middle places

here’s the thing about not having cancer anymore:  i’m not sick, but i’m not well yet, either.

beyond the continued treatments, surgeries, therapies and side effects to my body, the reality of how i am not going to be done with this, not going to just ‘put it behind me’ has settled over me like late-summer Texas heat- blistering and prickly, humidity choking all the oxygen from the air.  inescapable.

there’s this rush of gratefulness and light- a renewed energy that comes when the weight of diagnosis is lifted. and then… heaviness. dark, shadowy fears that cry out of your loss, your family’s hurt, your life forever scarred.

where does that come from?

there’s some question about how my long term medications interacted with those i took only briefly, jarring my brain as it struggles to keep up with all the new formulas-  possibly the fluctuation of hormones as i shift from one drug to another.

it is likely that this- the unexpected hard of post-cancer- is also the backlash of the last 9 months.  the feelings i pressed back and back and back because i had a job to do, now all crash forward at once- like water sloshing in an overfull bathtub. a warm wave of questions and fears and anger, spilling over the edges and spreading across the floor, messy and uncontainable.

or maybe i’m just tired. the body i am left with after gallons of chemicals and counter-chemicals and now cutting and rebuilding is tired. the mind i am left with after focusing on getting well, maintaining some energy for my family, and clutching small shreds of southern christian girl politeness towards those who ask ridiculous questions is tired.

yes, i think all of those are true.

i meant all the words i wrote during and just after… they are not false just because i am tired now. but i don’t really want to hide this part from you, friends.  this may be the more real part of being a ‘survivor.’ (side note: i don’t want to be called a survivor, warrior, or fighter. those are great titles from some, but i just don’t resonate with them. you can call me rachel.)

i have met lots of women who are going through cancer treatment, and i have seen this in some of them as well:  when there is a job to do, we do it- take the meds, deal with the sickness, maintain our lives and our families and our sanity, do the work to get well again. we are positive- strong- hopeful- focused. inspiring, even. but not much can prepare you for the post-cancer tidal wave. when you are alone with your thoughts again after months of chemo-brain and ‘just don’t puke in front of the kids,’ the darkness is a little surprising- a little overwhelming. the guilt of ‘shouldn’t i feel amazing and go save the world?’ instead of ‘i think i’ll just drop everything to sit alone in the sunshine for a while.’

some people ‘bounce back’ more quickly than others, which is wonderful. but some of us aren’t bouncy anymore. some of us reach the end of our resilience. maybe there’s only so many times our bodies and minds can be stretched to the limit before we stop returning to our original shape… not destroyed, but irreparably distorted.

you know what i WANT to do?  write cutting, sarcastic words that feel good going out, but horrible when they land. i want to slip in passive aggressive digs at all the well-meaning hurtful things people say when you have cancer (i’ve gotten some doozies).  but spewing every dark and crazy and desperate thought i’ve had, pouring out my emotions like sludgy, rancid water on you- my friends, family, and online acquaintances who have cared for me so well- that’s not good for anyone.

and that’s why i haven’t been writing (or just not publishing what i’m writing).  not because i don’t have anything to say, but because i’m still in the middle of it. there’s this human tendency to want to learn the lesson, see the growth, understand the process, wrap it all up in 1000 words or less. but in the middle, it’s dark and twisty and unmanageable.  even now, i’m tempted to put a big, fat, happy-clappy ‘yay Jesus’ bow on this… and i just don’t think that i should.  you don’t need that- my false front, my pretty picture. you can handle a little darkness from me, right?

so… i’m just going to leave this here and hope you don’t feel like you don’t have to say something helpful, be deeply insightful, or ‘fix me.’  i am broken, sure. but so are you… and it’s enough, even good sometimes, just to be broken together.

