Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Mysterious, Incredible, Undeniable Hand of God...

I have been a Christian for a long time. I was in my early teens when I got saved and I just turned 40 - you can do the math if you want. In the years since I gave my lift to Christ, I have grown in knowledge and understanding, gaining wisdom that only comes with time and a willingness to admit you need to be taught. Gosh, that sounds kinda arrogant! Let me make myself perfectly clear. I'm not saying I have all the answers, or even a lot of them. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all. But I think that's a good place for a Christian to be.
"Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil." Proverbs 3:7 (KJV)
 In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about being humble like a child. While it might be debatable about just how humble most children are today, the fact remains that small children are trusting like no adult. They rely on their parents for everything from food to shelter to love and everything in between. And they do so without hesitation or question. This is what I have come to believe God wants from all of His children. Simple trust that He is always in control, that He loves us, and that He will never, ever do anything that isn't in our best interest. And this is the heart of the wisdom I have gained since my salvation all those years ago.

While I had little understanding or recognition of it at the time, God was planning and working and calling me long before I answered Him. God's like that, you see. He uses all sorts of people, events, and things to catch our attention or to guide us to where He wants us to be. It can be hard to see His hand at work when we are in the middle of all the action. You know that whole "forest for the trees" thing. And it is doubly difficult for a soon to be or new Christian to recognize the evidence of our Lord at work. Newbies or those on the verge of giving in to God rarely have any discernment at all. We just drift along, perhaps feeling the tug of an unseen current, but generally unaware of how or why it is there or where it is taking us. I am profoundly grateful that God has seen fit to let my eyes be opened in regards to this. These days I see His hand everywhere!

There are times when I am practically bursting with joy and thankfulness as I see evidence of Him around me. Sometimes it is just the mere beauty of a day, or the touch of my husband's hand on mine, or the melody or words of a song that come at precisely the moment I need them. Sometimes it's that still, small voice whispering within that gives me some desperately needed bit of guidance, understanding, or comfort. And sometimes it is the odd congruence of multiple events that most would consider coincidence but that I cannot help but attribute to the Creator of the universe. See, I don't believe in luck. I don't much believe in coincidence. I don't subscribe to the eastern philosophy of Karma or fate, but I believe with every fiber of my being that God has a grand plan for every soul on Earth and that He is constantly working in every single life to bring that plan to completion.

All this has led me to be very sensitive to God's movement in my life. I see Him everywhere and in everything. From the song that plays on the radio to the emails friends send me to the random websites that pop up when I'm doing some kind of web search. Sure, there are plenty of things out there that have less to do with God than with this world or even the devil as he tries to lure me away, but so often I see God working in everyday moments.

One of them came today. I got up and picked up my computer to glance through my email. One of my very best friends (and a woman I respect more than she will every know) had forwarded an email to me. I get quite a few things from her, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, sometimes thought provoking, always welcome.

In case there's any doubt, I'm talking about you, Carolyn. Free Smileys

Carolyn is an artist whose work can be found on Etsy, & Craftsu. You can see images of just a small sample of her work on both Flickr and Picasa. She makes "how to" videos of all sorts and video collages of her work which she posts on YouTube. And she has two blogs here at Blogger as well. Carolyn's Canvas is where she shares her crafts, the inspiration behind them, and little bits and pieces of day to day life. The Alabaster Box is where she shares the countless ways God has influenced and touched her life and the way she praises and glorifies Him in return.

If you take the time to read or view much of her stuff, you will quickly find out that she has a rapier wit and a servant's heart. I love both of those parts of her equally. We are never together that we don't laugh repeatedly. Joy and humor are big parts of what get me through my darkest hours but that's another post!

Carolyn sends me emails which she forwards from other friends and family quite often. This morning she sent me one containing a story that I'm fairly sure I've read before. I'll reprint it here so you can share it's message, which is a very good one.

The Refiner's Touch

There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi.  As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.
Silver smith putting heat to a silver bowl

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"  He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part -- when I see my image reflected in it."

