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Aunt Hildy’s Vision – The Holy Places in Cancer and Grief

 

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Marlowe, Hildy and me the summer after Grandma died

The night before my surgery, I received this email from my great-uncle Marlowe.

HILDY HAS BEEN FEELING PUNK THE LAST FEW DAYS AND WENT TO BED EARLY TONIGHT.  I WAS WASHING DISHES WHEN SHE CALLED ME TO THE BEDROOM.  SHE SAID THIS IS STRANGE. “I’VE BEEN HEARING THE VOICE OF MY FATHER PRAYING FOR KIM AND HER SURGERY. WRITE THEM AND EMAIL AND LET THEM KNOW THAT ALL IS WELL AND THE SURGERY WILL GO WITHOUT INCIDENT.  NOW I CAN GO TO SLEEP”. YOU HAVE BEEN UPHELD AT THE THRONE OF GRACE. PEACE, MERCY AND BLESSING.   MARLOWE

I didn’t respond.

A few days after surgery, I received the following email.

ADDITIONAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE ABOVE.     “HILDY’S VISION”

WENT TO BED, THINKING ABOUT KIM AND TOMORROWS SURGERY. WAS VERY TIRED AND FELL INTO A SEMI-SLEEP.

I WAS AWARE OF A WIND OR SPIRIT SHOWING ME A ROOM, THAT WASN’T A ROOM. THE SETTING WAS VERY BLEAK. COMING INTO VIEW WERE THOSE PEOPLE THAT HAD A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO KIM.

IN SHARP FOCUS WERE MY PARENTS, GOTTLEB AND FRIEDA. BEHIND THEM, MORE OBSCURED, WERE GERT AND ALVIN SWANSON, HENRY AND LOTTIE SWANSON AND LORRIE SWANSON. I WAS OBSERVING FROM A DISTANCE AND I HEARD MY FATHER START TO PRAY. “O DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER” —JUST AS I REMEMBER HIM PRAYING GROWING UP.

KIM WAS NOT DIRECTLY MENTIONED, BUT THE ESSENCE OF THE PRAYER WAS “THE SURGERY WILL GO WELL AND WITHOUT INCIDENT”  I WAS FILLED WITH AN AWESOME SENSE OF PEACE. AS QUICKLY AS THE ‘VISION’ CAME, IT LEFT.

I CALLED MAR TO LET HIM KNOW, AND ASK HIM TO SEND THE ABOVE EMAIL TO JAN AND KIM. (THIS WAS A VERY EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR HILDY SINCE THE PRAYER AND GATHERING WERE EXPRESSLY FOR KIM.)

I didn’t respond. I read it through tears, but I didn’t respond.

Two weeks later, my aunt Hildy died.

I didn’t go to her funeral. It was so soon after surgery that I didn’t know if I could physically handle the long car ride or emotionally handle the service.

So I missed it.

And until today I haven’t really grieved her, because I haven’t had it in me to enter into that sadness.

When I was 13, Hildy became a surrogate grandma to me.

I have wonderful memories of my summer visits to her home in Omaha. I can still hear her voice saying my name. I can feel myself cocooned her great big papason chair. I can remember how the heaviness of  her breathing when she rested was so soothing because it sounded just like Grandma. I can close my eyes and get lost in her amazing flower garden in my mind. I can even remember the scent of her car.

I loved her.

And I love it that God would give her that vision for me.

That he would give that picture and those words to my Aunt Hildy in her frailty. Just for me. Just when I needed them. Just before she died. It was like receiving an invitation into a private holy place.

And though it weighs so heavy on my heart that I didn’t respond to her messages, and that I didn’t attend her funeral, and that I have pushed her death to the recesses of my mind until now because grieving her and dealing with cancer was just too much, I know she knew what she meant to me.

Today I sit at my table, a pile of tissues beside me, and I write and I grieve her as if she just died yesterday.

In many ways it’s too late, but today I respond. Aunt Hildy, I love you and I miss you.

 

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Sanctuary For My Soul – The Devotion I Wrote to Myself

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January 6th was my deadline for my contribution to the TCW devotional book, Sanctuary For My Soul.

January 9th I found a lump in my breast.

January 20th I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My devotion quickly forgotten, (along with pretty much every other non-essential part of my life), I was shoved into a daily struggle to trust in God’s plan for me. I didn’t doubt God’s goodness or love for me on January 9 or January 20. But I didn’t like where he was taking me. (That’s an understatement by the way.)

