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today i am excited about everything.

Cancer, Part II

Mama

We walk side-by-side across the hot pavement, and the doors in front of us slide open. Cool, stale air comes rushing across our faces, our bare skin prickles from the temperature change. I look into my Mama’s face, and I see:

She is tired.
She is strong.

These things lie inside her, intertwined, as we meet and greet. She knows what to do now, half way through radiation. It’s old hat to find her room, to shed clothes and wrap into a robe, to make her way to the room where they will lift her body up, up, and away. Where some mystery of science will push heat into her, and that heat will (God willing) (God, please) burn away the evil parts of this world. Disease.

Her head is heavy, but I see in her shoulders the bracing- the readiness- to face just one more day of this. Well, 16. 16 more days.

It is a strength that comes from our Great Unfathomable Mystery. It is a strength beyond what we can muster. It is a picture of My Help Comes From The Lord, The Maker Of Heaven And Earth.

I smile and nod as everyone tells me with bright eyes “Your Mom! She’s the bright spot in our day! What fun! What joy!” because of course, of course she is. Of course they love her, of course they respond to the energy she seeps into the world just being her.

They tell us we’re the lucky ones, and I nod again, stiffly. My brain tells me they’re right, that we had early detection, that we had surgery surgeries available, that we had radiation only. That we had a scare, but we didn’t risk it all. That in the big, grand scheme-of-it-all, we really were…. lucky.

But from the 90s inspired dark green & floral walls of a waiting room, it doesn’t feel very lucky.

I guess maybe those that call this lucky can’t see the fresh gash on our family tree, where sap bleeds out, the mark that shows “Cancer”. There is a before, and there is an after, and we won’t be the same.

And that’s okay, because not being the same, finding a different way, is okay. Is… life. I know she can do it, will do it. Her shoulders, held strong in the grip of her great faith show me that.

But lucky? No. No. Not lucky. Not this time.

(As of today? 13 days and counting. You can do it, Mama!).

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Cancer, Part I

Dear Young Target Employee,

Thank you.

I wish I would have said it out loud to you, that day. The day that I stood in the back of an-impossibly-long-line (read: probably 3 people), shuffling my feet, taking deep breaths, staring at the clock on my phone. I know, I know: I looked like a jerk. And you, with sweet kindness, tapped me on the shoulder, sending me on to a newly opened lane, smiling with a graciousness I certainly didn’t deserve. I know I looked like what would- on any normal day- be filed somewhere on the internet under “First World Problems”. But that day? That day was different.

Because sometimes it’s the day that you find out your Mom has cancer.

And life- in its cruelness- goes on anyway. And you have to buy something stupid, like paper towels or stamps or nail polish remover, and it forces you to go to the store. And while on any other day, the shifting feet would be about keeping to an impossible schedule full of things that barely matter, on THIS day, it’s taking everything you have to stand in that unending line. Fibers of your being vibrate inside you, and you feel your insides begin to melt away.

On this day, you are fighting to keep it together, every breath a labor. All moments marching towards The Moment You Will Lose It.

But you, sweet Target girl- you rescued me with your kindness. You gave me the time to get to my car. To exhale the breath I’d been accidentally holding. To dissolve on my own terms.

And maybe more: you gave me a win on a day when I just, just really needed a win.

It was nothing to you, I would guess. But to me? It was pretty big.

So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Heart,
Ann

(Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Unknown.)

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The Big 3(0): Creator

A short series where I write about the three BIG things I’ve learned before 30, in honor of my new decade and turning the BIG 3-0. Which, by the way, happened recently, just in case we’re not friends in real life and you missed the 97 reminders I gave you. So. (Part I here, Part II here.)

Life is crazy.

I sincerely hope this is not the first time anyone has let you in on that little fact. If so, I’ll wait. You sit down for a second and take a breath or forty-five.

The rest of you, those that are giving the computer screen the equivalent of the 1990’s slang “duh”, those that live on planet earth and have been around for more than one day, life is crazy, amiright?

