Monthly Archives: November 2009


Last week I was at our family physician’s office.  It’s a busy place with lots of commotion.  If I didn’t like our doctor so much I wouldn’t go there.  Then there’s my kids, who, for some reason decide that a physician always needs to see how active and completely annoying they can be.  Maybe this proves some sort of health and well-being in a child, but I HATE taking my children to the doctor’s office.  All three of them at the same time is a complete zoo.  Then, the added craziness of the office is total chaos.  My only salvation in this mess lately has been my iphone.  Crazy, but true.  If you have a toddler, the iphone can save you much grief.  It’s all in the applications.  You can download many of them for free and they have animal sounds, shapes, ABC’s, matching, you name it.  It will keep Elijah content for quite a while.  The problem is when all three of them are with me and they decide to fight over the phone.  Then it’s not so fun.  But Elijah usually wins the battle because he cries the loudest and he can’t sit still for more than a millionth of a second without deciding to climb the chairs and warm-up the stirrups. 

So it’s always an adventure when I head to see Dr. S.   But he always seems to enjoy Elijah and the girls and he doesn’t seem the least bothered by them, nor does he seem like he thinks my kids are overly crazy.  Most doctors tell me this is somewhat normal for young children.  Maybe it’s the lighting?

So when we went to leave the other day, I went up to the reception desk and I have to sign the paperwork really quick usually and then I leave.  I’m pretty sure we have met our out-of-family maximum with our deductible, so I’m really not sure what we owe on our co-pay so I always tell them to send us the bill.  And anyone with cancer knows, you decide how much you can pay each month and you just start making payments.  And since I had my major reconstruction in April, I’m quite certain we’re pretty close at this point.  So the office manager happens to be at the registration desk as I check out, and she asks me if I have a co-pay….and I say, “I’m not really sure,”  I’m pretty sure we’ve met our deductible at this point so I’m not sure what we owe.”  And with that she said “lucky you.” 

So my kids were already running out the door so I had to leave, but if I hadn’t had three kids with me that I had to tear after, I would have gone back in and done a reality check with her.  Because this is what I have to say…..and she should know this because she works with medical bills…..but I AM NOT LUCKY to have reached my deductible….lol!  If you have reached your deductable in this day and age, chances are you either have dynamic insurance or someone in your family is seriously ill.  And there’s a really great chance it’s the later possibility.    Oh, or maybe I’m a hypochondriac who visits the doctor WAY too much because I have health insurance, and in that case, well, maybe then I would be considered lucky.

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Bottom Line

Fix this picture firmly in your mind: Jesus, descended from the line of David, raised from the dead. It’s what you’ve heard from me all along. It’s what I’m sitting in jail for right now—but God’s Word isn’t in jail! That’s why I stick it out here—so that everyone God calls will get in on the salvation of Christ in all its glory. This is a sure thing:

   If we die with him, we’ll live with him;
   If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him;
   If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us;
   If we give up on him, he does not give up—
      for there’s no way he can be false to himself.”    (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

I’ve been taking a class at the local community college here in Kalamazoo.  I feel pretty old when I’m at class.  I’m the oldest person in the class besides the teacher.  Early in the class one of the girls said “I was born the year you graduated from high school” in a sweet happy voice.  Did she really need to point this out???  It always amuses me a little when the 17-year-old boy comes in and sits next to me and starts telling me how he’s SO tired and he had to risk life and limb to get to class on time at 9 am because it’s just SO hard to get up this early.  I try really hard to remember that when I was that age….that was stressful to me too.  But I really want to tell him everything I had to do this morning before class.  Feed and dress three kids.  Calm a handful of fights between three children.  Get the oldest child to school.  Remember all the oldest child’s homework and make sure she has a lunch packed and a snack.  Hope the babysitter arrives on time.  And somewhere in there hope I get a shower and can look decent for the day. 

I enjoy this class.  But here’s what I enjoy the most.

Each class, I am more and more surrounded by students who “casually” like to ask me about my job as a pastor.  It’s not often you see a young woman pastor and they have questions.  Like where I work and where I went to seminary. 

One of the largest churches in the Kalamazoo area has a male and female, husband wife team as head pastors.  Valley Family Church is a growing, vibrant, church making a difference in our community.  Men and women are at all levels of ministry serving as God called them to serve.

