Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Anchors and Stamps Collide

As I’ve stepped into this journey of grief and recovery, I’ve adopted a bit of a philosophy that goes something like this: when a friend or family member says “You should come to ____ [Florida, Seattle, Hawaii, etc.] to visit” I’ve pretty much answered, “okay.” To that end, I just spent a week in Florida seeing several sets of friends who invited me down. While the week was Florida-cool (50-60 degrees for the most part) it was everything I needed: grief processing and memory sharing with good friends, some satisfying golf, and lots of beach walks. While this wasn’t what’s been Dane’s and my usual beach vacation (reading on the beach sun-up to sun-down), it still had a strong “run to the fire” element. This was the first time I’ve seen the waves of the beach without Dane.

Along with God stamps in this journey I’ve also been collecting “anchors,” those promises or truths or epiphanies that give me a moment of clarity or resolve. Picture treading quicksand and suddenly your foot lands on something solid. It might be a brief respite, but it’s solid. On this recent Florida trip two of my anchors converged to form an even bigger, clearer point of resolve. It was a nice surprise.

Anchor One has simply been the thought that Dane is now in a place where she no longer has to worry about scary tests, or life anxieties. She is in her splendor…this is the “is” that Mark spoke of in the memorial service. Meanwhile, while she is experiencing her splendor, I just need to tough it out until I get to join her. That might only be 30 years, which is only 7 more winter Olympics. I can do that.

Anchor Two has simply been the realization that God is with me (and you) in this journey. The God-stamps have made this unavoidable and undeniable. It gives a sense of peace that He is on the job, even though there is still immense pain.

And here is the convergence of those two anchors. First, there’s something about seeing an ancient shoreline, stars, and the moon all at once. I found that my perspective is enhanced when I’m around elements that have existed centuries longer than me, than Dane, than the story of Bear and Dane; and these elements, depending on God’s timing, will be around long after Dane and Bear and their story. As I was experiencing this I had this realization of all the pain that people experience during their brief time in this fallen world. Pain has, does and will always happen. Where did we get the thought that it would be anything else? The only guarantee we have, the only promise we can rest on is simply that God…is….with us. It’s His most frequent promise in Scripture; from His calling people to a task in the Old Testament, to Jesus’ “farewell speech” to His disciples in John 14-17, to the assurances throughout the New Testament of God’s Comforter being in us and with us, this is truly the only thing we can count on.

So as I turn my heart toward toughing things out in this fallen world, I will do it with all the best things that God has to offer me through His promise of being with me: I will depend on grace, I will seek to rest in His comfort, I will seek His peace. And I will seek to maximize all the beauty that can be found in this fallen world, little gifts of God I think that are here to help us through brokeness: I will seek to breathe deep at sunsets, I will explore the night sky and wish upon stars, I will embrace intimacy of friends and family, I will let the panorama of mountain-scapes and the waves of ancient shorelines do their restorative magic, I will wait patiently for the things that bring pain to eventually, through God’s miraculous presence, bring fulfillment.

And I will continue to add to this list.

God is with us. And He has given us exactly what we need to tough it out. I think that’s the biggest theme of the Bible. Some of those gifts come from heaven itself: grace, peace, redemption. Other gifts are native to this world: beaches, mountains, and flowers. And some things are both: stars, the moon, the sun….and rainbows.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Afghan

The upside to living through life’s downsides is that you come to understand how loved and cared for you are by the people around you. Dane, Mama Sue and I were recipients of world class support during those hospital and hospice months. We experienced more than our fair share of inspiring acts of kindness. I’ll be touching on these as we blog along, but for now, there is one I need to share.

I need to tell you about the knitters. And knitting.

Dana had never set out to be a knitter. She wasn’t anti-knitting, but just never had an opportunity to pick it up. A couple years before we were diagnosed with recurrence, Dane hosted a Purple Tree party for our friend Debba. Purple Tree was a direct sales organization in which you bought a jewelry kit and created, in craft-like fashion, your own accessories. Dane bought a kit that involved knitting a one-inch-square piece of fabric. The kit included instructions on how to knit the patch, but they were a bit confusing. Through Dane’s mom, Mama Sue, and some online help, Dana finished the patch, and was hooked on knitting.

In less than five years, Dane went from that little patch to knitting dozens of beautiful, cool, complex projects. For so many reasons, knitting was in Dane’s hobby and leisure wheelhouse. Maybe it was the combo of artistry, technical savvy (you have to follow these intricate patterns) and a sense of accomplishment that made it such an outlet. But it wasn’t just the craft that attracted Dane to knitting. It was the people that came with it.

