Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloweeen!

This year, we got to celebrate our first Halloween as aunt and uncle. As in, the cool aunt and uncle who do fun things - like host a "spooky" lunch for our niece and nephews. The planners that Dan & I are, we came up with the idea yesterday morning - and it turned out awesome and relatively healthy (other than those "cancer-causing" hotdogs we ate). Gotta be something scary to Halloween! ;)


Courtesy of our official event photographer (niece Brenna), Dan shows off most of th\e goods: starting with the platter at Dan's right hand (your left), mummy hotdogs, then jack-o-latern peppers stuffed with veggies, behind the veggies, Rice Krispie treat pumpkins, in the foreground - jello eyes, and we also made clementine jack-o-lanterns.


Mummy hotdogs: Koegel viennas wrapped with crescent roll strips and witches hats. Slice the strips with a pizza cutter. When I would get down to a tiny triangle, I just folded the edge up to make the hat. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Delicious!

Pretty simple here: cut the top off the pepper, clean out the 'ribs', cut a face into the pepper - stuff with veggies of choice. Cauliflowers = brains, btw.


Jello eyes: follow the 'jello mold' directions on the box. I used a mini muffin tin to make these. The blog where I got the idea used plastic Easter eggs (our plastic eggs all had tiny holes in the bottom = Plan B, stat!). Pour the jello into the tin, add a raisin, chill. You should probably make these more than two hours in advance...but, I put these in the freezer, then fridge for one (and fridge then freezer for the other due to freezer space). Big hit!


If you can, zoom in on these: the piece d' resistance - FINGERS! These came fro the 6-fingered man. Again, Koegel viennas. Cut a 'nail' into one end, then slice areas for the finger joints. To get these to plump well (and not split open), we boiled these. The beauty of the Koegel vienna is that the curve when you cook 'em - giving a much more life like look to these babies. Then, when you add some ketchup...seriously looks like cut up, mutilated fingers.

We don't have a close up of the pumpkin Rice Krispies, but it's easy! Make up Rice Krispies as normal; the recipe I had called for vanilla to be added after melting the butter & mallows - so I also added in a 1/2 tsp of liquid pumpkin spice flavoring. Mmm-fall krispies! At this point, I also added in red and yellow food coloring till reaching the desired color. Then, I sprayed Pam on a big cookie scoop - and used two scoops/pumpkin. Shape into a ball. I added a brown peanut M&M for the stem. The idea I saw used tootsie rolls. Guess what you can find on Friday night at Kroger? A bag full of Tootsie "midges"...I don't think they sell that size retail, anymore.

To top off the "cool aunt & uncle" vibe, put on the kids' costumes:


I am actually wearing Brenna's skirt. I'm all ready for Mardi Gras with that puppy!

...and also have at your disposal, a Halloween kitty:



...who will play with the blue feather from the peacock costume - and also play "catch" with the football player.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

THREE. MONTHS.

While driving home from our chemo appointment today, I realized something. It's been three months (to the day) that Dan received the diagnosis of lymphoma. Three months. 90 days. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Where we are now I could not have fathomed three months ago. We are settled in our own apartment in the most adorable little town. We both have jobs...at the same university, in the same department, with offices in the same suite. Our beautiful little kitten is a giant 6-month old with a crazy ornery personality. We have been showered in love and prayers that have supported us through some dark days.

We are 2/3 of our way through chemo. Our doctor has been very pleased with Dan's progress and decided not to do a PET scan at this point to see if the chemo's working because she knows it is (based on the fact that Dan's spleen is no longer crazy swollen). He started a chemo spinal tap today, which he will get (one) for the last 3 rounds. He was a little nervous about it - because you have no idea what it will feel like. I think he was surprised it was so 'easy'. The doctor was great; explaining the process while she did. The nurse gave Dan a shoulder rub, so he was a pretty happy camper.

So. Three months. What are some things I've learned? I am continually amazed at how I've responded. Many of you have commented to me how impressed you are by my faith through this trial. Here's how my faith has been shaped in the last 3 months:

1) It's not circumstances that make you blessed. This was a hard lesson for me to learn; I really want people to look at my life and think, "Wow. She's blessed; God must really love her. I want God to love me like that."

Oh, such blasphemy in this crazy thought! (I've never spent much time analyzing this. Ugh. Such pride!) i)God doesn't love me more than he loves anyone else. We are loved with an infinite, never-ending love. ii) Our circumstances do not indicate our blessing. Think of the person we refer to as "Blessed" in her title. Mary had a very difficult life. She had to endure public shame, humiliation, the death of her husband and her son's execution, the trial of her innocent son as a criminal, and then (most likely) the threat of persecution/death because of her beliefs. [which brings me to...]

