Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ten books that have influenced me...

Or, what I did Saturday morning (write this list) instead of the laundry.

In no particular order these are books that have influenced me or my reading...

1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - Chris recommended this book when we were dating. I read the chapter on pride, and it was painful. It was the first time I really understood that God wasn't super-excited to have me on his team since I was a "good kid" and the beginning of understanding sin and grace.

2. Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins - I told my friend Kara that I did not understand poetry, and she recommended Billy Collins. I love reading his poems because I understand (I think) what he's talking about. (for the poetry novice I also recommend Good Poems collected by Garrison Keillor.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - This isn't my favorite classic, but it's an important first for me. I saw it on my Senior reading list in high school and groaned because it sounded so boring. Wuthering... withering... ughhh. I was so surprised to find that it's actually interesting. The story grabbed a hold of me and gave me confidence to try Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo and more.

4. Incidents in the of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs - This was written by a runaway slave in the mid-1800's. The scariest part of this book to me was the damage that was done by generally well-meaning people who lacked the courage or oomph to do the hard right thing. It's a fascinating window into what it was like to live with slavery. It turned me on to good historical nonfiction books.

5. The Histories by Herodotus - This was not easy to read, but it was worth it. It helped me see how much we inherit from Judaic law. And there are so many good stories here: the culture that auctioned off its unmarried women in order of beauty (men were paid to take the ugly ones and had to pay for the good looking ones), the Spartans brushing their hair and dancing as a pre-battle routine,...

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - I think this was the first REALLY good children's book I fell in love with. I wanted to be Anne. I kind of still do.

7. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - For years Chris tried to get me to read this, but I had no confidence that he could pick something I'd find readable. Someone else recommended it, so I read it (he'll be mad about that until the end of time) and really enjoyed it. Now Chris is my fantasy guru. He knows what I will and will not like and has recommended several other good ones - Name of the Wind, Way of Kings, Wheel of Time, ...

8. Winnie the Pooh - I read this in college on a whim and was surprised to find much more sophisticated humor than I expected (I've read it to my kids a few times, and the older kids always enjoy it in a different way than they did when they were younger.) It was the beginning of rediscovering children's literature as an adult.

9. Where is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey - I read this at a time when I felt set upon by God. I was too angry to read the Bible but wanted to read something spiritualish. This book helped me understand that I was not the only person in the world who had been hurt and helped me come to terms with my unanswered questions.

10. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy - I tried to read this in college and found it unbelievably boring. I picked up again as an adult and loved it. It's one of my all time favorites now. So, this book helped me give a whole category of books a second chance. Some (Madame Bovary) I still hate, but some that I hated as a teenager I was able to enjoy as an adult.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Star Wars snowflakes...

It's hard to find Christmas crafts for boys. A friend sent this awesome option. It's cool, and it works. All you need is a printer, paper, scissors and an exacto knife. Be sure and watch the video on how to fold.

Star Wars Snowflake



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chemo Eve...

It's been almost a year since Chris and I got a message stating that his first round of chemo would start the next day.  We were sitting at the bar at Lupe's waiting for a to-go order, and I cried because I just couldn't believe that my young, strong husband really needed chemo, and I was so scared because I had no idea what it would mean for all of us.  Would he throw up all the time?   Would he be able to get out of bed? Would he have eyebrows in a week?  The reality has been slower and more relentless than I expected - less like climbing a mountain and more like walking from Maine to California.

Chris has been on a chemo break.  The last round was terrible, and he needed a break.  Slowly he's returned to us.  The last few weeks have been almost normal, and that's been so good for all of us.  He got to go on a trip with friends.  We all got to enjoy Thanksgiving.  We went out on a date, played games with the boys, and talked a lot.  There's such blessing in normal life.  

