Unpathy

When I hear about people who have cancer who I don’t know personally – maybe a friend of a friend – I don’t feel much.

Maybe I should. Maybe I am not doing all that well with my word. Maybe someday I will? Maybe this is a phase, like the bad-sleep thing (and can somebody let me know when THAT phase will be over? IT DOES END, RIGHT?)

But I just… don’t feel much when I hear diagnosis news.

And I don’t think much, except one thought that consistently enters my head.

Either they will die, or they won’t.

Cancer treatments are improving. Tests for catching things earlier are improving. Awareness of the need to check for things are improving. And some people just get damn lucky.*

So I kind of assume people will end up okay. Because most people do these days, it seems.

Or they won’t. And they will die.

And for me, either way, I don’t have much to feel about it.

If they end up okay, it’s a wonderful outcome to which I cannot relate.

They don’t need me to get excited about it. They will feel enough of that on their own.

And if they die, I know all too well that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stifle the pain for whoever cared about them.

They don’t need me to be heartbroken over it. They will feel enough of it on their own.

*(Which is really what it comes down to. Luck. Dumb, dumb luck. Despite many ignorant (non-doctor!) people who think they have all the answers about how really to cure cancer. Chemicals this! Oils that! There’s a doctor in Germany that my cousin’s roommate knows who is developing a new chemo! Nutrition all the things! JUST HAVE ENOUGH FAITH AND CUT THE GLUTEN AND DAIRY!

I DO feel things during those conversations; believe me. And I get a little surprised about how often people tell me stuff like this, considering I don’t think anybody can claim that their natural cancer remedy brings people back from the dead. Hey guys? The ship has sailed for my family. Lecture somebody else about your witch doctor cures. Kthanks.)**

**I feel like I should end with something good and not so ALWAYS-DEPRESSING-MANDY, so I will tell you that Jack and I get to take Devin to Disney World this month and I am PEE MY PANTS EXCITED about that.

Let’s all think about that instead of cancer now.

(Well. Let’s think about Disney with Devin. Not me peeing my pants.)

Some words from my brain

I keep opening new blog posts. Because the last one is super depressing and I don’t really want it on top anymore. But then I abandon said new blog posts and that depressing one just stays on top.

Life is overwhelming right now, so writing about life, trying to summarize it, to tell just one story, that’s overwhelming too. Maybe I won’t tell a story or worry about making sense at all tonight. Because no matter what I write, at least it will bump the depressing post down one.

Today’s devotional told me that rest can be a form of worship. To stop being so busy. To stop running. To stop being overwhelmed.

But until I can figure out exactly how to add in all that rest-worship, I’ll be here trying to hold all the pieces together. The marriage pieces and the business(es!) pieces and the grief pieces and the joy pieces and the health pieces and the change pieces and the pieces of the messy, messy house.

They’re kind of everywhere, the pieces. And people keep trying to hand me new pieces.

And it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good. But it is all demanding. And unsummarizeable. The little red squiggly line has decided that “unsummarizable” isn’t a word. I have decided to agree to disagree with the little red squiggly line.

There was a speaker at church a few weeks ago that talked about how much better things were for Christians 40 years ago (Hello, racism? Sexism? Drug use and sexually transmitted diseases? War?). He was 8 years old then.

I don’t know if that is true, because I wasn’t alive then. So it’s hard for me to connect or agree with somebody who is basically saying “things were so much better before you got here!” Plus, the things I remember from when I was 8 are kind of inaccurate. Like how awesome those wafery chocolate covered peanut butter Little Debbie things were. I loved them when I was a kid, but really they taste like wax. We remember things better than they really were, probably in part because our parents shielded us from reality and probably in part because kids are dumb.

And precious and gifts from God and all that too. But c’mon. Also dumb.

The speaker went on to say how Christians are so persecuted now, that we don’t have the rights we once had (you know, how he remembers when he was 8). I guess that’s kind of a hot button issue for me, because I have been to countries where there is actual danger in being a Christian or something else and I have seen groups of people who really are persecuted, and I have never been in that category. And being a white, upper-middle class American Christian? I’m just not terribly worried about my group. Maybe you are. I guess that’s okay too. But I won’t be convinced that my Christianity is in ALL THE DANGER, is all.

I added Meghan Trainor Radio to my (long) list of Pandora stations. You know Meghan, right? She’s all about that bass?

I feel it’s a public service to tell you that. Because it’s a very happy mix. If you like that sort of thing. Or if you’re also all about that bass.

I have been taking pictures lately. People keep asking me to do it for them, which is kind of perfect since I really love doing it. I believe that’s what they call a symbiotic relationship.