2) I love the rosary. In those early days when I had no idea what to pray or how to seek God, praying the rosary brought me right to Scripture - to the life and miracle of Jesus...to a deeper adoration, worship, and love for Jesus. I love the rosary. Each day, I get to meditate on the life of my Lord. I have learned to surrender my will to the loving will of my Father...to walk by faith.

3) I am blown away by just...the goodness of God - including the provision of such beautiful, faithful people (friends and family) - and the provision of my job. Michigan State is such a beautiful campus (and, honestly, even more beautiful than Iowa State *gasp*). I am excited for the opportunities to do some new things with my job to serve the ANS students. ...and, I am really surprised(?) that I got hired. Not because I'm not the  best candidate candidate - but because I interviewed less than 2 weeks after Dan's diagnosis and I was a mess. I could barely think straight; I was exhausted mentally and physically; I couldn't hold a conversation - I could answer questions, but couldn't think of anything to ask back...and the only person who ever asked me interview questions was the department chair. I knew I really wanted that job after I interviewed, but based on my evaluation of myself - wasn't sure if I did a good job or not. All I can say in response (or explanation) is: by the grace of God go I.

4) You just have no idea what it's [going to be] like. This encompasses a lot of things. You can't imagine what it's like to live through an experience like this - and you shouldn't. When it comes, you just...live it. Cancer is just part of our life right now; now, we don't even really think about it, to be honest. I guess it's like becoming a parent - or adding another child to your family. You can't imagine what it's going to be like - and then, they're here, and you jsut do it.. It's nothing like you imagined - and probably (hopefully) better.

Yes, the beginning was scary because it was unknown. I cried a lot in the first 3 weeks. I don't cry as much now (very little). I learned very early on (i.e. the first day on the road) to be present in the moment - and when those scary "what if" thoughts come to just breathe deep and focus on the view in front of me.

5) I am so in love with Dan. This isn't a surprise, but I show my love (respect) for Dan much better than I did before. ...and I love bald Dan. That was one of those #4 things; one of the things that makes you cry/mourn over before it happens. ...and then it happens. ...and you (he) shave your (his) head, and you (me) stifle a few tears - and you (we) move on. Plus, the bald head is better than looking like a mangy cat. :)  I'm so used to seeing and loving bald Dan, I can't really remember Dan with hair. So, to reiterate, I love Dan...the person - in sickness or health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer...circumstances be damned.




6) I love Jesus. How do you get through the toughest life circumstances? My Grandma Ellen often says, "I don't know how people make it without faith." Here's what I have to say about faith: it is not simply a notion, a hope, a wish for something better. That is not what brought me comfort in the darkness when I was so scared that I could lose Dan. Faith must have an object for it to be substantive. And the object of the Christian's faith is Jesus. Hebrews 12 says that he is not just the object of our faith, but the author and perfecter of our faith. He is writing the story of our lives and is perfecting us through our trials - revealing weaknesses and sins to be transformed through His power and grace of His love.

This has not been easy...and, yet, through the transforming grace of Jesus' presence, it has been so good for us. This has transformed us into more of the people that we were made to be.





Thursday, October 8, 2015

On second thought

There are lots of posts floating around the internet about what you shouldn't do for people going through stuff. And, I don't like those posts because I think it basically says, "Unless you can say/do things in THIS RIGHT WAY, just shut up." ...which is you know, kind of true. Sometimes, the best response is not words - just your presence (see the end). 
But, I really like the end of this post "Stupid Phrases for People Who are Suffering". (If you want to know what you shouldn't say, you can read the rest of the post.) http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/
So what do we do? How do we respond?I think those are difficult questions, but the best analogy I have for people in acute crisis is looking at them as burn victims. Caring for burn victims is divided into three stages that overlap.
The first is the emergent or resuscitative stage. At this stage priority is given to removing the person from the source of the burn and stopping the burning process. The big things to think about are fluid replacement, nutrition, and pain management. Translated into crisis care, this means we’ll bring meals, coffee money, and pick up children from day care.
The second stage is the acute or wound healing stage. At this stage, the body is trying to reach a state of balance, while remaining free from infection. During this stage, patients can become withdrawn, combative, or agitated. This stage can be a lengthy and unpredictable stage. Burn victims, like people in crisis, often lash out at those closest to them. Translate this into listening, listening, and listening some more.
The final stage is the rehabilitative or restorative stage. The goal at this stage is for a patient to resume a functional role within their family and community. Reconstruction surgery may be needed. Encouragement and reassurance are critical to the person at this stage. This would translate into going on walks with the person, taking them out to a movie or dinner, having them over for coffee or a meal.
Burn care has a lot to teach us about loving and caring for people in crisis. And those who care for burn victims rarely use clich├ęs — they are too busy caring.
In February, I wrote a piece called Toward a Fellowship of Suffering, and I’ll end what could be a cynical post, with words from that piece.
“There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.'”

