Wednesday, September 22, 2021

By His Grace

I had surgery three Mondays ago. The first week home, all of the kids were with grandparents.  The second week, the bigs were in school and the littles with my mom.  I had a lot of time.  To rest.  To heal.  To recover.  To think.

While I believe it is good at times to be alone with only one's thoughts, other times those thoughts get away from me.  And, that's what happened that week.

I had to prepare some photos for Bell Road Beef.  And, in opening my photo library, I was hit with a slew of photos from 2019-2020.  In most we were cooking something fun, doing a little activity, schooling or just living out life on the ranch.

My hair was long (I truly don't care about the length); my kids seemed so little; we were filled with yummy, new recipes.  Life was full.

Then came August, and we have new family photos, the expected "we added a new baby to the bunch" photo on my bed, and a couple of things here or there, but many less photos and honestly, many less "activities."  Then October, and next to nothing.

My mind immediately went there.  There were so many things that defined me - that defined us.  Not for any other reason than it was my job.  I was a mom, and I was going to be a mom to the very best of my ability.  I wanted to cook new things, teach my babies how to read, bring them up in the faith, make their birthdays special.  You name it - I wanted to do that.  Because it was my vocation.

I don't know the last time I made something new, or something even remotely "fun."  We have missed so much Mass in the last year for various reasons.  We've stayed home from gatherings to protect my immune system.  We've pivoted 360 degrees in our schooling.  And, my kids have grown up.  Much faster than I wanted them to.  And, there was so much just "putting one foot in front of the other" that it almost seems that I missed everything but what was essential for survival in the last eleven months.

I thought I had done so well.  Handling it.  Pushing through.  Giving it to God.

And then I was alone.  Alone with the photos of a life that didn't quite seem real (maybe that's dramatic).  And the pain came.  The tears streamed down my face as I focused on what each and every one of my family members have been through this year.  I cried at how unrecognizable our lives had become.  Over and over in my mind came the thought..."you've let everything go."  And, the Devil ran with it.

I couldn't sleep.  It didn't help that my scans were coming up.  Pervading every other thought was the one on repeat..."You cannot even be who you want to be."  Whether it was fatigue, sickness, medical travel or the perpetual fog I find myself in, my focus landed on all that I was missing around me.  And, then my medical appointments that week ended with learning I would be put on another chemo in March - an oral pill daily, for a year, that I've been told is worse than anything I've experienced thus far.

In order for a better chance to live.

I will take it.

But some days it just feels like more than I can handle.  Let me rephrase that.  More than I want to handle.

It was then, as I was sobbing on the phone to my sister, that she reminded me that all saints had life-changing events...that my little ones, yes, have lost much innocence this year, but that it's preparing them for their crosses and sanctity.

That while so much seems to have been be asked of us, we still have all we really need, even if that's a store-bought birthday cake (see how silly I am?!) and a mom who is no longer also their teacher (you know what I mean).

That while another chemo that may somewhat confine me to home also may be just fine...just like what I was looking at last year seemed insurmountable at times, too.

That the "life" contained in those pictures won't be back.  I won't ever be completely free of the risk of recurrence.  We won't ever not have a child with special needs.

That I would be lying if I said parts of that above statement don't make me sad at times (not the part about Agnes).

That so very many would trade their cross for mine.

I know that.  I know I'm still blessed beyond measure.  And, I am so very grateful.

Some days are just hard.  And, I need to sit in the hard and often talk through the experiences of the last year and how each one got us where we are today.

While I feel weak, I know we've never been stronger.  While at times I ache for my husband and kids, I know this is part of His plan for them, too.  While I wish I was "finished" in March, that's not the plan either.

As a deep part of me laments what is "lost" in my heart of hearts, this suffering is part of life.  

It's the part that reminds me I am not in control.  The part that has me curling up in my bed at night, begging Him to stop my mind and giving thanks for the opportunity to share in a minuscule part of Calvary.

It's the part that has allowed me slowly to give up pieces of my life that were never truly necessary to hold onto...opening up those places in my heart to let Him love me.

