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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My Son is Pretty Cool – Trick Shots

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Thank you Dude Perfect for inspiring my 8th grader. Love that he is actively creative in setting up trick shots and mentally creative in editing video footage. Below is a link to Owen’s latest trick shot video on his youtube channel Flip Shots.

CRAZY MINI HOOP TRICK SHOTS


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Love Proven on a Twisty Slide @ Inspire a Fire

My monthly blog post is up at Inspire a Fire.  It’s a little tiny blip of the whole story of my friendship with my best friend. I think about 16 years ago, God was like, “Well, these women are going to need each other because I’m going give give them a boatload of boys. I should probably I’m going to introduce them before that first boy arrives.” (We met when I was 8 months pregnant with my oldest.)

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A photo of those 6 boys before they became giants.

Love Proven on a Twisty Slide

A cute little story I wrote about my friend Marti and me was published in Guideposts a couple years ago.

The photo shoot is actually more exciting than the story, so I’ll take you behind the scenes.

It took place in mid-February. Outside. At a park. On a twisty slide. In Iowa. No coats allowed. What?!?

I suggested a photo at a coffee shop, because drinking a hot caffeinated beverage in a warm locale is more our style than balancing precariously on giant plastic playground equipment in arctic temps. But I guess they wanted to give Marti the opportunity to prove she is the friend I claimed her to be in my article. (A fair-weather friend never would have agreed to such unpleasantness. )

It was 20 degrees with an Iowa take-your-breath-away winter wind. The kind that forces tears out of your eyes and makes your nose drip.

In the photo my hand is nicely relaxed on the slide. It had been clenched in a fist in an effort to calm my shivering body, but the photographer told me it made me look like I was cold. With my other hand I held onto the red slide pole for dear life. Marti too was clamping her hand around that pole with all of her strength. (You can see that photo here.)

Read the rest of the story at Inspire a Fire.

 

 

 


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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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The Santa Dilemma @ Inspire a Fire

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My post at Inspire a Fire this month is about my experience with Lewis and the question of Santa Claus. You can read the first part here and follow the link to the rest of the story at Inspire a Fire.

The Santa Dilemma – Keeping Jesus at the Center of Christmas

“Mom, is Santa real?” my curious six-year-old asked as I tucked him in and kissed his cheek.

‘Here we go,’ I thought. I took a deep breath and went the history route as I did with his older brothers. Speaking truth, but leaving a little to the imagination.

“Well Lewis, there was a guy who lived a long time ago. He was called Saint Nicholas, and he was a very kind man who gave gifts to the poor and who loved children very much. His kindness is how the story of Santa Claus began.”

“Oh. I didn’t think he was real. Tomorrow I’m going to tell Michael that Santa is really Saint Nicholas, but now Santa is dead.”

Not exactly the response I was anticipating.

It is entirely possible he went to school the next day and attempted to dash the hopes and dreams of his classmates. But I’m pretty sure most children would choose to believe their parents over their classmate with a mohawk, so I didn’t feel too bad.

I take no issue with families who play the Santa game. Who create elaborate schemes to keep their kids believing in the jolly fat guy for years. I can see the fun in it. I just couldn’t do it. When my son asked me point blank, I could not look him in the eye and tell him this guy actually exists.

The rest of the story… The Santa Dilemma


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Making Marriage Beautiful – An Interview with Author Dorothy Greco

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Though I have not yet met Dorothy in person, we have come to know each other in that crazy online fashion that happens these days. She is a fellow Christianity Today Women writer, and as a mom of three boys like me, I feel a certain kinship to her.

In the following interview, Greco speaks of her new book Making Marriage Beautiful. A book that has been ruminating and growing in her mind for 25 years of marriage. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the book. (And then head over to amazon to pre-order it!)

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How is your book different from other marriage books out there?

So glad you asked this question! Making Marriage Beautiful is truly unlike many other marriage books. First, it’s written by a woman to both men and women. This is almost unheard of. Adding Christopher’s words and the eight other husbands  ensures that men are well represented. Second, the book contains very vulnerable, real-life stories. Most authors who write about marriage tend not to be as honest as Christopher and I chose to be. I think readers will easily engage and trust me because I’m choosing to trust them. Finally, I refuse to depend upon cliches or formulas. There’s no chapter titled, Ten Steps to a Perfect Marriage! Marriage and transformation is a process and my goal in writing this book is to help men and women navigate that process well. For the long haul.

Why did you write this book?

Everyone who says “I do!” wants a great marriage. I truly believe that this book will help husbands and wives achieve that goal. There’s no such thing as too much support or encouragement when you’re married. We all know, creating and sustaining a great marriage requires time, intentionality, and sacrifice. After doing more than twenty years of pastoral care and being married for twenty-five years, it was obvious to me that married couples are hungry for help, hope, and wisdom. I addressed these needs as I wrote Making Marriage Beautiful.

To clarify: I did not write this book because we have a perfect marriage or because I am a marriage expert. I wrote the book because my husband and I needed it. Due to some circumstances beyond our control, life got very difficult four years ago. As we struggled to love each other, I started thinking about what differentiates a joyful, dynamic marriage from a frustrating, unhappy one. Ideas started flowing and I broached the topic with Christopher. It would have been awesome to write the book together but he works two jobs and is finishing his graduate degree so that was not going to happen. Instead, I brought his voice in for most chapters.

Who do you hope will read it? Who is the target audience?

Making Marriage Beautiful will speak to couples who have been married three weeks or thirty years. It was written with your average husband and wife who long to create and sustain a truly healthy, joyful marriage. Maybe they’re stuck, maybe they’re doing OK, and maybe they’re actually doing really well but want to be proactive. I’m confident that if newlyweds put the spiritual disciplines that I discuss into practice, they will create a solid foundation. This was not written specifically for couples who are in a full-blown crises though I do think they would benefit from it.

