Sojourners & the Quest for Comfort…

When the year started, I felt the Lord say from the beginning to “give Me a year. Give Me this year.”

Sure, I hemmed and hawed about it…I procrastinated. I had my book about the Torah sitting on the couch (it’s still there) and a few other books set aside, and as life would have it, me & my hamster wheel just kept spinning, and I kept on saying, “It’s early, Lord. I’ll get there. I’ll get there….”

But I didn’t.

But then, COVID.

And lo-&-behold, I GOT THERE.

In hearing God say, “Give me a year,” what He was telling me was that it was time for me to get serious about His Word. It’s time for me to read it; to love it; and to push past the arrogance of a lifetime of Christian education, & to look at it through new eyes. It’s time to read it in humility & in wonder…it’s time to read the Word with acceptance and through lenses of His love for us (or as close as we can come to understanding His love for us–THAT is an ever-evolving journey). 2020 has been a year of unlearning and relearning the Bible, and in undoing & redoing my personal theology in ways I never realized could be done. It’s been a year of restoration, depletion, and of new creation, as far as my spiritual life has gone. God put me in a position where yes, He took the year, but I gave it to Him, first…He gently asked, I stalled; He made it possible, and I have slowly-but-surely turned it over to Him, day by day.

Up until this year, I NEVER had a heart for reading the Word. I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore–I realize why I became so calloused, and why it was easier for me to act like I had it together or was so smart, when really, my head knowledge about the Word has never matched up to my heart’s understanding or desire for the Word–and I’m not ashamed to admit it’s been a work in progress. I’ve been following a daily reading plan that includes an audio Bible, and I’ve been listening to it every morning on my way into work. It’s been revolutionary. There’s so much I never noticed before, and so much that I never realized I was skipping or glossing over. Hearing the Word has revived parts of me that I didn’t know were dead! It’s drawn me in closer to God, and even though we all know I’m a salty chick, I think I’m more in love with Jesus than I’ve ever been before. Again, I’m a work-in-progress, and I’m always afraid someone will read this blog and think I’m something that I’m not. I’m a mess. I’m just…I’m a mess that loves Jesus, and is trying her best.

I’ve tried to stay committed on this path, and I hope I continue it for the rest of my life. I’ve found myself tempted by the glossy theology of deconstruction, & the only way I know how to stay on the path of the Lord is to follow His Word, so here I am…knowing there is no where else I’d rather be, even if my friends or my spiritual icons, or my personal inspirations, seem to be veering off course.

That seems to be happening a lot lately….people I used to have on pedestals (which isn’t their fault) are tumbling down into softened Christianity, selling out moral compasses for comfortable mattresses of “One Love theology.” It’s so tempting.

It’s so, so tempting, to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything in Scripture that makes us uncomfortable….

It’s so, so tempting to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything that doesn’t make sense to us….

It’s so, so tempting to sit back and say that Jesus loves us all, so therefore, we can ignore everything that sounds like judgment or conviction….

It’s so, so tempting to strip Christianity to one word–Love–but then to interpret that word into permission…

It’s so, so tempting to strip Christianity to one word–Freedom–but then to interpret that word into passivity.

I.

AM.

PASSIONATELY.

AGAINST

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to be comfortable.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to be accepted by the world.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to accept the world.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to understand or that everything “has” to make sense.

–Theology that states that we “deserve” to accept carnal influences and allows them to strip us of our abilities to make choices.

–Theology that ties love to acceptance, and states that in order for me to love you, I “have” to agree with all of your life choices.

I can’t live that way, and I can’t accept that’s the direction the Lord is taking His people.

Recently, our daily readings took us through Psalms 119. A particular verse stood out to me:

“I am a sojourner in the earth. Hide not Thy commandments from me.”–Psalm 119:19 (ASV)

The word, “sojourner” stood out to me; it’s not a word you hear very often, although it’s one I’m familiar with. I went ahead and looked it up, just to be sure my understanding was correct. A sojourner is a stranger or a nomad. Wikipedia says it’s “a person who resides temporarily in a place.”

There was a book series I loved when I was a kid, called The Chronicles of Prydain. If ever I was in love with a fictional character, it was Taran, the main character. In the book, Taran Wanderer, Taran goes on a quest to determine his parentage. Throughout the story, Taran proves his character & the end result (spoiler alert) is new confidence in the boy he was, and in the man he has become. The overall tone of the book is the journey itself, though, as Taran feels like a man without a family or a home. He has no roots, no lineage, and no claim to be able to propose to the woman he loves.

Chronicles of Prydain | Prydain Wiki | Fandom

To wander through life without a feeling of belonging or home, is the very definition of what it means to be a sojourner. It is a feeling of being out-of-place, of never belonging anywhere tangible. It is a feeling of being, in a word, UNCOMFORTABLE.

Psalms 119:19 asks God not to hide His commandments from us–that’s because when you’re a sojourner, you need the anchor of His Word to ground you….to remind you that nope–THIS isn’t home, but you’re eternally tied into the place where you belong, which is with Him.

