Sunday, July 18, 2021

I Never Thought I Would Say This

"But, I homeschool."

Then I would clarify that I used to be the one in high school who thought homeschooling was weird.

I regret that now.

Yet, it just seemed natural to "clarify" as if I knew they already thought this rural-living-family-of-eight-with-a-big-van would, of course, homeschool because it came with the already weird territory.

But then, it became me.  It was one of the cornerstones on which I built the foundation of who I wanted my family to be.  I was the mom, and it was my duty to educate my children.  What better thing did I have to do with my time?  I only had one chance to raise them, and I wanted to do it "right."  I wanted them to play as long as they could and learn through that.  I wanted to provide them a classical education.  I wanted them home, together, and with us.  I wanted a simpler life.  I wanted them to see our faith as the most important part of their lives.  I wanted to protect their innocence as long as possible.  And then, I wanted them to be a light for others.

What I once thought was so weird soon became my "right" way.

Then last year hit, and homeschooling became something different.  It became the bare minimum in terms of curriculum coupled with a heavy dose of life lessons.  Together we learned how to grieve, how to hope and how to trust.  We learned what it means to have courage, and we are stronger than we once thought.  We learned challenges are lightened with prayer and community, and it is okay to be sad and ache for something more.  The year has taught us all so much, but maybe the most important lesson has been one in letting go.

When we arrived home from Houston, Jeremy said he thought it was time to put the kids in school.  I immediately felt defeated.  How could he ask me (or tell me) to give up the last thing I seemed to be clinging to after a year of what seemed to have taken most everything else?

All I wanted to do was convince him why he was so wrong in thinking that.  I wanted him to know that I would just re-prioritize - what had been an "off" year would change with the right schedule.  Even though I wasn't the homeschool mom I wanted to be, I tried to convince him that I could handle it.  With tears streaming down my face I begged him to just let me find a solution because this was the life plan we had based so much of our daily decisions on.

He said the only solution would be to hire someone full-time to be at the house with me.  In reality, we couldn't do that.

So I closed up.  I couldn't let my babies go.  What I had convinced myself was right for my family and a very critical part of my vocation was being asked of me, and as much as I had seen God's hand in the past year of detachment, surely this wasn't part of His plan.

In true Britt fashion, I called those closest to me, begging for answers of ways to make it work.  One by one the beautiful friends of mine brought things to light.

"Maybe it's time for you to allow your husband to lead your family in the way he thinks is best."

"Your marriage comes first.  Your kids next.  Let him love and protect you like he is trying to."

"Maybe your children could benefit from this for a time."

"It isn't a forever decision."

"It doesn't mean you have failed."

"Maybe you have to let go of this to grab hold of a better path God has planned."

Saying yes to this proposal did not mean that I was a bad mom.  It didn't mean I was selfish.  It didn't mean that I had abandoned all I had convinced myself was good for my children.  But it did mean letting go...again.  And, I didn't want to.

This time, it seemed too much.  Too much to ask of me.  Too much to let go of.

With days of crying at the thought of sending the kids to school and many prayers to soften my heart, I realized that what I am/was clinging to wasn't a situation of whether or not my children would be okay (although it was a huge part of what was plaguing me).  What I was clinging to was control.

And with control, a sense of security.

But, He wants it all...not just the piece of my life I'm willing to give up to Him.  Not just trust in caring for a special needs child.  Not just trust in fighting a chronic illness.  Not just trust in in a daily life so different from what it was just months ago.  He wants it all.  Trust in my marriage.  Trust in the raising of my children.  Trust in the times in which the "right" path may not have been the path I would have chosen.

We are sending the kids to school next year.

It still makes me cry thinking about it, but I know there is good to come.  I know this decision isn't forever (unless it becomes so).  I know Jeremy is trying so hard to allow me to heal and rest.  I know my children will be okay (they are excited!).  And, I know God has this just as He has had everything else.  

His plan is always greater than mine, and I just have to let go of mine long enough to see it.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Take a Breath and Hold. Breathe.

Throughout radiation, that was the mantra.  "Take a breath and hold."  Then after number of seconds, "Breathe."  

They were protecting my heart.

What I've just now realized is that it's been my subconscious mantra the last ten months, too.

When Agnes was born.

When her bottom started ulcerating.

When she had her first MRI.

When I remembered I felt a lump in my breast.

When we realized her case was much more complicated than we had expected.

When I received my cancer diagnosis.

When I had to tell my husband, kids, parents and family I had cancer.

When I missed Sophie's eardrum repair surgery.

When Agnes started to show signs of extreme pain.

When my granddad passed.

When Agnes went into surgery.

When I began chemo.

When her surgery led to meningitis and a second surgery.

When Jeremy and Agnes missed Christmas.

When my chemo didn't work.

When John Paul repeatedly vomited.

When I began a new chemo.

When I had surgery and was away for a few weeks.

When I was told I needed more chemo when I thought I was finished.

When radiation began.

When Agnes' MRI didn't show what we had hoped.

When I was told lymphedema was developing.

When I scheduled my hysterectomy.

When it felt like cancer was taking everything...

"Take a breath and hold."  Until the worst of it is over.  Until you think you're in the clear.  Until you cannot hold it any longer.  Then...