If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep His hand on you and watch over you until He sees His image in you.

Pass this on right now. This very moment, someone needs to know that God is watching over them, and that whatever they're going through, they'll are NOT ALONE
, and will be a better person in the end.
 The version I received had a quote at the end that was incomplete. I decided to try to look up the story online to see what the rest of that quote was. I found the above version of the story on a site called The Clarion Call. It did not include the quote I was looking for, so I did a different search for it and found it elsewhere.
"Life is a coin. You can spend it anyway you wish, but you can only spend it once."
— Lillian Dickson
 Now, I started out looking for a quote. (I do this kind of thing ALL the time, often with similar results.) At the end of the above story on The Clarion Call was an addendum which follows.

NOTE FROM KAY:  I verified that the information in this story was true.  I contacted a silversmith at www.silversmithing.com and asked if there were any untruths in the silver-smithing parts.

I received the following response from Fred Zweig:  "I am familiar with the verse from Malachi.  The similarities of actual refining and the chapter and verse from the Bible are accurate.  It is important not to overheat the silver when refined in this process and clean molten silver will shine with a mirror-like quality when it is ready to pour.  The high temperatures do volatize the impurities and form on the surface as dross.  It is important to be attentive to the molten metal as it does it no good to overheat it.  It may not destroy the silver, but silver has an affinity for absorbing oxygen and this can make it unworkable."
Being the wildly curious person that I am, I wondered just who Kay was. So I backed out to the home page of The Clarion Call to find out. It turns out she is Kay Meyerett, the creator of the site. I have hardly had a chance to do more than a cursory glance at the site, as it is quite extensive but two things caught my eye right off the bat.

First: At the end of the home menu page I linked to earlier, I read this, "I do know one thing for sure and that is that God brought you here. That must mean there is something here for you!" I am a firm believer in just such things. God leads us where He wants us to go so that we can learn new things about Him or ourselves that can then be used in our spiritual and/or physical lives. I appreciated knowing Kay saw His hand at work as much as I did.

Second: A little further down the page, right before the links that would take one to the various articles, studies, stories, poems, and other things on the site was this:
You need to know how to determine what is true and what is not true about the things of God.  Here's how to:
Determine the Truth of the Matter
My, how I love seeing someone point out the necessity of discernment! So few seem to have it these days. I followed the link and started reading and quickly came across:
Don't believe anything you read here at the Clarion Call.  Don't believe anything you hear at church.  Don't believe anything you hear coming out of any human's mouth!
I am still grinning like a nut even after reading this several times just because I feel a wild rush of appreciation for anyone willing to lay it out so plainly in black and white. She goes on to explain the importance of letting God teach you what is true and what is not. The need of studying and learning the Bible for yourself so that you will be able to recognize the truth when you see it. And the utter necessity of learning to set aside your own sense of logic, fairness, and any and all preconceived notions to allow God to guide you into the understanding needed to be useful to Him.

I don't know Kay. I've just stumbled across her website in what many would consider a matter of happenstance. I read her bio, have not had a chance to read any of her Bible studies, but feel a kinship with her all the same because of the little I have read. I will read more. And in spite of the fact that I like what I've read so far, I will not take anything I read at face value. I will weigh it against the Bible and the whisper of the Holy Spirit within me to determine if it is of use. I will take what is and leave what isn't. But I get the feeling that the useful will outweigh the useless. Because like she said, God brought me there.

And that's what makes me laugh out loud to myself sometimes, and sing at the top of my lungs, and wave my hands to heaven. Because God is there, in the big miracles we see every day, like the whole of creation and the life of Christ, and the person healed of some disease. But He's also there in the moments between the great miracles. In the odd tension in the pit of our stomach that tells us to slow down when we aren't even driving the speed limit so that we can avoid hitting a child that will dart out into the road in front of us only moments later. In the countless little things that pop up to keep us from getting around to going to the store or on a visit or somewhere else where we might have encountered something harmful. In the peace that floods us when we are moments away from a spiritual, emotional, or physical breakdown. In the joy that leads us to praise God when we have every right according to the world and our own human nature to curse Him. And in the seemingly random congruence of a series of events that leads us to a person, place, or even a website were we will find fresh understanding of God.

