In the Middle of the Mess

Middle of the Mess

I had hoped that the end of my cancer treatment would bring renewal into my life, that of both my life and my marriage. Instead the opposite is true. My life continues to fall apart, bit by bit.

When dreams are crushed and suffering is long, it can be tempting to wonder “why” all of this is happening. Too, it is very easy to lash out at my soon-to-be-ex husband, pushing my hurt and anger onto him in that moment. But it doesn’t make things better.

The hurt and anger and heartbreak and anguish don’t go away by unleashing my inner “mean girl.” Instead it only starts the cycle of crazy once again.

As Erwin McManus says in The Last Arrow,

“Sometimes your geography doesn’t change at all, but the journey is still long and hard….Having the courage to live a life of honor and integrity may be the greatest battle you will ever face.”

Divorce is hard. There is nothing good or positive or normal about this situation. Add into that still recovering from my latest surgery and cancer treatment…life just seems impossible at this point.

And living a life of faith and honor? Each day I pray for the strength to make it through just that next moment, the courage to face my challenges, and an extra measure of love to extend to others. All too often I fail. But I get up and brush myself off, pray a bit more, and try again.

Life is just really, really hard at the moment. Could you please pray for me that I am able to live a life of faith, honor, and integrity, even in the middle of this mess?

Breaking Apart

Breaking Apart

It seems like joy continues to race ahead of me, taunting me with its presence in the lives of others. Finishing my cancer treatment was supposed to be a happy time, one of celebrations and new beginnings.

And yet…now a divorce.

The pain of this breaking–both physical and emotional pain–is indescribable. Having prayed and pleaded and discussed and loved, I only have emptiness. The man who once shared my bed and my life is leaving, looking forward to a life without those responsibilities.

I don’t know if I can love again. Perhaps I have missed that chance at happiness, that chance at having a forever partner.

Looking around at what was our home, I remember all of those dreams that we had and wonder what lies ahead. I now face what remains of my middle age alone. The prospect of that loneliness stretching on forever saddens me.

Although some apparently have divorce parties nowadays, I see nothing to celebrate. Marriage is a lifelong commitment–a covenant–and the breaking of our vows will only lead to heartbreak.

It is overwhelming. Somehow, though, I must move forward.

Cancer and Family

cancer-and-familyBoth love and cancer have bound our family.

Cancer has often seemed like an unwanted and violent relative who continues to show up for dinner. Demanding everything and leaving nothing, he shakes our lives until very little remains.

As the dust settles from his appearance, we hug each other closer and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking this will be the final time. But no. We bury family members, struggle through holidays, and continue on. And still he returns.

I hear those who are newly diagnosed with cancer whisper sadly, “But I don’t have any family history! I never thought I’d have cancer.” Murmuring, “I’m so sorry,” I silently wonder if it is better to be thrown headlong into a cancer diagnosis or to have a family history full of cancer.

Is it better to have an unfamiliar enemy? Or to know intimately this ghastly disease?

When medical professionals ask about the history of cancer in my family, it usually takes about 5-10 minutes to discuss it fully. They take notes furiously and then look at me with glazed eyes. Their expressions seem to be a mix of sadness and disbelief.

Occasionally I’ll elicit some surprise, even from those who have experience with this sort of thing. When I spoke with the genetics counselor, she questioned me further about those family members with skin cancer. “When were they first diagnosed?” she asked. I gave her a guess as to dates but then explained that this cancer was ongoing. “You mean there has been more than one time?” she asked, shocked.

Yes, cancer keeps knocking at our door. Only two of us left now.

But then there are those who ask about my family history, specifically a history of breast cancer. Taking my vitals, a nurse in the hospital during my most recent visit asked me if any of my family members had had breast cancer. “My mother. She died in 1999,” I responded. The nurse nodded and then left my room.

Lying there in the darkness, I could guess as to why she had asked me that question. She wondered why someone my age had already had breast cancer twice. As I have a family history–plus the PTEN mutation–it’s explainable. And she could leave my room feeling a bit better about her own risk for cancer.

Our throw of the genetic dice resulted in snake eyes.

We’ve grown stronger, though, and appreciate each other a bit more after all of this. Those of us that remain are scarred and a bit hobbled, but we know well the fragility of life and that cancer can return at any moment. So we talk more, sharing stories from our lives and simple pleasures like reading and movies and good food.

And we do our best to kick that unwanted relative, cancer, to the curb for good.

Co-Agents in Marriage

Picture from rickyysanne on Morguefile.com
Picture from rickyysanne on Morguefile.com

Perhaps you haven’t yet thought about the possibility that there are secret agents living in your neighborhood and working with you. They might appear to be normal individuals—mothers, college students, and workers. Friendly and unassuming, they might never reveal their hidden identity. Still, there are times when they may be focused on their smartphones, especially when around pieces of public art or community centers. Or sometimes they might take quite a bit longer to go to the grocery store than expected.

Who are these people? They are agents for either the Enlightenment or Resistance in the game, Ingress. The game is an augmented reality game, one in which “portals” seen only by looking at a smartphone are superimposed on our physical world. Players fight for control over these portals and thus the population. There’s a lot more to the game, of course, but those are the basics. Starting with a small beta, the game has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon with agents cooperating in enormous tasks for their team.

My husband learned about the game early on when the game was still in beta. He played a bit at that point but returned in force when we both got smartphones. He was insistent that I join the Resistance and therefore be able to help him in the fight for XM. And my reaction? I was a little annoyed by the prospect. Why travel around to play a game when I could be reading a novel? I finally relented, though, and formed an account.

