Relating to God by Blog Post (Yes, he reads it)


Warm-up #1: Resetting the Stopwatch with Kairos Time

Soul Element Exercised: Timelessness

 

“In the spiritual life, God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. . . . There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and dark. Wait, and He will come.” – Frederick Faber

 

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard, on the health of the soul

 

It’s been a shocking two months since I’ve last written, and it shows how much I’ve become locked into the chains of chronos time (gr. scheduled, chronological time). But a little over two weeks ago, at 25 weeks along in my pregnancy, I took my last chance (pre-child) to go on an intensive retreat with 52 students from our Jesuit high school where I work, a retreat called Kairos (gr. “God’s Time”). It was a chance to step out of the office, step out of my responsibilities as a wife at home, and focus on the spiritual needs of myself and the community of the retreatants there with me.gods-time-1

The retreat was an intense four days of talks, reflections, prayer, small group chats, and emotional revelations, from seven in the morning to past midnight each night. Day two included my 25-minute talk as a retreat leader on the topic of “God’s Friendship”, which was simultaneously empowering and emotionally draining. It required me to dig down to things I hadn’t touched in a long time as I rehashed my history, including my faith struggles during my parents’ cancers, the pain and disorder of my father’s loss, and my own intense loneliness as I navigated those years feeling isolated in the experience due to my age and entrapment caused by my dependent status. To make sure the kids listening understood my perspective from these rough years of my late adolescence and very early 20s, I didn’t hold back on those elements; however, the meat of my talk arose from those moments (and I shared most of them) when I realized, sometimes many months after the events, that I wasn’t alone, in any of it, ever.

I won’t share the whole talk here. It was a long one. But I will say that writing it and giving it served as a reminder to me, as much as a revelation to some of the kids, that God is active in our lives in quiet ways, through gentle reminders, circumstantial blessings that are unexpected, and the generous hearts of others who follow an impulse that goes beyond mere human kindness – the kinds of gestures that can’t be explained by anything but the influence and presence of the divine.

I went back to my room that night to find a thick mail packet on my bed. Although most students (despite the secrecy surrounding this retreat) have come to expect that a part of Kairos is getting some letters from your loved ones as an encouragement, I was surprised as an adult leader to have notes from anyone but my husband, to whom I’d shared the details of the retreat ahead. As I opened note after note, I realized he’d done more than just follow an impulse to write me a little something for my Kairos mail; he’d hacked into my email to contact relatives, college friends, and even high school friends. I also opened several notes from many of my coworkers, sometimes surprised by their candidness as they shared their thoughts on their past four-and-a-half years with me.

And as I read past two in the morning in that Spartan little retreat room with one light, I remembered those many moments in my life when these note-writers had shown me that I wasn’t alone. I remembered, too, the intense spiritual talks with some of them that had influenced me in darker times.

Even though I came home on Day 4 from the retreat to almost immediately engage with the real-world and its demands again, the spiritual time-out allowed me to remember, as I embark on this next part of my life journey, this time as a parent at the end of my twenties, that I’m still not alone.

I just had to take the time to remember this truth by disengaging myself from the world’s notion of time and dipping into the non-scheduled space of eternity.

I need to do it more often, and I hope that anyone reading this gets inspired to take off for a little time to themselves to relive moments of God’s kindness in their lives. After all, it’s hard to understand and enjoy that kind of eternal, everlasting love unless we can turn off our calendar apps and schedulers for a little while and experience the time our soul is made to dwell in: an unlimited continuum not measurable with a minute-hand.

Taking that little space to breathe gave me one relieving piece of knowledge: that God measures our lives as a kind of ripening, and not as a rush.

 

Warm-up #2: Cleansing Breaths to Replace “Comparisonitis” with Gratitude

Soul Element Exercised: Peace and Perspective

 

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

 

“To be truly grateful, you must not only recognize the benefits or gifts that come your way, but that they are not just random acts; they are not accidents. They are coming from Someone who has good intentions for you.” – John Ortberg, Soul Keeping

 

I’ve been home from the retreat for a few weeks now, doing what women in their third trimester tend to do: scurrying around completing childbirth education, scheduling prenatal medical appointments and tests, planning for the mountain of work to get done (or leave detailed guides on how to do) before maternity leave, and trying to outfit the necessities in the nursery (oh, and doing taxes, because it’s that time again. Joy.).

I admit, when I sat down in February to figure all this out in terms of my calendar and our budget, I felt frankly overwhelmed, anxious, and at times resentful.