Yet sometimes, the wall comes right back up and I cry that I don't want to let go of any more.  And He gently shows me that I have to...in order to allow for the very best He has for me.

Like tiny Agnes clings to me in her distress, I pray for the grace to equally cling to Him...to allow Him to love me like I love her.  Even more than I love her.  I was clinging to too much else.

"You've let everything go" the Devil says.

By His grace, I am trying to.








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...

"Breathe."

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!





Thursday, April 22, 2021

I am His

"Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine." Isaiah 43:1

I remember watching The Chosen for the first time last spring.  At the end of the first episode, I was hooked.  Or, maybe I should say moved to tears.  I don't often cry when watching things like movies or a TV series.  But, the scene in which Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name (and tells her that He has redeemed her and she is His) will forever be etched in my mind.  So much so that at that moment I knew Agnes' middle name would be Mary Madeleine (the French version of Mary Magdalene).

But, why?

Why was that connection to that particular moment in a brand new TV series so powerful for me?

It was redemptive.  I had been struggling with my worth, with a then recent encounter with someone I trusted and with the weight of a burden I had carried far too long.  It was in that viewing that I finally gave credence to what I had known always...that my worth was tied up in trying to perfect myself in order to be worthy of the immense love and sacrifice given to me.

It was in that moment it finally made sense that I would never get there.

I would never be worthy of His love and death.

Regardless, He would always want me.  He would always seek to embrace me and hold me through the difficult, just as he did Mary Magdalene in that scene.

Why?

Because I am His.

And, that's enough.

I'm 39.  I've known about God's love since I was tiny.  My parents are two of the most amazing, faithful people alive.  Still, it has taken me this long, many mistakes, and many trials to finally, truly know it.  Maybe it's just taken me this long to open my arms enough to receive His embrace and assurance.

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you..."  He has compensated for all that is lacking in me.  He became everything lacking in my life.

Which brings me to today.

A year ago I was in the comfort of my living room, surrounded by seven of the sweetest, beautiful children while another was kicking inside of me and my personal Saint Joseph was sitting beside me.  But, I was broken.  Instead of resting in the gifts and beauty surrounding me, I was battling with the voices inside that reminded me of past hurts, of a relationship that haunted me, of the broken trust of someone I had put on a pedestal.  I was her.  I was Mary Magdalene, and I so desperately needed to feel His embrace.

The tears came, and with them, slowly the redemption.

I needed these pains in order to walk through what was coming.  I needed the burden to be too heavy to "handle" alone.  I needed to finally let it all go in order that I would know how in the coming months.

People have asked how I (or we as a family) have handled the past months, and I often don't exactly know what to say.

We have handled it by not handling it.  We have handled it by giving it to Him.  We have handled it by getting to a place where we realize we cannot.

Now, do we have to put one foot in front of the other every day?  Of course.  We carry this cross because we have no other choice.  But, honestly, I can carry it today because of where I was a year ago at this time.

Like I've mentioned before, I didn't want a child with special needs.  I didn't want to have cancer.  I don't want to live in fear that I'll leave this life "too soon."  

But, I also don't want to forever live like I've got this handled...or like with just one more step toward an idealized version of myself, I can finally welcome His embrace.

And, what keeps me from that?  The cross.

His cross.  Agnes' special needs.  My cancer.  The collective small disappointments, burdens, and hardships of daily life.  They're too heavy.  They remind me over and over that I need Him.

I couldn't carry the weight of anything else last year at this time.  But, in finally letting Jesus be my Simon, He prepared me for what we are facing now...He showed me that there is room enough for my burdens on His shoulders...I only have to walk alongside Him.  I only have to open my arms to His embrace.  I only have to answer when He calls me by name.

He has called.  And so, I answer, because I am already His.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Saturday Ramblings

 


Just less than four months ago, we were standing before this plane, anxiously awaiting the baby sister and daddy we had been apart from for too long.  Almost a month spent separated, I think each one of us realized the value of family and the strength and peace that comes from being together, as one unit, in the comfort of our home...even when that closeness can bring its own little hiccups.

Tomorrow, we do it again.  Not for as long, but equally steeped in emotion.

