So, you might remember that earlier this year, in the late winter days, Raymond and the kids built garden beds for me.
Those gardens have been my therapy, my hope, the medicine that kept me going this year. I think that R. has hauled off over 100 5 gal buckets of rocks. Maybe close to 150. He and the kids (mostly R!) hauled countless wheelbarrow loads of dirt from an area where we sheet composted last year. I didn't really feel like planting, but after seeing all that effort, I couldn't let it go to waste.
Green beans, yellow and green squash, spaghetti squash, okra, cucumbers, green chilis, jalapenos, tomatoes, herbs, all placed in the soil in faith, with a great deal of hope, and more than anything, love, as I thanked God for Raymond, my partner who sees what I need and helps make it happen. Oh, yes, and a bunch of zinnias and marigolds to make things pretty.
Miraculously, things came to life. Patrick picked up a bale of alfalfa hay and I mulched three beds with several inches of the rich, green matter. Another bed I mulched with a thick layer of pine needles on top of cardboard, used as a weed suppressor.
A few weeks before the green beans were ready to bear, I had to go to Virginia for unpleasant business. A massive hail storm took out half our garden, and many other gardens in town. Not to mention half the fruit on our figs and all the apricots. My dear old dad saw the damage and replanted green beans without telling me! Wasn't I surprised to see the new crop coming up days after I returned home! What a dad, to know how much delight, not to mention food, I would receive from his efforts.
As I will explain shortly, it has been a rough year on many levels. Some things I can write about, some things I can't. It is hard to blog when I feel like I have to censor myself. You know the old saying, if you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all. So, let's just say that I have had an amazing opportunity to learn to bless people who are persecuting me, and to pray for those who are not kind to me. I have seen the legal system at work, and have determined that even when it works in my favor, and I am proven to be in the right, I still don't win. You know the scripture that talks about being pressed down, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair? Well, that has been the theme this year. I have had the opportunity to forgive like I have never experienced before. To second guess my every move, to be frustrated with myself for not being more discerning, not being more wise, for not knowing how to take care of certain situations. Blaming myself for using Rocket Lawyer rental lease documents, instead of paying a lawyer to draw up a good one. Blaming myself for being so naive that I thought I could trust a signed name and a handshake.
Well,I could go on and on about all the things that went wrong in my life this year. Crazy, really. If you want all the details, well, just use your imagination. But as circumstances worsened, I would say to myself, at least my children are healthy, and I am strong and can work! I have love of dear ones, a great relationship, many friends, a thriving business, great church, terrific teachers for my kids, opportunities to see my family, etc, etc.
And then, in the same breath, my little mustard seed of faith would squeak out to God that even if things got worse, and my kids got sick, or my business failed, or my health failed, I would still believe that we would be cared for. I would choose to not live in fear of the worse. I kept telling myself that I would be the woman in Proverbs 31:25. who was clothed in strength and dignity, who laughed at the times (no matter how troubled) that were to come.
And then would go work in the garden and cry. Or knead the bread and cry, trying quickly to wash away the tears before customers made it to the bakery. Begging God to help me to laugh.
We would pick the squash, the peppers, the green beans, and would eat them and give thanks. So many lovely things to enjoy as the flowers bloomed like crazy. Rachel and Jason and the kids stopped at our house on the way to their new home in New Mexico. Kathryn and Peter brought Max and Mary and we tromped all over the Big Bend, sharing the places they have heard about since our days in New Jersey. My customers kept coming and they blessed me again and again and again as I forced myself to get up and bake.
But all the time, the troubles in Virginia grew, and I felt my strength wane. I wondered if there were some health issues going on. In the winter I went to the doctor for a check up and expressed my concerns. We figured that it was probably just symptoms that happen to go along with a woman's journey into her late 40's. But just in case, he ordered several diagnostic tests. All normal. Which was a relief. But I still felt like I was running out of gas. Getting more and more sad.