And it’s one of the many aforementioned pieces that definitely falls in the “not all bad” category. In fact, if there was a “hardly bad at all” category, it would belong in that one (missing the “not bad even a little bit” category by a narrow margin due to the unfortunate need for business bookkeeping. Bookkeeping and I are not buddies. Nothing personal, Bookkeeping, it’s just that I’m seeing other people and I only hang out with you because it’s part of my custody agreement with Photography Business.)

Also. Fall is creeping in, a few degrees at a time and a few pretend-pumpkin-syrup coffee drinks at a time.

And because Fall requires no bookkeeping (aside, technically, from the extra family photo sessions I book during this season) it belongs into the “not bad even a little bit” category.

That’s a category I can rest-worship in for a minute, at least.

I still wonder that

A year ago he was here. Except he wasn’t really.

A year ago I was there. Except I didn’t want to need to be.

A year ago they moved him down a few floors, to That Floor, where everybody who gets on the elevator with you or passes you in the hallway also has red eyes. And you’ve never seen or spoken to one another before in your lives but you immediately know one another intimately, without a word, as you pass in the hall.

A year ago I learned that they tape a flower to the patient’s door after they die. It seems like a sweet gesture but the first thing I thought was “oh, that’s how they let the nurses know when there is a dead body in the room.”

A year ago I watched him struggle and wondered how people do it for longer than the few weeks we did. A year ago we made morbid-but-fitting jokes to the slightly-horrified hospice nurse just a few minutes after his last breaths. A year ago we saw him for the last time as they wheeled his body away.

A year ago the nightmares started.

A year ago I wondered if it would ever be okay again before I am finally, mercifully home with him.

I still wonder that.

Unchill

It’s VBS week. I haven’t done VBS since I was in VBS but for some inexplicable reason I am helping with it this year. And I use the term “helping” loosely because if the crafts leader were being honest she would probably have to admit that she’d be more efficient without me.

See also: I had to count a stack of papers four times today. I am still not quite clear on whether there were 16, 17, or 18 in it. (They only taught us to count to 10 at A&M.)

And of course, the other reason the word “helping” is used loosely is that I may or may not have a moderate fear of groups of children, which as I understand it is a socially unacceptable fear when you’re working with groups of children.

BUT ISN’T ANYONE ELSE WORRIED THAT IF THEY ORGANIZED THEMSELVES THEY COULD TAKE US ALL OUT!?

Deep breaths, everyone.

Anyway, there’s me and some other volunteers in the crafts area (because as we have learned, Mandy is crafty!!), including a new friend from my Sunday school class, and then a group of teen helpers too.

So Rachael, said friend from said Sunday school class, jokingly asked one of the teen girls last night whether the kids still say “cool” these days, to which the teen replied “uh, no, not really.”

Rachael and I exchanged that certain incredulous glance that two 30-year-olds exchange when their illusion of youth suddenly comes tumbling down around them.

“Wait, what?” she asked.

“You’re kidding, right?” I chimed in.

The three girls exchanged uncomfortable glances and looked back at us like students who just gave the wrong answer in class.

“Um, no, nobody really says ‘cool’ anymore,” the girl replied.

Within moments, we were both peppering them question after question, all of them some variation of:

“WHAT do you say instead?”

(The answer? “Chill,” “sick,” or maybe “neat.” The internet* later added the words “shiny,” “dope,” “nifty,” “spiffy,” and of course “tizight.” to my new, very uncool list.)

As Rachael and I got more and more intense in our drilling them with questions, they got more and more uncomfortable. (I can’t imagine why.)

By the end of the conversation I had one of the kids by the shoulders, shaking her with wide eyes screaming “JUST TELL ME WHAT DID YOU REPLACE IT WITH AND WHY!?” **

I’m not crazy. I just really need data. In a crazy, crazy, socially unacceptable manner.

When our group leader mercifully excused them from the awkward conversation, me holding Rachael back as she tried to charge and swing at them,** they grabbed their belongings and darted at lightening speed toward the staircase in uncomfortable silence.

As they rounded the corner, we heard all three bust into uncontrollable laughter and immediately begin chattering about the preceding conversation. Rachael’s eyes lit up and she whipped her head around toward me.

“They were totally making fun of us!”

The group leader tried to convince us that that was a good thing because they were bonding! And that the joke’s on them, we can drive and they can’t! Score!

Later, Rachael and I were texting.

“What I usually tell kids when they think I’m uncool is that I eat ice cream for dinner sometimes and that nobody tells me no.” I typed. “I’ll take a grown-up paycheck over being cool. I wasn’t cool before anyway.”

“Man. I’m lactose intolerant and a stay at home mom. Burn,” Rachael responded.

Oh.

Well.

Um.

At least she can drive.

Driving is pretty cool.

*YES, OKAY, I spent the evening Googling “Do kids still say cool?” I am a thousand years old.

**That didn’t happen.

Brace

I’m starting to get spam comments on this blog because it has been so long since I have written.

I haven’t had a lot to say.