I'm not posting this to praise Kay Meyerett. Like I said, I don't know her. I could read some of her Bible studies and decide that she's a nut or just plain wrong. But even if all I get from her site is a reminder that God is in control of every moment, every event, every instant of my life, then that's enough.

I pray that everyone else can see God's hand in their life as well. I pray He will reveal Himself to you in a profound way. And I pray that He will continue to reveal Himself to me so that I will never forget how great and wonderful He is.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Mama...

It's Mother's Day again. I've been facing it without my own mother for 23 years now. Believe me when I say it really never seems to stop being a day of both pain and joy. Because of this, I thought I'd do a post about my precious mother.

She was born Jennie Carolyn Bulliner on December 6, 1938. The family she was born into was already a bit complicated. Her mama, Wyonia, had been married to Orland Miller and had one son with him. James Lee Miller was born deaf. Then my grandmother divorced Orland Miller and married Linus Bulliner. They had two children together. My mother and her sister, Sandra. Then Mamaw divorced Linus Bulliner and remarried Orland Miller. (This is the man I grew up knowing as my grandfather. Papaw Miller.) They then had another child, Carl, known to everyone as Smittie. Mamaw would stay married to Papaw Miller until his death.

My mother was the one chosen to attend "deaf" school with her older brother. She taught everyone else how to sign. She was very close to him. She used to tell me that she looked up to him a lot. So much so that once when she was a young girl, she was following him around and he decided to jump over a mud puddle. She was younger and smaller, but like most younger siblings, decided she could do it, too. She tried to leap over the puddle but didn't make it and landed right in the middle of it. Unfortunately, someone had been breaking glass in the hole. She was barefoot when she landed. Glass was driven up into one of her feet. When she told the story she used to say she could still remember the sound of her brother screaming as he carried her back to the house. I don't remember exactly what was done. She did see a doctor but all the glass apparently wasn't removed because she said years later a piece of it actually worked its way out the top of her foot. She had the scar to prove it.

I can remember being a child and my mom teaching me how to use sign language to tell Uncle James Lee that supper was ready and that I loved him. He always seemed to find it cute when I'd come trotting up and sign something. Here's a shot of our whole family at one of our annual Christmas dinners held at my grandmother's house.
That's me in the very center, looking up at my cousin, Allen. Uncle James Lee is immediately to my right. My mother is right behind me. This is most of the family, minus my sisters and their families. My uncle Smittie is the last one on the right. My Aunt Sandra is the second woman on the left. (The one in front with the long dark hair is Uncle Smittie's wife, Rethel.) I won't even try to list the names and locations of all the cousins. LOL

I think this shot just might have been taken on the same day of another shot of my mother and me.
Gosh, I can't get over how beautiful she was! I've just realized that these two shots were made on the same day. I cropped this one to just show her face and have been using it as my profile pic on facebook in honor of my mother. As an aside, I'm fairly sure she made that dress for me.

Anyway, Mama was raised in rural Tennessee. She got married young and gave birth to two daughters, Connie Lynn and Debra Kay. She used to joke that when she had her first child - Debbie - she panicked because she was a girl. Mama had pretty much raised my Uncle Smittie so she knew all about baby boys. She said she wasn't sure what to do with a baby girl. LOL. Good thing she figured it out, because girls was all she had!

My sisters' father was James C. Smith. I never really knew him until after my mother's death, at which point he welcomed me into his family with open arms and started telling everyone I was his other daughter. God Bless him. He's gone home to be with the Lord, now.

I'm not sure how old my sisters were when Mama and James divorced. Young enough to still be small kids, I think. Mama was working at some factory when she met my father, David Maynard. He used to say that he wanted to marry her the first time he saw her. You'd have to know my father to understand how he managed to completely sweep my mother off her feet. She was a country girl. born and raised in the back end of nowhere. Daddy used to say that when he met her, she'd never actually been to a "sit-down" restaurant where the waitress came to the table and served you. While Mama was what I'd affectionately call a country bumpkin, my daddy was a city boy through and through. He was a charmer on par with the best car salesman. When he decided he wanted my mama, he just pulled out all the stops and went and got her. They got married and eventually had me.