Why?  Because if you don't take it breath by breath, if you don't hold on until you don't think you can any longer, if you allow yourself to get too far ahead, you will suffocate...under the fear, the emotions, and the things that cannot be controlled.

In the breathing, we have the opportunity to see that each little thing prepares us for something else whether that is finding the perfect doctor or seeing that children can do difficult things, too.  The challenge we face now leads us to something that will be necessary in getting through the next, and the sooner we let go and trust Him, the sooner peace comes.

Do I still hold my breath as each little hardship arises?  I do.  Then He helps me through, shows me the beauty and forces me to lean on Him so I can breathe again.

I want to hold my breath to protect my heart.

He wants to mold my heart so I can breathe.

And so He does.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Bear One Another's Burdens

Welcome to leg three of this cancer battle.  It's radiation time, and my family has just arrived in Houston to walk this journey with me.

There is so much I want to reflect on, and as my mind is all over the place, I'm sure this post will be, too.  But, each new day is a day packed with lessons to be learned, virtues to build, and beauty in uncommon places.

So, first: I'm three days into a thirty day cycle of radiation.  I thought it was proton radiation but am mistaken, it's actually photon and electron radiation.  Every other day the radiation is a bit more intense in some parts (on those days, there is an extra layer of protection they put on my body), but each day is 25 minutes on a table with a machine moving around me (lining up with my beautiful magic marker tattoos) radiating me via 16 different rounds of beams.  It doesn't hurt, but laying in the position can get uncomfortable.  I've been told to expect what will be like a bad sunburn and quite a bit of fatigue as the radiation builds in my system, but we shall see how that exactly pans out.

So far, I've been a tiny bit tired, but I think that has more to do with having chemo and radiation together, getting adjusted to a new place, and hitting the ground running in Houston.  

My hair is growing back.  Still can't tell exactly what color it's going to be, but man it's soft!  My surgical sites are already tightening with radiation so I'm having to remember to stretch more so I don't permanently lose more range of motion.  Much of my right side is still numb, but I'm praying that comes back to life as time goes on.  I can also no longer go without worrying about the ol' mustache, dang it - ha!  There are some benefits to chemo!

More importantly, I want to talk about something else.  I want to talk about what some call my "tribe" and what I like to refer to now as the Body of Christ.  Before I was diagnosed with cancer, heck even before Agnes was born, I knew I was blessed with amazing family and friends.  But, those blessings have become ever more visible in the last nine months.

From the day we found out about Agnes' health issues, help came in all forms, mostly the power of prayer.  Through those prayers, I truly believe God has answered and fulfilled out needs in ways we could have never imagined.  One was the revival of an old friendship.

My friend Carin and I were roommates in DC when we were both working for the Bush (43) administration.  We weathered some minor storms of growing up right after college graduation and living in a new, exciting place.  What we didn't know then was how intertwined our lives would become fifteen years later.

Agnes was born on the birthday of her second daughter, nine years later.  Carin, in a roundabout way, would find the expect on LUMBAR syndrome who would become Agnes' primary specialist.  Then, in a strange last-minute recollection, she would also guide us to the doctor who I believe saved Agnes' life (or who at least changed it drastically)...her neurosurgeon.  Beyond that, she took me to and from the airport on our multiple Houston trips.  She asked the questions she knew I needed asking (often without me knowing it).  She showed up.  Always.  Sometimes with the perfect little combo of things I would need for each particular trip, and others with a cup of coffee and time for a chat.

She still does these things, and this summer our kids get to do them together.

Upon arriving in Houston, we have been greeted with indescribable hospitality.  People have shown up with toys, books and meals for our entire stay.  We've been helped getting into summer camps and activities.  We've been invited on different field trips and outings, and a cookout is even being hosted to welcome us to town.  All of this by people who nine months ago were complete strangers and some who still are.

We've been welcomed into the home of an incredibly generous family who provided a haven to recover from surgery and a priest to always hear my confession and anoint me before.

Old friends from college have reached out to take care of every need from when we were here for Agnes' surgery to now.

And beyond all of that, we've had friends from home, family, and strangers pray unceasingly.  I've had family take me to and from appointments, watch the kids, bring meals and help in other ways!  I've received notes of encouragement and care packages that bring a smile to my face.  I've walked this journey with a best friend from high school undergoing her own battle with cancer, and I've become close to then strangers on a similar path but who now provide the strength for each other to keep fighting.

I say all of this not to put one blessing above another.  I don't say it to make anyone feel bad.  I write this to say thank you.

Because when I told one stranger that sometimes it felt too much (that I felt guilty in accepting the blessings of others) she immediately said, "We bear one another's burdens [because that's what He asks of us]."

It's true.

We do it all together.  Because what hurts one, hurts us all.  What builds another up has the cumulative affect of building up others.  It doesn't stop with us.  In fact, we have within our power the ability to shoulder some of the cross we see others carrying simply by praying, reaching out, and allowing Christ to work.

I've been taught so much by these diagnoses.  Beyond learning to completely surrender and trust in God, I've learned to better share in the joys and sufferings of those around me.  

And, I have you to thank for that!