I will undergo surgery next week to remove both breasts and the lymph nodes under my arms.  Many have asked if I'm anxious.  And, while I'd like to say, "no" and that I have complete trust in God, I wouldn't be telling the entire truth.

I am anxious.  But right now, that anxiety stems from more than the surgery...mostly it comes from the eyes I look into as I say goodbye...those eyes that well up with tears and beg me not to leave again.  The eyes that are trying to fight back the "drips" while each one asks why I have to be gone again.  I'm worried about being apart.  I'm worried about little ones with health problems of their own.  I'm worried about the anxiety manifesting in their little hearts after the last few months.

Tuesday morning, I'll worry about my surgery.

In an ideal situation, I would tell you that the last almost six months, I've re-prioritized my life and now don't get irritated when the inconsequential things don't get done or the kids don't listen or the house doesn't stay clean for more than five minutes.  But, the situation isn't ideal, and I've been less than I should be when it comes to letting things go, in spite of my diagnosis.

I'm hoping the Lord is still chipping away at the silliness of my reactions and the lack of being who I need to be, because I don't want Him to give up...I just take a lot of molding ;)

I attended a virtual healing service last night.  That was a first for me - well, a first for a healing service of any kind.  And, while I'm so glad I did it, I went back and forth for awhile about truly what I wanted to ask God for.  I mean, I want to be well.  I want that "guarantee" that I'll see my kids have kids and share much more life with them (don't we all), but I wrestled with (and still do) what God's plan is for me.

I'm not saying that I think He wants me to die.  I just wonder how He wants to use me to reach others, and I pray daily for grace to allow that to happen.  Does He want to refine me via this cross?  I believe so.  And, it is teaching me so much about how much I lack in turning my life completely over to Him.  Can He use me as an example for others when they face their own unique crosses?  I pray so.  Does He want to use the power of a miraculous healing to bring others closer to Him?  Maybe.  I just don't know.  So, what I ask for is His will.  Be that a cure, a remission, or a constant cross...His will and the grace to accept it.

Again, Tuesday morning...I think I will worry more about the surgery.  Vainly, I'm anxious about getting lymphedema.  With my desire for control, I'm a bit worried about being helpless for awhile.  I'm also somewhat concerned about looking like Frankenstein and awaiting the pathology results.  I'm concerned about being away from home, from the ones I love most and from the familiar in the vulnerable.

Maybe in all of that, I should say those are my "thoughts" rather than my anxieties.  I know I cannot be in two places at once.  I know I have to do this in order that I may be as healthy as I can.  I know that my kids are in the hands of people who love them dearly.  And, above all, I know that God has this and is wrapping His arms around me as I go into surgery alone (cancer in COVID times;)).  I truly am not afraid.  I am ready for this, and I'm ready to be on the other side of it.

But, what I'm most ready for...these little ones waiting for me as I arrive home, much like Jesus is waiting for me to drop my arms and the weight of these thoughts and come into His.  Because if there is anything I'm learning (and trying to put into practice), it's this...little else matters besides Him.  And, we can rest in the promise that His will will be done regardless of our "help."

Come, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

An Old-Style Update

When I used to blog a lot more, once a week I would link up with other bloggers in a weekly, 7 Quick Takes.  They could be anything from little updates to new finds, or just silly kid quotes.  It may still be in existence.  I'm not sure, but it is here today!


1.  Agnes





She has a new smile.  A nose-scrunching, eye-squinting smile.  And, I LOVE it.  She is doing so, so well.  We had a well-check at the beginning of this week, and after a long physical examination, her pediatrician said the following things: her legs are the same size and length (which they weren't at first), she is bearing weight on both, there is no evidence of calf thinning, and she has better bladder control (she didn't in the first few months).  All of these things are music to our ears and such huge blessings.  

She is such a happy baby, and she loves her family.  She might be a little spoiled, haha.  But, we expected that.  We are still working on helping her learn to sit up and praying she builds the strength to do so on her own soon.  She has a big trip to Houston soon to have a follow-up with her neurosurgeon as well as to establish a vascular anomalies care team there.  We are moving her medical care to Houston simply since I'll be there off and on more than I'm in Denver for the foreseeable future.