My sisters were several years older than me. Debbie was 15 when I was born and Connie was 13. My Daddy used to tell me that I was not a mistake. He said he and Mama planned for me. I wouldn't have cared if I had been a mistake, though. I knew I was loved dearly and that's all that matters.

When I was born, we lived in a house in a suburb of Memphis. It was, in fact, in Mississippi. Southaven to be exact. I can remember quite a bit about that house and living there. Like the fact that I used to stand in the hallway and yell because there was a bit of an echo that I found endlessly entertaining. I seriously doubt Mama found that nearly as fun as I did. LOL

I can remember Mama putting me down in her bed one night during a storm. I remember her singing to me as I lay there with the lightening flashing outside. I can remember Mama helping me search for a tooth I lost in the living room floor because she'd gotten me all dressed up for something and I'd slipped and fallen thanks to my patent leather shoes and the hardwood floors. (Had to have that tooth for the tooth fairy, you know!) I can remember Mama's fondness for using bricks set at an odd slant to line her flowerbeds. I remember being furious with her because I came home from school (pre-school? first-grade? not sure) to find that she'd sold my tricycle at the yard sale she was having. I was too big for it, but I still played with it, mostly by standing on the back foot rest and pushing it around like some kind of scooter. I remember that we had a pet rabbit in a hutch out in the back yard and I went out there and stuck my finger through the wire and the stupid thing bit me. I can remember it bleeding like crazy and that it hurt really bad, too. I remember one night while Mama, Daddy and I were sitting down at dinner that the house started shaking. Daddy grabbed me up and headed for the bathroom but it was all over before we even got there. I remember standing with Mama and Daddy at the front door looking outside while they discussed that it had been a tremor. I had no idea what a tremor was, but I thought it must have been some kind of really big truck or machine because it had made the house shake when it drove past. I clearly remember looking down the road to see if I could catch a glimpse of it. LOL

Daddy used to tell a story of one time when he was stripping the paint off the front porch. He said I was a toddler. Somehow I managed to get the front door open and I stepped out onto the porch wearing nothing but my diaper. Whatever he was using, it was caustic. He said I started screaming and Mama came running. He said we both fell in the mess and that he remembered us being in the bathtub with Mama still in whatever clothes she was wearing and me in my diaper crying while they rushed to try to wash the chemical off of both of us.

I remember having a lot of ear aches when I was little. I can remember lying on the couch with my head in Mama's lap while she put ear drops in my ears. I remember countless times when she would sit up with me while I was sick. I can still remember the smell of Vicks since she rubbed it all over my chest every time I started coughing. LOL I remember fainting once when I was in my early teens. I was in the kitchen at the table and was rocking back on the back legs of my chair when I just went out like a light. I guess I fell backwards and hit my head on the bar. Mama snatched me up and was carrying me upstairs when I woke up. I was no small thing at the time. But my size didn't mean a thing to her as she rushed to lay me down and make sure I was okay.

And this is a big part of who she was. She was, without a doubt, the most caring person I have ever known. She would sacrifice anything for her kids. She would go to any length for us, fight any battle. Her love was unconditional and didn't waver. She taught me what love was supposed to be. No matter what, you don't quit, you don't ever turn your back on someone you love.

I watched her endure a lot in her lifetime. I watched her deal with a failing marriage to my father. I watched her take care of her own mother, being there for everything from family deaths to canning crops. Lord, did my grandmother like to can! Probably a product of surviving the depression. I have no idea how many hours we spent at my grandparents' place picking all manner of crops or plums from an ancient old tree. Mama did her fair share of canning, too. Plum jelly is still my favorite to this day.

