Take THAT, Cancer! A letter of hope.

Cicada swarm of 2013

Remembering the cicada swarm of 2013

Call me Jim, for want of any other name.

My world came crashing down about a year ago when the cicadas swarmed, with their beady little eyes and gnashing teeth, making a noise that was so horribly loud I thought it would never stop. But it did, and they disappeared, leaving destruction in their wake. I could see it on the oak tree across the street all summer long, a constant reminder of my own condition: dead, cancerous brown tufts where there was supposed to be verdant new life.

I tried to live a normal summer, but the after-effects of my treatment was devastating. My limbs are still scarred from the abuse I suffered, and I ached in the core of my being. Some days it sapped all my energy just to keep breathing. 

By autumn, I began to shut down. I took no pleasure in the foliage across the street because I just couldn’t bring myself to feel joy. One by one, I began to drop those things that gave me my own color.

I slept through most of the winter, and through the long Spring that Refused to Come. I just couldn’t seem to get going again. As we were pounded by one snowfall after another, each bringing the cold back with it like an unwanted relative, I became certain I would never be warm again. It was almost too much to bear. I wanted God to take me. I even begged Him. I stood outside one morning with my bare, frail arms stretching upward and I made a fist as best I could in the buffeting wind and screamed,“ENOUGH!”

But He didn’t take me.

Spring blossoms, at last

Across the street, spring blossoms, at last

Instead, He gave me another spring. Today I look around at all the color across the street, and I’m amazed. The oak is green again, having sloughed off those dead branches. The cherry tree on the corner is alive with pink blossoms. Front lawns are decorated with yellow daffodils, purple hyacinths, and tulips of all colors. Bees are darting about the fragrant blooms, transporting life from one end of their world to another.

Cynically, I say to myself, it’s only temporary. The colorful blossoms will fall away, and all around will be ordinary green. It will be as if spring never happened.

Or will it? I consider the oak across the way. I remember only a few years ago when it was a frail sapling, struggling to survive. Yet each year after the spring, it is a little bit taller, stronger, and heartier. What a nice word, hearty. I let it linger on my tongue, tasting it gently, longingly.

Finally, each day is warmer than the last. I stand still in the front yard, staring up at the sun as His life-giving sap runs through my veins. I can tell that I, too, have been touched; my own color is returning. It was a long, arduous year, but I made it. And like the oak, I know I will never be the same as I was. God may, indeed, still take me before I’m ready to go, but right now I’m alive, and He is with me, so I will lift my face to the heavens and sing praises for the days I have.

I peer into the window where I can see my friend Bill resting in his chair after another round of chemo. I beckon wildly but he does not notice. I wish, as I have so often since the cicadas came, that I could speak to him, but I don’t know how.

If I could though, do you know what I would say?

I’d say, “Bill, take heart and look to the heavens. If He would bring me through all this…me, an ordinary dogwood tree, what do you suppose He’s doing in you?”

Real Freelancers Don’t Wear Flannel: ADD and Other Time-sucking Distractions

I’m learning some valuable lessons about working from home.

First and foremost, it’s nothing like the pictures in the brochures.

You know what I mean, all those things we imagined back when we were thinking about quitting that Day Job to start our own business—hanging out in pjs and slippers, tossing down the bon-bons and sipping from a glass of Chateau Morrisette’s Sweet Mountain Laurel while somehow creating reams upon reams of productivity every day.

Well I’m here today to tell you, that’s all rather bunk-ish.

Thinking of taking the leap? It’s not for the faint-hearted, my friends. And by faint-hearted I mean people who like to eat…anything other than Ramen noodles. Right off the bat I can tell you that bon-bons and Sweet Mountain Laurel are NOT in the budget. Nor are they conducive to prolific prose (although I do believe that some of my greatest work was—no, never mind…I just re-read it).

Sadly, I realized almost from Day One that the pajamas would have to go. It’s difficult to take work seriously when dressed in flannel strawberries. Also, there seems to be some strange subliminal connection between pajamas and sleeping that makes it impossible to stay awake for any great length of time. In fact, the first reams of production that this writer produced consisted of 24 forehead-induced pages of the letter “h,” in seemingly endless rows. When I awoke and tried to read it, my first thought was, “How cool, church pews!”

And, of course, to keep you from breaking away to type a bunch of “h” rows on your computer, I shall provide:

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

And then, of course, I had to type 25 other letter rows to be sure the “h” has the coolest character. I decided the “m” is rather intriguing as well, because it looked like something I could fall asleep on…

mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

…which brings me to the second giant oak tree of a barrier that has fallen across the road ahead of me: Attention Deficit Disorder.

I’m learning that I will break for anything.

  • I break to watch the cat bathe. It’s mesmerizing how he can move his leg like that. I can verify that it’s not a feat humans should attempt to replicate because I gave it a shot (ADD at its finest moment) and nearly had to call 911. Fortunately, I was in my pajamas so I just slept it off until my limbs unfolded.
  • I break to check my blog traffic…every fifteen minutes. (By the way, whoever you are in Brazil, boa tarde and thanks for noticing me. Your visits make me feel like an international star!) Watching blog stats can be addicting if you aren’t careful. Every time someone views my pages, I know it. Sadly, that’s all I know: someone was there. I just wish the data could tell me if you read it all, if you liked it, if you hated it, if I made you giggle at least once, and if right now you ‘re lifting my words for some motivational poster that’s going to come to me on the next social media mass-mailing, or worse, to be used in a class on how NOT to write. For the most part, checking stats makes me smile. Plus, I’m still so new at this blog thing that every time someone “shares” a post rather than just “like” it, I do a grateful little happy dance, which, for someone with ADD, could also lead to a 911 call.
  • Even the food mocks me

    You Rack Diciprine!