2.  Me

Lots has happened in the cancer realm recently.  I finished my last rounds of AC chemo during Lent.  The last round was supposed to be the worst, but thank God, for me it wasn't.  I still have a few lingering side effects (painful and purple nail beds, a few mouth sores, fatigue from time to time, etc).  But, things are getting better!

I have oncologists in Houston and Amarillo and they disagreed on my treatment plan.  There were also some miscommunications or lack of communication.  So, one thought I needed to go straight to surgery after the last round of AC.  The other felt I needed more chemo before surgery.  Lots of back and forth with me being the go-between led to a new oncologist (who I'll meet with after surgery) and a moved-up surgery date.

I will have surgery April 13th which will include a bilateral mastectomy, an axillary node dissection (taking all of the lymph nodes under my arm) on the right, and a sentinel node dissection (taking just a few of the lymph nodes under my arm) on the left.  Because of the risk of lymphedema after node removal, I won't be able to fly for a few weeks, so I'll be in Houston a bit, recovering and waiting on my follow-up appointment.

I know God will take care of it all, yet sometimes I worry about surgery...maybe more so about the after effects than the actual surgery...the lifting restrictions afterwards, the possible need for more chemo, the risk of lymphedema, the risk of cording/webbing, being away from my kiddos, and building a new "normal" again.  But, it has to be done, and there again, I know it's in much bigger hands than mine, thank goodness.


3.  John Paul


I mentioned on Instagram for a brief second that John Paul has been struggling with vomiting.  We are in the process of trying to figure all of that out.  It started about a year ago and has just gotten worse.  The periods between sessions has gone from months to weeks.  I know he is so very anxious about Agnes and me.  But, we also think he must have some food sensitivities and possibly an esophageal condition.  So, we are keeping a detailed food journal, adding some daily meds for a bit and waiting on follow-up bloodwork.  Plus we've found a wonderful person he can visit with weekly that has been such a huge blessing.


4.  Others

I feel like the other kids are doing as well as can be expected.  They all handle things so differently and I need to be better at drawing things out of them.  For now, we are all being as open as possible and praying for the grace to get through each day...and I'm praying that God will show me how to best help each and every one in their own way. 


5.  Ranch Life


We are entering a very busy season on the ranch.  Cows are having calves, and branding will soon begin.  This week we were able to save a calf that its momma couldn't quite deliver on her own.  All of the kids got to help/watch, and while watching a birth isn't for everyone, I've got a video if anyone does want to see it.  It's a beautiful way to see just how God meticulously created everything for a purpose, and it's also rewarding to be able to help our animals when they need just a bit of assistance.  


6.  Bell Road Beef

All is well with the operation thanks so much to those who have stepped in to help since this fall.  Our shipping days are a huge extended family affair.  We are processing more beef than ever.  Our customers are as wonderful as they come, and we just got in a new product that I'm very much a fan off, especially with no hair, hehe.




7.  New "Normal"

Since January and the addition of our lovely nanny, Grace, we've made some life changes.  Each of which in the long run will be wonderful things even though in the short time, it's been a bit of an adjustment, ha!  


We've transitioned to a much more whole-foods diet.  I thought we ate fairly healthy before, but I think I was kidding myself.  So far, it's been good, and the kids have taken to it much easier than I expected.  We have a lot of smoothies these days for breakfast, more fish in our diet, lots of veggies and fewer inflammatory foods.

I, however, didn't realize how much I attached food to comfort, memories, experiences, etc.  And, it's been somewhat of a death to all of that - needless to say, I've had my moments of resistance...or should I say meltdowns?!  Ha!

I've been told I need to exercise more and reduce stress.  If I'm honest with myself, I've always put an extreme amount of pressure on myself.  It's all internal and a drive to just be my best, although there were numerous times my teachers would tell me I needed to tone it done before I killed myself, and sometimes I wonder how much that inability to "let go" played into this cancer.  I'll never know but I do know I am slowly learning to do that more.  Slowly.  

