Parenthood

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Oh my goodness.  The bestseller lists seem to be full of child-rearing books again.  This is cyclical. Every few years the bookstore shelves seem to fill with books designed to:

a)      Make all parents feel inadequate, dull, and generally unfit for child rearing, and

b)      Offer scary, misinformed, inflexible, and counter-intuitive lists of strategies that all seem to begin with viewing your child as the enemy of civilization as we know it

It’s interesting to me that the current blast of parenting “wisdom” seems to all be inspired by the parenting techniques from other countries and cultures.  First there was the “tiger-mom” book promoting the raising of children in the most extreme style of Asian, or at least Chinese culture. A new one just came out touting the wonders of the French style of child rearing, which promises, among other things, that your baby will sleep through the night at 2 months, have perfect manners, and learn to eat properly.  Uh-huh.

Since some of my very favorite people have now embarked on the adventure of raising their own little humans, and I have somehow lived long enough to be entitled to grandmotherly pontification, I thought I would throw my all-American advice into the mix.

  • First piece of advice:  take all advice, including mine, with a very large grain of salt.  This goes along well with my best advice of all, which is:
  • Trust your own intuition, gut, leading of the Holy Spirit, whatever you want to call it.  This is YOUR child, and YOUR family and that is not exactly like any other child and family on the planet. Your instincts are better than you think they are. Learn to trust them.
  • Next, which goes along with trusting your own leading where your child is concerned is:  Get to know your child as a person.  Even little babies.  They have things they like. They have things they dislike. They have things that comfort them and things that frighten them.  They respond well to some settings and atmospheres and negatively to others.  Every bit of time you spend really getting to know this fabulous and fascinating person God has put in your care is time well spent. My very wise husband always tells young parents that their babies and toddlers are teaching them right now how to deal with them when they are 13 or 14, and he’s right.
  • Respect your child as a person, an individual soul, and a child of God.  Children are not, no matter what some foreign (or domestic) child-rearing philosopher wants to tell you, just balls of moldable clay ready to be pounded into the proper form.  God is the only potter in our lives, and he will use good parents as the potter’s hands sometimes.  But God will never, ever try to mold one of his children into anything but an individual with his or her own gifts and graces. Respect means not forcing your will on them, and guiding them as you would like to be guided.
  • Have fun.  Laugh.  Have parties for no reason, or for reasons of your own.  Do not consider a day wasted because you didn’t get all the dishes washed or laundry done, if you spent it looking for caterpillars with your toddler, or reading books, or going to the park because the sun is shining and you all need some fresh air.
  • Take some time for yourself, and some time as a couple.  Find a babysitter you trust. Trade date nights with friends if you need to trim the budget.  Time for yourself is important.  Do not think of nap time as the only time you have to fold the laundry. Think of it as the only time you have to refresh, whether that means getting a shower, reading a book, praying, working out or napping yourself.  When our kids were little, a friend said to me once, “If I were a babysitter, I wouldn’t leave my kids with me.  I am sleep deprived, grouchy, dull, and I haven’t had a shower in two days.”  Don’t let that be you. Take care of yourselves.
  • Pray for your children.  Don’t pray your will for them, pray God’s will for them. This is hard, but God knows it and will help you. Pray for the spouses they will have one day. Prayer puts a sweet, strong spot at the center of their lives and yours. You can stand on it and figure the rest out.
  • Last, even though the blogosphere has recently been full of young mothers complaining about us old ladies who say it, treasure every minute of this.  Don’t pretend you enjoy every minute, but do be aware that these days will go by faster than you think they will. If you are not enjoying it more than you are miserable, you are not a bad person or a bad parent, but you might want to talk to someone about why, just so there will be more joy in your life and in your children’s lives.  Sometimes you just need to vent! I can remember being convinced that the days of Cheerios stuck in weird places and graham crackers in the bottom of my purse would never end, but they did.  I put in plenty of time threatening to join a convent, or going for a drive to no place in particular just to get out of the house.  There’s nothing wrong with that, or with sometimes longing for a day without dealing with bodily fluids and contrary attitudes. But do be aware of what a short, sweet gift this time is.

As I’m sure Sara, John, and Sam would be happy to tell you, I was not and am not a perfect mother. But, the bodies and souls God gave Monty and I to love and cherish and raise up turned out pretty darned well, and I think it is at least in part due to the fact that we got to know them, respected them, prayed for them and didn’t take anything too seriously.

Take that, Herman!

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Good news on the Herman front, at least I think so. The original surgeon and the surgeon I went to for a second opinion agree that it is worth one more try at the less drastic approach to getting those evasive clear margins – another lumpectomy. I could dazzle you right now with my mastery of breast-cancer related acronyms and technical terms, but they are pretty annoying and confusing even to me, so I think I’ll keep it to myself.