Life has been going on. There have been photo shoots and black belt testings and trips to see friends weariness and contentment and life. We committed to a church. We laughed over pizza. We had hard conversations.

Life has been going on.

Shane’s birthday has come and gone, and yesterday the year mark from that day he got back from Brazil came and went as well. On Monday the year mark from his diagnosis will come and go, and I know what came after that.

And I am bracing myself.

I already feel it sneaking into my thoughts. I feel myself reliving it even though logically I don’t make much of anniversaries and he’s not any more or less dead now because it’s been exactly 365 days since something.

It shouldn’t matter. June shouldn’t matter. July shouldn’t matter. It’s the same. He’s gone anyway.

But it’s there. Sneaking in. And I am bracing myself.

That makes me think of Shane in the ICU, bracing himself on a walker as he struggled down the hall, looking much older than his short 30 years. He had to walk! We said! He wouldn’t recover without walking!

It was a struggle but with Nurse Jen by his side and his walker in front, he braced himself.

And they held him up.

I have that too. I have that in friends and family and my Godsend of a sister-in-law. I have that in my little dog and my church family and oh how I have that in my Jesus.

I am not happy about feeling a need to brace myself for this month.

But I am so, so thankful in all the things God has given me to brace myself on.

Load More

I am coming to terms with the fact that scrapbooking is not something I am able to regularly make time for anymore. I will never be a Jenni Hufford, and that’s okay because she doesn’t make beautiful things to make others feel inadequate about not doing the same.

Instead, I use social media to document life. I download backups of Tweets and Facebook activity with grand intentions of someday making a book (although maybe Cassandra will make me one instead). Instagram has become my new digital scrapbook.

And so I look back at my scrapbook sometimes.

For a while it didn’t take long to get back to The Time When Everything Was Okay.

Now I have to hit the “Load More” button so many times, just to get back to that time before the sunset, when he was still around.

Load more.

Before the night I was rocking Devin to sleep, when there was no diagnosis. Everything could still be okay.

Load more.

Before he was smiling in his hospital bed, when he was going to be out in just a few days.

Load more.

Before he reunited with Cassandra and Devin at the airport, when his chest pain was probably anxiety and pleurisy.

Load more.

And before that, it was just life. Everything Is Okay life when we were separated by miles instead of time, when he would always ask me to stay longer when I visited.

Load more.

Load more. Load more. Load more.

He is moving further away every moment. Further than Colorado, further than Boston.

But the further I get from that sunset, the closer I get to my own sunset, to home, and to him.

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Keep loading more.

Still good

We went to a church service this morning that featured a guest band, The Moment, and the lead singer, Dave Bell, told his story about getting a rare eye cancer at 16 and living through it. He told the congregation all the ways his family had faith and all the ways God had been good to him, because He had performed miracles in their lives.

(His story starts at 6:50 on this video if you’d like to see it)

And it’s a lovely story, it really is. Encouraging, even. He tells it very nicely and it’s good to hear the way things work out for some people who have faith.

Some people who have faith, though, it just doesn’t work out for.

I know the intent behind this kind of storytelling is good. You don’t have to tell me that; I get it.

But the thing is, God didn’t choose to heal Shane that way. God didn’t choose to reveal his cancer to us in a low-numbered stage, and God didn’t choose to stop the cancer from spreading quickly. God didn’t choose to clean up the infection and God didn’t choose to make his liver start functioning again.

For whatever reason, God chose to take him Home.

And if you’re hearing these “yay miracles!” stories after hearing God’s unthinkable “no” to your prayers of healing, it can get a little frustrating.

Because God is still good.

God is still good even though he didn’t choose to heal Shane on Earth. God is still good even though a big part of life is terribly empty now. God is still good even though my nephew has only pictures to point to to identify his dad. God is still good even though my sister-in-law is suddenly raising a toddler without her husband. God is still good even though I can’t talk to my buddy every day anymore. God is still good even though nobody is using the golf simulator in the garage.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think that people who get “yeses” have more faith, or that God favors some prayers over others because He is unfair and unloving.

I don’t believe it for a second. My God is a God of healing, regardless of how He does it. My God is a good God. My God is a loving and just God.

So tell the world how God healed your cancer. Tell the world how God delivered you from your bad situation. Tell the world how God showed his love for you in many different ways.

But please don’t forget that the same faith that moved your mountain didn’t move somebody else’s.

And God is still good.

Full

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I visited Nashville this weekend.

My buddy Alece lives there, with her own grown-up house and everything. And my buddy Ellyn lives a distance away that she deemed worth driving to meet us, despite the hours and the gas and oh yeah the HORRIBLY DANGEROUS ICY ROAD CONDITIONS all the way through the two states before “ours.”

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So yeah, two of my favorite people were in the same rooms with me for the last three days, is what I am saying. And then I discovered a whole other person in the room, and she became a favorite too.