You would think that a cancer diagnosis would make me a much better, more patient mom.  I think because of all the things swirling around in my mind, I haven't quite gotten there yet.  In fact, I've been moodier than I want to be.  But, I'm trying hard to create a more peaceful home, environment, etc.  And, like I said, they said exercising will be key to helping prevent reoccurrence, so I have to make that part of my routine, too.  That will only help us, I know.

I think I need to adopt the whole "less is more" mentality.  Pray for me ;)

In all areas we are trying to go "cleaner" so I even became a BeautyCounter consultant.  I know, I know.  Never say never.

And, above all, instead of trying to "fix" it all myself and then go to God, our new normal is a place of surrender...a place of what it should have been all along, because to think that I can fix anything alone is such a falsehood.  It's always Him.  And, I can get in His way, or I can move one foot in front of the other only after giving Him the reins.  And, gosh, it's so much better that way.


8.  Bonus

A fun vest I've bought to stay warm.  Gosh I need my hair back, haha.

A dress option for Easter (I think I'll take the opening together a bit).

New jeans I LOVE!

A great, sweet little snack.

Such a good read.  This one, too


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dark Before Dawn


I sit here in Houston on a cloudy day awaiting scans and news as to whether or not the chemo is working.  And if it isn't, or if I'll need more, I know God will provide me the strength to get through those rounds, but gosh, I don't want more.

Looking back now to December 7th (the start of chemo) yes, it's gone by quickly.  But, the days and weeks have sometimes seemed to drag.  I want to remember (or maybe I really don't) how it felt to go through it.  Maybe for the purpose of reminding myself in the future when life seems tough I can do tough things.  Or maybe it's more for someone else...to meet them where they are in their journey and let them know that they, too, can get through.

For whatever reason, I write.

-

On Mondays, early in the mornings, my mom picks me up at my house, and we drive the two hours to the cancer center for treatment.  I know those days will be good days, and I know for the most part that the day after will, too.  But, sometimes I cannot quiet my mind as I see the drugs, especially the red one, push through my veins, knowing that "bad" days are coming - usually two days later.  And, the bad days are weird.  I think I expected them to be physically tough.  I expected the nausea.  I expected the bone pain, although I had no idea what it felt like before I experienced it.  I even expected the fatigue, mouth sores, infected nails, acne, hair loss, lack of appetite, diarrhea and raw esophagus.  What I couldn't wrap my head around before, and still have a hard time doing so, is the mental game.

And, it's difficult to fully describe.  It's a teetering between an out-of-body experience and one in which you're trapped in that very body.  But the body doesn't really work.  I sit there, thinking I should be doing something, but I don't have the mental capacity to do so.  And, one would think in that mental state, it would be so easy to just binge watch a new show, or learn to knit, or maybe do some mind games.  Wrong.  It is as if every fiber of your being is solely focused in getting through the day.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

I pull out my phone to text, and my eyes blur as I try to type the words.  I reach for the remote to watch a movie, and it doesn't even seem worth the effort.  I watch as someone else meets the needs of my children, or how I half-heartedly change a diaper, and try to hold one little one as the noises around me get louder and louder while I feel like I'm digging deeper and deeper into a tunnel.  If I sleep, I won't sleep at night, yet I don't sleep well at night anyway because of the steroids.  So, what do I do?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Or I try, and I get frustrated with my lack of effort.

Then I'm upset...frustrated that I cannot even do the job I'm called to do.  Humiliated that it has taken me this long to learn to give up that sense of control, but still clinging to the idea that it should be me who has enough energy to cook the meals, school and care for the children, clean the home and keep our rule of life, per se.  But, at this time, it isn't  And, sometimes it's more frustrating to try than to simply retreat to a quiet room and be okay just staring at a wall (that desperately needs to be cleaned).

And then...my mind goes.  The questions start to flood in and the bridled fears I typically detach from slowly start creeping up into my throat, and the tears begin to flow.  Will I ever feel "normal" again?  Will I be able to think like I used to?  Will I come from a sense of joy rather than what feels very mundane.  Will I ever hear that the cancer is gone?  Will I remember what life was like before October 21st?  Will food taste good again, and will eating be enjoyable?  What else will change before this is all over? Will this end?

