Because Grace

There are bits and pieces of my life – of all our lives, I suspect – that can’t be parsed or parceled or wrapped up into neat packages, and so they become secrets, not in bad ways necessarily, but quiet and hidden nonetheless because I find myself at a loss for how to disassemble them in any way that makes sense while leaving them as deep and horrible and wonderful and true as they really are. I wait to talk about these pieces, usually, until I can manage to break off a piece of the story about adoption, about depression, about marriage, about faith, about the dark, about grace, about train wrecks, about my body, about kids with special needs, about LIFE. A piece that makes sense as itself, not polished or perfect, perhaps, but something that reflects the whole. That shines a light on the rest. That helps me put words to the rock that is part of the mountain or the grain that is part of the beach or the drop that is part of the ocean that overwhelms me.

But I sit here tonight, on the carpet of my hotel room, outside the bathroom which is the quietest place in the room where my children are awake past their bedtime watching cartoons and the Disney channel, and I try to put words to the mountain, to the beach, to the ocean, but I find myself a little lost. A little wandery. A little speechless. Which you can tell by all the words I’m using to say absolutely nothing at all; the sign, always, of a writer gone astray. 

It’s just that my niece has cancer, and she’s had it for 6 of her 8 years of life with all of the ups and downs and what-ifs that word entails. Cancer. Which is Damn It All. And Dear Jesus, Help. Because cancer.

And tonight, in Anaheim, before we start our manic extended family Disneyland trip, terrorizing a park full of good people with our myriad children – my five rowdies plus our niece who is brave and bold and beautiful and spends a fabulous amount of time shaking her head, trying to choose between delight and dismay at her cousins’ shenanigans – I’m stuck on the floor with my butt going numb, thinking about life and about cancer and about words and stories and mountains that seem sometimes too high to cross, even a rock at a time.

And I…

I just…

There’s no piece to break off. 

No way to make this story neat or tidy.

No way to shrink it down to something that makes sense.

Because cancer.

I wrote an email the other night to a group of women who are, at the same time, strangers to me and also my friends. We’re due to meet each other in person in Portland next month, most of us for the first time, but we’ve met each other before, here, in this bloggy ether, where we’ve told true truths and revealed our real selves, and I don’t know how that’s possible without counting each other as friends.

In my message, I asked the women to introduce themselves, Reply-All style, and then they did. Except they didn’t just give their superficial stats because I think they forgot it’s more culturally appropriate to only dip our toes in the water with each other. To be tentative. To hold back.

Instead, they started writing things like this, from Elizabeth, “In addition to our living children, our oldest child died of pneumonia several years ago at age 3, and we just had a stillbirth due to terminal defects in December. I am okay, nobody freak out; I just prefer to mention this upfront.”

And this, from Jennifer, “My husband was diagnosed with lymphoma in September and we are nearing the end of his chemo. His last scan came back good. By the time we actually all meet, he will be all done (except for recovery) and will have another scan. That’s the week before we meet, so expect me to be either crazy elated or a complete wreck.” 

And this, from Andrea Dillard, “Can I just say you all sound lovely? And totally intimidating? I’m not very good at groups or at introducing myself or at making friends with other women.” 

I found myself at my computer, reading their stories and drinking deeply from their vulnerability and generally breaking down as I was knit imperfectly back together, because I was, at that moment, trying to juggle answering an email from a truly kind woman who doesn’t understand why I use swear words in the middle of an otherwise nice blog post and is very concerned that I’m undermining my witness for Christ… and listening to a voice mail from our pediatrician about whether anti-anxiety medication is right for the son who’s battling increasingly severe panic… and reading an email from someone outraged that I made light of the Girl Scout controversies… and planning and replanning this trip to Disneyland, a trip for which I feel guilty spending money and insanely grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my kids and my niece… and thinking about kids and cancer… and I guess I just needed help facing the mountains.

You know?

I needed help looking at the winding path up the rocky slope that disappears into the trees.

I needed help putting one foot in front of the other when God only knows if this mountain is passable.

I needed help, but I didn’t know how to even mention the mountains. The range of mountains. How to name them. How to acknowledge their vastness and my inability to surmount them. 

But grace came anyway.

Grace came anyway in the form of strangers and friends sharing bits of truth, and they let me borrow little pieces of their souls to patch mine.

