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

Nashville Panorama-small

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.

Glorious

I have not felt like being new-years-resolution-y lately. Or last-year-reflective either.

I keep reading summaries of peoples’ year, and their goals for the new one. From shouting the previous year’s joy from the rooftops to everything is negative negative negative negative (there are vastly more of the latter, unfortunately) to predicting just how much better the next year will be. I’m not really interested in any of that.

Because, you know, it doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will anyway.

Dad

It’s funny that my dad used that word, “glorious.” Because while he reflected upon that proclamation later with a “boy was I wrong,” that word-choice made me think about something else glorious.

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

John uses that word over and over when describing heaven – “glory,” as do many other authors in describing God. It is almost a foreign concept to me, and maybe it’s supposed to be something just on the other side of imaginable. God’s glory being so great that it literally lights all of heaven. It’s described that way in Exodus too (13:21 and 24:17). That’s kind of a big deal.

I spend a good amount of time trying to picture what heaven is like, especially now. I eat an incredible piece of crab at my favorite restaurant on the San Francisco warf and as it melts in my mouth, I think “Oh my goodness. The food in heaven can’t be better than this.” I see an unbelievable sunset, with all its colors intertwining and setting the sky on fire, and I think “Oh my goodness. The colors in heaven can’t be better than this.” My nephew rolls between Jack and me in our big bed in the morning and as he lays his head on my chest to give me a cuddle, I think “Oh my goodness. Heaven itself can’t be better than this.”

And every time I think that, I know better.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I, as they say, “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

So, 2013 was glorious, for Shane. And knowing that makes it kind of glorious for me too, even though I will ache for him until the moment I finally get to join him in heaven one day. And the fact that I will be able to is pretty glorious in itself.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever.

Amen.

Light the world on fire… or at least my block

Though life’s not quite always what it seems
You still need to paint the world with all your dreams

My buddy Jessica wrote a song a while back and every time it comes through the little speakers on my phone I get so happy. It’s called “Light the World on Fire” and it’s lovely in every way.

When my sister-in-law went to Mexico, she told me “my new goal is to do things that scare the s*** out of me.” And I thought, “yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”

Because that’s what I’ve been doing too. Not in the same ways she is, and I didn’t go into this with that goal, but losing Shane has made me many things.

Sad. Lost. Numb. Apathetic. Faith-filled. More sad. More lost. More numb.

But also braver.

Because the things that seemed so scary before don’t seem as scary now. Nothing can be as bad as July.

So I gave blood. It’s something a bunch of people do every day and don’t think anything of it, but it’s something that terrified me before (NEEDLES!), and now it doesn’t. I’m going to do it again even. It was that not-that-big-of-a-deal after all.

Giving blood

I got ridiculously dramatic bangs and I bought red lipstick and wore it in public once or twice, even.

I went to the doctor and scheduled a colonoscopy and upper GI endoscopy. More needles, I’m pretty sure, at least I hope there will be, because I think that’s how they sedate you and I’m gonna want to be OUT for that one.

And I started calling myself a photographer, which is even harder than the needles for me, I think. Because there are voices in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, and though I can point to the sources of those voices, there’s no point in dwelling on those people. Because I am in charge of my own confidence. And I’m in charge of my actions. And whether I do brave things.

For the monsters, they come out when it grows dark.

And Shane told me I was good enough over and over when he was alive, so if nothing else, I have his voice. His voice is better anyway. It took a lot to impress him.

I am a photographer who gives blood. And I’ll light the world on fire with that, to start with.

Or at least, my block.