Christianity was never designed to be “comfortable.” It’s not designed to feel good–I mean, God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die a terrible death so that we could spend eternity with Him. It’s a belief system built on sacrifice.

Sacrifice is (wait for it)…UNCOMFORTABLE!

So, we’re sojourners—we’re just passing through this crazy world, and we know that no matter how difficult it gets, we have peace on the other side. Sometimes, that’s a huge comfort in and of itself (not always, but sometimes)…but “comfort” is the word I’m taking to task, because it seems to be more important these days than anything else.

We do EVERYTHING in order to make our lives more “convenient.” Like, I love me some Target Drive-Up or Walmart Pick-Up grocery shopping! I love me some Amazon! I love anything that doesn’t cause me to have to get out of my car or to interact with people. I love my electronics; I love my “quick fixes” for just about anything. I, like most Americans, do NOT like to be inconvenienced. I like my comfortable clothes, my super-soft blankets, and my aromatherapy mister.

I don’t like to be uncomfortable.

At some point, our desire to be comfortable has spread into our theology, and we have forgotten what our very faith is based in.

True love is uncomfortable.

True Love means I care enough about someone to say when they’re making a life choice that has spiritual repercussions. It means I care enough to have uncomfortable conversations in respect & in gentleness (I Peter 3:15). It doesn’t mean that I force my beliefs on someone, but it does mean that when that door opens, I am willing to step out in faith and talk to someone.

True Love means I stop expecting God to answer my questions. That might shock a few people–let me explain: Shortly after my daughter passed away, Natalie Grant’s song “Held” came out. The lyrics are forever burned into my brain; specifically, the line, “Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed, and why should we be saved from nightmares?”

Those lyrics rocked my world, and woke me up to the absolute arrogance and entitlement with which I was living my faith. I will never understand the hows or whys, but what I do understand and believe is that God has a plan. I do understand and believe that God is GOOD…and even though what has happened does not always seem to match up on the surface with that, I am set in my belief that it is true. God. Is. Good….and that goes beyond the scope of my comprehension. Who am I, to demand answers and explanations from Him?!

WHY DO CHRISTIANS THINK THEY SHOULD ONLY EVER ENCOUNTER GOOD THINGS? Why do we think we’re immune to heartache? To loss? To sickness or disease? NOTHING in the Bible states that “you find Jesus, it’s green lights and allllllll rights from here, baby!!!!” NO–verse after verse after verse reminds us that this world is not our home. They remind us that yes, good can come from suffering, but THERE IS SUFFERING. I tend to blame prosperity garbage for these lies, and I most definitely think it’s a theology that’s responsible for devastating the church (I don’t agree with everything in this documentary, but the film American Gospel has some good sticking points about the Prosperity Gospel). WE ARE HUMANS. WE ARE BROKEN PEOPLE, LIVING IN A SICK, BROKEN, DISEASED WORLD. We are in the world, even if we aren’t of the world, and guess what? No matter what color you’re wearing, it’s gonna get dirty in a garbage bin. WE ARE NOT IMMUNE, and it’s total arrogance for us to think anything otherwise.

True Love means that when I don’t get the answers I want or think that I deserve, that I lean back in faith and still trust Him, even though not knowing or understanding makes me VERY uncomfortable.

A “comfortable” theology looks at the moral compasses and absolutes in Scriptures, cocks its head back, raises an eyebrow, and says those fateful words, “Hath God Not Said?”

“Hath God Not Said” are the Four Words that Wrecked it All, and they’re the first four words we say when we find ourselves faced with Uncomfortable Theology that we want to talk ourselves out of. “Hath God Not Said” are the Four Words that Satan the Snake used to lead Eve to eat the Apple and to corrupt her husband, and “Hath Got Not Said” are the Four Words that put us in this leaky boat on an ocean of UGH.

It is so uncomfortable to trust God. It is so uncomfortable to wander through this earth, through this mortal life, knowing that this unsettled feeling is permanent. We’re strangers in a strange land, and we’re a long way from Home. It’s okay that we accept the fact that it’s not easy, it’s not fun, and it’s VERY uncomfortable…

But it’s worth it….

It’s worth it for those glimpses into His character that we see in His Word. It’s worth it for those whispers we hear in our hearts from Him. It’s worth it to hear His Spirit speak into our hearts, to hear Him call us His sons and daughters. It’s worth it to know the security and grace only He can offer. It’s worth it to know we are forgiven, and that we are loved, and that we can share that love with others in this unloving world…in this world that sells a candy-coated, hollowed-out version of love that is so far from the Real Thing…We have in our hearts a Love that is more inclusive than anything the world can imitate. We have a Love that extends grace to all who ask…who extends eternity to all who seek it through Jesus. How great of a Love is that?

This has been a Most Uncomfortable Year for so many…I, for one, am glad that this world is not my home, because who would want to think this is it??!?! If this is all there is–if there isn’t an eternity to call Home–it’s sorely disappointing, even at it’s best, in the light of what Jesus offers us.

