The Stuff of Life


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Without the Hard Things

Given a choice between the hard things and the easy things, I’d pick easy. But sometimes God doesn’t let me choose.

One year ago today Corey and I faced a really hard thing. A 5-hour surgery to remove my cancer and my breasts.

I remember it with an ache in my heart. But right beside that ache there is joy. JOY. Because God is good and the giver of the good things. Even in the wake of bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction.

  • The good thing of experiencing  peace that passes all understanding deep down into my bones as I was poked, prodded, injected with blue radioactive dye and wheeled around the hospital before surgery. I have felt the peace of God many times in my life, but never have I experienced it like that.img_20160225_181228780
  • The good thing of Corey sitting beside my bed that first night in the hospital, holding my hand all night long, as I slipped in and out of sleep. (Seriously, the man pulled the recliner right up beside my bed and sat close enough to hold my hand for the entire night, only releasing his grasp to scratch the incessant itch that I could not reach at the end of my nose.)

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  • The good thing of my boys visiting me in the hospital because they needed to see for themselves that I was going to be okay. (My boys, and my mom who brought them to see me, are the best. Also, Carter and Owen have each grown like a foot and turned into man creatures since this photo was taken.)
  • The good thing of the hazy, nearly silent, but super-naturally peaceful hour with my bff, Marti, who came to sit with me while Corey met a friend for lunch, so I wouldn’t have to spend one minute of my hospital stay alone.
  • The good thing of the 20-something nurse who, at the end of her shift, said to Corey and me “You guys are so cute. I just had to say it.” (And we are cute, darn it. She was speaking truth.)
  • The good thing of the release nurse saying “You have a very nice husband; how he takes care of you. Not all husbands are like that.” (Truth again. He’s the real deal.)

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And look at us now. Because of what we endured together, this year’s family photos will probably always be my favorite. (Plus I think we would make a sweet Under Armour ad.)

I believe what it says in the book of James, that every good and perfect gift comes from above. From my father in heaven. I also believe that sometimes those good and perfect gifts can only be delivered through the hard things.

So I will endure the hard things. And I will find joy in the good things that saturate the hard things in light.

 

 

 

 

 


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Breast Cancer and Tree Houses

One year ago today I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today Corey and I closed on our tree house. (Sometimes I name my houses 🙂 )

These two things don’t seem connected, but they bookend a chapter in the same story.

Building/Moving/Selling/Moving is woven into the fabric of our family life.

Many of our decisions are weighed on the moving scale. When we build, I choose finishes and fixtures more for resale than for my preference. We base furniture purchases on three things: style, comfort and weight. If it’s too heavy, it’s not worth moving no matter how beautiful it is. And that 2011 family vacation to Colorado? Postponed for a year because it collided with a closing date…

The Harms family moving plan going into 2016 was to list our pi house (314 Centennial) in June. Then I got cancer and all plans for every part of life were put on hold while Corey and I brushed up on our knowledge of useless facts by playing Trivia Crack in Medical Clinic waiting rooms.

By June I was feeling pretty good. The cancer was gone. I didn’t need chemo. And I was in between reconstruction surgeries.

And I just wanted to be normal again.

Normal to me included listing our house. So that’s what we did.  img_20160617_124656627

When we were preparing to put our house on the market, we decided that we were ready to get off this moving rollercoaster. We wanted to find a place or build a place that would be permanent (well maybe not permanent, but closer to permanent than we are accustomed to.)

So Corey was like, “What do you think about buying a duplex on main street and living in it for a couple years while we wait for something we like to present itself?”

I am not opposed to adventurous housing scenarios, but within two seconds of walking in the door of the duplex with our real estate agent, my response (internally) was a resounding “No Way. Uh-uh. Not Ever. My husband has lost his mind.”

When I got home, my prayers went something like this. “Please Lord, don’t make me move into the house with overflowing poop toilets and grease dripping down the walls.”

We all know how that turned out.

God has a sense of humor, and he moved me into the place with the overflowing poop toilets and the grease dripping down the walls. Thankfully, the poop and 95% of the grease img_20160708_195421724_topwas gone when we moved in. I eventually captured my hubby’s vision (I usually do. Sometimes it just takes me a while.) And together we spent a month gutting and remodeling the place before moving in.