(I’m right. Not often, but this time).

Some days you wake up and it’s moving day. At the office, or at home. Or at the office and at home. Your best friend moves away, your boyfriend moves away, your family moves away.

Some days you get a new boss, or your old boss quits, or you become the boss. Other days, you start a new job. Or, you get fired.

Sometimes a friend needs you, and you pick up and go. You sleep in one state, and then a new one. And the next day? A new one again. Sometimes you’re the one who needs, and people file into your home(state), your home(sweet home), or your temporary home(stead).

Other days, you sit in a dark room reading out loud while your friend lays inside of a large metal machine that will tell her if something is wrong with her brain. Or, you sit cross legged on the floor of a hospital room playing a mindless card game with a child who will be sliced open, tomorrow. Some days the doctor tells you something is wrong, and you go to the hospital. Or a specialist. Or she says the scariest of all the scary english words, “Cancer”.

Some days, you wake up from heartbreak so binding you can’t breathe, and you cover it with makeup and brush your hair, and you go to work. Some days the phone rings and you pause everything to rush to the side of an ailing love.

Some days, you sit across the table from someone who holds your whole heart, and they tell you goodbye. Or, someone travels across the continent to sit across that same table and tell you they still love you. Some days you fight in a (way too) public place. Some nights you kiss in front of a lamppost under the moon. Some days you cry at the grocery store.

Some days you drown inside of endless pile of ToDo lists and unreturned phone calls and over-scheduled calendars and noteverenoughsleepandandand…

Some days, all these things happen at once.

Many days, all these things happen at once.

This is life, in all it’s muddy, chaotic, insane  glory. It is both beautiful and terrible.

It is light and dark.

And while Whitman claims that both are miracles (and he’s probably right), it really doesn’t make it any easier, does it?

When life begins to move, to wiggle, to swirl around me in blasts of color and pandemonium, when I try to find somewhere to plant my feet, I find myself here (again and again):

We must find our rooting outside of ourselves.

We can take deep breaths, we can calm our spirits, we can reach deep inside of us for a strength that wasn’t there before, but it just won’t be enough. For a minute, maybe. But the next day, when the sun rises again and brings with it a full new lovely day with full new lovely crazy, it won’t be.

And in 30 years, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned:

Find Faith in something bigger than just you.

Find the Creator, the one who picked out the coloring of your skin, and the coloring of your personality. And then, find His friendship, His love, His very Self. And put your feet there.

This Rock, my friends, doesn’t move. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t wiggle. It is the same (yesterday, today, forever).

And if you can put your feet there, the chaos of life, in all its dark and light, will spiral and billow around you. And? It will be okay.

Some days it will be scary, but you will still be safe. You will still be secure. You will have your roots stretching beneath you, deep in Steadfast Love.

The first two lessons are important and good, but this one is the most of both.

Most important. Most good.

This is a lesson I learned early, and then again at 23. Oh, and 24. And all the years after that.

And… today. And probably tomorrow. This lesson is a lifelong one, I think.

But today, surveying the Craziness-That-Is-Now from my place perched on this Rock, I feel my heart stretching in gratefulness. So here’s to 30 years, my dear ones. Lived alongside all of you, and alongside this Creator I love.

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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The Big 3(0): You

A short series where I write about the three BIG things I’ve learned before 30, in honor of my new decade and turning the BIG 3-0. Which, by the way, happened recently, just in case we’re not friends in real life and you missed the 97 reminders I gave you. So.

At 20, I was just realizing that I didn’t know it all.

It’s a bummer, isn’t it? To exit those glorious…ly awkward and wonderful teen years, where you know everything about everyone about everything. And then it’s on college where it turns out you know…

  1. A bit about Shakespeare, from that summer where you read all of Shakespeare’s plays for some reason.
  2. Sort-of how to do laundry.
  3. End of list.

So, nothing. Enter the 5 stages of grief.

