what you can and let go of those other things. You can’t be great at everything when you’re working so hard to be a great caregiver.

So I’m sending you this letter. It’s a celebration for me. After 10 years of being a cancer caregiver and crazy mom – I had an urge to write a letter.

Quick, I have to push send before I forget!

Ready to Rest Under His Wings

Underhiswings

I’m ready, Lord, to throw in the towel.
You know how caregiving
weighs on my soul.

You know how often I try to
provide the cure and
not just the care.

You know how I enter hyper-super-warp
speed overthinking of every detail
when disaster strikes.

Help me to remember that
you have me covered
with your mighty
wings.

You stand ready,
waiting for me to say,
“Do, Lord, do it all!”

You wait for me to relinquish my
spot as superhero (I never really had
it to begin with), supermom (I have no
claim to that one either) and superChristian
(nope, that one doesn’t apply, either)

I can’t solve the world’s problems.
I can’t solve my students’ problems.
I can’t solve my friends’ problems.
I can’t solve my family’s problems.
I can’t even solve my own problems.

I’m ready, Lord. So I’ll stand still
and stretch out my limbs and
luxuriate in the assurance that
I’m under your wings.

I’m joining Kate Motaung and other brave bloggers for Five-Minute Friday.  You can find the details and join us by clicking here!