My mama was just an incredibly precious person. I'm not trying to say she was perfect. None of us are. But I cannot imagine having a better mother. We did all the wonderful things mothers and daughters ought to do together. We baked cookies regularly. She read to me constantly until I was old enough to read for myself. We would sit up late on summer nights watching old reruns of Rawhide and The Rat Patrol on TV while munching on a bowl of popcorn.

When my parents marriage started falling apart and my father eventually moved out, my mother wound up working 3 jobs to make ends meet. She did it all without complaint. Yet she still somehow managed to find a way to be there for me whenever I would sing in a concert or anything else she felt I needed to be supported at.

Looking back, I can't help but be profoundly grateful for everything I know she did for me. I'm thankful that I never went though that rebellious stage so many daughters seem to hit in their teens. I stayed close to my mother through it all. I adored her and considered her my very best friend, though there was never, ever any doubt that she was my mother first and my friend second. I had fun with her. I never wished she'd go away. I never dreaded seeing her coming. I'd have rather spent my time with her than most anyone else I knew.

I was 17 when she died. It was sudden, with no warning at all. She got sick with what we all thought was just a cold. I found her collapsed on the bathroom floor on a Saturday morning. She was dead Tuesday night. Viral Pneumonia. No one should die from that. Especially a 50 year old woman in the prime of her life. It killed her because she didn't seek medical treatment for her sickness. She didn't seek treatment because she didn't want to spend the money. Oh, how I wish she'd made a different choice!

Losing my mother devastated me. It still haunts me 22 years later. I don't think I will ever fully get over it. By the grace of God, I have learned to live with the loss, to go on in spite of the depression that overtook me after her death. Still, I miss her with a fierceness that is sometimes more than I can bear. To this day I can remember one thing with a clarity that is nothing short of profound. The feel of her hands. I don't know why, but they are etched into my memory like a carving in stone. The texture of her skin, the feel of it when I would hold her hand or when she would touch my face. I pray that I never lose this memory.

There are other things that are less distinct. She liked White Shoulders. She had old powder boxes that still smelled like it. In those days, powder boxes were actually plastic. I remember she kept my barrettes in one and buttons in another. A few years ago I was in Wal-Mart just before Christmas when they have all the gift sets of makeup or perfume or bath products set up for the holiday. I noticed a White Shoulders gift set and picked it up to smell it. I can still remember tears flooding to my eyes right there in the middle of the aisle. It brought her back so strongly!

I have gone on with my life. None of us has any other choice when someone we care for dies. When my sister, Connie, lost her battle with lung cancer in 2001, I can remember standing in the funeral home picturing the reunion that must have taken place between her and our mother. I can just see Mama there, waiting eagerly for her middle daughter. I can see her throwing her arms wide in welcome and saying, "There's my baby!" And I can see the two of them embracing with tears of pure joy on both their faces. I'm not eager for death, but I look forward to the day when it will be my turn to run into her arms once more. Mama told me once when I was probably twelve or so that I would always be her baby. It didn't matter how old I got or how big, I would always be her baby and she would love me come what may.

I know none of us can fully understand the scope of God's love for us. It is something beyond our feeble ability to comprehend. It is the very definition of unconditional. It transcends all else, reaching a beauty and profundity that we can only dream of achieving in our own fallen lives. But I also believe that a mother's love is the closest any of us will ever get to the love of God. My mother gave me everything I could have ever wanted or needed. She taught me how to love, not with words, but through her own example.

I've said before that she didn't know how to stop loving someone. She was planning to divorce my father when she died. We never told him that. He died himself 3 years after Mama from complications of pulmonary fibrosis, which is scarring of the lungs. I tell people when it comes up that if my mother had not died, I know exactly what would have happened. Even if she'd gone through with the divorce, she would have taken care of my father when he got sick. She would have moved him back into our house and cared for him until the day he died. It was her nature. No matter how much someone angered or hurt you, if you loved them you never turned your back on them when they needed you.