Chris has about six more months of chemo to go, and tomorrow morning we start another round.  It's Chemo Eve again.  This time I know more of what we're facing, so its a better-informed, deeper, quieter sadness.  We'll lose something indefinable tomorrow - I can't quite put words around it, but it's a part of Chris we need for a normal, family life.  It feels like a terrible preview of what could be coming.  But now I know he'll come back.  We're not going to lose Chris to chemo.  The real battle is with cancer and nobody knows how that's going to end.  Cancer is a much cagier beast.  Living with that kind of uncertainty is... impossible.  But the impossibility of it is a blessing.  I know I can't manage it, and so I'm spared a lot of pointless effort.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nerf gun olive branch...

It's been a rough couple of weeks. Chris' chemo regimen changed and we thought he was going to feel better, but it's been so much worse. Twice in the past week I've thought, "He's in as much pain as I've seen him in," and I watched him get a fourth of his leg replaced last spring. The bar is pretty high.

And it's hard to deal kindly and gently with the boys when I'm tired and worried and when Chris needs me so much. I had good intentions tonight but was way too harsh with David. After the boys were in bed...

Chris: Is David okay? Remember the advice we got about making it right with the boys at bed time? You should get one of the nerf guns and go shoot David.

Me: That's a great idea.

So, because I ambushed him with a nerf machine gun, David and I are now okay. Boys are so weird.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

An update...

We had some unexpected good news this week.  Out of concern that he was developing pneumonia, Chris' oncologist scheduled a last minute chest scan this week.  There's something going on in his lungs, but it's not pneumonia and it's not cancer.*  His lungs are still clear.  And we got that update without a weeks-long, emotionally fraught waiting period.  

I was in the car today and realized that I was in a really good mood.  This is a novelty.  Right now I'm generally okay or not okay, but the last few days have been good, smiling kind of days.  
Inner dialogue:  Why am I in a good mood?  Hmmmm...  Chris doesn't have cancer in his lungs right now, and the boys are loving school.  
That's it.  Seriously guys, the bar is pretty low these days.  (For more on simple life goals, see this previous post.)

* For the curious or medical types, it's probably a toxic reaction to chemo that the doctor describes as sort of chemical pneumonia.  That sounds really bad unless you're comparing it to cancer.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Waiting rooms...

I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms these days. A cancer waiting room is fraught with potential for all kinds of inappropriate things, and I've seen some real gems. I'd like to think these particular selections were made with an ironic smile, but I doubt it.

This was on a table in a waiting room a few months ago...

There's really nothing else to say about that.

And today, blaring on the television in the crowded waiting room of the oncologist, was a soap opera. To fully appreciate this, picture the waiting room. The patients included a teenaged girl, a nursing mother, a young man with his mom and many, many more hurting people in the middle of heartbreaking situations. Most were just breathing deeply and trying to get through this next appointment. And in the background we have heavily made up, hysterical people wailing about things that are definitely not cancer. Chris and I got the giggles over it. I made eye contact with the mother of the young man sitting across from us. I smiled. She rolled her eyes. We didn't need any words.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


While it's really unspeakably difficult to walk through cancer with four young boys in tow, these little ruffians I live with do a lot to lighten the mood around here. A sampling...
  • Thinking man is always turned butt out. This was not my vision for him when I bought him.

  • At dinner a few weeks ago...
Bryan: Rand, put your finger in your mouth.
Rand: (innocently obeys)
Bryan: Now put your finger in your ear.
Rand: (complies again)
David, Jacob and Bryan: (Uproarious laughter) He gave himself a wet willy!

  • Later during the same meal...
Jacob: (finger gun pointing at Rand) Bam, bam, bam. 
Rand: (theatrically collapses to the floor) 
Chris: Rand, get back in your seat. 
Rand: (slowly stands up, arms outstretched toward Bryan) (weird, loud monotone) OHM, OHM, OHM! 
Me: I think he's a zombie. Just give him a second. 
Rand: (pretends to eat Bryan's brain and then calmly sits back in his chair to eat his roll and ignore his soup)

  • After school today Bryan made Rand a super hero suit. Rand's self-proclaimed super hero name is Super Aunt Janet. Seriously, these guys make my heart happy.

"Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power which no subsequent connections can supply." Jane Austen

Sunday, September 15, 2013


From last weekend...

I'm living under a shadow. Most days I can walk here with, if not nonchalance, then composure. But today was too much for me. There was nothing new or unexpected, but the weight of what my family is battling lay particularly heavy on me. And so, of course, the boys sat on the front row at church, and by the time I dropped off Rand at his class and joined them, the seats were full and there was no other option. And anyway, how do you explain to your children that sitting in the front row of church is weird and the closest the normal people go is about the third row or so. It's too... I don't know, raw and naked, like Mary anointing Jesus' feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair and her tears. That scene would have been less awkward if she'd just teared up and kind of spritzed some perfume in his general area.

So, thanks to my children who don't yet know how to hold back part of themselves, I was in the front row when we sang "It is well with my soul..." and "From the depths of woe I raise to thee the voice of lamentation..." Most days I can sing those songs with, perhaps a few isolated tears, but not today. Today I crossed from composed sadness to undignified grief. The only tissue I had was decorated with bright purple, pink and yellow flowers. I felt like a self-conscious, overweight 15-year-old in a too-short skirt who knows everyone is looking at her and thinking she is ridiculous.

Then communion was served. The congregants walked to the front of the sanctuary row by row, so I received the bread and the wine first. Not wanting to make eye contact with anyone in my disheveled state, I closed my eyes and listened as the man standing in front of me serving communion bread said, "The body of Christ, broken for you," about two hundred times.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The body of Christ, broken for you. The body of Christ, broken for you. The body of Christ, broken for you. The body of Christ, broken for you...

This is what makes a day like today survivable for me: the broken body of Jesus on the cross is not only about the forgiveness of my sin; it is also God taking my suffering seriously.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. Isaiah 53:4a


Thursday, September 5, 2013

A time for mercy...

Four Seasons by Nicole Mastrodomenico

I'm about to indulge in a parenting brag, so to maintain balance, I'm going to admit something embarrassing. I have a hard time keeping up with my children in crowded public places. You know that terrifying story most families have about temporarily misplacing a child? My family has... more than one. I think my problem is an unfortunate mix of ADD and optimism. I assume they're where I want them to be, and I'm chronically distracted.

Now, let's move on to something more flattering. This story is from a while back. I felt like things were off with one of the boys (I'll call him H). He had been distant and surly for a while. I couldn't decide if he was just going through a phase, but something seemed off. Chris and I decided to make a particular effort to spend time alone with him. We each pursued him on our own. One night Chris was playing a WWII board game with him. Things were not going well for H. His army was in a hopeless spot, and he started to get very upset. Watching this scene go down, I was immediately annoyed. My first instinct was to say,

Hey, bud. Your father worked a very long, hard day, and then spent a couple of hours playing this game with you because he loves you. Do you think your attitude is showing him that you appreciate this?

But a soft voice in my heart, one that I've come to recognize as the Spirit of God, said, "Slow down. This is a time for mercy." So I brought H a bowl of chocolate chips and said,

When my men are facing imminent slaughter, chocolate always makes me feel better.

The attitude slipped away; he smiled and resigned himself to the destruction of his army and the loss of the game (in Household H there is sometimes mercy in relationships but never in board games), and the evening ended well.

I'm not saying there's not a time to be on a kid like "white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snow storm"* - actually my 3 year old could use some more of that action, as evidenced by the whining situation around here. But there is a time for mercy, for withholding what he deserves, justice, not out of weariness or laziness or distraction but because it is the right thing for his soul.

But how do you know when it's right to choose mercy over justice? You don't. It has to do with his soul, and that is a thing of God and not of you. All I can say is that when I'm in a place of pursuing God there is sometimes a subtle, whispery leading that is not there when my life is crowded with too much food, too much TV, too much time spent mentally nursing personal grievances.