The original plan was to live in our newly remodeled duplex for one to two years. For a variety of reasons, we decided not to build this time around, so Zillow became my friend. In the mornings I made my coffee, did my devotions and checked my Zillow for new listings. (You see, I got on board with moving into the duplex, but I just wasn’t convinced of the two year plan.)

One day this fall, Zillow was good to me.

Listed was an in town acreage with a house hidden back in the trees, smack in the middle of the neighborhood most of the boys’s friends live in. (Did I mention it comes with a tiny house by a ravine?) Be still my heart. img_20161215_141100758

We looked at the house that day and made an offer (that was accepted) that night. Corey really liked the place. I really LOVED it.  And the boys immediately started making plans for ziplines and trails through the woods.

But some issues that turned up on inspection made it very clear to both of us that we couldn’t go through with the purchase.

That was hard. I so very much wanted that place, but I knew that God was telling me no.

Fast forward two months. The price has gone down and some of our concerns have been resolved. We began negotiating with the seller again and came to a price we could agree upon.

It turns out God wasn’t saying no. He was saying wait. The waiting part was key, because without it we would have missed the sweetest part of the story.

Because we were totally flexible on the moving date, we left it up to our real estate agent and the sellers.

The date picked? January 20.

When we told the boys about the closing date at the supper table, Owen said, “God knew he was going to do that, didn’t he?”

Yes buddy. I have no doubt.

One year to the day after receiving the hardest news of our lives, Corey, Carter, Owen, Lewis and I are walking through the doors of our tree house.

God, in his lavish love was like, “See guys? I took care of you through the hard stuff and now I am giving you this gift.”

That’s who God is. He is healer. He is sustainer. He is a father who loves to give his children good gifts.

 

 


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Thanking God (and John Piper) at Inspire a Fire

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The topic at Inspire a Fire this month is thankfulness. Many of you have already read this letter I wrote to John Piper, but I felt it worthy of being my “thankful” post this month. I can’t read it without an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness and love for my Savior who cares for me in such amazing ways.

An Open Thank You Letter to John Piper


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Checking Things Off the Post Cancer To-Do List

Just before my exchange surgery in July, I posted 6 things I planned to do with my post cancer-invasion self. So here I am to brag that I’ve accomplished all but one 🙂 (Backpacking requires some wilderness and a trail, both of which Central Iowa is a little short on, so that one’s gonna have to wait.)

SLEEP

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I am a lover of sleep. I’m neither a night owl, nor an early bird. I’ve always been the girl who could happily go to bed at 10 and sleep until 9 given the opportunity. But things changed in January when that darn tumor freaked my body out. Sleeplessness kicked my butt for months, and Netflix became my middle-of-the-night companion.

But, alas, my beloved sleep has returned to me. My body has healed, and I can finally lie on my side again. Most nights I even spend the whole night in my own bed. (That $600 IKEA futon is getting slept on more often by teenage boys than by me. And I’m fine with that.)

HOLD SULLY

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Holding this little man makes me so very happy. Do you see that sweet sweet face? Just looking at his photo is making you happy, isn’t it? You’re welcome.

RUN

img_20161022_125025I started running again in September, and our whole family loved enjoyed tolerated running the Pumpkin Relay at Center Grove Orchard this year. Sometimes you’ve just gotta make your kids do stuff they don’t want to do. It’s one of the most important rules of parenting. Suck it up Harms boys, this is good stuff.

HUG MY HUBBY

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If a picture is worth a thousand words then the first 3 for this one are obviously “We are dorks.” I leave the other 997 to you.  Regardless of our dork status though, that is a hug. And that’s a big deal.

LIFE

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I am definitely doing life. I’m making writing plans for the coming year. I’m running again. I’m cooking again (though I don’t understand why that has to be part of life). I shot some guns. I played in a wave pool. I slid down a water slide. I beat Corey in mini-golf. I strapped into a harness and did a high ropes course. I watched my boys play football. And now I’m counting down the days to a family vacation on the beach. (It’s 16 by the way.)

Oh, and I moved. Because doing life in the Harms house includes moving. We moved into residence #10 (in 18 years) in August, and now we’re hanging out in a duplex on main street waiting for the next step in our crazy life of rotating houses to present itself.

I fear some of you may think I have a terribly mean husband for making me move so soon after the cancer.  To set the record straight, he is truly the most loving, caring, selfless guy I’ve met in my entire life. And if I’d requested it, we’d have stayed put for as long as I needed.