Not that I wasn’t grateful to be having a healthy baby – I was and still am—but I had been running seemingly every day into women who are or have recently been pregnant and who have far more of this figured out, or have had the luxury of more personal time and more financial resources due to their husband’s full-time employment, than I do. These well-meaning women have kindly asked if I’d heard of this class yet, or if I’d joined a prenatal yoga group, or gotten scheduled for massages to help with pregnancy pains, or how often I was able to nap during the day (my answer – never, during the work week).

Pinterest before bedtime didn’t help. I stumbled with a sort of helpless nesting-instinct-driven-fascination onto blogs written by women who have had the resources and time to set up and document beautiful nurseries in well-proportioned houses, and buy adorable and expensive clothes, toys, knickknacks, and doo-dads. I came across scholarly articles telling me that I was a bad mom because I hadn’t also shelled out a lot more money to take this other special class, or have this special test or treatment, before my due date arrived.

I’d shut off my laptop some nights and wander the 20 feet into the single bedroom of our apartment which I realized had been all furnished with hand-me-down furniture that I’d cobbled together into something resembling “cozy”. I had one area by the window where I was hoping to fit in the rudiments of a nursery, and I was having trouble envisioning what would go where in a small room that was seemingly full already.

Even as I shut off the lights, the smallness and the shabbiness of the room still dimly shadowed my mind as I thought back to the sparkling affluence and beauty of the things I’d looked at others enjoying on the web as other couples filled up their big nurseries and big houses with exciting things for their newborn.

And then, on the penultimate weekend of February, my in-laws arrived to offer a cradle that had been in the family for decades. My husband had once slept in it, and other kids on that side of the family, too. And in our tiny apartment, it was a better answer than a huge crib, at least for a little while. It came inside with us from the backseat of their car, out of the cold and snow.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

As I polished up the old wooden cradle and gave it an experimental rock, I noticed some things about it. The first was that it had been well-sanded to a gleamy smoothness before it had been stained, and its components had been put together entirely by hand using a tongue-and-groove design; there’s not a clunky nail in sight. And then, as I looked closer at some of the scratches and nicks in the wood, I recognized places where wedding rings, toys, and maybe other furniture had scraped this cradle as babies were placed in and lifted out of it, from years and years in my husband’s family, in days and nights of loving routine and fretful concern.

I thought about the hours spent in previous generations sitting beside this cradle, and all the sudden, all of it – the stuff on Pinterest with that posh designer feel, the anxiety I felt about putting the nursery together in time, the worry I felt about finances being there when we needed them – it just went away.

And I remembered to be grateful for what we already had, which was all that was really going to matter: that this child would be born with a loving extended family and the commitment my husband and I have for each other. That’s all that most babies for thousands of years have ever been able to ask for, and it’s all that any expecting mom can really hope for.

 

But on that note about all this other baby stuff, stay tuned for some upcoming posts about Bringing Up Baby on a Budget….

I apologize for missing my Thrifty Thursday post this past week.  I’ve had some mild wildness creep into my life, but it’s forced me to do a lot of things, and that’s been strangely good.

A little-known fact about me is that God and I have this understanding:  I pray honest prayers . . . the kind of prayers any Irish-by-blood and Protestant-by-raising will sometimes utter.  As a result, they come across as pretty inelegant, and even at times irreverent.  One of them recently has been this:

“God, make me do what I’m put here on this earth to do. Even if it means dragging me around like a bitchy cat on a leash.”

Wish I could find the original source for this. But, hey - let's credit the cat.

Wish I could find the original source for this honest portrayal of feline nature. But, hey – let’s credit the cat. He put up with a lot for this meme.

Folks, this kind of prayer is dangerous because God will take you up on your request before your soul has even finished taking its prerequisite courses to prepare for whatever that all is.

So, of course, after I sent off this soul-missive, the leash went on, metaphysically speaking, and I found myself dragged around on an improbable tour by some mystifying forces.

Destination 1:  Out of My Own Head

I’d thought that maybe my sense of purpose and direction for my lifetime on earth would be found by journaling my reflections or meditating in a park or reading something quietly soul-shaking.  Not so much.

Instead I found myself sitting in a packed Catholic church next to a Korean expatriate (herself a widow) while attending the heartbreaking funeral of a sixteen year-old South American boy who’d just killed himself: one of my “kids” I was connected to through various activities at my place of work — a beautiful man-child with a darkness under all that merriness, mischief and brightness.

Grief in these moments is compounded by old griefs brought up for air. The Korean widow and I wound up talking. I wound up holding this widow, who knew the boy through her daughter, and who’d had nobody beyond her daughter who was close to her when her husband had died last year.  It was a sobering thought that, here, in this pain, was the comfort she’d needed so long ago.

