Saturday, June 24, 2017

Backhanded by Infertility

Teal ribbons represent ovarian cancer awareness.
Yesterday was my birthday, and all the sweet Facebook messages from people I haven't interacted with since my last birthday made me realize just how lonely I've been lately.

For the last few years I've developed  more and more female problems. Last November, my doctors scheduled a surgery for January that led them to schedule another surgery for April. Based on pathology and radiology results, they believed (incorrectly, it would turn out) that I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember the October morning when the Today Show reported on a then-new study that had found infertile women who undergo treatment are 60% more likely to have ovarian cancer. The risk is even higher for the women in that group who never have a live birth, they said.

That report made an impression on me, maybe because it came out on Barren's 1-year anniversary. It left me thinking how unfair it is that women who suffer the physical pain, emotional drain, and financial stress of fertility treatments are then more likely to fight the most fatal of gynecological cancers.

For 3 months I thought I was one of those women. My team of gynecologists had me visit a psychologist and scheduled an oncologist to be present at the second surgery. The hospital requested that I update my will and designate a power of attorney.

We didn't want to tell anyone what was happening until we had definite answers ourselves, but as time went on, circumstances caused us to tell family members and a few close friends. We ended up with about 40 people praying that I would be healed and spared months of chemotherapy.

When David and I spoke with my primary gynecologist about April's results, she showed us pictures from the surgery and talked for about 10 minutes about the ugliness they had removed from inside me, but she never said, "You have Stage thus-and-such cancer."

David finally asked her directly, "Does Amanda have cancer?"

"No," she laughed. "I would have led with that!"

When she left the room to schedule me for more post-op tests and whatnot, David and I sat in stunned silence for 20 minutes.

I had spent the previous 3 months preparing to be sick. Yes, I had updated our wills, but I had also repointed the house, replaced a toilet, painted my office, replaced the tires on our Subaru, bought a new guest mattress, wrote a blog announcing my cancer (at the psychologist's suggestion), and contracted a company to tear down and rebuild the entire exterior of our addition (that should finally start any day now). In hindsight, I wasn't planning to be sick. I was planning to disappear.

In spite of the prayers of our loved ones and an expressed belief in God's healing power, I never actually expected to be cancer free. I was hoping to be Stage II or lower and expecting to survive because those same doctors who once told me, "you're too old to get pregnant," were now saying, "you're too young to have ovarian cancer."

The shock turned into guilt--why had we worried everyone unnecessarily?--and then embarrassment.

I don't think we had a moment of joy or thankfulness. It was weeks before it occurred to me that maybe God had actually answered all those prayers. Maybe He literally transformed malignant cells into benign cells.

I would argue there is precedence for this; I am not the first woman to endure years of gynecological pain:

Now a certain woman [traditionally called Veronica] had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” 
Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” 
But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34, NKJV)

Thanksgiving 2017 will mark 4 years since all this began. But I don't have even a third of the faith of Veronica, who endured three times as much pain as I have. And the loneliness, guilt, and embarrassment I've felt has been self-induced whereas hers was culturally motivated. I now realize the tragedy of my situation is not the illness itself but the lack of faith and abundance of self-consciousness that illness has exposed.

The surgeries have not helped--the constant anemia is physically debilitating and socially awkward--and I expect to schedule a final surgery at my appointment in July. Between now and then I won't be able to literally touch Jesus' clothes, but I desire to have Veronica's faith that He will heal me when I reach out to Him.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Wildfires and Politics

My world is on fire. Literally. Every ridge surrounding our city has a wildfire burning on top of it, and the smoke is settling on the streets of Chattanooga. It's suffocating and headache-inducing. As I write (and as I dread going back to editing that Greek exegesis waiting on my desk) the pain in and behind my eyes is intense.

Copper is not pleased that the smoky streets are
keeping him from getting a walk this morning.
Our figurative world is burning these days too. If you found this post because of a social media link, then you've also read posts and articles all about how America is going down in flames if Candidate X is elected. Maybe you've even shared a few stories, commented on a few others.

My Granny would have been right there with you. Back when there was an alarmingly high number of cable channels--50, as I remember--she watched just CNN. It was on 24 hours a day. She listened to talk radio and wrote letters to our congressmen. She spent hours in AOL political-themed chat rooms every night. She was the most informed woman I've ever known, and some of her passion "caught fire" in me.

So people who have known me longest may be surprised that I've stayed out of all the political squabbling. In fact, I've been avoiding Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else for the last six months. (Though to be honest, I started to pull away well over a year ago. Social media blurs the lines between opinion and truth, and the older I get the less willing I am to put up with that.) 