And the stakes are high. One of the reasons I remember this scene so well is because of what happened afterward. Just a few days after the chocolate board game incident, H came to us with something serious. It's something we needed to know, and I don't think we would have ever discovered it if he hadn't volunteered the information. I believe the reason he felt safe enough to come to us is that he had been pursued mercifully that week. It makes me wonder what we've missed over the years through laziness and self-involved anger.

So, I realize this post is shamefully braggy, but I'm not going to apologize for my arrogance. To the children out there who need mercy this week, I pray that you find it. To the ones who require something much less pleasant (ahem, Rand), I heartily wish you get what you need as well.

* Major Payne


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Lots of things are changing around here. Our first several months of cancer as a family were about everyone's most basic needs. It was like being in the ER. The goal was to get everyone stable. So, we got Chris treatment, made sure the children's most basic physical and emotional needs were met and brazenly cast aside the nonessential (grammar lessons, team sports, organized meals,... ). Now, we're nine months into treatment, and we have at least nine more to go. We have to figure out how to live with this. So, we're changing some things...

First, about five minutes after Chris was diagnosed, I realized that I didn't have the bandwidth for homeschool and cancer. We winged it for the spring semester last year and decided on a university-model school for this fall. The boys go to school Monday and Wednesday and do the rest of their work at home. They started this week and had a wonderful first day. They had a wonderful half a day schooling at home on Tuesday. We rocked it out until about 11:00 AM and then limped to the finish line from there. Here's our first day of school picture.

Second, Household H has grown. I am no longer the lone female, civilizing force in the house. We found a wonderful and brave young woman from Denmark to come and live with us for the next year. Her name is Cecilie, and she arrived about two weeks ago. Here she is learning to drive in Houston.*

I read Cecilie's application on an au pair website and emailed her. She replied with good, thoughtful questions. In my response, I tried to err on the side of brutal honesty concerning four boys, some school at home and living with cancer. I suggested she think it over carefully and discuss it with her parents before we proceeded. Then, I read through her application more carefully and read her references and realized I had sent a really frightening email to someone who is definitely awesome. And then it was like junior high all over again. I scurried over to my friend's house to talk it out...

There's this girl. I'm afraid I scared her away. I gave her my number and told her to call me, but should I go ahead and call her? Is that weird and desperate? Should I wait for her to call me? What if someone else calls her first?

Well, I didn't scare her away with my CANCER IS HARD and BOYS ARE GROSS AND LOUD diatribe, and Cecilie arrived two weeks ago. She's wonderful. We love her. And really, guys, to be willing to take on Household H at this moment in our story is no small thing. You could select, at random, an American family with young children and 99.5% of the time you'll pick someone whose house is less work than mine right now.

For everyone keeping up with Chris, he made it out of the hospital after a few days. It was hard for him to recover from this round. He just started regaining some strength a few days ago, but... he's starting another round today. It'll start to get bad again the end of next week. We'd appreciate your prayers.

* I did not appreciate the rude texts from my husband, father, brothers and uncles about my ability to teach anyone to drive.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Update on Chris...

This is just a quick update on Chris.  He is 3 months in to his post-surgery year of chemo.  He switched to a new chemo a few weeks ago.  His platelets and white blood cell counts got really low early this week and that ultimately landed him in the hospital.  The first few days in the ER and hospital were really rough.  He was in a lot of pain.  Now he's more... spectacularly uncomfortable.  He'll probably be in the hospital through the weekend.  All the grandparents are doing much of the heavy lifting with the boys and Chris as I've got a lot of commitments right now (more on that later).  Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes.

And in case anyone is curious, this

is really, really hard to sleep in.  But, it's probably less uncomfortable than being slapped around by chemo, so I'm trying to hold my complaints to 1 or 2 per hour, though I have no limits on melodramatic texts sent to family members...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Be where you are...