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i hate all the stupid crying

remember last week when i said i haven’t cried very much through this whole cancer season?  how i just don’t do it because it makes everything worse?

yeah- God called me out on that one.  oops.

i have cried an average of 2,000 times every day since i shared that my cancer is gone.  that seems excessive, even for someone going through treatment.  no?  you don’t think that’s a lot?  fine.  it feels extreme to me- my pajama top is wet. (yes, pajamas and zipper tops are the only things i can wear til my surgeon removes my disgusting drain.)  it’s not that i don’t have feelings usually, but i don’t uncontrollably leak emotion everywhere.

here are some exceptions:

IEP meetings (individualized education program- where we meet with julia’s awesome school team about her progress & goals).  i have cried grateful tears at every one of these meetings since she was 3 years old.  that’s roughly 20 separate occasions where i have either sniffled, teared up, or bawled in front of a group of 5-10 men and women i barely know.

Good Music.  at home, i listen to songs on repeat and sing loudly (not well) and sometimes cry- those tears are Truth making its way into the hard and hidden parts of my heart.  at church, i sit with my girls during worship (julia will not allow me to stand, in case you’ve ever wondered why the pastor’s wife stays seated when everyone else in the congregation rises). i look around as i sing, occasionally crying as i long for the Hope and Love we sing to sink deeply into my daughters and into my community.  those tears are prayers.

Writing. most of my writing is private.  it’s chicken scratch- incomplete, incoherent- just splotches of what i’m feeling and learning.  sometimes those messy little sentences have big Truth and important Growth in them, and my tears are just more words written in salt water.

Reading.  crying from anger over injustice, sadness over oppression and abuse… those are hard and necessary tears. books that make me laugh til i cry are my favorite, as long as i don’t also pee.  (too much?  i wrote about my breasts in my last post, so i’m just on a roll.)  every so often, i cry from the words aimed directly at me- either the completion of a long Work inside me or the beginning of an new one.

but today my tears are coming from somewhere less familiar, less comfortable.  i wrote to some long time friends who pray with me over email… women i know from weathering a decade of storms, celebrating a decade of triumphs, walking together through our everyday extraordinary lives.  i cried as i wrote because i miss them.  i cried because i feel so intensely for them.  i cried because i feel sorry for myself that i am here and they are there… so far away.

and then i cried because i need to be sharing those prayers with women here.  i know i have people here.  our community (all of it- church, neighborhood, school, and town) is an unexpected, unbelievable treasure.  i’ve been loved so well and so often by women (and men) who barely know me… meals made, groceries purchased, cards written, prayers lifted, gifts sent, tears shed, hugs given by those who just want us to know they care.  you see that we are hurting, and you care and you show it.  i know i have you, and i’ve barely scratched the surface of your friendship.

the truth is that i crawl away to deal with pain. i go to my hiding place when i’m hurt and scared. it’s warm and soft and safe in here, and it’s only big enough for me.

i came here when i was in labor- don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, don’t even move- just let me get through this (or i will rip your head off).

i came here when matt had cancer- i can cook, clean, potty train one kid, nurse another, make it through- just let me do it.

when i got my diagnosis, i swore i would try to be more open, let others in.  maybe i did a little… with those who were already so deeply embedded in my life that i couldn’t get rid of them.  (yeah, old friends- i think i just compared y’all to ticks.  sorry.)  i think i avoided my new friends along with the germs my nurses warned me about each week.  (awesome- now i’ve compared my new friends to viruses. i’m a great person, promise.) i think i kept everyone out of my hiding place, out in the cold.

a few brave new friends have asked since my mastectomy if i’m ready for people yet.  my heart just aches to even think about it… no, i’m still hurt.  i’m still hiding.  i’m just now feeling how sad i am… how awful this has been and how incredibly afraid i am that this is not over, that i am not ever going to be done with cancer and sickness and hurt. i can’t stop crying… and i guess that means i need people now?