Over the past few months I have felt sorry for myself on more than one occasion. And in those weeks when I didn’t know if the cancer had spread, I feared death. I didn’t fear where I would go in death. I am certain that my eternal destiny is with Jesus. I feared going now. The thought of leaving my family kept me awake at night. (Who will scratch the boys’ backs at bedtime? Will Corey be able to get the kids to all the places they need to go? What about cooking? Can he be mom and dad? How will Corey do life without me? How will I do heaven without him? Will I be here to see my kids graduate? Will Lewis even remember me?…)

I am still in the throws of this cancer thing; healing from major surgery (quite nicely I might add), looking to a second surgery sometime this summer and awaiting some test results and a comprehensive plan from my oncologist to take steps to lower the risk of the uninvited guest returning to my body. But I have made it through some very dark places, and I see a light up ahead.

Which brings me back to the devotion I wrote just before cancer.

I was assigned a chapter of scripture where David cries out to God in his distress and finds hope – (a pretty common theme for David 🙂 ) I wrote about what I considered to be the most difficult trial of my adult life. A miscarriage that occurred about a decade ago.

It was meant to help women find the hope in despairing circumstances. But as I read through the finished product that came in my inbox this week, I realized that God had me write those words for me.

This is how my devotion ends.

Each of us will go through seasons of great struggle and discouragement. It’s when we
find a way to hope in God and continue to praise him through our hardships that we experience a sweet communion with our Creator who “pours his unfailing love” upon us. 

And I can say from within a season of great struggle that it is most assuredly, a sweet, sweet communion.

Psalm 42:11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Whys so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

An ebook is available on Amazon.

10-pack hard copies are available at TCW.

 

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The Conversation Not to Have With a Cancer Patient

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Since my breast cancer diagnosis, dozens of people have shared their death-by-cancer stories with me.

It is such a bizarre phenomen.

I was diagnosed with a disease that kills people. I know this. I think about it daily. Being reminded every time I go out in public is tough for me. But alas, it happens. A lot.

It’s hard for me to hear about

  • Your uncle who died from prostate cancer
  • Your mom who fought breast cancer for 10 years before it took her life
  • Your best friend from college whom you watched wither away at age 20
  • Your nephew’s sister’s cousin’s friend who left 5 kids and a husband behind when she “lost her battle”

It takes me about .5 seconds after waking up in the morning to remember where I am and what cancer has done to my body. Stories of others’ grief are not helpful. In fact, what they do is flip this whole thing upside down and put me in the position of comforter. Right now, I just don’t have it in me to be that person. (Come back next year at this time, and I might be able to give you a pep talk.)

What I do want to hear is your success stories.

Tell me about

  • Your mom who beat cancer 20 years ago and is around to see her grandsons play football
  • Your niece who just made it to the 5-year milestone
  • Your brother who had a tumor removed in high school and went on to become an engineer
  • Your personal experience of overcoming breast (or any other type) of cancer

I realize the word CANCER makes people feel weird and uncomfortable. And when something makes people feel weird and uncomfortable they sometimes say things they wouldn’t otherwise say. For the most part, I am able to extend grace and understanding when people say things I don’t want to hear. I try to remind myself that before cancer entered my life it weirded me out too, and I certainly said more than one dumb thing to someone without even realizing it.

If you are thinking “Oh crap, I did this to Kim.” Please don’t. There’s a good chance I don’t even remember our specific conversation, because, like I said, it happens all the time.

Instead, please accept these words as a teaching moment from someone who was forced against her will onto the other side.

Cancer has changed my life for sure, and I am happy to talk about it with you. I just don’t want to talk about all the people who died.

Plus, I am equally happy to skirt the cancer topic altogether and talk about the weather or the latest ISU game.

Speaking of ISU…Sweet 16! Go State!

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Breast Cancer is Not All Sadness

Breast cancer is yucky. If I could choose not to have it, I would give it up in a heartbeat. But it’s not all sadness and tears either.

  1. It’s chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast.IMG_20160128_082649443

  2. It’s playing hooky from school to go bowling and eat chocolate shakes.

  3. It’s love in the way of a magic blanket from my BFF. (Lewis has discovered the magic.)IMG_20160218_170032227

  4. It’s less about seeking the approval of people and more about leaning on my Savior.

  5. It’s a new recliner to recover in. (C and O have temporarily taken it over.)IMG_20160203_183907245

  6. It’s a college friend who has gone before me and become my mentor.

  7. It’s a husband who comes home in the middle of the day to give me a footrub.

  8. It’s a Valentine from a bunch of 8-year-olds.IMG_20160214_074421554

  9. It’s reading a book by the fire; burning through the stacks of wood from my dad.

  10. It’s getting to hear my baby boy say things like “If I went to Perfect Games when you had cancer, I would try to get a bunch of tickets and buy you a teddy bear.”

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

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Breast Cancer and the Old Testament Prophets

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This summer I read through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. I didn’t have a particular reason for reading them. I guess I just wanted to hang out with some of the major prophets.

But God knew the reason I was reading some of his OT big guys . I’m sure he handpicked them for me.  Because, he knew in June, how much I would need Isaiah and Jeremiah’s words in January (and now February).