Historically, I suck at contentment. I married too scandalously young to be discontent in my singleness, but at basically every life-stage since, I've been looking to the next thing. Soon after Chris and I married, I started hankering after a baby. Then because the road to bringing David home was so long and painful, I worried over whether he'd ever have a sibling. When we lived in Virginia, I often longed to live closer to our extended families in Texas. I devoted such vast amounts of unnecessary mental energy to the boys' long term school plans. I was worried about when, precisely, to put Bryan in school - junior high vs. high school - before he even started kindergarten, and with absolutely no idea what our lives would even look like then. Ridiculous!

And now, when things are as treacherous and sobering as they've ever been, I find myself able to treasure where I am right now. It's been a hard summer, but in an unexpected way, it's been good and right. I've had precious time with the boys and Chris; we've had a lot of good time together. My boys have had an exceptionally good summer, in ways I didn't plan or control. They've spent a great deal of time with their grandparents, and in a gesture of love and support I will never forget, some Virginia friends, the parents of David's first friend, invited David and Jacob to stay with them for two weeks. Here are David and Ethan early in their relationship...

And a few weeks ago when their pool skills were somewhat more advanced...

I'm reading through Jeremiah right now and recently got to this passage:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
This has been a favorite passage of mine for years. We even have a kids' worship song with these verses, verbatim, as lyrics. And yet, I didn't notice the context until this recent reading. Jeremiah was writing to the exiles in Babylon. The recipients of this letter were Israelites who were separated from their country and their homes. Things were dismal, depressing and were going to get worse. But,
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease." Jeremiah 29:4-6
God is saying to them, "This crappy, heart-breaking, foreign place where you are - this is exactly where you're supposed to be right now. Now live. Invest. Be there."
And then,
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
So, cancer sucks. It's a heart-breaking, horrible place to be and it often feels like exile from normal life. But it's exactly where I'm supposed to be. Not that God wanted Chris to get cancer any more than he wanted the Israelites to go into exile, or David to cheat with Bathsheba or Cain to kill Abel or any of the other devastating and damaging things that have been happening on this planet almost since the beginning of time. But through these words, I felt The Lord affirming - "Yes. This is where you are. Be there. And trust me. I know the plans I have for you, and they're plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Petit jean state park wrap up...

The rest of our week...

Dad and I took the big boys on what was my favorite hike.

We played games,

Read books,

Burned things,

And whittled.

David and Jacob got poison ivy, but they must have been successfully distracted by the pocket knives and fire because they really weren't fussy about it. It was a great week.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Petit jean state park, day 3...

Critters and grandparents.

At one point in our hike, the ground was crawling with miniature frogs.

Jacob found a copperhead.

Cooling off in the creek

My parents and grandmother joined us.

Gran rocked out her hike

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Petit Jean State Park, Day Two...

When I started taking the boys to the woods for a week every summer, David was five, Jacob was three, Bryan was a year and a half, and Rand was a possibility.  On our hikes, once we got further than 100 yards, at any given moment, at least one child was crying, but a long as someone was having a good time, I considered the outing a success.  Now we can cover a lot more distance and my challenge is finding that parenting sweet spot where the boys can climb and explore and be the fierce, wild things The Lord made them, and yet not plunge to an early and grisly death.  With four boys, each with his own plan, it's nontrivial, but my theory is that if I let them get their adrenaline fix climbing rocks, they won't turn to base jumping or crack cocaine.

Everyone survived today's hikes.  We saw some spectacular stuff.

On the way home tonight, David told a scary story.  Then it was Rand's turn...

Rand:  My turn! My turn!  (serious voice). Once 'pon time, there was a boy.  He lost he mommy and daddy.  (dramatic pause). Then he not find he brothers.  (dramatic pause, then with great pride). I make that up my selse.

Popular Posts