While I know it will, I also know that once a body produces cancer, there is no guarantee it won't produce it again.  There is not a cure.  Every scan, and every little illness for awhile I'm sure will chill to the bone, as I wait for answers.  Yes, I have hope.  Yes, I understand that God knows all of this and has the most perfect plan.  I've never been in a place of despair, but I do think the bad chemo days are close.  And, I hate feeling that way.

Because I know a God who cares about my five-year-old's birthday pinata.  The same God who performed miracles for my sweet Agnes and who has shown me countless ways in which He is in complete control.

But on those "hard" days...the nights and all of their fears and lies rear their ugly heads and remind me that I have a disease...a chronic one.  And sometimes, that is scary.  I want to beat this like we beat flu, or a cold, or even a broken limb.  But, there are too many unknowns.  They can bring us to our knees, but what I sometimes forget is how they also rebuild us into better versions of ourselves.

-

So, while I would say I hate those bad days and the emotional, mental and physical toll they take on me, I am still grateful (especially when I'm able to look back) because while I sometimes wish for the Britt pre-October 21st, I like the Britt post October 21st better.

Why?  Because I've been forced to carry a cross that has allowed me the grace to become who I want to be.  I wanted to be the one detached of anything unnecessary, and now I'm learning humility.  I wanted to find more joy in life, and oh if you could see me ride my bike with the kids on a day I feel well!  I wanted to let go more, and I've been made to.  I've been made to see that there is no detail left unturned and that even if we don't fully understand every single part of our journey, God does, and He has great purpose in it.  I trust Him more now.  I feel Him closer than ever before.  I'm giving up on the idea that I can earn His love and finally seeing that it's always freely given.

And you know what else I've learned?  Through life's trials and hardships, we have choices.  We can simply get through it day by day, or we can let it change us.  We can focus on the bad days or we can look back on them and see how they've strengthened us.  We can fall under the weight of the cross and stay there, or we can pick it back up, learn how to love better and cling ever so closely to Him.

I want it to change me.

I want to remember the bad because someday I will be able to help someone else push through it.

But I want to live changed by the miracles I would never have seen had this cross not been placed on my shoulders.

Come, Lord Jesus.

-

The news came back that I do only have one more round of chemo before surgery...unless they find residual disease after.  I couldn't be more thrilled.  And...I can handle it - or better yet, He can!


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Likes & Links

 A few updates:


Part Two of my visit with Kari on You Brew You is out here:



If you missed Part 1, it's here:



The kiddos (well, the older boys especially) have loved learning more about art and dog training here.

Agnes is doing really well, minus a cold which she hates.  She will meet with her care team in the next month or two.  For now, we continue on the propranolol to slow the growth of her hemangioma/vascular malformation.  This summer, she will have a repeat MRI to see how things look in her spine since her surgery.  I have been looking at earlier photos and videos and want to write a post soon about where she was three months ago and where she is today - so many miracles.

I am gearing up for my third round of this chemo with a trip to Houston afterward for another scan.  At that point they will determine how much more chemo I will need and when I can plan for surgery.  Side effects continue to linger, but everything is manageable, and I'm just thankful to keep moving forward.


























This winter storm has adversely affected so many people, especially those areas of Texas where weather like this is almost nonexistent.  Jeremy has been working so hard to keep the waters open for the cattle (breaking ice at least once daily) and checking cows around the clock.  We are so close to calving season and lost one baby calf born premature in this weather.  


This is the only thing touching my dry skin these days.  

Wouldn't these candles be fun for Easter?

I recently made her chickpea and pasta soup and drool over almost all of her recipes.

Let me know some of your recent favorite things!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

You Brew You - Podcast

I had the beautiful opportunity to spend time with Kari Lessor this week on her amazing podcast, You Brew You!  Here is the episode..


KariAnn Lessner was born in Lansing, Michigan, but did most of her growing up in New Mexico. She studied at McMurry University in Abilene with a concentration in Christian education. KariAnn has served in four parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas since 1997, and currently serves as Minister for Children and Families at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, Texas.