Truth be told, I started percolating on this blog last week, while I was sick, and while I was facing my 43rd birthday. I’ve had 43 years on this planet, and it takes me FOREVER to feel like I even slightly “fit in” anywhere. I always feel like a weirdo, but maybe instead of a “weirdo,” I should adopt the term, “sojourner,” because it seems more fitting. This world is not my home. Eternity is my home and my hope, and I am praying that as I continue on this road of reading and of falling in love with the Bible, that my eyes stay focused on just that….on hiding His commandments in my heart, and on hearing His voice. He asked me for one year…it’s turning into all of them. That’s uncomfortable to say…but I guess that’s the point of this blog.

Fourteen.

Every year around this time, I sit down to write with a focus on my Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. Can you believe she’d be 14 this year? This October 30th, my daughter would be turning 14 years old, & I’m sure had she stayed with us, that our social media feeds would be full of the things that mothers and teenagers are both besties and frenemies over. I’d like to think we’d have a great relationship, and that we would be on each other’s last nerve…that she’d be musical and lyrical, and free-spirited and independent, and that above all, she’d love Jesus. That’s my hope for both of my kiddos–that they love Jesus. I think a lot of parents would say that about their children.

Last night, I was perusing Instagram when the Humans of New York page came up:

“(edited for space)There were prayer chains and Facebook groups. My friends got together without me knowing, and they prayed over us. We received letters from so many people: family overseas, people we’d lost touch with, people we’d never met. We hung them all in the bathroom until the entire wall was filled. But a few weeks before our due date, we received the worst possible news: Elliana’s chest cavity hadn’t grown enough, and there wasn’t room for her lungs. I asked the doctor to give me the odds, but he just shook his head. We began to plan for her funeral… On the day of her birth, the waiting room was filled with people who loved us. They prayed from 10 AM to 5 AM the next day. I still keep a picture of that waiting room hanging in our hallway. And it’s my favorite picture, because it reminds me of all the people who petitioned for Elliana’s life. And we got our miracle. I struggle with it sometimes, because I know so many people lose their babies. But Elliana came out breathing on her own, and the doctors were in awe…Our story has a happy ending. But even when it seemed like a tragedy, I never felt alone. I never felt like the story was my own. Because in my darkest moments, a community of people chose to share my burden.”

I don’t need to go into the “whys,” for my breakdown (albeit a brief one) into the Ugly Crys. You know me well enough to understand that when I read the phrase, “we got our miracle,” that it broke me. I’m so grateful that HONY shared this story, because I remember what it was like to see that room full of people who poured their hearts out for days, petitioning to the Lord to save my daughter’s life. We didn’t get our miracle, and I can’t paint that in any kind of redeeming light. I will never understand the whys (on this earth), and even if I did, would that make it any better? No. So we pursue on in faith, trusting that He knows what He’s doing when He makes His choices.

Last week, our daily reading plan (click the link, you won’t be sorry–see my last blog for details) had us reading in both Micah and in 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, we see Paul coming to the end of his life, as he writes his final words from prison.

In Micah, we see a prophet trying to prepare his community…trying to get them to wake up and seek the Lord for their redemption…He states the oft-quoted,

Meanwhile, as Paul looks at the approaching end of his life, he states,

We have a mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Only when we do these things, can we look at the end of our life and say, with confidence (not arrogance) that we have “fought the good fight,” and that we have “kept the faith.”

This is not an easy thing to do…it’s not a small task, and Jesus knows what He is asking us to do.

Trials–deaths, sickness, COVID, poverty, unemployment, crime, whatever–come and go, but Jesus and His love for us are eternal.

That’s the only reason I have any hope for anything.

After I read the HONY story last night, I tripped up over “we got our miracle,” and my mind immediately went to “why?” I’ve blogged about this before; the “whys” range from plaintive cries to flat-out screams, and they’re always there in some respect. The question is do I stay there? Do I keep questioning, knowing the outcome will always be the same, until I’m face-to-face with Him? Or do I take a deep breath (or 50), let the tears fall, and listen to Him remind me that He loves me? That He’s still in control? That I’m heard, and that He understands? I make a choice every time the “why” comes to the forefront of my thoughts. I choose to “walk humbly with my God,” and that means that above all, I trust Him.

No one ever said that was a fun choice.

Sometimes the world smacks us in the face with that reminder….that reminder that we are strangers in a strange land, and that we can’t let ourselves get sucked into the mindgames and emotional traps that are laid for us: “Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you“–I Pet. 2:11-12, CEV

Those “desires that fight against” us aren’t just people throwing lusts of the flesh in our face. They’re also the “quicksand” that we get trapped into, that make us question His motives and character, and our own faith. It’s cyclical thinking that kicks off our anxiety and leaves us an emotional basket case. I’m not immune to it, but I’d like to think I can spot the traps a bit easier now than I used to. Those first few years after Hannah passed away? Oooh, I got caught UP in some messes.

Quicksand – Stuff Rater
Actual photo of getting stuck in the quicksand of an emotional mind trap. 🙂

Grief and loss are pitfalls for so many of us…playing the “why?” game with God is a dangerous dead weight that only serves an enemy that wants to see us destroyed.