Which is when Jennifer wrote, “I stayed up until midnight watching mindless TV. Because cancer. I stay up late enough so that I am too tired to think when my head hits the pillow. The first time I mentioned the ‘C’ word out loud to my husband I said, ‘You have cancer. What the fuck?’ I hadn’t said fuck in five years. Now I say it every time I stub my toe or drop something. Because grace.”  

And these words, I felt, despite the kind lady who doesn’t understand, are exactly Jesus and exactly Love and exactly Light, as best as I can understand them while looking at the mountains. Because cancer. And what the fuck? And grace.

Because grace. 

Because grace.

Because grace.

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26 responses to “Because Grace”

  1. What kind of astonishes me over and over, since we landed on Planet Cancer in August of 2012, is how often I meet or come across others who know this land, its language and metaphors. Back in 2005, my husband and I climbed Kilimanjaro. When one climbs Kilimanjaro, all day every day the guides say, “pole, pole,” Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” It immediately became our mighty metaphor when my husband’s treatment for his stage IV cancer began: 8 months of chemo, major surgery, the struggle of post-surgery complications that made life barely worth living. And yet… we have two little girls, so he fought with all he has. And only just now has true recovery begun. Monday is another terrifying PET scan, as he had an aggressive cancer with a high rate of return. And death. Really, he is currently a major statistical anomaly. An outlier. And yes, of course he is grateful. But my mild mannered husband also screams all the best swear words into pillows after the kids go to bed as I sit by and say, “You did that very well.” Because cancer. He used to get lovely food massages from a volunteer at the chemo clinic, a renal cancer survivor who wore a bracelet that said “cancer sucks.” And the babies? Our story, like so many, feels so unfair and perverse (to say nothing of a beloved aunt who died young of her cancer as we fought ours… I was at her side as she was released from it all). I often wonder how our oncologist does what he does, but I wonder even more how the pediatric oncologists do. As for the children: so much fortitude and resilience required in ones so young. I hold your niece’s parents and all those who love her in my heart, there in another corner of this strange planet we are on together, full of its weird and ever changing rituals, languages and moments of grace. And if a religion or practice or community cannot hold also the words that might best express our fury and confusion, I’m sorry, but to me they are not ones of love or light. Sometimes, we just have to release them to be able to go on, to bear it all, to find that grace, slowly, slowly, pole, pole.

  2. I just wanted to say that I love your vulnerability and your honesty. I love how you use the exact words to express exactly how you are feeling. I love that you are very brave and very real. I love that I can come here and get a dose of laughter and levity and reality all at once. Thank you for climbing the big mountains and the not so big hills and sharing your journey with us.

  3. I get this on a gut level.

    I stood in church today and cried – ugly cried, the awkward cry where people don’t know how to respond but feel guilty to just leave you standing there, crying – for this very reason. How do you articulate the mountains? And how to you find words for something you are only beginning to understand yourself? But the people around me were just so … good, and raw, and sincere. So I cried.

    Grace to you, friend. Thank you for sharing even the things that can’t be broken off and tidy.

  4. Thank you for sharing how life just seems insurmountable some times. I never thought life would he this hard and it can feel scary and overwhelming when reality sets in. I have felt mostly scared and overwhelmed lately. Thanks for trying to discover and articulate this crazy thing called grace; It’s one of those topics that makes my mind run in circles a bit and scratch my head and say “really?!, can that really be true?!” so here’s a hearty cheers to get us through our collective wandering and found-ness. Love you and hope I get to meet you some day.

  5. crying. Thinking of your neice and this trip to Disney you are giving her. can’t quite come to terms with the F word though several of my children have no qualms using it. But I now use the S word. Sometimes life just really sucks!

  6. My husband was diagnosed with cancer (lymphoma) 2.5 years ago when I was pregnant with our second child. Suckville, for sure. Reading Jennifer’s comments gave me a twinge of a reminder of the fear and loneliness and anger and helplessness and UNFAIR of cancer. If you happen to think about it, please let her know that I’ve been where she is, and my prayers of healing and love are with her. My husband is in remission, and we’re expecting our third child this summer. And yet, it’s always there…the lingering fears. Suck it, cancer. Prayers and love to your niece, as well. I bet she is a fantastically wonderful little human. Blessings to you all!

  7. I loved this post! We are not perfect, we are human. We have pain, we have joys, and we struggle with/celebrate them imperfectly! There is so much more to our testimonies than perfect words. It’s the story that touches people, not the words. For me, the best example of this was the movie Machine Gun Preacher. The first time I saw it, I thought…at last, a REAL movie about a Christian (swear words and all).