Now, to the title of this post, "on second thought" refers to my "feeling all the feels" post. I think that I am finally ready to move from 'Stage 2'. I want to move to stage 3...but, I can't do it alone. I need some friends. I want to work out. I want to serve others. I just don't know how. I need some help.

...and help looks like you asking me to do something. Please don't wait for me to call you...because I probably won't. I will sit in my house (or office) feeling sad.

Feeling all the feels

The first rule of Marriage Encounter: you don't talk about Marriage Encounter.
[oh wait; that's Fight Club...which is the exact opposite of Marriage Encounter.]

The first rule of Marriage Encounter is this: feelings are neutral. They are neither good nor bad.

Feelings are neither good nor bad.


Let that sink in, Feeler. We don't "feel" like that's true. It "feels" like our culture values thoughts and diminishes emotions. If we feel, then don't we need a "good reason" for feeling an emotion?

That's what I've believed most of my life. If I'm an emotional wreck, I've got find the justification for being emotional. It is NOT OKAY to cry the entire day. It is not okay to feel like the darkness is closing in. It is not okay to feel like there may not be any hope left; that all the goodness has been used up.

I've had those days. More than once in my life. And usually, my mode of operandi is to push those sad feelings way down and far away. ...which does not work, by the way. For some reason those feelings become thoughts and those thoughts get so loud that you can't ignore them if you wanted.

Anyway, that's where I've been the last two weeks. If you look at two weeks ago, my grandma died, we moved out of our brother's and into our own apartment...and, the survival mode I have been in started settling more into "real life." I've been at my new job for a month now, and I'm getting into an advising schedule. It's becoming a "real job." I don't know about anyone else, but I can overwhelmed with thinking about "the rest of my life." One of the blessings of survival mode has been the requirement to focus only on today; to let tomorrow worry about itself. "Real life" seems to require forethought, planning, etc. So, maybe "real life" is freaking me out.

Whatever the cause, I have been FEELING ALL THE FEELS this week!

It doesn't make sense.
We got good news at the doctor on Tuesday.
Why would I feel sad?

1) Crying doesn't have to mean sadness. Crying is just my body's way of letting go of the feels.

What I feel...is a mixture of things. Relief, gratitude, fear. FEAR. We got good news; what is there to fear? I think it's a little bit of delayed fear, really. We asked our doctor on Tuesday what "stage" Dan's cancer would have been classified as. She said Stage 3 because Dan had lymph nodes effected above/below the abdomen (in the neck and abdomen).

For whatever reason, that label made it seem 'scarier' - even though Dan has been responding AWESOMELY to treatment and the doctor is very confident. Knowing the stage, just...made me so THANKFUL that God orchestrated our lives in such a way to get an answer in 6 weeks at Mayo and get in so quickly at the U of M with a doctor so committed to getting Dan treated.

We don't know how long had the cancer. But,  my "what if" mind definitely runs to "what if" we had listened to the Tucson doctors? "What if" I thought, 'oh, we're moving to Michigan this summer; going to Mayo doesn't make any sense' and not filled out the request to be seen?  All I can respond is THANK GOD that we didn't! THANK GOD that He kept pressing us. THANK GOD that He gave those doctors the insight that I'd been begging Him to give someone!

I'm very thankful for our doctor. Dan is very comfortable talking with her and trusts her, which is good. He rarely feels that way about doctors. She is going to add a 'spinal tap' chemo treatment for Dan's last 3 rounds. The current treatment does not penetrate the central nervous system (brain/spinal cord) - and the lymphoma can hide out there. A PET scan wouldn't pick up if lymphoma has moved there...it would only be detected in a year or two when a relapse happens. Ain't nobody got time for a relapse!

...which I get. It's just...it sounds painful. I don't want Dan to go through more pain than he has to. ...and yet, just like the initial chemo, I can't take it for him. He has to go through it. I can, though, pray for him, and just be ready for whatever. So, praying friends, even though it seems like we're out of the woods - keep those next 3 rounds in your intentions!

...and I think that's the last part of the feels. It's not over. We're halfway in; halfway through; halfway there. We're in the part of the race where you hit your stride...but you also start to wonder just how much longer there is to go.


So, I'm a feeler. And I've been feeling my feelings today - and that's the only way to relief, I know. I have to recognize, acknowledge my feelings, voice them...write about them, and let God into them. I only know how to 'let go' of my feelings, by letting God into my feelings, thoughts, fears, and hopes. Then, He leads me to truth...and relief...with acceptance.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3