It’s a tender time of the year for us–for David as well as for myself, even when we seem like everything is fine. Our daughter is never far from our minds, but as her birthday approaches, memories come back, and I know I find myself looking at her pictures a bit more…remembering tiny hands, and beautiful, red-pink cheeks (like her Daddy), and how she’d snuggle in to the soft robe my mother had made me…how she smelled like Cheerios, and how to this day, I cherish every photo taken of family and friends because I know how much those pictures of her mean to me.

I’m finding myself ready to withdraw from social events, and from social media in general–whether it’s healthy or not, I never know, but I will tell you that I make no apologies. Maybe that sounds rude, but I’ve learned that if I don’t listen to these emotions, they’ll pop out at the most inopportune times, and I have no desire to have another flippin’ sobfest in the middle of a Hobby Lobby, so if I tell you I can’t make it, let me be. 🙂

I started writing a piece last night that I think I will leave unfinished; I feel like it makes a good conclusion, even though it’s not fully written, because “unfinished” feels like a pretty good way to describe how I’m feeling through all of this….

Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley, 10/30/2006-11/28/2006

Rescued…

More than the coronavirus…

More than statistics, or reports, or fear, or uncertainty…

I’ve been in a dark place for the past 2 weeks, and even though I had more than one person tell me to get over myself, or that they knew I was struggling with fear more than reality, I just couldn’t get my chin up and out of the water.

My prayers have been sporadic and ADD. I can’t focus; my eating habits are out of control, and I find myself constantly looking for news, only to be completely unsatisfied and that I just keep wondering, “what’s next?” This sidewalk over raging water is unstable, and the constant tension is wreaking havoc on every cell of my being.

The truth is, a person can only take so much, right? And I’m coming into this with a pitcher that’s half-full and full of holes–I’ve been so tired, for so long, that it gets depressing, which in fact, just makes me more tired.

At the end of February, we were shell-shocked to find out that my thyroid cancer has returned; this means that just as corona-panic was beginning to sweep the nation, I was going back-&-forth to Mercy Hospital every day for about a week for shots and testing. I kept the number of people who knew pretty limited, because I honestly can’t deal with any negativity right now. I know this cancer doesn’t  kill people, but just knowing it’s there is somewhere between annoying-as-hell and frustrating-as-hell. I just got released for 3 years from Barnes hospital in January, and now, less than 2 months later, it’s back?!? Are you frickin’ KIDDING me?!?

And I tried to pretend that I was okay with it–that it didn’t bother me, and that telling my family was just a formality–and that’s complete garbage, because I was gutted. I hated telling my parents, my boss, my sisters….my husband. It’s not fair to them…they’ve had to carry me so many times–it’s just not fair.

So, I left my office on March 18th, thinking that I would take the 19th and the 20th off for Jericho’s spring break, and then I’d work half-days the week of March 23rd…but then came the news that I’d need to telecommute. Okay, sure–I’ll telecommute that week, and I’ll be back in the office as usual on March 30th, right?

Wrong.

I’m working from home, and will be most likely until the end of this month. I’ve always wondered what that would be like; it’s nice to see my kiddo in the morning. He comes into the office every morning and hugs me in his rumpled pajamas and tousled hair, proudly breathing on me because he knows I can’t stand morning breath. He crawls on my lap and rubs his eyes, and I savor the moments. I mean, I DID say that I wished I could be a stay-at-home mom, although this wasn’t quite how I saw it happening.

I miss my usual pace at the office–I do a lot of different things, so it’s been hard for me to adjust to doing one thing at a time, with one monitor at a time. I get really frustrated with technical issues, and my personal computer is not suited for my job, but I’m making it work! I’m learning how to Zoom and how to push through, and just how many webinars I can take and stay sane (Six Sigma!!!  I took a black-belt Six Sigma course, and passed the dang test!!!!).

When I’m not being productive, I tend to make bad decisions (primarily with eating–oooh, those Thursday weigh-ins are NOT GOOD) and I also tend to feel terrible about myself as a human being. I’ve recently taken up embroidery again, which is crazy, because all of  my patterns are from a little Ace Hardware I worked at back in 1999. They’re yellowed, but I can still make out the pattern; I’m remembering how to do the stitches from back when my Grandma taught me at 12 and 13 years of age.

I’m learning how to do my nails like a grown-up (dipping powder is awesome!) and I’ve really gotten into an at-home spa experience. I have a wax melter and every facial thing you can think of; most of the stuff I’ve had stocking up for years, and am just now learning how to use it.

David has been laid off from his position, so he has assumed homeschooling our son. I have to admit, it’s fun to listen to them…until Jericho gets frustrated and has a total meltdown. He has about as much patience as his parents, LOL, so we’re all learning how to take deep breaths and to to find better coping mechanisms. It’s a journey.  I spent my lunch break yesterday giving a Spanish lesson.

I don’t speak Spanish, y’all.

