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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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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Milk Cartons, Tears and a Change in Seasons

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(In my September post at Inspire a Fire, I reflect on the change of seasons in life and reminisce about the day I sent my baby to school.)

Homemade cheesebread with marinara sauce.

“Oh no, what if Lewis can’t open his milk carton?”

Those were the first five words on the back-to-school lunch menu and that was the thought that ran through my head sending a fresh waterfall of tears down my face. Yes, I read the school lunch menu and cried. And cried. And cried.

That was several years ago, but I remember it like it was several blinks ago.

Lewis was (and still is) my baby. The one I had to myself for four years while his brothers were in school. The one who sang wonderful made-up songs, daily made me laugh out loud and liked to wear the same way too small orange shirt. Every. Single. Day.

The one who wasn’t supposed to grow up.

What if he can’t open his milk carton? What if he gets lost? What if he gets hurt and wants his mommy? What if he gets tired and needs a nap? There was no end to the (often irrational) thoughts that filled my head as I sent my little man off to begin his own life adventures.

But I know deep down the reason I kept crying was not because Lewis might not be able to handle school. It was because I might not be able handle life without Lewis…

Head on over to Inspire a Fire to read the rest of the story – Milk Cartons, Tears and A Change in Seasons


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An Open Thank You Letter to John Piper

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John Piper speaking at Passion ’97. (Taken on my not-so-high-quality camera with real film that had to be sent away in a cute little black tube to be developed.)

Dear Mr. Piper,

It is 1997.

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Me and my 6 friends, ready to hit the road.

I am 21 years old, and I just hopped into a van with six of my friends to drive 17 hours from Ames, Iowa to Austin, Texas for the Passion ’97 Conference.

I have no idea who you are. Just a name and a photo. A middle-aged man who is going to teach me about Jesus while I enjoy some Texas sunshine and my break from college classes.

But God uses you for more than I anticipate, and after your Friday evening message, I do something I’ve never done before.

I call my dad at midnight and tell him I love him.

Like many people, I did not grow up in an overly affectionate family. The “I love yous” were experienced through action, but the words were not spoken.

This night they are. This night, January 3, 1997.

Fast forward two decades.

It is 2016.

I am barely 40, and I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The fear, the uncertainty, the dread are overwhelming. I don’t doubt my Savior, but I do doubt my ability to make it through this big ugly thing.

It’s the evening of February 23, and my husband (Corey) and I are sitting at the dining table.

Surgery is in two days.

A music video is playing on Corey’s laptop. Shane and Shane singing words that remind me of the richness of trusting Jesus when he takes me to hard places.

And then you begin to speak over the music.

Directly to me.

Or rather, God speaks directly to me through you.

“When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore. Therefore do not lose heart, but take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.”

I am weeping. My head is in Corey’s lap, and I am weeping.

His arms keep me from falling to the hardwood floor while he shakes from weeping with me.

It is a holy moment.

This thing in front of us is hard, but it is not meaningless.

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Waiting for the surgery that would rid me of my tumor and change my body forever.

Over the next few months, we fight through the hard stuff. The scary stuff. The painful stuff.

And while we fight, we go deeper.

We feel sadness so intensely. We have joy so impossibly. We love each other so immeasurably. We trust Jesus so wholly.

We are coming out on the other side now. And your words have been proven true.

 “Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.”

A peculiar glory.

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Healing up and hanging out with my hubby

I believe it.

I’m tasting it right here in this broken body of mine. Tremendous blessings that are a direct result of walking through the pain. But I have a feeling the full extent of that glory will not be realized until the day I fall, whole and healed, into Jesus’ arms.

Mr. Piper, you spoke necessary truth into my 21-year-old heart so many years ago, and then you showed up with truth again just when I needed it at 40.

And for that I want to say thank you.

Sincerely,

Kim Harms

(Here’s a link to the song that spoke to me – Though You Slay Me)

(Find some solid Bible teaching from John Piper at Desiring God)


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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.