Mama was hardly perfect. She had her flaws. My sisters could probably attest to plenty of mistakes she made while raising them. Fortunately for me, by the time I came along she'd worked out most of the kinks of parenthood. I had it easy, to hear them tell about it. And I probably did. Mama was a lot more relaxed the third time around. Plus, I was the baby of the family and so got coddled by everyone, even my sisters. I was spoiled, but not to the point that I lost all respect. I was just loved thoroughly. And I was a profoundly happy child because of it.

This is one of my favorite pics of my mom. She was so young and just looks so sassy!  
Mama with me. She was so obsessed with getting that little curl on top of my head! Of course, with all the hair she had going on I reckon she didn't want me to feel left out. LOL
Taken at a family reunion, I think. That's my grandmother on the left end. Then my father, Mama, me, my brother-in-law, Dale, nephew Dale, Jr., sister Debbie, sister Connie, and Connie's husband, Henry. This is another of my favorite pics, despite Daddy's hideous pants! (on a side note, I find it hilarious that me and both my sisters are wearing flip-flops. I think Mama's got on sandals, but all of us lived in flip-flops in the summer. When we wore shoes at all. LOL)
I call this the Mother Goose photo. Mama was an avid reader and I inherited that love thanks to her reading to me all the time when I was little. Here she is reading to her grandkids. Dale (oldest), Jessica (youngest at this time), and Adam, who's looking at the book like he thinks it's going to eat him. LOL
Mama and me on a summer night in the park. It was after Music Mania, an annual variety show put on by members of the music and band programs at my school. I was in the show. We'd gone for ice cream and Mark snapped this shot. None of us could have known that in less than a year, Mama would be gone.
This last shot is how I remember Mama most. Happy and smiling. This is what I miss most about Mama being gone. I just wish she could be here to talk to and to laugh with and to hold my hand when I'm sad or afraid. She was my rock on this earth and even as an adult I still feel somewhat adrift without her here. But I know where she is. I know she's with my sister. And I know that God has her wrapped in His great arms.

All of us who are Christian women know of the woman in Proverbs 31.
10  Who can find a virtuous and capable wifeShe is more precious than rubies.11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She finds wool and flax
and busily spins it.14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it;
with her earnings she plants a vineyard.17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread,
her fingers twisting fiber.20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
22 She makes her own bedspreads.
She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.23 Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.24 She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.26 When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.
28 Her children stand and bless her.
Her husband praises her:29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
        Prov 31:10-31 (NLT)
"Her children stand and bless her."

I bless my mother. I call her worthy of praise. She was all any woman should be. Faithful. Brave. A hard worker. We had food and clothes for winter because she made sure the pantry was stocked and that we had whatever we needed. She even made clothes for us. She was a true friend to those who had the privilege to call her by that name. She was a mother to every child she met. She was a teacher, fan, supporter, disciplinarian, chauffeur, doctor, whatever she had to be. And I am a vastly better person for having had the privilege of knowing her.

Thank you, Lord, for my mother. As my sister posted on her facebook page today, "Happy Mothers Day Mom! You are missed and loved everyday. I know you are sharing your day with Connie. I know she will share our love with you. She is missed and loved everyday also. We keep you both close to us in our hearts and our memories. I pray that God give you both fields of roses and wildflowers."


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting Back to Normal...

Normal. It's a relative term. But then everything in life is relative. Einstein sure had that right! Every thought, fear, and emotion is relative to our own personal experience and views. "Normalcy" is no different. They (scientists and/or psychologists) spend a lot of time studying what is normal. They run all kinds of tests, compile reams of data and statistics, then create charts and reports to explain what is or is not normal for an average, normal person. Personally, I think most of it is malarkey.

Still, I confess that I believe nothing about cancer treatment is "normal." The moment you hear that word come out of the mouth of a doctor "normal" goes right out the window. Maybe forever. But despite the lunacy of the treatment and the discomfort of the side effects, it all eventually comes to an end. The chemo and radiation - and by extension their side effects - are temporary. You get it, then you're done. They tell you that you'll start getting back to normal within a few weeks or months, depending on a lot of other factors. I can't really speak to that with authority yet because I have not gotten back to "normal." I'm getting there, though. There might be a mitigating factor keeping me from recovering as quickly as I should, but more on that later. First let's talk about what is changing.