I don’t make enough money for the therapy this kid’s probably gonna need from my pathetic attempts to educate him.

So, all of this is to say that I probably would have been in the “mullygrubs” even without the added medical drama. I had a full-body scan at the end of March; the insurance companies demand that I go through the racket of doing a full-body scan before they’ll approve a PET scan, even though we know the full-body scan will be inconclusive. It was, so now we wait. My tumor markers are low–0.7–and we’re going to wait until I’m at 1.0 until we progress to the PET. It’s the usual hurry-up-and-wait crap that gets in my head and stresses me out (even when I won’t admit it, it shows). Add corona to this, the lack of income, the lack of school and the slow pace of my job, and it created a perfect storm for the Vortex of the Downward Spiral, and I couldn’t shake it.

I’m still not through it…I’m trying to surround myself with worship music and musicals, to remind myself to sing my way through this…Sunny days make it easier (that’s why I’m writing right now–the sun came out, the window is open, and I finally drug myself into a shower) and like I can process things a bit better.

Like everyone else in the world, I’m overwhelmed and I’m struggling to see the beauty in this mess.

But you know what?!?

Someone threw me a lifeline.

One of the young ladies that I work with texted me out of the blue (Emma! I’ve blogged about her before):
“Hey, do you wanna do a Social Distancing Photoshoot?”

Um–a reason to put on real clothes, and go outside, and see actual people?!

YES.

She sent me the pictures today, and I have to tell you, I don’t know why I reacted quite so powerfully to them, but I literally felt myself take a deep breath, and I got overwhelmed by GRATITUDE to God for giving me this amazing family who surrounds me with so many wonderful, hilarious, amazing moments that work together to form a pretty phenomenal life, even when the chips are down.

GOD IS GOOD.

And people are good.

Emma did a great job of catching “those” moments–you know, the genuine laugh, the squish-hug, the toothless grin of a first grader (click the link to see the proofs). She captured the joy of our family, and it was such a beautiful reminder that I am surrounded by the most beautiful of gifts, even when I get overwhelmed and bogged down in the dark places.

You never know when your act of kindness is someone else’s lifeline…when God speaks through you and opens doors to someone’s heart, letting His light shine through.

My dad really likes Lauren Daigle, and when I talked to him a few days ago, he’s like, “Yeah, I really like that ‘Rescue‘ song by that Lauren girl!” I’ve heard it, but I really listened to it today (thanks, Dad!):

“You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless

How many times do we let words like, “hopeless” rule our lives, even as we say we’re dedicated to the God Who gives the greatest of Hope? I fully understand that anxiety and depression–which go hand-in-hand with chronic fatigue issues and autoimmune issues–are real, chemical problems. They have a spiritual effect, and it gets hard to focus on Who I know Jesus Is when I’m so chemically messed up–it’s so hard. Having the motivation to take care of myself when I’m in these pits seems unreachable. There are a LOT of superlatives when physical syndromes throw up roadblocks every time you turn around, and it takes constant discipline to not get shut down and drowned by it all (click the song lyrics above for a list of Bible verses about being rescued).

Sometimes a simple act of kindness is all that it takes to lift someone up out of all of that.

I’m grateful.

I’m not forgotten.

I’m not hopeless, and He never lets me think that for very long….

He’s my Rescuer.

We’re going to get through this, all of it. We really are, and the world will look different on the other side of it. We take one step, and He takes it right along with us.  We can do this, and we’re going to do it.

Come Follow Me: New Perspective about Peter walking on water ...