And this is all why knitting was the perfect escape from chemo, anxieties, lymphedema, and all the other demons you have to face in the cancer fight. While the activity itself was therapeutic, the atmosphere of getting together with fellow knitters was downright restorative. As Dane began to explore this ancient craft, popping into stores here and there, and joining the premier knitter website (, she was soon brought into a true fellowship of fellow knitters. She became aware of different groups who got together simply to knit. One such group met in Germantown in a yarn shop housed in the town’s first jail (the bars are still in the thick, round windows.) The shop was appropriately named, “Ball and Skein.” It’s here that Dana would go and sit in a cozy atmosphere and knit with Carrie, Susan, Jenni, Theresa (Tree Dog), Mary, Nicole, Debbie, Jackie, Sheila and others. They’d meet once or twice a week and knit. And talk. And share. And quite simply, enter into each other’s lives. As the chemo fight wore on, getting together with knitters was one of the few things Dane enjoyed mustering the energy to do. It was amazing to see the deep friendships forged in such a short amount of time. Knitter friend Carrie was describing to me one of Dane’s projects a couple weeks ago and simply said, “There were a lot of conversations over every one of those stitches.” That’s how it worked.

A couple years ago Dane launched out on an ambitious project to knit me an afghan. But this wasn’t a normal afghan. Named “The Great American Afghan,” the pattern called for several 1-foot-square squares, each square representing a different type of knitting and stitch. Some squares had scenes (mountain trees, beach, a cat), others were intricate knitting patterns like cable-knit. It’s described as a project to help you grow in your knitting techniques. Dane had knit me a great scarf a couple years ago, but she wanted to give me something a little more advanced, and something that was definitely a “man-stitch” project. Over many months she knit these squares between her other knitting projects. But then life gave us its big downside last September and the afghan at that time was simply a stack of beautiful squares. Dane had been saying to her knitter friends, “If something happens to me, you guys have to finish this afghan for Bear.”

So it was with some trepidation that her knitter friends asked Dane one day soon after we were home from the hospital if she would like them to finish the afghan. Dane resolutely replied, “yes.” So they gathered up the squares, they added a few of their own (others had started with Dane on their own afghans, but bailed out for various reasons), and about four weeks later, the knitting corps came by the house to present Dane and me with my afghan. They had worked, planned, scheduled, re-scheduled, cried, re-cried. They enlisted the help of those who didn’t know Dane, and persevered through the most tedious part (the put-together) of the afghan. I cried, and re-cried. And Dana said, “You guys are crazy.”

It is now one of my most treasured possessions, and the most beautiful item I have in the house. The pix are at the end of the post (and there are more to come).

There is so much more to share about Dane and her knitter friends and her knitting. (In fact, they all meet tonight for the Winter Olympics opener to launch their own knitting Olympics—casting on tonight and casting off by closing ceremonies. Dana won this friendly “competition” during the last summer Olympics.) I needed to share this for several reasons. I am so grateful for the knitters (and for their friendships) and am indebted to the restorative outlet that they provided Dane. But also the afghan story is representative of the many labors of love that have been done for us in this cancer journey. We have great friends, family and healthcare providers (more on them later) who are so creative and thoughtful in their care-giving.

This kind of support helps the downsides not be so down.

Thank you all,

Monday, February 8, 2010

Where Is God?

Where is God? I should probably respond to that question quickly lest anyone might think I’m chucking my faith.

Psalm 34:18

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (NLT)

I am of the brokenhearted, so it’s good to know God is near me. That's where God is. This past week I tried to focus on that promise. It’s a promise that’s been on the back burner of my mind for these past few months; but for whatever reason, when I’ve been in the middle of a grief spell, when my broken heart has led to buckled knees, my mind doesn’t call up this promise. For some reason it’s stayed on the back burner.

This week I’m working to front-burner that promise. And here’s why.

Long before the rainbow became a personal, divine logo of this journey I’ve been long intrigued by how God phrased His covenant to Noah with regard to the rainbow. (and if you need a refresher on our rainbow story, here’s a link to a news story: )
Check out God's phrasing in this excerpt from the scene in which God is explaining to Noah his new covenant to not destroy the earth by water:

16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it…

What has long intrigued me—and comforted me—about this phrase is the fact that whenever I see a rainbow, Genesis 9:16 tells me that God is looking at that EXACT SAME rainbow! God said that He “will see it.” When I’m looking at a rainbow He and I are sharing a moment. The rainbow is a tangible item that exists in this physical world that God is seeing the same time I am seeing it. He’s looking at it too.

The broken heart is the new rainbow.

During what can only be described as an “episode” of the broken heart, God is close. Of course we all know that God is everywhere, and has promised to be with us. But a broken heart is something that we feel (some day I may try to describe how my heart feels). Emotion surges from a broken heart and spills into the physical realm, either via anxiety, or tears, or whatever. This is what makes it so tangible. And it’s this tangible experience that God is in. He’s close. He’s near.

When the grief comes over me, I don’t always remember the Psalm 34 promise that God is near the brokenhearted. And when I do remember the promise, it usually doesn’t bring instant peace. In fact, I sometimes feel it that it deepens and stretches the episode. But I find that I enjoy the shared moment with God. Maybe that’s why the episode stretches out.

I’ll leave you with Eugene Peterson’s take on Psalm 34:18 from The Message.

18 If your heart is broken, you'll find GOD right there;
if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath.
(The Message)

Counting on God’s closeness and letting Him help me catch my breath,