The bottom line is, please pray for a successful surgery on February 15 and lovely clear margins so that I can quit being a frequent flyer in the outpatient surgery recovery room at St. Luke’s South and get on to the last part of Herman’s elimination, which will be six weeks of radiation followed by some medication for a few years. Which really doesn’t sound bad at all.

Thank you for your prayers. Before the weekend is over I am going to write about something more interesting on this blog. You can only take shark-watching too far. Bless you all, my friends! You certainly bless me.

Bad Shark!

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Well, Herman is being difficult. I had my second lumpectomy surgery last Wednesday, but the margins still weren’t clear. That means that there are still some cancer cells in there somewhere. The next steps aren’t completely clear yet, but it is quite possible that we’ve reached the end of the minimally invasive road, and it may take a mastectomy to send Herman packing.

I’m not thrilled about this, and I’m a little bit more scared, well, let’s say respectful of Herman and his destructive potential. I’m frustrated because I thought I knew the plan, and now there are a pile of decisions that must be made and I don’t even understand most of them yet.

Some things haven’t changed, though. I am still blessed by wonderful family and friends who pray for me, give me hugs when I need it, and let me have meltdowns in their offices (you know who you are), or on their shoulders. Wonderful people who make bad jokes (only the women, though – I’ve discovered that men are generally afraid to make breast cancer jokes. This is probably just as well.) God still makes his presence known every day in dozens of ways, and I am never alone.

So, on to the next round of Herman fighting, armed as I have been with love and prayers, humor and hugs, and the power of learning to be still and let God work. Thank you all. We’ll keep shooting at Herman until he gives up and swims away!

Happy New Year.

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Happy New Year everyone!  It’s New Year’s Day, and I do NOT have a pot of black-eyed peas simmering on the stove.  For some of you, that may not seem like a big deal, but the black-eyed peas on New’s Year’s Day is one of those things that comes down to you through generations of family and community culture, and I feel like quite a rebel to not be force-feeding those little legumes to my friends and family.  But, fact is, nobody really wants to eat them, and  so a few years ago we abandoned this little piece of Southern culture.

I feel pretty lucky, anyway.  Sure, the end of 2011 included something anyone would consider to be bad luck.  Finding out I have breast cancer was quite a shock, and I would be a lot happier if it had not happened, but I’m not sure I could be any luckier.  We found it early. It had not spread to my lymph nodes.  It is not a kind of cancer that requires chemotherapy to kill.  After my second surgery on January 11, the surgeon says we can be pretty sure it is gone. Six weeks or so of radiation and some medication for several years will help make sure it stays gone.

Even more than lucky, I am blessed.  My family and friends have been wonderful.  I’ve been surrounded and supported on a wave of prayer.  I’ve been the happy recipient of hugs,  food, flowers, notes, and funny cartoons.  The doctors, nurses, and staff at St. Luke’s and the Goppert Breast Center are amazing, kind, and communicative.  Dr. Clark, my primary care doc and his staff have been caring and supportive.

And, above all God has been good.  I am blessed with healing, but even more, I am learning the blessing of being still.  In one of my earlier postings, I mentioned one of the Scriptures I am relying on is Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”  I am not very good at being still.  I’m a fixer.  I want an action plan, and I generally would prefer to be in charge of it.  Suddenly I am faced with something I absolutely can’t fix and I have only limited input into the action plan.  The only part of this I am really in charge of is what is going on in my head and my heart.  And though I am far from perfect at it, I have been learning to be still and listen to God’s comforting promises, recognize God’s presence in the good and the bad, and see God’s love and care for me in the love and care I receive from others.  The stillness is a blessing in itself.

This is not some “happy talk” statement.  I am not happy to have cancer.  I don’t enjoy fear, or pain, or being on the receiving end of extensive medical care (or the bills that come with it).  I don’t believe God put me in this position so I would learn to be still, find inner peace and become some glowing example of growth through suffering.  But I do know that God has walked with me, sat by me on sleepless nights, comforted me with his Word and with the prayers and words of others. I know that I have been blessed and continue to be.

So, I am beginning 2012 with no black-eyed peas but with plenty of blessing and that’s all the luck I need.

And, a bit of fun – Sara sent me this, my new favorite cartoon!

I think I might try this!

 

Update on Herman’s Demise

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Lots of good news to share. The doctor called today with the basics of the pathology report. The lymph nodes are clear – that’s a biggie! The “margin” of good cells around the invasive tumor (the heart of Herman) is also good and clear – so most of him is gone. This is all very good news.