  8. Lovely as always.
    Several years ago, my two sisters, one now-ex brother-in-law, and I climbed the South Sister with their four kids, ages 10-16. I was the only one who had any idea what we were getting into, and the brother-in-law was the only one who was in shape. We hiked in and camped the first day, then got up at dawn to start climbing. My 13 year old nephew looked up at the mountain and said, “We’re going to climb THAT? Yeah, right.” His innately wise 16 year old cousin said, “Nah, we’re just going to that tree over there. We can make it that far. Then when we get there, we’ll figure out where we’re going next. The mountain top is point Z, but all we need to do first is make it to point A.” He has no idea how often I’ve remembered that since then, that if I can’t see making it all the way to my goal, I can at least manage the next step.
    Oh, and I don’t think I’d be able to read the blog of a Christian who didn’t swear, so there you go. There’s no pleasing everyone.

  9. I’ve had a bit of cancer staring me in the face, too, and it is definitely what the fuck and no other words suffice. Since I’ve had (in my family) that bit of cancer I know how much money slips through your fingers trying to wring the best out of life when time is more precious than money. Now it’s over, but time will always be more precious than money forevermore, which is a wonderful thing to learn from a very hard lesson. What I’m tring to say is that if you put your particulars out there, I would love to contribute a little to your Disneyland trip and I’m sure there are others that would join me.

  10. That was a lovely post, Beth! I love your warmth and openness. I am sorry for the people who don’t understand you, because you are delightful. I am also very sorry about your niece. Kids shouldn’t have to face such pain and sickness. I’ll introduce myself enough to say that I had two 2.5-lb babies for two totally different reasons, and it has taken me apart and put me back together. I always felt for kids who were sick, but now, after watching my own babies suffer, I hurt for all the sick babies. Your niece is in my prayers.

  11. Thank you for your depth and love and pain and heartache shared openly: Both…And. Because Cancer…AND Because Grace. This has been a hard one for me to grasp especially in times like these. Both suffering and joy. Both hate and love. Both failure and victory. Both depravity and forgiveness. Both confusion and peace. Both struggles, chaos, pain, AND finding God next to us to help us, comfort us, defend us. Thank you for allowing us to see both because there are just so many things that don’t make sense otherwise. And right now I’m so sad about cancer. Thank you for reminding me that grace is here too.

  12. Dad…TBI after motorcycle accident
    Husband who cheated and asked for divorce
    Learning to coparent with someone who the counselor says has a personality disorder and is basically a sociopath.
    Learning to parent alone.
    Being alone.

    Because grace.
    Thank you.

  13. All I can say is I get it. All of it. Sometimes when I read your posts I feel like you are writing the words of my soul! I’ve never met you, but you get me. Crazy how that works. Your words about cancer (which is a swear word at our house, buy the way) are spot on. There is nothing to say, really. No way to break it down. I watched my father suffer for two years and now he’s been gone for nearly two years and I’m still lost about it all. Sending my love and hope you can find peace.

  14. There is a bumper sticker that I both love and hate. It says “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I hate it because it is trite and pithy and so many people hide behind this to never make a change in their lives. But I also love that it reminds me that the only thing that separates me from someone who is not a Christian is forgiveness. I am no better! I go through the same things and I feel the same emotions. I am still a real person living in this fallen world that everyone has to cope with. The difference is I am forgiven, so I have a hope in the end. There is Power that I can call on, although I have to remember that He is God and not a meal ticket. Christians who never admit that sometimes they feel doubt or make mistakes and that some days are just plain s*** somehow seem unreal in this world, and un-relatable. And people don’t really want to listen to someone they can’t relate to, someone they think can’t understand what they are going through. Thank you Beth for being so open and sharing those vulnerable moments – it encourages me to do so with others and I’m finding it is making a difference. God Bless your family and your time together this weekend!

  15. Oh, Beth… you made me break down and cry at work 🙂 Thank you for that – it was so needed. I’m sorry to hear that you’re working on a decision about anxiety medication. We’re going through that with our family right now, and the mounting panic is so hard and scary. That with all the other things, always. You have all my love.

  16. Holding space and light and love and grace for your family and a hearty WTF because cancer and anxiety and seizures and all of these things that our precious young ones shouldn’t have to face.


  17. Because grace. Yes, this. Because grace, amen. Which is, by the way, the answer to the kind lady’s email. And this is probably why I shouldn’t blog, because I’d say, hell, yes! Because grace!

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