I realize now that my initial annoyance was selfish on my part; marriage often includes doing things we might not normally think of doing otherwise in an attempt to bring happiness to our spouse. Indeed, this service is described in the latest book that I am reading, an advance copy of The Story of Marriage by John and Lisa Bevere. Prioritizing our lives in favor of God and our spouse—along with a right heart and spirit—will lead to making your own desires last. I’ll admit that this hasn’t always been easy for me, and I often fail. But with God’s grace I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

It would cost me only a bit of time to make my husband very happy, and little did I know that this game would provide a fun point of unity for our marriage, giving us an escape from our daily tasks while allowing us to be co-agents for the Resistance. While some married couples might jog together, we go out and play Ingress. It is purely nerdy fun and provides some much-needed relief from stress. Battling together for portals, we have found togetherness in our marriage as well as camaraderie with local players.

While initially my participation was reluctant, Ingress for us has become a major way to enjoy ourselves as a couple and provides a point of bonding for us. I gave up my own time—and my doubts about this game—and benefited greatly by serving my husband. We become co-agents for the Resistance when we fight the Enlightenment, thus bringing us a bit further in our pursuit to become co-agents in marriage as well.

Competition in Marriage? Yes!

2013-09-27_0918Competing as a married couple can be fraught with difficulties, but it can be a whole lot of fun as well. True competition without a sense of love is useless in a marriage as it can cause strife in the relationship. However, competing for the sake of enjoyment can bring a new element to even a long marriage that has seen its share of ruts.

How do I know this? It’s pretty silly, really. My husband and I recently began playing The Tribez on Facebook. It is a game similar to Age of Mythology in that you build a town and progress through the evolution of your society. There are some different elements as well—an ongoing and mysterious communication with a professor, for example—but that’s the basic gist of the game.

Although it is a simple Facebook game, it has become a source of fun and competition for my husband and myself. We talk about our own tribe, how we are progressing through the game, and what quests we are currently completing. Not so surprisingly too considering my husband’s personality, it has also brought out his extremely competitive nature, and so we have found ourselves taunting each other about a lack of progress, but in a fun way.

Is playing this game productive? No, it sure isn’t. But it has injected a bit of fun into our relationship during a difficult and uncertain time. We can talk about something light hearted and tease each other in a silly way. Oddly, we’ve even found ourselves growing a bit closer. And that makes it worthwhile.

Dinner Time

Original Photo by  kumarnm on Morguefile.com
Original Photo by kumarnm on Morguefile.com

Lately, my husband and I often wind up having a conversation such as that below around dinner time:

Him: “What do you want for dinner?”

Me: “Mmm…I don’t know.”

Him: “Do you want to go out?”

Me: “No, let’s just fix something here.”

Him: “What? A frozen pizza?”

Perhaps you too have such conversations in your own home. The inevitable nature of them makes them somewhat humorous and pitiful at the same time. With the speed and busy-ness of our daily lives, many often leave behind organizing their home life in favor of the ease of frozen foods or restaurants.

This didn’t always occur in our household. I admit that I have become rather lazy in this area of our lives. After spending much of my energy attempting to find recipes that everyone would enjoy, I decided that we would just eat frozen food. And we have for a few months now.

With the cool summer and the continuing lack of job prospects, I’m thinking I’m going to have to return to my organized, frugal ways and make my own meals and other food items such as yogurt and granola. Much more in the way of work for myself, but certainly cheaper as far as grocery bills.

Last night, we had a conversation similar to that above. After some fruitless discussion, we were close to going out for Thai food. I searched for the phone number and considered the price of the meal, which would have been somewhat expensive; I decided then and there to whip us up a meal from the food we had on hand. Maybe not Thai, but it was spicy. It’s just too bad we didn’t have a bit of something to drink along with it.

I have to admit that it felt darn good to be cooking again. There’s something innately satisfying about creating something on the fly and feeding your family. Definitely more satisfying than warming up a frozen meal or a pizza, and probably more nutritious.

Who knows? Perhaps my return to my old frugal, DIY self may provide some fodder for another blog. At the very least, we’ll be getting away from constant meals of frozen foods and the futility of having the same conversation every day.

Commitment

Anakin with Lambie
Anakin with Lambie

“There are three faithful friends – an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.” –Benjamin Franklin

Commitment—even when it entails sacrifice—seems to have gotten a bad reputation of late. In our society’s rush to pleasure and enjoyment, we often forget that true love must come with commitment, and this with self-sacrifice. Whether it is a marriage or caring for an elderly dog, there may be some suffering along with the joy.

Yesterday, I took our beloved little Anakin for his first post-chemo checkup. He appears to be in remission at this point, but there is some evidence of further age-related deterioration. At the age of nine, he is a senior dog, but not necessarily elderly. We have begun to see some weakness and loss of coordination, along with possible signs of dementia. Small things in the larger view of his health and abilities, considering that he is an overall very happy and loved dog.

For us, he is still that straggly little dog who showed up on our front doorstep at the age of one. He was scared and wet from the rain, but he seemed to know that he had found the right house. We took him in and helped him through most of his problems. He learned to bark and play, realizing that the abuse that he had experienced before he met us was finally over. He was our “Little Mister,” and we were his family.

Now, eight years later, we all have aged. Some may question why we went to the expense of chemotherapy for a dog, but we couldn’t imagine not giving him that chance for additional life. I was brought up to believe that taking care of pets is a commitment that you don’t simply discard when things get rough. Like marriage or any other worthwhile relationship, you stick with it, showing that person—or little dog—just what love really means.

Anakin is still our Little Mister. He may not be able to run like he did when he was a younger dog and may require some extra supervision, but we love him just the same. His abilities and health may change, but our love only grows stronger. And that’s the true result of commitment, a strong and abiding love borne out of sacrifice and pain.