Her husband, Ron, and her daughters, Keatyn and Karsyn, enjoy cooking as a family and epic lip-sync battles in the kitchen. (Spatulas make great microphones!) The Lessners consider You Brew You a family podcast project; Ron serves as editor and sound mixer, Keatyn takes many of the photos used as promo and Karsyn offers her voice quite often in production. God has given us so much in each other - it's fun to share that with the world!



youbrewyoupodcast.com

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Us Versus Them


I got the COVID vaccine.

I spoke with doctors, priests, mentors, family and friends before doing so.  I weighed the risks.  I prayed for direction.  In the end, I got the vaccine.  I just finished my second round this week.

I've told few people.

And, now I feel as if I'm hiding something.  So, I no longer am.  I'm vaccinated.

But this post is about more than that.  It's about the implications that I am, or anyone else is, less for doing so.  Less pro-life.  Less Christian.  Less patriot.  Less (fill in the blank).

Which somehow also trickles down to being "less" because of the particular form of Mass we participate in.  Less because of the inclination to trust those in authority or with expertise on the matter at hand.  Less because of those we tend toward as mentors in spiritual formation.  Less because of our political inclinations.  Less because of the way we raise our children.  Less because of (you name any difference we have with those around us).

It has become us versus them.

I don't know when it happened.  I'm sure, as with most things, it happened slowly like the proverbial frog in the water.  But now it seems that there is no middle ground.  There is only the I'm-right-and-you're-wrong mentality.  And, what I've found that leads to is the sad state of complacency and indecency...in exercising an opinion without the necessary empathy and interest to understand the opposite...in reducing a person (or group of people) to a choice they make rather than seeking to understand the experiences that brought them to the choice.

Some may say it's the road to moral relativism, but's it's nothing of the sort.  Natural law is natural law.  Moral law is moral law.  There is right and there is wrong.  But, not everything is as clear as one imagines.  And, attaching one person's choice to a slew of "if this, then that" statements that eventually demonize said individual does nothing for the mission to love while calling each other to and leading each other closer to the ultimate Good.

Why do I feel like I'm hiding something by keeping my decision to get vaccinated close?  Because I know it will bother some.  I know it will immediately get thrown into a category of morally compromised decisions according to others.

Yet, I am a mother of eight, with a seriously compromised immune system, and I want to be as healthy as I can to care for those children who have been given to me for a time.  I'm a wife to one, and while he cares for me during the darkest moments of this disease, I don't want to add another possibly preventable health concern to his plate.  I'm a daughter of two whose world has been rocked by a diagnosis they would take from me in a heartbeat, and since I cannot change that, I'm doing all in my power to prevent another diagnosis.  I'm a friend to many whose current health cannot carry this virus, and while only God decides on our beginnings and endings, out of love, I want to do my part to protect those around me.

Am I making this decision out of a disregard for human life?  Absolutely not.  Will some think I am?  Of course they will.  I encourage those to read this when they do.  And when the question of my strength of faith arises, I'd suggest this.

Did I wrestle with this decision?  Yes.  Why?  Because I want to do the right thing.  And, I want to know why, but I haven't made the time until recently to do the research I know I needed to do.  Now, I have asked the questions.  I have prayed for guidance.  I have moved forward with a decision.

And while this virus, and subsequent vaccination, is a heavy, important topic...much more important is the state of our souls and the extent to which we love...those who make different choices, those whose viewpoints we have a difficult time understanding, those who oftentimes are the most difficult to love.  Those who we've termed "them" in the war against "us".

For in seeking to listen, if not truly understand, we grow closer to a point of realizing with all of our faults, mistakes and sins, we are still in this together.  We are all coming from different joys, pains, and crosses that shape the way we see things.  We are hoping to get to the same end.  And, while I don't believe that "the end justifies the means" I do believe that there is more than one way to get to a beautiful, truthful end...and in no way is that by demonizing one another.

Instead it's by showing truth through goodness, beauty, and ultimately love.

God forgive me when that hasn't been my means.