That same evening, I did the “dinner-fail”: I went for takeout Chinese from the cheap little restaurant on the way home. I was drained.

I flopped in a plastic chair next to a humming old fridge to wait while the stir fry whizzed around somewhere in the tiny back kitchen.  In lumbered another tired woman–in her sixties, black, a nurse, presumable by her uniform and the proximity of the hospital–who ordered succinctly and sat down like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She noticed me in my dark clothes, and I greeted her.  We chatted about the sudden rainfall, but after we’d each warmed up to the kindness of the other, we wound up coming around to tragedy.

“My son was killed in the street ten months ago.  Mixed up with the wrong people,” she told me.  “I don’t know where I went wrong. Took him to church as a kid; he even got himself into community college just a few months before he was shot. It still makes no sense.”

What could I say?  I was sorry; I told her that her story made me think of another parent who was grieving that day as I shared that afternoon’s sadness with her–another boy, younger than her son, and by his own hand.

We talked deeply about this generation of kids, worried about them, loved them and feared them.  Oh, these kids! Born in a time where the dark world gathers close in an instant, where at the touch of a finger, bad news abounds and meaning leeches out of life into a vapid void where all things are reported–from massacres to dipshit celebrity fashion.  We ached for these kids who now face a limitless world and are yet confined by mere circumstance, by pressures, by the facts of life. Kids anxious to escape, to act, to take control, but not knowing what direction to go and not trusting any of the structures created by the generations that came before them.  Kids on the edge of my generation but different than my fellows, who could at least remember when those structures made sense and ordered life in a pre-digital age.

I felt only sadness and fear and a willingness to sit in that sadness and fear as one of them, and to wade into their troubles with others who love them. It was a strange, filling-empty feeling.

Destination 2: Reorientation Class

That strange feeling reminded me of something one of the Jesuits influencing my life just now had said at the funeral–well, re-said, actually, as it was originally Mother Teresa who observed,

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Mother Teresa’s words struck me oddly, probably since they struck twice, as the Hongkongese girl behind the counter handed me my order.

“I put drink for you in bag,” she said softly, her broken English making her shy. She’d been listening to us the whole time in-between call-in orders, apparently. She nodded to my new-found friend.  “I get one for her, also. You are kind. You are sad.”

I thanked her, really touched at her words and this simple kindness– a can of Coke from the cold fridge.  I farewelled my grieving friend as she, too, gathered her order and prepared to head home to her other living child, a mostly-grown daughter.

As I pulled away, the rain stopped and a strange, sticky humidity settled in that promised it wasn’t over yet.  The heat was oppressive when I finally stepped out of the car.  I thought consciously of the Coke in the bag; then I saw my apartment’s mailman, running late considering the hour, dashing back to his truck, sweating bullets out from under his black hair and cap.

I tapped on his window, which was deeply open in mail-truck fashion. In and away went the can of Coke.

Destination 3: Community

It was about a week later that my husband and I were having dinner with a friend from Egypt.  We were in his house, where his mother had prepared a veritable feast for us–stuffed duck, rice, stew, salad, served with wonderfully aromatic sauces.  We ate too much and talked about how life was different in Egypt, how strained the situation in so many places in the Muslim world was becoming yet again. We talked about the role of Christianity in the midst of it (our friend, though knowing many Muslims and a native Arabic-speaker himself, was brought up in the Coptic Christian Church; his perspective was undeniably interesting).

Then the guitar came out after supper, and we debated about the merits of old hymns versus modern Christian praise music until he broke up the debate by playing some songs while we sang.  As these things go, in a strange turn of ideation, he asked us if we would help him put on a prayer meeting for The Crescent Project, a ministry specifically created to build bridges between Christians and Muslims, at an event to take place on 9/11.

We accepted and we went. In spite of a cold, I stood next to our Egyptian friend on a stage  covered with the flags of nations while he led worship and sang. I sang a little in Arabic, for the first time in my life. And then we prayed, for a long time, for an impossible kind of peace, joining hands with members from more than ten churches in Indiana, and with people from many of the most violent areas of the Middle East.

My sense of my reach of care and influence seemed to unfurl and roll past my boundaries of foot-trodden experience.  It had been to easy, living in one place most of my life, to read and see the news and forget how close these seemingly distant places are–and how near and dear the people.

It shamed me a little. I felt like a kid with my ignorant lack of vision, my lack of perspective.  Why had my world ever been so small–when in reality, it was Earth itself that was a small world? Why had my sense of companionship been so narrow and limiting before now?