The hair is the most obvious thing, I suppose. It's just growing like crazy. It's actually gotten long enough now that I have to take a comb to it after a shower or risk looking like a character from a Japanese Anime cartoon.
Not sure if he's sharing my opinion of his hairstyle here or not, 
but I know I give it a "thumb's down" when it's on my head.

So, I try to keep it under control, but have issues with the hair right over my ears. It's too short to keep tucked behind my ears and too long to just lay there nicely. It generally sticks straight out over my ears. Mark called me Mercury today. You know, the messenger of the gods who had wings on his feet and the sides of his head. Yeah.

Eventually the hair will get long enough to actually do something with it and I'm looking forward to that. For now I'm just glad that it's finally starting to fill in so that I don't look so much like a balding man. It's still a little thin in front, but it's filling in. I've got eyelashes again. At least more than I had for a while there. And my eyebrows are coming back, too. Unfortunately, along with the hair on my head, the hair in my armpits and on my legs is returning as well. Alas, shaving will soon be a part of my routine once more. It's a real shame that they can't come up with some way to engineer the chemo to kill of armpit and leg hair for good. Sigh.

So, the hair coming back is a good thing. I really, really miss having hair on my head. I keep looking at all my head bands, scrunchies, and barrettes with longing. I could wear the headbands, I guess, but what would be the point? They'd just make what little hair I have stick out like crazy. Believe me, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a glass door the other day with my sunglasses pushed up onto my head. It was NOT pretty. Along with the return of my hair, though, come some less than welcome parts of my old "normal."

I have been sick with sinus issues for two weeks now. It was very unpleasant for a while there. It's mostly gone now, aside from a nagging cough as I struggle to get rid of the last of the congestion that set up in my chest. I've got a sinking feeling, though, that this was just the beginning. I think my allergies are going to be a bear this year. If the stuffy nose and sneezing are already starting then it doesn't bode well for the rest of the growing season. None of this is cancer related, however. I mention being sick because I have felt terrible for several days. And just when I started feeling better a new problem cropped up. I woke up with a headache one day and it didn't leave for another three. I have most definitely not missed the migraines. They've been gloriously absent through my cancer treatment thanks to the impact the chemo had on my hormones. Now that they're getting back to "normal," though, the headaches triggered by them are returning as well. This was the first migraine I've had in months. Not looking forward to that routine again.

On a related note, I haven't had a menstrual cycle in months either. I expect them to be starting up again soon as well. I'm dreading that more than the return of the migraines. Without going into a lot of gory detail, my periods were nightmarish when I was young. I've been on birth control pills continuously for more than two decades. They helped regulate my cycles. (They also helped mitigate the migraines.) But I can't take birth control any longer so I'm concerned that the nightmare periods I experienced in my teens might return. All I can do is ask for prayer that this won't happen. Seriously, I really don't want to go through that kind of pain again. Sigh, again.

Now to the one side effect that should be easing but hasn't so far. Fatigue comes with both chemo and radiation. In truth, it's just part and parcel of the whole cancer experience. The treatment causes it, but the constant running back and forth for all the tests, doctor's appointments, and treatments adds to the problem. Once treatment ends, your body and mind can begin healing from all the abuse and the fatigue starts lifting. As a point of fact, I have read many accounts from other survivors that suggest it takes months or even a year or more to get back to "normal." Still, I expected to notice some improvement. I haven't. If anything, Mark and I have noticed that I seem to be more tired. I have chalked it up to lingering effects of the treatment. Today I got an indication that I might be wrong about that.