1 Timothy 2:14 goes on to say:  “Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.”

I’m growing tired of defending women in ministry.  It wears me out sometimes.  The world doesn’t need to see the church divided on this issue.  The church needs to stop being nitpicky and focus on the task at hand:  Sharing who Christ was and is. 

If women shouldn’t be in ministry at any level of their giftedness, than why is someplace like Valley Family Church having such AMAZING success?  Why is their ministry so fruitful? 

I think the kids in my class are curious about me as a pastor because for the first time, they have seen the church as accepting rather than oppressive to people.  This matters, because when the church acts in this way, Christ is seen in this way.  This is the bottom line.

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My Adorible Charis (said Care-iss)

Jeremy took a photo of Charis at Biggby’s (a coffee shop in Michigan and the midwest) drinking hot chocolate.  He posted it on twitter, and it was picked up by Biggby Bob (the owner), and then it somehow got entered in this contest for Biggby’s on flickr.  I’m hoping we win and get free coffee……um….I mean free hot chocolate for Charis.  So you would make my day (since coffee so far is linked to reduced risk of cancer and you’all know you want to help me drink more coffee….lol) if you went to this link and made lovely comments about that cute little 8-year-old blonde girl with the whipped cream mustache on a date with her daddy:)

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Never Tire

Last night we had parent teacher conferences.  Meleah’s young-5’s teacher put a turkey on the bulletin board with all the “secret recipes” from five-year olds on how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.  Meleah’s recipe is in the picture above.  The recipes from these little five-year olds are really quite funny.  Most of the kids think it takes under five minutes to bake a turkey. Most think you can use a microwave.  A few, have these obscenely high numbers, but none of them really grasp time at this age.  I suppose these latter ones are the ones that see their moms get up at 5 am to put the turkey in the oven.  This is obviously not my child because she thinks it takes a little cheese, a microwave and 15 minutes.  Of course, I’m not sure she’s ever seen me really bake a turkey….lol! 

But you know, I have difficulty telling time sometimes too.  I have a hard time knowing when to be patient and when to plunge forward.  When to sit and when to stand.  When to run and when to rest.  Sometimes it makes no sense to me.  Once in a while God gives me something really clear, like cancer, where I know I need to rest in him.  Running ahead isn’t going to happen.  I just need to wait.  Or my kids.  It’s really clear that I need to give them time, usually because they’re yelling “mom” every 30 seconds.  But the large belly and the mammary glands really gave that one away.  It was a clear sign.

But you know, not all signs are clear.  Do you take a job, do you not.  Do you wait for a decision, do you not?  Do you move or do you go?  I was reading in 2 Thessalonians and I think I’ve decided something.  There is some gray matter here.  But sometimes there is not.

I think God is pretty clear that we’re not to let time slip away on some things.  Like doing good.  1 Thessalonians 3:13 says “brothers and sisters, never tire of doing good.” 

Or loving justice.  Micah 6:8 says this:

“Now, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God.” 

The Bible also has a lot to say about patience.  Which is interesting to me. because when I look at scripture in terms of what it says about patience and waiting, it’s always when you’re on the receiving end.  But when you’re the one making the shots, making the decision, you’re not to wait around.  Like in the above verses.  I think when we see injustice, we’re not supposed to just wait around.  When we forgive, we’re supposed to do it…..and although sometimes it does take time, God really doesn’t ever describe forgiveness in the Bible as something we should do when we feel like getting around to it.  We need to do it as soon as possible.  Justice is the same way.  When we know what is right and we look away, it’s sinning.  Pure and simple.

I’ve had some tough decisions to make lately.  Something happened to someone and I chose not to step in.  Well, I did, but only partially.  I still haven’t figured out the “right” way to deal with the issue, but I know I need to say something, to do something.  I need to love justice and I need to respond.  To not respond is to ignore the goodness of God. 

What things are you letting slip by that need a “just” response?  We like the gray sometimes.  It’s a safer place there.  It’s easier than stepping out and taking risks.  But Christ doesn’t call us to be comfortable does He?  He calls us to grow weary (never tire) with justice and he doesn’t expect us to wait till we feel like it or everybody is comfortable.

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Sometimes I feel like if I made it through cancer, I can make it through anything.  And then, sometimes not.  Sometimes I forget that I am strong.  Sometimes I forget the foundation I have in Christ.  Sometimes the business of life gets going and I forget that God made me, and I am His.  I forget that I am a “daughter of the light.”  He lives and me, he is a part of me.  It is being in him that makes me strong.