NO. i want to do friendship on MY terms, with good wine and vanilla candles and bacon wrapped dates. i want to be cute- wear a pretty outfit that isn’t ‘mastectomy friendly’ and fun earrings that don’t look stupid because i’m bald.  i want eyebrows that won’t keep wiping off accidentally because I CAN’T. STOP. CRYING.  i don’t want to need to cry on you.  i don’t want to not know how to say what i’m feeling, why i’m still scared, still crying.

but i do want the friendship that comes from sharing all these tears, all this need.  i do want you.

so yes- thanks for asking.  i think i’m ready for people again.  be careful with me… i’m awfully fragile and soggy from all the crying.

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a pastor’s wife writes about breasts and dangerous women… fair warning

 we women have a complicated relationship with our breasts, as my sister so aptly (and hilariously) described to me in a text early last week.  she’s right- i’ve had a tangled and confusing 36 years in this body.

in my LATE blooming teen years, i longed to have a body worth noticing (or at least one that appeared different from that of an adolescent boy).

in my ‘good little Christian girl’ years, i rode the line between modesty, impropriety, and frumpiness- misunderstanding the beauty of how God created women, our bodies, and the sacredness of sexuality.

in my childbearing and breastfeeding years, i cared for and tried to cover the swollen, leaking monstrosities, despite the fact that my daughters adamantly refused to have a cover over their heads while they nursed.

in these most recent days, when my breasts turned on me and tried to multiply harmful cells much too rapidly… i didn’t know exactly how to relate to my body.  in cancer treatment, you lose your hair, your skin may rebel (blisters, sores, dry patches), your nails may discolor and fall off.  you may have a part or all of your breasts removed.  you may have your ovaries and uterus removed.  all of these parts of me- the parts i had hoped for and cared for, the parts God carefully formed before i took my first breath- all of these were suddenly at risk.  these parts that make me woman. beautiful. a life-creator and sustainer. cancer made them vulnerable and fragile, where before they were strong and resilient.

we learn a different appreciation of our bodies as we age… and yes, i know my years aren’t so many yet.  but i have lived a great amount of life in these 36 years. you’ve let me into your days- you’ve let me live them with you and add your years to mine.  those hours and days and years of your life- your joy and suffering- i’ve absorbed these into my memory, into my soul. they are a part of me now, and i will never again be as young as i appear.  so these physical losses?  the aged skin, the enormous scars, the flesh lost forever- cut away in life-saving effort?  those are not so devastating as i imagined. they are parts- they are not me.  i look at you and i remember:  i have more than my share, more than my 36 years-worth of life already within me.

 today i am stripped free.  no ‘pretty’ parts of me to draw away from who i am made to be: woman. bald, scarred, and breast removed… i’m a woman still with purpose and promise.

i don’t feel like my womanhood has been taken from me.  my hair will return, my fingernails will regenerate, and i will have a reconstructed breast- even returned to it’s original location, several inches above where pregnancy and nursing pulled low and sagged down.  i will appear feminine again in time, but i won’t be the same.

i will not shrink back and apologize and squeak ashamedly that i am too much to bear.

i will see my place in His story- know that i am enough- qualified and anointed to step forward and speak up.

i will be terrified and uncomfortable and feel unworthy, and i will do it- speak it- write it- anyway.

i will step onto the path in the darkness- i know the most breathtaking sunrise can only be seen if you take to the trail at midnight.

i will make room for you, sisters- welcome your years into my own- invite you to add your strength to mine.  we are so much more when we are one.

i will be the word i am both longing to and afraid to claim: DANGEROUS.  i will battle by filling cups, unburdening hearts, shining Light, breathing Freedom.

in all that has been stripped away from me, i see the power that God gives to us, to His women:  we are made to cultivate life and nurture and sustain each other.  we are strong, and we can hold each other up to the Light.  with or without breasts, we are Life givers. whether our bodies are now or ever have been child-bearing, we are fertile- able to join our lives to each other, add our years together, multiply Love by decades and generations.

i can think of nothing more beautiful and dangerous than that, sisters.

IF Local and The Barn 02-06-15

IF Local and The Barn 02-06-15

IF Local and The Barn 02-06-15pictures by Bailey Mohr of Beautiful Mess Photography, LLC!