I mentioned before that I have to get regular tests to monitor the function of my heart. I got the first one before I got my first chemo. It was to give them a baseline to compare future tests to and to ensure that my heart was strong enough to endure the chemo. I received Adriamycin, which is known to be potentially damaging to the heart. This damage can be temporary or permanent and can appear with no warning at all either during treatment or at some point in the future. After completing the Adriamycin, I began getting Herceptin. This is not chemo, but is a medical therapy which is used to treat my specific kind of cancer. It targets a particular protein that is present in my cancer and makes it impossible for cells with that protein to reproduce. Unfortunately, Herceptin can also cause heart damage. I began the Herceptin in November and am supposed to receive it for a full year. They check my heart function regularly to make sure the Herceptin is not impacting it.

My baseline MUGA revealed my heart function to be 61%. Anything above 50% is considered normal. (There's that word again. LOL) In November, just before I began receiving Herceptin, it was 59%. In March it had dropped to 55% and my doctor mentioned that he was concerned enough to schedule my next MUGA early. I had it this past Tuesday and he gave me the results today. My heart function has dropped to 38%. This is, needless to say, a significant drop in my heart's pumping ability. It may very well explain why I am still feeling so tired all the time. So I did not get any Herceptin today. I will not be getting any until and unless my heart function rebounds. I will be getting another MUGA in approximately six weeks. They will set it up and call me with the date. Until then I just keep going. I have no activity restrictions, which is very good. Mark was worried about it and specifically asked the doctor that question. At this point there is no reason to flip out. Well, there's never a reason to flip out, but you get what I mean, I hope. If it is merely due to the Herceptin then it should bounce back fairly quickly. If it rebounds dramatically, we will try starting up the Herceptin again and see what happens. If it doesn't, then that's something we'll deal with once we get there.

In other news, I got all the results from my genetic testing and I am negative for either of the BRAC genes as well as any other genetic anomaly that might be to blame for my cancer. This is good news. At least I'm not carrying around a ticking time bomb just waiting to mutate some more cells. I might still have some stray cancer cells floating around somewhere that might someday take root and start growing again, but I'm not genetically predisposed to breast cancer at least. That's cause for celebration. Sadly, I was so sick around my birthday and over the past couple of weeks (and Mark was sick the week before that) that we still have not gotten around to having a celebratory dinner. I'm not bothered by it, though. I'm just grateful beyond words that I didn't have to make this journey alone. Not only do I have God to see me through it, He saw fit to give me a wonderful husband to help as well. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Lord! 

So, things are getting back to normal but normal isn't what it used to be. I'm not sure it will ever be completely the same again. But that's okay. Change is a fact of life and we all have to learn to live with it whether we like it or not. Generally speaking, I don't feel bad. My cold or whatever it was is mostly gone. I can finally sleep through the night again, which is something I couldn't manage for several days there due to the congestion in my sinuses and my chest. I spent more than one night sitting up in a recliner. It was not a fun time. But God got me through it with relative speed. I had medicine to take and it didn't turn into anything that I needed a doctor for. I see all this as a blessing. As my favorite motto says, it could always have been worse.

On another unrelated note, I need to thank God for one more big blessing. I had to be in Madison at 7AM Tuesday morning for that MUGA scan. That means we left home a bit before 6:30. It was still twilight out there and raining with the roads very wet and countless spots with heavy ponding on the roadway. We were moving along at a reasonable speed when we suddenly realized the road in front of us was blocked by a massive mudslide. This was the second one in a week along the same stretch of road. Mark couldn't swerve around it because there was an oncoming car. By the grace of God he got the car stopped before we plowed into the tangle of mud and trees. I tried to call 911, but was getting so much static on the line that I hung up. Then I tried to call the Jefferson County Sheriff's office but got a busy signal. I was waiting for a few moments to try to call them again when we passed a sheriff's car heading in the direction of the slide. His lights were off, so I don't know if he was responding to a call about it or if he just happened to be heading that way, but as Mark said, he'd find it either way. By the time we reached the hospital a few minutes later they were already reporting it on the radio. They had the road closed for more than 24 hours while they cleaned it all up. We passed it today and it's just amazing how much of the hill came down on the road.

As I said, it could always be worse. Thank God for His mercy and grace and protection. Whatever comes of my heart, I know I can rely on Him to take me through it. That's all I need to know.