One little hitch – the margin around the non-invasive cancer cells – the cells that are not quite right but haven’t actually become part of Herman, was not clear enough. So….in a few weeks Dr. Shook will need to go in and do some more housekeeping. Leave it to me to have messy margins.

We have an appointment with Dr. Shook on the 28th and we’ll schedule that little bit of housekeeping then, and also talk about any other treatment that might be needed according to the full report – radiation for sure in February, don’t know yet about anything else.

I just have to say it again – I am so blessed with friends and prayers.

The Lord will fight for me; I have only to be still. (Exodus 14:14) I’m not very good at it, but I’m learning!

Herman’s Demise, part one accomplished!

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DISCLAIMER:  I am taking painkillers, so please excuse spelling, grammar, any and all goofy statements!

Well, the first step in Herman’s demise has been accomplished!  Surgery yesterday went well.  The surgeon said he got all of Herman, and the lymph nodes were clear. There will be a complete pathology report next week, but things look good.  Next step:  about 6 weeks of radiation, beginning probably sometime in January. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but  by all accounts totally doable and not too disruptive of life in general.  That should help be sure that Herman is history.

Yesterday was  long and hard, and in many ways a lesson in humility.  Nothing like hospital gowns, dozens of people looking at parts of you that “ladies always keep covered,” getting those same parts painted orange, and throwing up to keep you humble!

But it was also an amazing experience of prayer and God’s presence.  I truly felt all of your prayers, and the last thing I remember before the lights went out was hearing Pastor Nancy Paul’s voice in my head reading scripture.  The worst moment of surgery for me is always that point where I have to tell Monty goodby and go through the doors alone.  This time, I really didn’t feel so alone.  I felt God’s presence, and not nearly as afraid. I am so blessed with prayers and friends.  I can’t be thankful enough.

I can’t say enough good things about the doctors, nurses, technicians and everyone at St. Luke’s South and the Goppert Center.  They were so kind, and gentle and skilled.  They were all awesome.

That’s all now.  Time to go be dopey.  – Jen

 

 

Tomorrow’s the Day!

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Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.  I Peter 5:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still Exodus 14:14

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.

Psalm 57:1

By this time tomorrow, Herman should just be a lump on some pathology slide and I should be resting comfortably in recovery at St. Luke’s South, bathed in prayer and incredibly blessed by the people who love and pray for me.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not scared, or anxious.  I am all of those things.  I hate hospitals.  I hate being “put under.”  I am excited to get this over with, and afraid of what comes next. But the closer I get to handing myself over to the surgeon and crew the more I remember I have already done the more important part – handed myself over to God.  I have only to be still!

If you will be praying for me tomorrow, I offer this Caim prayer, an ancient Celtic form of prayer.  You picture the person you are praying for, draw a circle around them in your mind, and then pray:

Circle ___, Lord.

Keep healing in

And cancer afar.

Keep peace within
and fear without.

 

Surround___ above and below,
in front and behind,
to the left and to the right,
with your love and care
and the comfort of your presence.

Amen

See what I mean?

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This comes under the heading of “Things I Am Convinced Do NOT Happen at Other People’s Houses.”  Subheading: “At Least Other People Who Don’t Live in a Swamp.”

John sent this picture out to the family today.  How Christmasy!  Last year Monty nearly wrecked the car turning around to take pictures of a similar setup on the outskirts of Pittsburg, Kansas.  Friends, when I am under anesthesia in couple of weeks, please keep an eye on the men in my life and don’t let them get any brilliant decorating ideas while I am incapacitated!

Disturbing on so many levels...

This is the same bunch who wanted to hang the dismembered head of a Christmas-light reindeer on the side of the house.  And, when they were younger, inserted the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles into the creche and began a war between the turtles and the Holy Family.   Just makes you all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it.  We won’t even discuss their fondness for “Grandma Got Run Over by the Reindeer.”

Maybe they’re just trying to keep me distracted from the Herman Watch.  It’s working 🙂

No easy way to say this…

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There are words we would just as soon never hear, and Tuesday I heard three of them. “Invasive…breast…cancer.”  There were lots of other words, but truthfully, those three were all I really heard.  So, friends, I have breast cancer.  It was found on my mammogram (get those mammograms, ladies), and we hope it was found before it did anything nasty, like spreading around.  It is so small I still can’t feel the lump.  I will have surgery – a lumpectomy – on December 14.  There will definitely be some treatment – radiation, chemo, or both after that.  I have acquired a giant notebook full of information and forms, a blue nylon bag with “CANCER CENTER” printed on it (now there is a fashion statement), and a cute little pillow.  Who knew there would be door prizes?