    I break for food. Sometimes when I’m not at all hungry. The fridge has a telepathic ability to serenade me from the kitchen, and, as with any other earworm, I cannot get its song out of my head. The avocado will go bad in three minutes if you don’t eat it! …Chicken, I got some chicken heah! And the worst: Ahh, sweet, velvety chocolate; Easter is over, you can’t leave this stuff lying around!

  • I break for email. Even e-mail from stranded Sudanese princes who need to put millions in my bank account to protect it from Somali pirates.

OK, that last isn’t true. Everyone knows even the Somali pirates have my account numbers.

My point is, I still haven’t mastered the art of what I’ve heard writer (and probably quip-lifter) Alton Gansky call “butt-in-seat” focus. I’m averaging about five hours of real writing each day.

On the helpful side, I’m fortunate in that my current project, Joe’s story, still fascinates me, and that some days he’s my greatest distraction—I really want to see how this book is going to end. I keep the pages open on my computer so whenever I DO untangle myself and sit down, I’m immediately drawn into them and start typing.

So,

  • Get dressed: check.
  • Turn off the computer sound, so the email ding doesn’t: check.
  • Keep sitting back down: check.

I’m sure there are many other words of wisdom my fellow ADD freelancers can share that will help us all up our game. Care to share? We’re all ears…what are your tricks for keeping at it?

(Ha! I just realized how mean that question is. I’ll understand if you don’t answer…but you can’t not, can you?)

There’s a Cure for That, but Can You Handle it?

The kitchen looks like a war zone—plates and pot lids strewn about, towels on the floor, a blade from the overhead fan dangling precariously. Blood is seeping out from my husband’s sleeve, dripping onto the kitchen island. Our foreheads are drenched in sweat and we’re panting with exhaustion. The cat’s ears are flattened back, and his eyes seem to be spinning wildly.

I look at my husband for support. We nod in agreement—break time is over. We’re going back in, this time with even more determination.

We’ll get this medicine into him if it’s the last thing we do…

 

OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it felt that way. Aslan, our sweet kitty from the Twilight zone, fought like a wild tiger for about ten minutes before we gave up, and we had to give up, to keep him from hurting himself.

The most disheartening part was that we were fighting over pain medicine. He was in great pain from a bladder infection. We were struggling so hard because we love him and don’t want him to be in pain. But he was afraid.

Cat in a box

You can’t hide in a box. There’s pain in there too.

You cat owners out there would agree, the veterinarian’s instructions were almost laughable (and by laughable I’m talking about that hideous, fear-based, strait-jacket laugh):

“Just measure out 3 milliliters with this plunger and squirt it under his tongue twice a day,” she said. “Do not squirt it down his throat.”

Under his tongue. Riiight.

So we all know how that train derailed, don’t we?

When Aslan wouldn’t open his mouth voluntarily (I hear you snickering), hubby tried the grip & pry method, which instantly brought out the claws.

Then we tried wrapping him, cajoling him, and bribing him with treats, all to no avail.

Then we tried brute persistence (“the heck with under the tongue; this is going down the throat!”) Naturally, more medicine went into my own mouth than his. Tastes as nasty as you’d expect, but my neck doesn’t ache anymore, thank you very much.

We even tried putting it in his food, but apparently the odor is easily detectable, and thereby initiated a hunger strike.

And after all this struggling, we still hadn’t even touched the antibiotic—a rather large purple pill that he needed to ingest in order to cure the infection.

So finally, we gave in. Setting aside the pain medicine, we managed to get him to take the antibiotic by disguising it in a bit of tuna. After about a week of only antibiotic medicine, he is back to his old self. The pain medicine is still in the vial. It makes me sad to think he was in pain much longer than he had to be…if he had only let us help him.

When I think of how hard Aslan fought us and the stress he put himself through, I wonder if that’s what it’s like from God’s perspective as He directs our paths. Does He feel frustrated, or does He watch in amusement when we fight Him? Does He try to force us, or does He give in and let us stay hurt just a bit longer than we might have been?

We’re such goofy kids. We turn away, hide, make deals—anything to avoid THAT, because it’s painful, or different, or scary. How sad to think that all along we’re not only making things worse, but we’re missing out on wonderful gifts He wants to bestow upon us. Because we think we know better. Because we’re afraid. Because we’re mad at Him.

I struggle with the irony that I only want to curl up on His lap and purr when all is well. However, it’s when all is NOT well that He wants most to hold me. For more than ten years I was particularly angry at Him because I lost many loved ones before what I thought was their time, despite knowing that as long as I’m on Earth I never will understand why. By not trusting that God knew what He was doing, I spent years wallowing in anger and hurt before I came back to Him, exhausted from the struggle. He wanted to hold me but I wouldn’t let Him.

I can assure you that whatever pain you’re going though, God is certainly aware of it, and He knows the reason for it, and He knows what will come of it. Trust that He doesn’t want you to be in pain. Why would He, who loves you more than anyone could possibly love a cat, want anything but good for you?

Don’t fight the arms that hold you. His touch can heal. Sit still, already! The best is yet to come.