Destination 4: Trying to See Clearly from Here

I don’t know how long this expanded sense of belonging, of intention, of concern–whatever you may call it–will last before I need to be dragged around on my harness again.  Yet, I can only hope this time around to at least not be so blind  as to fail to recognize when I need the reminder to expand my notions of community, or to see in another’s strange humanity the marks of my own struggles.

This is my world as much as theirs; my world as much as yours. But it’s easy to forget this; I know that.

We live in a time and place where minding our business is one way to simply stay sane.  It’s a strange era for humanity, in which so much is changing so quickly–sweeping away the old authorities, old notions, old standards, old bureaucracies, and yes, perhaps even sweeping away old notions of religion.  We’re all struggling with the confusion and fear and the isolation that comes with being essentially “rootless” in a violent storm of historic change.

Henri Nouwen writes about our shared predicament in his beautiful work, The Wounded Healer.  He calls this era of humanity “the nuclear man”–a humankind defined by its desire for separateness from, and its distrust of, what came before. It’s a simultaneously free-yet-self-doubting world of humanity that “lives by the hour and creates [their] li[ves] on the spot” (11).  We see this in our extraordinarily well-connected world today, digitally speaking, but we can’t help but notice that it lacks the tie to “immortality” that is, as Nouwen quotes Robert Lifton explaining, “‘man’s way of experiencing his connection with all human history'” (13).  We are unconnected from what birthed us because it came before, and so we bleed apart, severed umbilically, by the very newness of everything that has arisen now.

Our most recent generations have sought some ways out of this isolation we all face, to tap into that immortality again.  To break out of our cocoon, Nouwen observes, we have become alternately “mystics” or “revolutionaries” (15).  Our mystics have sought transcendence within themselves–through some internal ties to the divine, often through meditation and psychic searching.  Our revolutionaries have sought transcendence by beating a path towards a political Messiah, towards a leadership or government that would establish the perfectly free society.  Some have tried both paths, and in exhaustion, have become either paralyzed social critics or critics of the divine.

In the midst of these strivings and the energies they seize and the griefs they give to mystics and revolutionaries alike, I wish to walk with a little bit of both the mystic and the revolutionary in my soul, with my own bruised ego and ruined attempts in tow, just to keep both sides company. After all, we’re after the same thing, and we all need kindness and encouragement. Nouwen notes well that:

“For the mystic as well as for the revolutionary, life means breaking through the veil covering our human existence and following the vision that has become manifest to us. Whatever we call this vision–‘The Holy,’ ‘The Numinon,”The Spirit’ …. we still believe that conversion and revolution alike derive their power from a source beyond [our] limitations.” (21)

I take a little comfort in knowing that our souls are intertwined in the same exhausting, holy hopes. I also take great comfort in following that strange mystic/rebel–crucified for his defiance and his strange knowledge–who shook Hell by standing in the breach on behalf of a world gone wrong.

Until later,

 

Ruth

 

 

 

Source (Read. It. Seriously. Do.):

Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer. First Image Ed. 1972. New York: Doubleday, 1979. Print.

 

 

So, I haven’t written in YEARS.

But to be fair, it’s because huge things have happened: on August 13, 2010, I accepted a position in fundraising for a private school here in town. On October 7, 2010, I moved out—and closer to work—into my own apartment.

The story I’ve woven here on this blog of my life immediately emerged onto a new path: I was no longer Ruth, living with my Naomi, coping after a loss. I just became a person simply starting over—with Mom across town—and beginning a life on my own. Naomi began a new journey, too, of discovering who she was meant to become in her new life, a story no less important, but in the periphery of mine.

And then my little single-girl in quarter-life-crisis-land-story wrapped up in a strange way: after I reached the end of the allegorical comparison of my life situation to Ruth’s, the ending of my own story wrapped up in somewhat the same way as hers: with a romance.

He’s not really a picture of the biblical Boaz (meaning he’s not my boss, or a kinsman-redeemer in the Levirate sense), but he’s an old flame from college that reignited after I shamelessly took some old advice from the original Naomi:

“Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best dress. Then go down to [the place where he works]…” –Ruth 3:3.

I totally happened to call him and mention to him that I’d be in town near him visiting a friend, and that I had some books he might want, based on some interests he’d recently shared. He then happened to ask me to stop by, to deliver said books, to him at work. I might have worn a really cute sundress and some darling espadrilles.  My friend I’d met earlier might have wished me luck. 🙂

All we did was talk—I didn’t do what Ruth did at her meeting with Boaz, when she actually climbed into bed with him (the hussy!). But our night did wind up with the two of us having drinks together later that evening after his shift and catching up. It had been over a year since he had called me up, out of the blue, just to ask how I was coping after my dad died: an act that took some boldness and sensitivity on his part, since we were then about a year post-amicable breakup. It was an act of compassion that I’d never forgotten.