But here’s the deal. Sometimes sticking with your plan is what makes you feel normal. Before cancer we had planned to list our house this year. And by summer, I felt like was ready to handle it.  The purging. The cleaning. The packing. The moving. In some weird way, all of these things factor into me feeling normal.

Cancer knocked the wind out of me, but I’m breathing again.

And I am busy loving my life.


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Free Mastectomy Pillows and Seat Belt Cover Port Protectors

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My mom and her friends are continuing to make armpit pillows for mastectomy patients and have added port protector seat belt covers for chemo patients. They have shipped these all over the US this fall, and through their act of service to others I’ve been able to have some lovely email conversations with women who are making their way through breast cancer.

These pillows and seat belt covers are FREE. If you are interested, leave a comment below or send me an email at kimharms@rocketmail.com.  All mom needs from you is a name and a shipping address.

“Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another…” Romans 13:8


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When Breast Cancer Came to My House

(I was asked to write my breast cancer story for our local paper as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. The following is just a little piece of 2016 in the Harms house. It’s a bit longer than my typical blog posts, but I am publishing it as it was printed in the paper.)

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The hardest part is telling your kids.

Watching your child navigate heartache is painful. But when you are the one who causes the heartache, it is almost unbearable.

We sat in front of the fireplace, Corey and I. It was January 21. Two days after my biopsy.

Carter leaned against the living room wall. Owen against a couch. Lewis beside him.  Our two teenagers and the 9-year-old who will always be my baby.

There was a surreal, fear-tinged atmosphere surrounding that moment.

The boys knew about my biopsy.

They knew there was something not quite right with my body.

But they were as ill-prepared for the blow of the diagnosis as I was.

That diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer. Corey and I had allowed ourselves 24 hours to process the news, and now it was time to bring the boys into this undesirable circle.

I don’t think I could have physically spoken my diagnosis to the boys. As I watched them quietly brace themselves for whatever news was coming, the pathway from my vocal cords to my lips grew tight and suddenly there was not enough air in the room to form words. So I just leaned on Corey hoping somehow that his strength would seep into me. And praying that his words would not get lost like mine.

“We got the biopsy results back, and your mom has breast cancer.”

Silence.

The world stopped for a minute while we watched our boys’ insulated lives bust wide open.

Tears don’t often flow freely at our house, but that night they did.

I saw the fear in my boys’ eyes and more than anything I wanted to take it away.

It’s going to be okay. Breast cancer is treatable. The doctors will fix this and then we’ll get right back to normal, is what I wanted to say. But the truth is I was drowning in fear myself.

Fear of the unknown. Because all I had at that point was a name for my tumor. I didn’t know if it had spread beyond the lump I could feel under the skin of my breast. I didn’t know what my future looked like. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Death? I just knew that something was growing inside of me that was not supposed to be growing inside of me, and I was helpless to stop it.

Overcoming Fear

Fear can do crazy things to your mind if you let it. It can take you down paths you don’t want to be on. And there were days that all of my energy was spent fighting ugly thoughts.

But even as those thoughts bombarded me, one scripture verse kept coming to the forefront of my mind.

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It was from Isaiah, and I had memorized it during high school to get me through the jitters I always felt before the gun went off at a track meet. Who knew at that time how much more I would need those words at 40 than I did at 15.

At first, I don’t know that I fully believed all the words of verse that played on repeat in my mind. But the more I took the fear and covered it with the fear not the more I trusted that God knows what he’s doing.

That he wasn’t looking down from heaven saying, “Oh shoot, I screwed that one up. Kim wasn’t supposed to get that tumor. Oh well. She’s got it now, I guess we’ll go with it.”

I think what he wanted was for me to learn to trust him in the hard stuff. And by watching me trust him, he wanted my kids to learn that they can trust him as well.

The Path Through the Treatment

The boys survived that night in the living room. They worked their way through the fear. And they helped me make it through a really tough season.

After my bilateral mastectomy, they (along with Corey) became my physical strength. They helped me out of my recliner. They opened my refrigerator door. They refilled my water bottle. The adjusted my footstool.

And they graciously kept being themselves as well. They still yelled at the Xbox when their games weren’t going right. They still ate their way through a million boxes of cereal. They still wrestled on the living room floor, and they still got passionately involved in viewing Cyclone basketball games on TV. Together, we found an “unnormal” normal. And we grew to have a deep appreciation of each other and our time together.