For the Love of a Dog…

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Once upon a time, in late November of 2005, a fluffy, shy, drooly cuddlebug came to be a part of our family. David had told me from as early in our dating life as I can remember, that he’d always wanted a boxer…so, he found one that was much smaller than most boxers, and she became ours.
I’d only had a cat (which I adored) and a dog (which my dad adored), and birds (which were never mine). I didn’t know what to do with an indoor dog, or such a “fancy” dog (She’s AKC registered, I mean, c’mon!!!). I didn’t know anything about walking them or training them, & I wasn’t even sure I wanted a dog, but I figured she’d be good practice for whenever we decided to try to have children (we had no idea how THAT was going to work out).
I fell in love.
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David studied The Dog Whisperer (Cesar Millan) religiously. Our house was filled with too much dog hair, too much slobber, and the sound of “tschhhht!” reverberating off of the walls.
She ate my cookbooks, my shoes, and had separation anxiety issues that we weren’t counting on…but we made it work.
She ate the bottom out of more kennels than I can count…which gets expensive.
She chewed every dog toy I bought her into tiny crumbs (except for the black Kong. Get it.).
She stayed on my lap or laid on my stomach every day…until one day, my stomach started to kick her…and eventually, she didn’t have any room to lay down…
And then Mommy disappeared for a few weeks.
When we brought our daughter home, she didn’t know what to think of the tiny, hairless being that Mommy & Daddy loved so much…but she knew how Mommy cried when that little person didn’t come home anymore…and she stayed with me through countless tears and breakdowns.
DSC00500 (My family hates this picture. I was pretty mad about it…but I’m so glad I have it. Thanks, David.)
Holly was definitely impacted by Hannah’s death…her separation anxiety worsened, and her need to be directly under my feet became problematic. I got annoyed…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Boxers tend to live around 7-10 years.  When Holly hit the 7-year mark, she gained a bunch of weight, and then her hips went out. We found out that first of all, she had a thyroid problem…which in retrospect, I find hilarious.
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We knew things were off, so we visited a few vets, and found out that our girl needed a ridiculously-expensive surgery: Bilateral TPLO. I don’t remember all of the ins-&-outs, but she basically needed her legs cut open and the bones reworked, along with a bunch of screws, pins, and other such things, to the tune of around $7,000-10,000 that we. Did. Not. Have.
Because of her temperament, we were able to find a surgeon that did both surgeries for both legs, at the same time. That’s unheard of, in a bully breed or in a dog of her size. She made it through the procedure without complications; I was scared to death, and brought her chicken from Qdoba almost every night that she was in the hospital. 🙂
And then we found out that Holly was about to have a brother!!!
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It took Holly a solid 6 months to warm up to Jericho, and to be honest, she wasn’t terribly fond of him. Granted, we were terrible dog-parents; we were working full-time, and still hadn’t gotten into a routine of making sure she had her thyroid medicine. Speaking from a different place of understanding, now I KNOW how important that medication is!! Once we had her in a regular routine, she began to tolerate Jericho quite nicely. 🙂 He makes her nervous…but he sure does love her!
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Holly followed me around incessantly…I had absolutely no personal space, and I was really starting to get aggravated with her….but then came my diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Once my surgery and my medication started doing their jobs, her need to be in my face and under my feet seemed to decrease. I’m pretty convinced she knew I was sick, before I or anyone else knew. She’s pretty darn smart.
When David isn’t home, Holly will go ballistic on anyone who comes to the door. She’s been a fierce defender for Jericho & I, and even though I’ve only had to “sic” her on someone once or twice, I know that no matter how old she gets, SHE WILL TEAR SOMEONE APART on cue. 🙂 I like that about her. I didn’t train her to be a security dog…but I didn’t have to.
Our girl is quite old…we’re reminded of that every time someone asks how old she is, and we tell them, and they look at us like we’re crazy: “She’s REALLY OLD for a BOXER, isn’t she?!?!?!?”
Well, yes.
Yes, she’s old.
She’s losing her hearing and control of her bladder (that sucks, BTW. I’m going to buy stock in Resolve.). She’s crabbier, but she still defends me to the teeth (not that she has many left), and she still likes to “hug” me when I try to go upstairs (she runs one step ahead, and gets on her hind legs to put her paws on my shoulders). She still lets me do her nails, and she misses being allowed to get on the couch (it’s a new couch).
She loves her Daddy.
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And she definitely, definitely, loves ME.

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She’s an amazing dog, and an amazing soul…I believe all dogs go to Heaven. I mean, how could something love you like that…and I do believe it’s love…and not be allowed to return to their Maker? God blessed us when He gave us animals to love…

She’s been my very, very best friend…she’s been a dog I needed, even though I never knew just how much I’d need someone like her.

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She’s in my heart, and I am forever grateful for the day David called me and said, “I got a dog.”

Officially, she’s “Christmas’ Holly Golightly.”

Unofficially, she’s “Miss Stink,” “OooohGetOffaMeYou’reGross,” “$%&*%$&!!!!,” and a few other unmentionable names. 🙂

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She’s a Good Dog, and I wish she could read…I wish she could know just how grateful we are for her….and how we are changed for the better, because of the Love of a Dog.

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Happy 13th birthday, Holly. You’re a Very Good Dog, and we love you!

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Limbo…

Two years ago, I posted a status update that I was basically cancer-free.