I’ve been reading through Thessalonians right now.  What an amazingly encouraging book of the Bible.  I forget sometimes that Paul could be so encouraging!  Even in Jail.  (Thessalonians as a book of the Bible is really a letter Paul wrote to the people of  Thessalonica.  He was a follower of Christ who initially persecuted Christians but then became a follower himself and was jailed for his public faith at times).

So this past couple weeks has been pretty difficult.  We got some news in our family that we didn’t really want to hear.  It was bad news.  It was difficult news.  It’s the kind of news that takes your breath away and question if God really knows what he’s doing.  

Then, my own calling as a pastor was questioned again.   This happens quite often as a female pastor in an evangelical denomination, but it’s happened again.  It tries my patience and discourages me deeply. 

Check this out:

Convictions of Steel

 2-5Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.”

I love the use of the word steel here.  It’s about the strongest substance you can find.  The most secure.  The stuff skyscrapers are made of.  Ships battle storms on the high sea’s and they’re made of steel.  Strong stuff.

So cancer was tough.  Life is tough.  But Christ lives in me and that makes me….well, stronger.


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Nip Tuck

I went to the 19th floor of “the castle” as I like to call it. It’s just the Northwestern mega-plex in the city. I don’t know why, but going in to the city always makes me nervous. It’s silly really because I lived in a Chicago suburb for a while and I lived in the city of Baltimore. Maybe it’s the three hour drive there? Maybe it’s the anticipation? Maybe it’s the reason I’m there? I don’t know. But Jeremy came with me this time, and it helped. Although he did tell me I was super chatty….but this is my usual response to nervousness.

So this time I came with a list of questions. What to do about my breasts? I’m happy to say, Dr. D offered a plan. This is very good. Because I need a plan. I very rarely do life without a plan. I like plans. It puts me at ease. Just to know he can try a few more things makes me happy. So on December 14th, he’s going to nip and tuck. (I’ve always wanted to say this….lol). But seriously….he’s going to nip…..or maybe tuck digger. Whatever it’s called….I’m just glad he thinks he can fill it in so there’s no indentation. And he’s gong to lift my breast flaps a bit. I can’t really explain why and wish I could show you how this will help, but I can’t show you, so just go ahead and take my word for it. I really think it will look better.

Then Dr. D had me go take some pictures. I really can say the before and current difference is truly amazing. I’m really surprised he takes my complaining so well because I’m telling you….I look AMAZING compared to my pre-reconstruction pictures.

He’s always such a good sport. He even called me clergygirl today….lol!

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What did you say?

The neighbor girl came down this morning while I was in the shower.  As I opened the bathroom door, my 5 year old yelled “don’t show Nellie your boobie!”  Now, sensitive that I am, I felt a bit sad for a second, because although I wouldn’t go prancing out to show the neighbor girl my reconstructed breast, it did make me sad that my daughter was so embarrassed by my new breasts that she would yell that quickly to remain out of sight, so as not to be embarrassed by me.  Sigh…..

But then I realized that “boobie” is not a term we use in our home usually.  So I yelled down the hall.  Did you say “bootie” or “boobie?”  She yelled back “don’t show Nellie your butt!” 

Ohhhhh.  What a relief. 

I’m still waiting for the day my daughters are repulsed by my breasts…..but you know, it hasn’t happened yet.  They may surprise me.


Mastectomy Reality

Mastectomy.  One of the most vile words in the English language.  At least that’s how I feel about it.  Not a pleasant thought comes to mind when someone says this word.  But here’s the deal.  I’ve been hearing from women lately who are about ready to have mastectomies.  So here are my few words of encouragement for you.

1.  You are very brave.  You may feel like you don’t have a decision in the matter, but you do.  You could seriously tell them to get lost.  But you will be brave, and you will go and you will lay down, and you will allow them to put needles in you and allow them to drug you, so they can do their job…..and just the fact that you arrived at the hospital means you are very, very brave.

2.  The wait is excruciating.  I can’t say this is the worst part, because you will have an incredible amount of pain afterwords, but anticipating deformity is nothing anyone finds especially kind on the emotional well-being.  Once it is over, you can get busy getting better.  Of course, I waited 6 months for my surgery because IBC is treated with chemo first.  So my wait was a bit longer than normal, so I remember it well.