The rest, as they say, is Old Testament history…

Yep, I got married to my Boaz.  August 6, 2011.

Yep, I got married to my Boaz. August 6, 2011.

 

But I’ll give you the run-down of the story, anyway.

Boaz and I dated through the summer of 2010, and I was, at that time, still casually dating other guys in the rather old-school 1950s fashion as you’ve read here on this blog; I kept busy “playing the field innocently”, with no physical or verbal commitments offered to anyone until I could tell which man would not only stick around, but was also the man who I wished would stick around.

In October of 2010, Boaz asked me, “So, what do I have to do to get you to clear the other guys off your social calendar?”

“You want the other guys off my date book?” I replied, pleased. “Does that mean you want to keep me? Because otherwise, we’ll be wasting each other’s time when we could be meeting our potential mates.”

“It’s not a waste of time if I’m serious.”

Oh, and he was serious.

By Christmas of 2010, we had confessed our love, and he was driving up an hour and a half to visit on weekends (with me driving down sometimes, too), and we established a delightful routine that was broken a few months later in May of 2011, when he proposed to me in a horse-drawn carriage. Yes, this man knew my predilection for Austen literature. It was also reminiscent of our first date in 2007, when he took me on a carriage ride in our old historic college town.

We were mBoaz and Rutharried on August 6, 2011, a day after my parent’s wedding anniversary. (Good thing I was an event planner for my fundraising job; it was sure a quick turnaround from our engagement!)

We honeymooned in Oregon, and two weeks later, he started working on his Master of Divinity degree, and I kept on working at my new fundraising job. Ruth has never really left the field.

I’m four years into that fundraising job now, and been blessed by the overarching school environment at my institution of work and its Jesuit roots and Ignatian spirituality. It’s been a time that’s been full of both work-induced stress and home-life calm and rest. No other deaths, dramas, or traumas have occurred, but the softening changes that come about from the conjugal bliss experienced while sharing my life.

And so, my friends, I’m relaunching this blog in 2014, some five years after its inception, with a new focus: the journey that Boaz and I are taking together as he enters ministry, as we both become workers in a different kind of harvest.

In the process, we’ll check in with Naomi from time to time, who has started over her life in many ways as well. She’s left the house my father died in and moved into a condo (less than a mile from my little apartment with Boaz), where she’s resumed her artwork and has totally redecorated every inch of her new home in her spare hours outside of her part-time work. But it’s been a journey for her, too.

So, some topics of this newer iteration of this blog will include:

  1. More of the spiritual—because those have always been my favorite posts to share.
  2. Some gender politics –because being married brings all kinds of perspectives on the male-female relationship in the 21st century.
  3. Musings on work-family balance, and trying to plan ahead for a future baby (no, reader, I am not pregg-o yet! We’ve been putting it off while Boaz is in school; more on that in my Family Planning category posts).
  4. Living frugally—because with a husband in grad school and me on the equivalent of a starting teacher’s salary, we’ve learned quickly how to live simply and focus on what’s important. And it’s freeing, actually; it’s something we’ll do all our lives.
  5. Reflections on this generation of Millennials—because we are a weird bunch in many ways, and we’re also a group that craves some direction, since we’ve been blown about in a world that’s gone global, and also rather multiple-personalitied and crazy.
  6. Books, pop culture, and other neat things –because I love writing about them and reading your thoughts.
  7. My new obsession: nutrition and health, because we live in a world full of lifestyle diseases, including many cancers—which, as a child of two cancer-stricken parents, I’m trying to avoid!

Looking forward to seeing you here.  Thanks for your patience, and welcome, new readers.

Love,

 

Ruth

Update post!  It’s been a long week of blessings.

First, the job search process came to an end.  On Monday night last week, at around 5:15 p.m., I received a call from the preparatory school that I applied to in response to their need for an event coordinator/scholarship steward.  They offered me the job.  Feeling underprepared, overwhelmed, and very grateful, I accepted.

After a hectic half-week of orientation at the school and evenings spent finishing projects at my marketing internship at the hospital, on Thursday, I officially closed out my marketing internship with all requisite exit interviews–and, of course, with a luncheon with my department there. I’m going to miss them, and their safe, lovely nest from which I flew. 