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Before you read any further, please note that I’m not saying that I’m not cancer-free. THIS IS NOT A POST TO SAY THAT MY CANCER HAS RETURNED, so please don’t worry. 🙂
It’s actually a post to say that now they’re telling me it may have never really gone away.
Nobody seems to know the real answer to that question.
I’m posting this not as a means of being dramatic or whiny, but because it’s indicative of how confusing the medical industry can be…I’ve been working in healthcare for 18 years, and have had a complicated medical history, yet with all of that, the terminologies and explanations that healthcare providers give can be very misleading…
At this appointment, I was made to believe that I was done with this whole cancer thing…I even looked at my doctor and asked, “So, does this mean I’m done here?” He said, “Yes, but we’ll still need to see you every 6 months for ultrasounds. Cancer-wise, though, you’re in the clear.” I knew at that time that thyroid cancer, particularly when it’s as complicated as mine was, has a high chance of a recurrence, and that stays in the back of one’s mind.
So, here we are, 3 years after my initial diagnosis, and I’ve been a good girl; I’ve taken my meds, gone to Barnes every 6 months, and had my ultrasounds. I’ve dutifully supplied my blood tests on time, and I religiously maintain a spreadsheet of my results. My lymph nodes in my neck have finally started to shrink, and that’s a positive change since my biopsy in January of this year (when they actually suspected that I might have lymphoma, which was terrifying; turns out that I was still dealing with the after-effects of having mono the summer before). However, I continue to have something called, “residual activity” that shows up on my ultrasounds. It showed up on my PET scan in 2016, and it’s never actually resolved. So, how can I be told that I’m “cancer free,” when in fact. that’s not necessarily accurate? There should be NOTHING in my thyroid bed, yet there’s that stupid thing, boppin’ around on my ultrasound. I don’t have cancer, according to my labs…BUT my labs never said I had cancer in the first place–that’s the anomaly of my particular case of thyroid cancer. I never registered as having cancer, via labwork or biopsy, even though the cancer cells broke through the capsule and went into my lymph nodes. We didn’t know I actually had cancer until I was in the process of having my thyroid removed, when the surgeon biopsied me on the table. Now, however, according to my surgeon and the ultrasound (AKA, “anatomical scan”), I’m not totally clear, and I’ll need to see my oncologist again for follow-up scans (functionality scans, AKA, another PET scan).
I know everything is fine, but you mention the word, “oncologist” to me, and my anxiety skyrockets. I’m not sure why it freaks me out so much; I’d rather never see an oncologist again. Thyroid cancer is a SUPER-slow growing cancer, so even if my tests are positive or questionable, I really have nothing to worry about. It’s just a stupid mind-game, and I hate how it affects me (and everyone I care about).
When we lived in Kentucky, I had an accident with Holly, and wound up tearing a tendon in my wrist. I didn’t COMPLETELY tear the tendon, and as a result, instead of a simple surgery to repair the damage, I had 6 weeks in a cast, 6 weeks in a brace, and 12 weeks of physical therapy. Something relatively simple became extremely complicated; what sounds like the better version of the injury was actually worse than the reality (Partial tear vs. Complete tear). I feel like thyroid cancer is like that. It’s the “good” kind of cancer–it’s “easily” treated. You remove the thyroid, and we’re good, right? Not really…My dad had a kind of cancer where they removed it all with surgery, and everything was fine–no meds, no radiation, and no chemo. You’d think that thyroid cancer was like that, based on the whole, “just remove the mass and the thyroid” thing. No one talks about the chances of recurrence, the residual activity, and the extreme difficulty in balancing the medication that replaces your thyroid. No one tells you about all of things that are affected by your thyroid–the energy levels, the hormones, the immune system (in my case, because of lymphatic involvement). They don’t tell you that when you catch a basic cold, you’d better call your doctor, because it’s gonna mutate and turn into bronchitis or pneumonia or whatever, because your immune system’s compromised. I just started my 3rd or 4th round of antibiotics this year, and my 2nd round of steroids…over a dang COLD.
My nervousness/drama over the thought of additional testing/seeing the oncologist is admittedly stupid. I’m being WAY overly dramatic, especially when I think about all of the people I know who have dealt with “real” cancers…the ones that require multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, the ones that incapacitate people and take lives…Thyroid cancer is often treated by the medical community as the “good” kind of cancer, so the issues that we deal with are not treated with the seriousness or compassion that I believe they should entail.  Thyroid cancer is, by definition, “easy” to treat in comparison to every other kind of cancer, based on the previously stated premise that you just remove the organ, give the patient a replacement med, and send them on their merry way. It’s not like I’ve had a breast removed or lost a kidney…I’m not visibly scarred (unless you know where to look).  I didn’t lose my hair (well, I did, but no one really noticed, and it’s all grown back). My issues have all had to do with regulating the thyroid replacement medication, and that’s a process that will go on for the rest of my life. If I gain weight (huge struggle) or if I lose weight (ha!), the dosages have to be recalibrated. Right now, I’m actually medically slightly hyperthyroid, but the consequences of re-calibrating the medication are worse than dealing with the effects of being hyperthyroid (sleeplessness/heat intolerance/anxiety) so we leave it as is for now.
Ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you that my life after having the “good” kind of cancer is very different from my life before.
My son will never know the Mommy that existed prior to 2015, when I had issues, but I also had energy, and I could go outside in the summer and not feel like I was going to pass out (I thought I was heat-intolerant before this, because of my heart. This is another level). He tells my husband that he wants to “take Mommy home, so we can go to the park.” That hurts, I’m not going to lie.