While the boys helped me out and worked through the cancer in their own way, Corey was doing the hard things too. He came home at lunchtime to help me shower. He blew my hair dry and helped me get dressed. He emptied my drains, and he told me I was beautiful when my scars told me I was ugly.

On the Other Side

We are on the other side of this cancer thing now. I spent a couple nervous weeks after surgery waiting to be informed whether or not I would need chemo. (I didn’t. Hallelujah!) And because of the type of surgery I chose, radiation wasn’t necessary either. I am now healed and released to a 10-year prescription of an estrogen inhibitor (my cancer likes estrogen) and bi-annual appointments with my oncologist.

I can look back and see clearly that even in a disease like breast cancer, beauty can be found. I have grown in ways that would not be possible without that significant bump in my road.

I saw God remain trustworthy when my circumstances were out of control.

I gained so much compassion for those with cancer. When I spot someone whose hair has been stolen by chemo, my heart is immediately drawn to them.

I witnessed my boys maturing right before my eyes. They made it through those broken hearts. And I am confident that the next time they are exposed to cancer (and I don’t doubt there will be a next time) they will have a compassion and understanding that would have been impossible to achieve without walking through it with me.

Cancer was the hardest thing our family has ever done together and most definitely not something we would ever choose. But in ways I have a hard time putting words to, it was also the most beautiful.

(First published in the Tri-County Times and Nevada Journal.)


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Crossing the Waters

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When you pass through the waters I will be with you. Isaiah 43:2

The image of water has been a big deal to me this year. The power. The tranquility. The danger. The beauty.

Cancer was my water. Fear-inspiring, yet fused with the beautiful. So hard, yet covered by a peace I cannot explain. The water was rough, but Jesus was constant.

One night long ago on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Peter jumped out of a boat and began walking to Jesus. He sees a man walking toward him on the water and says “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you.”

In her new book, Crossing the Waters, Leslie Leyland Fields describes Peter’s walk like this.

“He walks atop the waves anyway for a few steps, but fear opens his eyes and ears too wide. He hears the wind; he feels the water at his ankles. He knows this is impossible-and he sinks.”

Whatever it is that got him out of that boat, he did it, and the most dynamic personality among the disciples took his first steps on water. But then his circumstances got the better of him.

Leyland’s word pictures throughout Crossing the Waters swing on a pendulum between 21st century Alaskan commercial fishing and seafaring and first century fishing on the Sea of Galilee. She brings new life to texts my five-year-old self was introduced to in flannel graphs and coloring pages.

And her stories reminded me over and over of my rough waters turned serene.

I didn’t jump out of the boat into the storm like Peter.

I was pushed.

I didn’t say, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to walk out on that crazy, stormy sea, and I will hop right out of this boat.”

I was more like, “Oh dear Lord, someone pushed me overboard and I can’t breathe and the salt water is burning my eyes.”

When I listened to the screams of the tumor that pushed against my bra-line, I began to sink. But when I grabbed for Jesus, he kept me afloat.

When he held out his figurative hand to me like he did his physical hand for Peter, I knew him.  “It is you Jesus. It is really you.”

Jesus knows, like Peter, my faith will waver. And he knows, like Peter, my fears will at times make me irrational. But still he holds out his hand. Because he is creating in me something new. A faith strengthened by a stormy sea.

And maybe that is what this whole tumor thing was about anyway. Maybe it wasn’t about me making it through cancer. Or not making it. Maybe it was about increasing in faith. Maybe it was about me speaking my raw emotions to my Savior, “I don’t want to die now. Please don’t let me die. But if that is what you have for me, you need to walk with me and show me how.”

Fields says,

“How many boats have gone down in just this corner of the sea…Yes so many saved, but so many lost. Even those who knew Jesus. I know he told it straight and often. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I know take up their cross means be ready to die. But who can do this?…Jesus, this God-man, can command every element of creation with just a word, but he does not always take away the winds. Jesus can sit in the boat with us, and that boat still might sink.”

I cannot think of a word in the English language that is emotionally charged enough to express my gratitude that my boat did not sink. That the waves did not overtake me.

But someday it will sink, because this life has no choice but to end in death. And when it does, I want everyone to see that Jesus was sitting with me in the boat the whole time, preparing to take me home.

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Leslie Leyland Fields book Crossing the Waters is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her story-telling will take you into well-loved Bible stories in a new and deeper way, and quite possibly teach you something new about yourself. Crossing the Waters is worth a few of your dollars and a few hours of your time.