3.  Your armpits and shoulders will be incredibly tight and sore, where they aren’t numb.  My friend Mary came to visit me the day after my mastectomies.  She had a mastectomy a few years earlier and she graciously swung her arms around for me to show me that complete movement was attainable.  You will need to be diligent and you will probably need to request physical therapy.  For some reason doctors don’t really offer this up.  It should be as standard as talk about reconstruction but you know our culture…..looks above anything else!  I had barely any movement in my arms after my surgery, and just a few days ago Mary and I were talking about that tight muscle or tendon in the armpit that was excruciatingly tight after the surgery.  We were commiserating together.  Her answer was massage.  Gentle yoga is also really great.  You can get complete movement back, just give it time and keep stretching!  And a lot of the numbness in the armpits will decrease as well. 

4.  Don’t wait too long to look.  My doctor quickly took off my gauze and I was a little angry at her because this was only a day after my surgery.  I really felt like I wasn’t ready to see.  But now I look back on it and I do believe she knew what she was doing.  She was giving me a glimpse of my new reality.  And I needed to come to grip with my new reality.  I needed to see and accept the change in my appearance.  There’s no sense waiting around to emotionally accept your new normal.

5.  Lymphedema is not as common as it sounds on the internet.  I don’t know the statistics, but I remember reading on the internet about how it was so common and looking at gruesome pictures that made me SO scared!  And no one can promise you that you won’t get lymphedema  Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason and it will just show up.  But you can keep your weight down, exercise and take precautions, and hopefully it won’t happen.  I know very few women who have serious lymphedema after mastectomies, so I hope this brings you some peace of mind.

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I’ve scheduled my next breast upgrade.  I’m still unsure about it, but I meet with Dr. D next Wednesday, so hopefully it will bring some clarity to my situation.  I’ve had some restlessness lately about my breasts.  I decided last week that my breasts should look better than they do and I went to meet with another plastic surgeon here in Kalamazoo.  I just wanted a second opinion.  He had a few hopeful things to say but mostly it was the same.  I think the bottom line is that I had inflammatory breast cancer, massive amounts of radiation over a large area and there isn’t a lot of hope I can look better, at least with my clothes off.  Which really doesn’t matter to anybody but Jeremy, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter to him.  But it matters to me, so I continue to push back on the issue and hopefully one day those plastic surgeons will come up with a miraculous way to make my breasts look perfectly normal. 

So the second opinion……

There are two reasons I sought a second opinion.  None of which had anything to do with my dear plastic surgeon over in Chicago.  The first reason has to do with nothing more than total envy.  Last month our “Partners in Pink” support group started (BTW….it meets again tomorrow) and after the meeting we were doing show and tell in the bathroom.  Don’t worry, this is not required, but a few of us hadn’t seen each other in a while…..since reconstruction…..and we like to show-and-tell.  I’m telling you….once you’ve had breast cancer you are so used to going topless it is NOTHING NEW to show just about anyone who remotely wants to see.   So at show and tell, one of my dear friends looked absolutely fabulous.  I won’t give her name out of respect for her new beautiful bosoms, but they were perfect.  I’m telling you……they looked real, felt real, and were totally perfect minus the nipples.  I thought….wow….I need to find her doctor.  I was so envious of her breasts!  I wanted a pair of my own….lol!  But when I went to visit her doctor, he told me about the same thing.  And again…..I have to throw up my hands and say “why, why inflammatory!”  I get angry again…..why couldn’t I have had a normal breast cancer where I could have had skin sparing?  Ughhhh!

The second reason I sought a second opinion is because I do believe I am in the bargaining stage of grief right now.  I think you’ve heard me talk about the stages of grief before. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.  What you may not realize, that I have come to realize about this process, is that every time something happens on this cancer journey, I get to travel through this path over and over again.  When I was diagnosed, when I was disfigured through mastectomies, when I went through radiation, and when I was reconstructed.  It’s all about grief and loss and acceptance, and I get to travel this path every time the doctors do something new.  So here’s what I think.  I think that somehow I came ROARING into the bargaining stage last week.  Because I got a second opinion and then tried to bargain with my plastic surgeon.  I’m still TRYING to get someone to promise me my old breasts but IT IS NOT WORKING! 

So there’s the honest answer about where I am with my breasts right now.  Still hoping they can make them look and feel better, but trying to accept what may never be.

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