Now, I’m starting the slightly-less scary job transition process. I’m learning the history of the school, the fundraising software, the names and faces that I’ll be working with every day from now on, and researching (today) all of the previous events held there so that I’ll have an idea of where to put my feet before I can even move them.

And by the way, my neighbor rocks for helping me put my car back together. My replacement bumper cover arrived on Tuesday night, and I had my “butt” back on my car by Friday night, thanks to the amazing semi-retired metal worker/engineer living next door.  I made him brownies, a little compensatory check, and a funny thank-you card with a picture of a car with a bandaid on it for his troubles.  And I missed my dad more than a little while I was getting all dirty and sweaty working with him to get my tail lights off and back on around the installation process.

I’m convinced, after too many days of having things handed to me this week, that there’s a lot of God and only a little bit of your pal Ruth involved in this whole process. So I’m going to watch what happens next. Wish me luck!  I’ll be back to update when I can.  Right now, I’m off to write thank-you notes to my old nesters and to study up on my new digs.

I’m in that job-searching place again (and how apt that it’s almost been exactly a year, and I’m once again staring at my own writing on the subject in print here). I’ve filled out at least half a dozen applications in the past two weeks to various jobs, from my home here in the Indiana boondocks to Lexington, KY.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of job applications to you older folks, who used to go out driving and dropping off résumés, but consider the fact that today’s job searching is all done online. And consider, too, that hospital and university HR departments (where I’m mostly applying) want more than just a résumé and brief cover letter. They want writing samples, recommendation letters, and a complete online career history profile—including your high school jobs, your references, and your ethnic/sexual/relationship/police record history status.  It takes about six hours for me to apply to a single job, but about two weeks and thirty seconds to get a stock email back telling me my hours were wasted.  The current way of doing things—online applications only, please, no personal calls—sucks.

So, I’m still applying, but I’m also taking a slightly passive stance. I’m finding that acquaintances of mine who are aware of my internship-ending-soon-with-no-openings-in-sight position are very helpful and are doing some networking for me.  I’ve been getting emails from these helpful saints about job leads, and I’d like to say ‘thank you.’

The reason why I’m being “lazy” (to some minds) has something to do with my tendency to trust the things I see in nature as being facets of God’s original design. At my old volunteer gig at the Zoo, I watched a tiger hunt–stalking a bit towards the potential target, waiting, sneaking a little closer, waiting again–and this practice is, and has always been, efficient enough to feed and sustain the tiger.  Moreover, to quote God himself in Job 38, the situation is really out of my hands/paws:

“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” v. 39-41

I, maybe foolishly, see God’s providence in this job-hunting process, too: in one supportive networker friend at a time, flushing the career field bushes for me, or passing by with an easy opening in their hands and a personal insider in the company to boot.  All I have to do is wait . . . and pounce.

Meantime, I’ll sharpen my newly learned marketing skills, and I’ll try—try not to freak out about all the life transitions I’m facing once again this summer as I re-enter the job market feeling only slightly prepared for a real career and very uncertain about where I’ll wind up if I miraculously land one.  Breathe. Be calm.

After all, when tigers wait for a meal and get anxious or nervous about it, their tails start to move, and they give themselves away. That’s when the opportunities suddenly vanish.

One more thought: a bit of wisdom from the eminent Bill Watterson and my favorite tiger of his.

Hobbes' Wisdom

Calvin and Hobbes (c) Universal Press Syndicate

 “I think you need to mourn this.”

That’s not something  you really want to hear from a therapist.  It’s sort of a verification that, yeah, your situation’s gotten pretty sucky.

On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to just get yourself together.

Yes, I got bad news. About three weeks ago, I did get my test results I was worried about, and I didn’t know what to make of it, so I didn’t write about it right away. I’m still conflicted.

On the intellectual edge of my brain, I think, yeah, big whopping deal: I carry a mutated gene (the BRCA2) that makes breast cancer.  Time bomb?  Yes, but I knew I was at risk anyway. 

And then I start analyzing and planning: So what does this test result mean?

Right now, it means that I’m twenty-three years old and should learn how to live with the knowledge that my health and my body, as they appear now, are only temporary, which is true for everyone. 

But it also means that I’ll need to undergo annual mammograms starting at age 25, with MRIs scheduled at varying intervals along with some uncomfortable ultrasounds (because the BRCA2 gene mutation carries ovarian cancer risk, too). It means that I’ll have to be extra mindful about what I eat (fried foods and sugar = cancer-cell heaven), how much weight I gain (fat stores estrogen, which feeds my kind of breast cancer), and how much I expose myself to cigarette smoke (duh).  It also means that I need to avoid estradiol-based birth control pills (because research currently suggests that they might feed estrogen-receptive cancer).  And I know I need to be doing my cardio, and it’d be great if I could get pregnant and have my estrogen get replaced with progesterone and make my cyclical fluxes stop and hence disrupt estrogen-linked . . . yeah, you get the idea.  To be utterly forthright about it, I just have to adjust and make some lifestyle changes starting now.