The election has only fired up the animosity that pervades our society, so once we've all cast our votes tomorrow, the arguing won't end. Why? Because we're all so selfish.  We vote for who we think will improve our own lives, regardless of how others may be impacted.

If we are all going to live with each other after tomorrow, then we need to stop trying to change others' opinions and start changing our own actions toward others. 

I've been spending a lot of time in Luke lately (thanks to that exegesis weighing down my desk right now). In chapter 10, a scholar tries to trick Jesus into contradicting the Hebrew scriptures when he asks how one can attain eternal life. He answers his own question: 
You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27, The Voice).
And who is that "neighbor"? Jesus answers with a story:
This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.
     The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” (Luke 10:30-35, The Voice)
The neighbor is "the one who showed mercy" (v. 37). Not the priest and Levite who were literal neighbors--presumably sharing the victim's Jewish faith and living in his community--but the Samaritan. He would have believed and worshiped and lived differently than the victim. Regardless of all his social differences, his actions made him the true neighbor. The one we are commanded to love as ourselves.

On Wednesday morning, I hope the election won't have left you feeling as if you've been "mugged" and left "in critical condition"; but it looks like about half the country will feel that way.

It is time for us to start loving each other, regardless of our social differences. It is time for us to stop thinking so highly of ourselves and our own opinions that we can justify our disregard of others, or worse, we can justify attacking and hating others. Not just during election season--when America is on fire--but every day of our lives.

No matter what happens in the next 48 hours, let's go out into our smoke-filled streets and AOL chat rooms and show some mercy. (If that happens, I just might be able to reengage with social media!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Truth Will Set You Free

I would correct that to say, "When there is no truth, there is only perception."
I first studied philosophy in high school as part of an advanced English class. We read L'Etranger and No Exit, and memorized the principles of relativism and existentialism and other long-forgotten-by-me -isms. I remember one thing well: I don't enjoy philosophy.

Twenty years later, philosophy penetrates my life (and yours). Take a look at your social media feeds. What are most people posting about? Their perceptions of politics. And many are ready to have knock-down drag-out fights to prove to everyone else that their perceptions are right. And factual. And true.

Every knock-down drag-out David and I have ever had resulted from differing perspectives of truth.

My best friend, Melinda, likes to tell everyone that David and I are a psychology experiment--the one where two people watch a video of the same car crash but have completely different recollections of what happened: "The car was blue." "No, the car was green." That's us, and those different perceptions of truth make for heated but pointless arguments. How relieved we both are when we can find the truth by rewatching the car crash: The car was actually red. We can stop arguing now.

Rarely (thankfully) our arguments result from actual untruth...meaning one of us has lied. Those are the conversations that both begin and end with pain, because a lie is a betrayal. You can't rewatch a video or Google the truth to settle a lie-spawned argument once and for all. Feelings have been hurt, and the relationship needs time to mend.

I think we as a society have largely lost the ability to distinguish between perception and truth, and that is one of the reasons politics are so ugly--particularly in 2016. My opinion about a candidate or a policy is not truth, so people who disagree with me aren't technically wrong (even though I think they are!) or lying.

Many philosophies, and most of this postmodern secular society, state that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees. In the gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about truth, and it pretty much boils down to this:
I tell you the truth, anyone who hears My voice and keeps My word will never experience death. (John 8:51, The Voice).
If you are a Christian, then you believe one absolute truth: Jesus is the Savior of humanity. It is rare (though not unattested) that I see knock-down drag-out fights over that statement.

If you follow a philosophy that declares there is no absolute truth, then your perception becomes your truth. So when someone else disagrees with that perception, then you feel personally affronted. A "car crash argument" becomes a "lie-spawned argument," a betrayal.

We should follow Jesus' example in John. When He declared truth and others disagreed, He countered by speaking the same truth in different ways. In that conversation, He did not back down. But when he encountered people who behaved or believed differently or even incorrectly (as in, Romans and Samaritans), He always responded the same way: by revealing the truth in love. He didn't argue over the semantics of where the temple should be (John 4) or even about the punishment for adultery (John 8:1-11).

We would rather argue over the semantics. In a climate where opinions and perceptions are elevated and advertised on social media, Christians need to remember that there is only one absolute truth--that Jesus is the savior of humanity--and that all Christians, by definition, agree on it.

Then we need to respond to disagreements as Jesus did: in love and with the one absolute truth. For if we show love, the world will see the absolute truth.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kaleidoscope of Life

I was excited to buy advance tickets to Coldplay's "Head Full of Dreams" tour for David. He has loved them since long before
anyone else heard "Clocks," and I truly believed we would have to fly to a London show in order to see them perform (they
rarely come to the US and, until now, have played few venues when they do).
David and I just got back from our first vacation since 2011. That year we used our first Southwest points to visit San Diego for our eighth wedding anniversary. This year we used our last Southwest points to fly to a Coldplay concert in Boston, where we lived right after we married.