Because diversity is super important to me, I interviewed eight couples to make sure that our voices were not the only ones that readers would hear. This means diversity of age, race, and economics.

Finally, I don’t think you have to be a person of faith to enjoy or find encouragement from Making Marriage Beautiful but it is unabashedly written from a faith perspective.

Is this a book meant to be read by individuals? Couples? Small groups? Are there discussion questions or is there an available study guide?

I think the best case scenario would be for a wife and husband to read this together, slowly, and really go deep. Reading it out loud together and then taking the time to answer the questions at the end of each chapter would be terrific. That said, if only one of you is interested in reading it, you would still benefit and be encouraged.

At the end of each chapter, there are four or five questions. These are not simplistic or extraneous. If you spend time on them, they will bring further insight and clarity. I’ve worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and have been running long-term healing and discipleship groups for twenty. That means I know how to ask good questions!

The book would work great in the context of a small group with other married couples. There will be guidelines on my website for running small groups.

What qualifies you to write this book?

Twenty-five years of being married to the same man. Twenty-five years of growing together. Twenty-five years of learning how to love. Seriously. Additionally, I have worked15350491_1058767397567136_3445306772015741586_n as a journalist for more than thirty years. I know how to listen to people and make sense of events. Together, Christopher and I have been running long-term healing and discipleship groups in church setting for more than twenty-years. Christopher is almost done getting his graduate degree in marriage and family therapy. We understand people. We understand the struggles inherent to humanity and marriage in particular. And as you read the book, you’ll discover that we’re willing to be incredibly honest about our own struggles. I think our honesty helps folks to trust us which makes for a better read.

What’s the difference between a happy marriage and a joyful marriage?

Chapter 9 is devoted to this topic. I see happy as dependent upon circumstances and more prone to wild fluctuations. Joy runs deep. It’s transcendent because it’s a gift from God. Being joyful does not mean that we are in denial or refuse to grieve. In fact, as one of the couples noted, joy and grief are the same muscle. Happiness is often a high priority for many Americans. I think God calls us to go deeper. And we’ll be better people when we do.

How can readers best connect with you: your blog, Facebook, Twitter?

I can be reached through the contact form on my website: dorothygreco.com. I’m also on Twitter: @dorothygreco and I have a professional FB page: Words & Images by Dorothy Greco.

 


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12 Best Books I’ve Read This year

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In a normal year, I read a lot of books. Turns out that in a year with a lot of down time from cancer stuff I read even more. (I also watch a lot more Netflix, but this is a post about books, not HGTV shows.) The following is a list of my Top 12 book of the year in no particular order or genre. I’ve also included links for where to buy them or learn more about their authors.

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken – Okay, I lied when I said these were all in random order. A Severe Mercy is #1 on this list and was most definitely my favorite read this year. The weaving of love story and God story interspersed with letters from C.S. Lewis is amazing. Part of me wishes someone would make a movie, but I’d be surprised if a movie maker could do it justice.
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova – This was made into a movie and the movie was almost as good as the book. You may think it strange that I found encouragement from this sad, sad book shortly after my diagnosis, but I did. There is a page where the narrator, who is living with early onset alzheimer’s, says she wishes that she had breast cancer instead, because there is treatment for breast cancer and people wear pink and cheer for you. It reminded me that even thought I wasn’t happy with my circumstances, I had an awful lot to be thankful for.
  • The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg. It’s not a “true story” but is based on true events. I so love historical fiction, especially WWII historical fiction, and this book was hard to put down.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. This is also WWII era historical fiction, but it’s a love story set in Seattle and revolving around the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war. A perspective I had never read from before and a beautiful story.
  • Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields. Fields experience as a commercial fisherman gives her a perspective that enabled me see well-loved Bible stories with new eyes. And her story-telling is superb.
  • Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock. I bought this book because I got a great deal on it, and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. There’s time travel involved and I tend to stay away from “science fictiony” stuff. But this was a well-written story about forgiveness that kept me wondering how it all fit together.
  • Five Chimneys by Olga Lengyel. Another one from WWII. It was pretty graphic and sometimes hard to read, but a worthy-of-reading story of survival in almost unsurvivable circumstances.
  • The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan. I love love love this one. I love reading stories of people coming to faith in Christ, and this story of a secular Jew slowly over years and years coming to believe in Jesus as the Messiah is so very good. Not only is the story good, but every now and then when I read a book, I just keep underlining and underlining because I love the way the author forms his or her sentences. This is one of those books.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson This book was eye opening to me in a similar way that Dead Man Walking was years ago. The injustice, predjudice and discrimination that take place in a political system that is supposed to work from an “innocent until proven guilty” perspective saddens me. I’m thankful that Stevenson took the time to write this book and that he’s doing the very hard work he’s doing.
  • On Writing by Steven King. Oh my goodness! I don’t read Stephen King because I don’t like to be scared. It took about all I had in me just to watch the movie Misery 🙂 But this book on writing made me want to read his scary books and deal with the nightmares they would surely inspire because he is amazingly talented. I read the book to learn more about writing, but I was entertained from page one til the end.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This book took me a long time to read, and I plan to read it again. There is so much practical information on the craft of writing packed into a couple hundred pages that my brain nearly exploded. I have so much to learn, and Zinsser is a great teacher.
  • Strength Renewed by Shirley Corder. I feel like I know Corder after reading this book. In fact, we corresponded a couple times this spring. This was just what I needed to read as I was going through some hard stuff. Her cancer road was more challenging and took longer to pass over than mine, but I felt a kinship with her as I read. This book is real, open and Christ-centered. Don’t know what to do for your friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer? Buy her this book.