I page through those books now and land on passage after passage of scripture that I underlined while sitting on my back deck last summer.  They have become God’s words speaking right to the places inside of me that need it.

Almost everyone I know who memorizes scripture has memorized Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

It is a lovely encouraging verse.

But do you know what that verse is a part of?

It’s a letter to the exiles. God is not saying those words to happy, comfortable people in their comfortable houses with their comfortable families. He’s saying them to people going through some tough stuff.

He’s talking to people who, in his own words, have been “objects of horror and scorn… banished from the sounds of joy and gladness.”

I would take comfort in that verse if I didn’t have the context. But with the context it is even more meaningful. My cancer is not a punishment like the Isrealites’ exile was, but it is still tough stuff. God knows I’m having a kind of crappy winter, and he knows he plans to give me a hope and a future. I have no idea what that future looks like. But he does, and I trust him.

There are moments I’m a little scared of what lies ahead of me and there are moments I am a lot scared. But there are also many moments that I have more peace than a 40-year-old wife and mama who was diagnosed with breast cancer should have.

I am not doubtful that the God who had me reading Old Testament prophets while I sat and watched my boys swim this summer knows exactly what he is doing.  He knew then that he planned to use those underlined words to bring me comfort and courage this winter. He also knows now what my future hope looks like and that is enough.

 

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Chemo Therapist: How Cancer Saved A Marriage Book Review

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“While we had developed an extraordinary relationship, we had never been extraordinary people. We were just two flawed humans, who eventually discovered what it was to put the other first.” – Mary Potter Kenyon, Chemo-Therapist, How Cancer Saved a Marriage.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Discovering how to put the other first? Two flawed people committing their lives to each other and then hopping into life full-force, sometimes completely missing the planks in our own eyes while trying to dig the sawdust out of our mate’s. Anyone can have an ordinary-survival-mode type of marriage. It is only when we successfully grasp the idea of putting the other first that our relationship becomes extraordinary.

This 167-page book is a beautifully woven story of the move from ordinary to extraordinary.

I knew bits and pieces of Mary’s story before picking up this book. I knew that she watched her mother die too young of cancer. I knew that she herself has struggled with many physical ailments. I knew she buried her precious grandson Jacob at the tender age of eight. And I knew that she lost her husband.

I don’t intend to ruin the book by sharing David’s death (in fact I think she shares that pretty early on.) I share it because it shaped the way I read this book and I think may be the reason that I had to keep kleenex close by as I read.  David didn’t die of cancer. In fact, he lived cancer free for 5 years before complications after a heart attack took him from Mary.

But as I read their struggle and their beautiful story of finding a renewed love in the midst of the ugliness of oral cancer, I kept thinking, “Why was he taken from her? Why, after they made it through so much, did their time get cut short?” But I know that God’s ways are not man’s ways, and sometimes you have to trust him even when your this-world-focused mind thinks he might have made a mistake.

Never having been intimately involved in a cancer journey, I don’t know if I can give a completely accurate assessment of how this book can be helpful to someone going down that road. But I can say Mary does not shy away from showing a true picture of what goes on behind closed doors in a home where cancer lives, and if my family was forced to go through similar circumstances, I would want someone like Mary to be real with me.

She was not only forthright with daily life during that time period, but also with physical intimacy. A couple times I thought “TMI, Mary. TMI.” 😉 But then again, wouldn’t I want to know how cancer can affect the libido, if cancer were to hit home?

One of the things I most appreciated in this book was the little instances of God’s provision and how Mary recognized them as such. Over and over, this financially strapped family of 10 (yes 10, that’s not a typo) was blessed in some small way (and sometimes big way) that allowed them to get through something they were not capable of getting through on their own.

Lastly, I found my breath caught in my throat as I read Mary’s struggle with prayer.

“I couldn’t even pray. What would I pray for?…I felt awful not being able to do something as simple as praying…”

Having just studied Romans chapter eight where Paul speaks of the Spirit interceding for us in our weakness, I thought, “this is a picture of that.” Mary felt inadequate for not being able to pray, but I am confident that in her weakness, the Spirit was doing what she couldn’t.

So there you have it. I could say more. Or maybe I should have said less 😉 But this is an excellent book. It’s a cancer story. It’s a love story. It’s a struggling-to-get-by story. But what I saw weaved through every piece is that overwhelmingly it is a God story. One well worth getting comfortable in your favorite chair and reading over a cup of coffee (probably with a box of kleenex).

This book will be available for purchase on April 8, but I have a signed copy to give away before you can buy it. Just leave a comment, and you’ll be in the drawing. It can be as short as “hey, I’d like that book.” In the past, not a lot of people have signed up for my book giveaways, so your odds of winning are probably very good 🙂

If you are not yet convinced to read this book, check out the trailer on youtube.

Chemo Therapist: How Cancer Saved a Marriage

If you don’t win it, you can head on over to Amazon and pre-order it.

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