But I’m being stupid. Aren’t just supposed to shut up and be grateful that I got the “good” kind of cancer?
REALLY?
I very rarely let my brain go down the rabbit hole of “why is this happening to me?” I’ve found that’s a very dangerous place to go, and I’ve learned to stifle that fire with a blanket of blind faith and self-control, per the whole, “blessed are they that have not seen, but have believed” verse in John 20:29. I could list the things David & I have been through that I just don’t get, but what point would it prove? We’ve been through hell? Yeah, but so has everyone to some extent. Everyone has their own definition of the worst thing they’ve been through, and my worst isn’t your worst, but that doesn’t mean one is worse than the other–who makes that judgement call? Life isn’t about comparing my life to yours, or your life to Kim Kardashian’s. Life is about doing all that we can to give glory to God in every situation. If the Apostle Paul can do it, so can we.
So, I try to avoid the “why, God, why?!?” Nancy Kerrigan-isms of my life. My life is GOOD!!!!  I love my life! And I’m not defined by this stupid cancer thing, but it does take up an inordinate amount of space in my psyche, particularly when I’m told that I have to go back to oncology and have additional scans in the next 6 months (they’re not in a hurry. That’s the perks of having the “good” kind of cancer. Nothing has to be rushed, which is cool, even though my brain says, “DO IT NOWWWW!!!!” I can wait until my FSA has renewed, LOL). I’ve been pretty whiny with God all week (when I’ve even spoken with Him–I’ve been so dang sick that I’ve barely prayed, which is embarrassing to admit). I did actually say to Him on Wednesday that “I just don’t understand why I get hit will all of this $hit (I’m not gonna fake Him out with some kind of churchy-fake lingo)!!!” And as soon as I said it, I’m like, “Eh, never mind.” I don’t really need to know the definition. Grace tells me it’s not a punishment. Grace tells me that we live in a fallen world full of crappy chemicals and emissions, of hormone-affecting toxins and atmospheric garbage that affects all of us in different ways.
Grace also tells me that regardless of the confusing definitions and my internal/external comparisons, that the bottom line is that it will all be okay. Grace tells me to stop being afraid of words like, “oncology,” and to start saying things like, “stop being a stupid worry-wart, and chill the heck out.” 🙂 (Okay, Grace doesn’t say that. Mom says that, LOL. I love her. Everyone needs someone in their life to cut through their crap, and that’s my mom. She’s like a younger Judge Judy with a penchant for wedding-based reality TV). Seriously, though, Grace says that this is one more bump/hill/mountain in the road, and regardless of what happens, I’ll get through the other side of it. It really, truly is not serious, and it’s only because of the “C” word that it seems so scary. My surgeon actually once said that thyroid cancer shouldn’t even really be termed as a cancer, because it’s such a slow-growing, minor thing to deal with, and that word is so complicated and fearful. I tend to agree with him, even though I know that trivializes something with major consequences.
Seeing an oncologist is actually just part of regular follow-up care for any kind of cancer. I probably should have seen her a year ago, but because things were so well-maintained at my visits with my surgeon and my endocrinologist, it wasn’t brought up. In fact, my endocrinologist isn’t particularly concerned at this point, and I don’t have to see him for a year (yay!). Oncology is routine, even though in MY brain, seeing an oncologist isn’t routine for ANYONE.
Like I said a few (okay, a LOT of) paragraphs earlier, this post is not to say that my cancer has returned…or that it ever reallllly went away. It’s just showing how confusing the medical industry can be (“you’re cancer-free! Oh, wait, you have activity—oh, wait, it’s not enough to worry about—oh, wait, go see the oncologist–but you’re fine!”), and the emotional roller-coaster that goes along with it. I am fine–believe me, I’m as fine as I get. My levels are well-maintained, and if you don’t count the bronchitis/respiratory garbage I keep getting every few months, my energy levels are good. I’m doing a heck of a lot better than a lot of people I read about on my “Life After Thyroidectomy” forum on Facebook!  Hoooo, those Facebook Groups!!!! “I stubbed my toe! It’s because I had a thyroidectomy!!!!! I hate my doctor!!!!” It gets DRAMATIC…and I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of entertaining. It helps me find out what I really need to be concerned about, and clears up a LOT of myths, particularly when I review some of the stuff with my endocrinologist.
Whether I do or don’t have a recurrence of this garbage, everything is fine, and it’s all going to be okay. Even though the thought of something as routine as a follow-up visit with an oncologist is scary to me, I know it’s a good thing to do. Ultrasounds can only tell doctors so much, and additional testing is a good thing. I just have to get over myself and the mental hang-up I have with that word. I don’t see myself as a “cancer survivor,” because of the type of cancer I have; however, I believe we probably all share a similar fear/anxiety of having to see an oncologist, and of the ensuing tests. It is part of the process we all deal with, regardless of the type of cancer. The mental aspects of the terminology are just as emotionally difficult as the physical processes, which is something I think healthcare would do well to address.
Any additional testing I have done will most likely not happen until next year (the perks of “non”-cancer cancers), so I’m probably not going to post anything else regarding my status until then. For me, just writing all of this out has been helpful; only so much can be said in phone calls and 10-minute conversations with spouses. Blogging is my way of having uninterrupted communication, so it’s completely selfish, and I’m not sorry. 🙂 If you’ve stuck with me this far, well, good on ya’, mate! 🙂
This is all just part of the process. And it’s okay. I’ve never been good at any kind of waiting, and I’ve wanted everything to be over and done with for the last 3 years. I’m not really getting that, and I’m not good at not getting what I want. I want closure. It’s not happening. It’s a bizarre kind of limbo.
I’ve never been particularly good at that game. 🙂