The good news? By 30, that grief will just be a distant memory, replaced by 147 jobs in 152 cities (rough estimate), with more friends and lost loves than any human should be un/lucky enough to have. The amount of things that will be packed into the next 10 years will be ridiculous, in the truest, realest sense of the word.

It will turn out you don’t have to know it all. (Thank you, God.)

But you must know you.

Not because of a self help book that shouts at you from a bookshelf. Or because it’s kind of trendy to sit on a mountaintop in the cold somewhere in high in the sky and consider who you’d like to be. It’s simply because The Creator who pieced and poured and knit you together, did that for a reason. If you don’t know you, it will be devastatingly difficult to know what that reason is.

Because at 30, it will turn out that you’re not a famous opera singer. Praise be to the One who made you, 20 year old girl.

You think you want that, but you just don’t know you, yet. It turns out that you love early mornings, and you hate late nights. This will be awesome when you’re trekking towards (oh so many) early morning hospital visits, and watching the sunrise as you study words that you will impart to the sweetest of forming spirits. And you love crafts! Glitter! Foam board! All of this will make you want to sing songs of joy when you enter Hobby Lobby. Literally. Songs of Fricken’ Joy.

You’re creative, it turns out, and not as administrative as you want. And that’s fine, because people will still hire you to do things. In fact, they will hire you to do things you’re actually good at, and they will let you not be good at details. THANK GOD, because you’re really tragically bad at details. And keeping schedules. And To Do lists. And… not spilling things and turning off the stove and closing cabinet doors, and… so very many things. The list of things you’re terrible at will grow and grow, and you will still be okay. When you figure this out, it changes your life.

You learn how to feel again, and cry- and cry- and cry some more- this decade. You will no longer be forced by some unknown power within you to pretend things are fine, always. And although you’re sure it will make you weaker, in one of life’s great mysteries, it strengthens your spirit. You learn to love and serve in ways you don’t know are possible right now.

And while others are at home with children they have birthed with sweat, blood, and tears (a lovely experience, I’m certain), you will be in the homes of others, late into the night, flinging playdoh and footballs, and stroking hair as you speak blessings over the smallest sweet spirits. You are teaching them: I love you. Your church family loves you. God loves you.

It will be the inexplicably the greatest gift you ever get to give, in your 30 years.

And it couldn’t have happened at 20. When you were so sure you knew The Things. All The Things.

There’s more of you and life to know, I’m sure of it, around the corner and across the street into the next decade. But here, at the intersection that reads “30” from both sides, knowing the free-spirited 29 + 365 days version of you is enough.

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. John Calvin

I desire to know God and the soul.
Nothing more?
Nothing whatever.
St. Augustine

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Goodbye: Guatemala Edition

Before you read any further, let me tell you this: I’m not quitting my job and moving away. When I sat to write this, I could practically feel my Mom tensing up as her eyes passed across the title. Don’t worry, Mom! I’m staying here forever! Exclamation point! More exclamation points!!! No Goodbyes taking place here (for now).

The nature of my life so far, though, tells a different story. Goodbyes are frequent, and constant. Every run towards a new adventure has meant leaving pieces of me behind, irreversibly tied tight to the hearts of people I love.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Several months ago, I stood in a small church yard in Santa Lucia, Guatemala, surround by darkness above and dirt below, and said it again. Over and over (and over again), to souls that were at once familiar, like family.

And then we sat on a damp, warm bus, losing tears and parts of the heart, and I remembered:

We weren’t made for this.

When we were built, when we were first imagined and shaped into being, our Creator fashioned deep into us a need for relationships. And friends, how lovely that would have been, to spend days and nights in a garden, living in the fullness of together. Together, all of us.

Never once saying goodbye.

But instead, we live here. In a place that mirrors a reflection of brokenness and hurt. A place where we meet and love, and then separate.

And honestly, most days it’s really okay. We have iPhones and Facebook and that whole internet thing really working in our favor these days.

But today I feel the sorrow run deep into my blood, and weight of what could have been crashing against what is.

Someday, my friends. Someday: restored.

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