That all doesn’t bother me, really.  Dieting, exercising, and going to the doctor a lot more than is financially feasible when you’re a recent college grad doing pud jobs without medical insurance is just part of the package of my family history. I sorta knew that, test or no test.

It’s the future that bothers me. 

Now three weeks out from my results, my mind is still spinning over what I hope will never be. Because in the future, I know I might have the chance of really screwing over my kids’ childhoods if I don’t stay on top of my health and wind up needing to go through cancer treatment when my kids are still young and need me to just be “normal.” It also means I might screw over their childhoods even if I do stay on top of things, just based on current physician advisement that argues for me undergoing a prophylactic oophrectomy at age 40 combined with anti-estrogen type medication that will flip my female hormone levels upside down and turn me into a raving bitch with severe hot flashes while I force myself through an early menopause.  Makes for a lovely mom, huh?  Not to mention how this will change my sexual appetite. Yeah, bummer;  what a wife.  After just a little over a decade of marriage, this could be what the poor sap gets.

Knowing  that this could be, the risk involved in just trying to live a “normal” life seems very great.  That was my first thought, once I finished eking out one-syllable responses to the nurse who gave me my test results in friendly but very terse terms.  Why did this thought occur to me?

Well, it seems there is still a seeping, half-scabbed-over remnant of the deep traumatic wound of watching my father die and my family life fall apart that is still in my heart, and it warns me away from even seeking to bring a family into being. It’s a part of me that is afraid of hurting someone else just by sharing myself—with all my mutant, self-detonating genetic baggage—with loved ones in such a way that would cause them grief at my changing, at my passing.  I don’t even know what to call that. It’s not bad self-esteem, really; I acknowledge that I’m loveable. And that’s the problem—I don’t want them to love and be destroyed.

“But isn’t that the risk everyone takes—that the person they love now, that they marry now, will someday be someone different?” asked my therapist, who deals most often with depressed divorcees who have rudely awakened to this very knowledge.  “Don’t we all risk that we ourselves, by simply living, will change and weaken and die? The difference is, you know what might change you, and you can try to take control of it now.”

It’s true, I suppose.  Given what I know, I can decide ahead of time that I won’t “do” cancer the way my parents did: I won’t let it sneak up on me like it snuck up on my father,  who no one would have imagined would be cancer-prone after years of clean living and an active lifestyle.  And unlike my mom, I won’t let the changes cancer and cancer meds will make to my body change my mindset—I’ll fight the personality shifts like a cat fights going into the bathtub (and occasionally wins—true story, ask my Delilah). 

And because I’ve seen breast cancer and breast cancer treatment in action, I’ll know more what to expect. I could plan. If I’m smart, I can out-think it like a half-finished Sudoku puzzle. I might even have the foresight to imagine and escape the awful possibilities because I’ve seen a lot of them.  For example, I’d know that if I ever get a Stage 4 diagnosis, it’d be time to write my love notes and say my goodbyes because I won’t have much control over what time I have left anymore–and I won’t leave my family wondering where I left those notes and if I ever wrote them, like I wondered for a year about my father, who didn’t seem ready to die.  And yes—when it comes down to it—I could be more ready for death than he was.  I could do that.  If I were strong enough.  And maybe someday, I will be. Or I’ll have to be.

"Those glowing eyes have magic healing powers," Dad wrote in his email, to which this post-procedure recovery photo was attached. That was his first surgery, in September of '06. And yes, the cat is Delilah.

"Those glowing eyes have magic healing powers," Dad wrote in his e-mail, to which this post-procedure recovery photo was attached. That was his first surgery, in September of '06. And yes, the cat is Delilah.

I’m going to take a break from my pity-party now and put in some writing here that really matters and actually puts this whole freakishly morbid post into perspective. It’s an e-mail from my dad that I’ve saved for years, and I’m very glad I saved it. He wrote it about six months after his initial diagnosis, but he doesn’t really mention himself at all (typical Dad—and at this point, he was optimistic about his treatment. Sigh.).  So it’s not a goodbye letter—not the letter I look for every time a new notebook of his turns up when we go through a new batch of his things. No, Dad wrote this for me way back when I was trying to find myself in college (Ha!  If only I could go through that again!) and was having trouble just digging myself out of my own rut and struggling with feeling very afraid of my own future, academically and career-wise.