Ignoring for the moment the most awesome concert I've ever attended, this trip "home" was both surreal and affirmative.

We rode and drove and walked the areas we knew...but most of our favorite businesses have been replaced. Even the Harvard Shirt Shop, that had the cheapest apparel in town, was gone from Harvard Square. As were all of our friends. Sure, there were still thousands of people milling around, but no one we recognized. We don't know anyone who lives in Cambridge anymore. In short, nothing we loved there was eagerly awaiting our return as we had been eagerly awaiting this trip.
Cambridge is sporting new-to-us dedicated bike lanes, like those
coming to on our own Bailey Avenue in spring, and beautifully
renovated housing.

Not only did we notice what was missing from Cambridge, but we found bits and pieces of our new home. There are bright green bike lanes at Central Square (like those CDOT is planning for our city), and the houses surrounding our other-side-of-the-tracks apartment are now up-and-coming (much like our current neighborhood). Riding the T--dark and dusty in the bowls of the city--made us dream about the Chattanooga Light Rail that is a real possibility for clean mass transportation in our city. In all the things we loved about Boston, we saw shades of Chattanooga. It was as if Boston was telling us, "Everything you love about me is coming to your new city. Enjoy it all--minus the inflated housing prices!"

Who doesn't love subtle confirmation that you are where you're supposed to be?  After years of feeling displaced, we are so happy to be home. Probably the biggest reason we know this is home is the church we've adopted. You don't officially "join" our church because it is, as our pastor likes to say, "La Familia." We are family. We serve and love one another and our community because we know God's love and want the Holy Spirit to work through us. We were never able to find the right church in Denver, and our home church in Murfreesboro has evolved without us. It's wonderful to visit, but they aren't our church family anymore. And that's a good thing!

So back to Coldplay. The primary artwork for this amazing concert series is a kaleidoscope, and it speaks to me. As you turn a kaleidoscope, the view changes but every shiny bit and piece still has its place. That's kind of how I see our adult life so far. Just when I think we're perfectly settled, God flips something around to give us a new and more beautiful view of the life He's created. We love what we're seeing from Chattanooga, and we are excited to experience His changes that are ahead.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Study in Botanicals

Looking at this photograph, I realize my taste is "square." I need
to add a few more "twists and turns" to my design aesthetic!
People used to tell my Granny that she should be an interior designer because she did such a beautiful job decorating her own home. She would respond, "I only know what pleases my eye."

I like that, so I've adopted her modest phrase as my personal decorating slogan. Teal ceilings please my eye. So do solid walls of tile. Bizarre? Probably so.

David and I now live in our fourth home (not counting those many months we spent living in hotels), and each new location has given me the opportunity to tweak my decor. I've changed some colors and fabrics with each new place, although our main pieces of furniture have remained unchanged.

Our new home has given me a unique challenge. How do David and I, who have transitional-to-contemporary design preferences, live in a house that predates World War I? One answer is symmetry, and it is currently on display in our dining room. I chose to hang 18 classic botanical studies, printed from the 1613 originals, in simple frames but to grand effect.

Once I decided that I "needed" a crop of botanical prints, I discovered I could never afford them in a million years. Small framed prints go for $60 each--and those are the cheap ones! It was time for where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way Amanda to make good on her reputation.

First I found a book of botanicals with enough prints in the right colors to tear out and frame. Besler's Book of Flowers and Plants fit the bill at $10. That was the easy part.

The hard part was finding frames at a volume discount. I spent months off-and-on searching the internet and stores for them. Finally Hobby Lobby had a 50%-off sale on wood frames that would work...as long as I was willing to attach the saw hooks myself. This made the project markedly more difficult, as hanging the collages evenly now depended on where I put the nails in the wall and if I centered the saw teeth. But at $3 per frame, I couldn't say no.

I completed this project one day when I needed a break from
tiling the guest bathroom. That's why there's a gi-normous bag
of mortar and stacks of tiles on the other end of the table!
Then it was time for innovation: the frames I ordered were larger than the prints, and I absolutely could not afford mats. Remembering the buffered tissue paper I'd ordered when I was archiving my family's memorabilia, I dug out 18 sheets, folded them in half, and laid them between the prints and the frames' backboards. For $0, I had a unique look that would preserve my project for years. (Buffered tissue paper takes acid out of inks and paper, meaning my prints shouldn't yellow over time.)

It took about 4 hours to do the whole project, from tearing out the prints to hanging the frames, and spawned a new personal slogan: "Practice, Precision, Patience." I'm going to need that one in every room of this house.