I have to say, though, that I am blessed beyond measure in family, friends, love and prayers.  The people I have had the opportunity to tell in person or on the phone have been supportive, loving, and full of prayers.   Within an hour or two of a phone call, Nancy Ottinger appeared at my front door with a book that helped her through this experience, and lots of good, practical advice.  The wonderful and crazy people I work with called and texted me all day yesterday while I sat at home calling doctors and trying to get my head together.  I won’t pretend that I am not scared – terrified is more like it.

But I am not alone.  God is with me every minute, and Monty, Sara, John, Sam, Sean, and Alison are all there for me, as are many, many extended family members and friends.  I work with the best, most supportive people on earth.  I know  this is something that can be overcome, can be cured and knocked away, and I believe we will do that.  After a family email confab, we have determined to refer to the cancer as “Herman.”  We are Magnum P.I. fans in this geeky group, and Herman was the shark in the episode with the shark.  If you aren’t a Magnum fan, well, that sounds just crazy, but trust me.  It’s a good name.  Herman does NOT win in the end.

People have asked what they can do.  Pray.  As you might guess from the name of my blog, I am big on prayer.  If you are friends with Monty, Sara, John, Sam, Sean or Alison, please check on them and remember that this is no picnic for them either.  If you know any really, really bad breast cancer jokes (or shark jokes), send them my way.

I will let you know when and if there is any news about Herman and his upcoming demise.

Jen

Things That Never Happen At Other People’s Houses

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Someday I am going to write a book titled, This Never Happens at Other People’s Houses.  I have been saying this for years, usually using the name of one or another of my friends whose houses seem to be always clean, and who have never come home to find a tent set up in their living room.

For instance:

Objects Found in the Bathroom (over the years, not all at once):  rubber snake, extremely lifelike toy flintlock rifle, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, a towel from a hotel in Las Vegas that no one who lives here (as far as I know and as far as anyone would admit) has ever stayed in, dog leashes and a can of fishing bait.  None of these match the shower curtain or the guest soaps.

Things you may find in the Living Room on any given day:  tents, set up or not, guns and ammo, fishing rods, enough duffle bags to outfit an entire battalion, rock collections, picnic coolers of all shapes and sizes, enough pairs of hiking boots to cover your average centipede, paper cases, and auto parts.  Lately this list has also included various configurations of mattresses and boxed springs and other furniture.  These all look interesting piled up next to the floor to ceiling book shelves and coordinate nicely with my Irish pottery collection.  I occasionally add fresh flowers to dress the place up a bit.

In our kitchen, there are over 20 travel coffee mugs, and they are usually, for some reason, lined up on the counter waiting for some caffeine deprived army to arrive and carry them away. This morning, hanging among the various family pictures, I found a picture of the Obama family.  I have no idea why, and if you know my husband, you understand this is a pretty odd thing to find on our refrigerator.

It’s not just inside the house.  Our backyard has, at various times in our lives housed a donkey, goats, and sheep waiting to appear in church Christmas and Easter programs (the only reason we didn’t get the camel was he didn’t want to get out of the truck).  For a period of time when John and his cousin Ben were about 5 years old, it was the home of a fully operational Worm Ranch.  Our driveway features a 1959 Chevy Pickup (it’s for sale on craigslist, if you are interested…if you get me alone, I guarantee you a great deal).  I once had to intervene to keep the men in my life from hanging the lighted (with twinkly Christmas lights) head of a lawn decoration reindeer on the side of the house.

Our pets are even, well, different.  At the moment we have no particularly unusual species, but in the past we have been home to the usual cats and dogs (including one cat who literally climbed the walls, and one dog whose favorite snack was underwear), and also various reptiles.  We currently have a cat who alternates between believing he’s a dog and being certain he’s a lion in the jungle, a chocolate labrador retriever who thinks he’s a lapdog, and a half-beagle/half blue heeler who thinks we are all sheep to be herded into one place. The cat leaves ritually-sacrificed rabbits at the back door.  The lab brings frogs in from the back yard to play with.

Our house has never been ready for a Better Homes & Gardens photo shoot, even on its best day.  If the Home Crashers ever come, they are going to have a heck of a time trying to decide whether to update the 1980s kitchen or come up with a living room decorating plan that incorporates camp stoves.

And I don’t care.  We LIVE in our house, and always have.  Sure, we have some unusual interior decoration, but we have fun, and laughter.  You can almost always find a place to stay and something to eat and someone interesting to talk to.  I used to have a wonderful framed picture hanging in the kitchen that showed an eclectically cluttered room like you could find anywhere in our house, with a caption from Proverbs 14:4:  Proverbs 14:4:

Where there are no oxen, the stable is clean, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.
I love our abundant harvest of activity, friends, love and laughter.  I feel sorry for anyone who lives in a house where that is not the case, no matter how good it looks in the pictures.