Sent: Tuesday, March 20, 2007 8:00 AM

Subject: Sending our Love

Dear Sweetie,

I was troubled to hear about this trying time that you are going through, but also know that such times seem to be universal as part of our human condition.  It can be troubling to know that God allows such times, but also troubling to realize that we sometimes contribute to them and bring them on ourselves.  God is still with us and available to us as our guide and strength during such times.  His guide is His Word, and I found what I read this morning to be such a comfort:

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in thee; yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. Ps. 57:11 

But I will sing of thy power; yea. I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning; for thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.  Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing; for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.  Ps. 59:16-17

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.  From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Ps. 61: 1-2

I’m thankful this morning that Christ is that rock and that he is our guide during times of trouble.  I’m also thankful that I have a daughter like you and that you have brought great joy to my life!  Be strong!

 Love,

Dad

Incidentally, Dad also wrote the following in an e-mail addressed to the whole family regarding his own situation during something of a turning point for him months later:

“From my experience, one can move ahead with our own agenda in a crisis, or one can ponderously back off from the situation and learn what God is trying to communicate.”

In both cases, Dad gives the same advice: Quit thinking. Quit planning.  Just listen. And wait. Wait for God to cover you and lead you to the rock.

You can’t say the man wasn’t consistent.

I’ll close with this, an excerpt from one of Dad’s many Bible study notebooks, written in his own paraphrase of Isaiah 30:18.

“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice.  How blessed are those who long for Him.”

Love you, Dad.  Miss you. Terribly.

 

I shouldn’t be worried, right?  The bridge isn’t even built yet, and I’m already thinking about crossing it.  I’m  freaking out internally over nothing . . . except my internal-most of internals, my genetic code.

Taken roughly three months afer my father's death by cancer. This photo's also dated almost exactly a year before I took the stupid test I'm waiting for results on today ... I look at this and I honestly don't feel any less fragile now.

That’s right.  I did it: I took the BRCA genetic test.  For those of you not in the cancer “know”, the BRCA test is a blood test that determines whether or not you carry the breast cancer/ovarian cancer mutation gene responsible for around 20% of breast cancer cases worldwide. 

Why did I take it?  Well, my family risk is high, for one thing: my maternal grandmother had breast cancer by the age of 60, my mother did by the age of 47.

And did I mention?  My mom took the BRCA test a few weeks ago and tested positive.  That means you can statistically flip a coin and figure out my chances of carrying the gene, too.

Heads or tails, reader?

Call it lack of faith, or whatever… But I can’t live with that kind of uncertainty.

And neither can my mom, being a mom. So she talked me/prescheduled me (however  you want to read it) into getting the blood test—to put our minds “at rest” on the issue.   HA!

The wait for results is worse than the actual blood test (which is saying something, coming from me, since I routinely turn green whenever someone comes at me with a needle –something in my memory about a bad “stick” from my early adolescence who, failing to find a vein in my arm that didn’t roll after several poorly-aimed tries, decided that she would draw blood from the back of my hand.  I felt like a freaking pin-cushion. And then the feeling of the blood in the tube funneling nearly hot over my pinkie into the testing vial… Yes, I almost passed out).  It’s been nearly a week since I got stuck, and I’m feeling more sapped by the day.

Read this article  to figure out why I might be worried—notwithstanding the risk level for cancer that the gene would give me (Mom’s oncologist would guess me around 85% chance of getting cancer before the age of 60 if I do carry the gene)–pay special attention to the part where they discuss what my docs might do to me if I test positive for the mutation.  If you don’t want to read the article, consider that the terms “prophylactic tissue removal” (meaning removal of high-risk organs like my ovaries and/or breasts), chemotherapy, and drugs like Tamoxifen are far too familiar to me–and aren’t something I would want to face just as a “precaution” sometime in my thirties or early forties.

I’m so sick of cancer just walking in and stealing from me whenever the hell it feels like it.  I really am. 

My one ray of hope is this: my phenotype  alone seems, to my eye, to discount my genetic link to the bad gene.   To put it simply: my cancerous mother and her cancerous mother were built like Dolly Parton back in their primes, and I—well, I ran for president of the Itty-Bitty Titty Committee in college.  My aunts who are similarly less than bustily-blessed have all been cancer-free.  Here’s hoping I can at least catch a break for being a barely-B cup for once in my life.

 For now, I wait.  And once I hear back, I’ve got more thinking to do. 

Just pray, okay?

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