It’s magical how that happens, connection. Between the ones you already loved or between the ones you just met and somehow already love too.

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It felt filling, being with them. Like a really, really good quality meal. And I would know something about that because Nashville is apparently the food capital of the world, as far as I am concerned right now. Honestly after all the places Alece and Tracee introduced us to this weekend, I am baffled at why the show “Nashville” is an ABC show about music and not a Food Network show about the best chefs in the industry.

Or maybe it should be a show on the… Photography channel? Maybe that’s a thing? Because, wow, the light and the architecture and the character of this place, it was made for photographing.

Case in point:

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And now I am writing this on a plane back to my own home, with its comfy couch and happy little dog and the boy who sings loudly and the beautiful wood floors that I still can’t believe are mine, and all the ingredients nearby to try my best to re-create that barbecue sauce I had on a brisket taco that I am sure I will obsess over until I either get it right or get back to Nashville for the next Local Taco hit. Or that pork from Husk, oh man, that pork, with the insane mix that included mustard, lime, and onion, among, it seemed like, a hundred other flavors.

(Did I mention Nashville’s food scene is incredible?)

I am flying home full.

And also kind of hungry after writing about all of that, and I didn’t even get in to the handcrafted cocktails or the short ribs or the croissant French toast and oh my goodness I did not stay long enough, did I?

But home is pretty filling too.

(Especially if I can figure out how to recreate that barbecue sauce.)

Tonight I am thankful for both places.

OneWord 365: Care

I have been mulling over my OneWord post for a little while now. The truth is, I knew what my word should be right away (I know when God talks to me because I usually don’t like what He’s saying), but I haven’t quite figured out what to say about it. I guess maybe I should just start writing.

This year, I chose the word Care.

For me, grieving has mostly been waves of pain and numbness, pain and numbness. There are other feelings in there, like sadness, contentment, anxiety and even joy, but I feel like “pain” describes the negative portions of the grief and “numbness” describes most of the rest of my time.

If you want the ugly truth, it’s hard to care about anybody else’s stuff when your stuff is always worse.

These last six months, “studying” the reactions of others who are grieving has taught me that comparing the good or bad situations in life is absolutely worthless, and will just lead to bitterness. I have yet to read a blog post or have a conversation with someone who is content with their life and also comparing it to someone else’s.

So, I try my best not to do that. But sometimes, when a friend is complaining about every little thing or things at work are in upheaval when they need not be, I look around at the drama others are creating and have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming the word “CANCER!”

How can they be complaining about this when their brother didn’t just die? How can they be worried about this when there are realities that are so much scarier?

So, I have to shut down a little. Stop comparing. Stop caring.

Which works for me. I can be apathetic. It keeps me from being angry. It keeps me from being bitter that my “bad” is so much worse than somebody else’s “bad.” And to be honest, caring takes energy I simply don’t have sometimes.

Except for the fact that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The least of these are talking about their inconsequential ailments, or wasting my time with busywork projects, or vaguebooking, or always finding the negative in things. The least of these need a favor when I’m exhausted, and the least of these are just plain BUGGING ME.

So, this year I will focus on caring.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

I will listen and empathize when I don’t feel like it.

I will care enough about people to put them above myself when I want to roll my eyes.

I will put effort into projects that I believe don’t deserve the energy.

I will do for the least of these what I would do in a second for the One who created a place for my brother.

A sports joke

Tonight on Twitter (where I get most if my news – the other part I get from Peter Sagal at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago), I saw that people were going crazy over some football player’s interview with Erin Andrews (who has the best hair in all the land, by the way).

I had to Google Richard Sherman to figure out what had happened, but after watching his a-hole act in all its glory, I thought it would be funny to tweet this:

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And it was funny indeed. I made myself laugh out loud and everything. Granted, I find myself hilarious most of the time, but it was a timely sports joke! Not even my normal genre!

And then this conversation happened:

Me: “Did you laugh at my Crabtree joke? I did.”

Cassandra: “Do you have any idea who Crabtree is? He wasn’t the one trash talking…”

Me: “Nope, just watched the video of the a-hole who ranted about him.”

Cassandra: “I couldn’t tell if you were being deliberately ignorant or not.”

Me: “That’s why it was funny!!”

Cassandra: “I see. I thought that’s what you were doing. But I wasn’t sure.”

Me: “Oh dear.”

Cassandra: “You made a sports joke, Mandy!”

Me: “I did! I thought you would be proud.”

Cassandra: “How can I know if you are being dumb or not?”

Me: “You can’t, I guess. You can only infer from experience that I am.”

Maybe I should stick with non-sports humor.

Edited to add this conversation Cassandra posted on Facebook after my joke with the caption “In case you were starting to think Mandy follows football:”

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Just remember, folks, that if everybody watches the game, nobody’s making the football snacks.