The Stuff of Life


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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.


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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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It’s Possible I Watch Too Much HGTV

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I channeled my inner Joanna Gaines this week and repurposed my giant broken wall clock. The finished product isn’t perfect, but I’m not a perfectionist so it’s all good. A little scraping + A little sanding + A little spray painting + A little projecting + A little marker painting = Some of my favorite verses on my wall.

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Deuteronomy 11:18-21

18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.


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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.