At some point, I told the doctor I thought I had sunk into depression, and he assured me that with the circumstances I was undergoing, it would be more than reasonable to think that way. And then he ordered a blood test, and a sonogram and a biopsy of my uterus.
And lo and belold, he told me I was anemic! What a shock for this red meat eating, cast iron skillet cooking, vitamin taking woman. He gave me iron pills, and within a few days I could think more clearly than I had for months and felt a sense of humor returning! Okay, so maybe this is all in my mind, but it was shocking how quickly I felt better getting some iron in my system.
The sonogram looked normal. All that awaited me was a biopsy. You know it is going to be bad when your doctor tells you to be sure and take pain medicine before you get to the office because it is going to hurt. And then all the nurses tell you three times that it is going to hurt. Ugh. I hate pain. I hate needles. I pretty much don't like going to the doctor, but was proud of myself for being such a big girl, getting it done, no matter how painful or embarrassing.
One of my bffs here drove me to the office. I lay on the table, trying to maintain my posture of strength and dignity and sense of humor as the doctor did his part to figure out what was going on with my body. It is hard to maintain all those things when you hurt VERY BADLY in very delicate parts of your body. A few tears rolled down my cheek as the doctor said he was so sorry for the pain, but hang in there, almost done. He got a good sample, told me that more than likely all the symptoms that had been causing my anemia etc, were probably related to hormonal changes in my body, but this test would rule out cancer.
A few days later, I got up to work in the bakery. The bread was rising. I still felt pretty miserable, and just kept asking God if I were losing my mind. Seemed like my productivity had gone down by 50% or so. I was still working, but by rote, and was cutting out more and more activities each week. The phone rang around 8am. It was the doctor. His voice was sober. He told me that the biopsy results had come in and that it tested positive for uterine cancer.
My throat went dry. My hands trembled. He said he was so sorry. He told me he had already been consulting with doctors in Odessa and Dallas and that we would be referred up there the next week. He told me that we would have to schedule a full hysterectomy and that it would hopefully take care of the problem, and that more than likely the cancer was contained.
I went back to work, in shock. I called a couple of friends and we cried. All of a sudden everything made sense. The weakness, the burning pain that wasn't normal. The anemia. In a weird way, I was relieved to know that I wasn't losing my mind. But terrified, since I had been asking about the weird symptoms for a year and a half. My grandmother had uterine cancer. So did a couple of other close relatives.
That afternoon, my doctor and his assistant popped in to the bakery to check on me. They gave me big hugs. Promised to pray. Told me that he was sending me to a doctor he would choose for his own mother or wife. Can you believe that? Then I sat the kids down and told them we were going to be going through an adventure together. They cried with me.
Then I told them that their great grandmother had the same cancer several decades ago, and she is still alive at 97 year old and we think she might never die! That made us laugh. We talked about cancer genes and heart genes and long life genes, and I reminded them of the many ways God has cared for us through hard times. We remembered that we do hard pretty well, especially with the amazing corps of friends that surround us, and hold us, and don't let us go.
My friends came in and cried with me and hugged me and assured me they were with us for the duration.
Raymond cried with me, held me and assured me he was with me for the duration.
The next Sunday morning I took my Bible and coffee out to the swing in the backyard and read and prayed and cried. I whined for a minute or two or ten, telling God that this was ridiculous, and how come we seem to have to have everything be so hard. As I started to go through the litany of complaints about the crazy hard stuff, the still small voice whispered to me quietly. So quietly I had to shut up and be still for a moment. Then all of a sudden a flood of pictures came to mind. A flood of times when we got to have things the easy way in the middle of the hard. The way I didn't have to be alone the night Philip died, but was surrounded by friends who could help. The way Laura R and dozens of others brought piles and piles of firewood. How people gave us money to pay for funeral, for bakery equipment, for fixing our vehicle. How many meals we received over the months from dear ones and total strangers. I thought of the way so many friends helped carry our load again and again and again.
I didn't have to move the kids to Texas by myself. I had my parents and Raymond who worked alongside our Virginia friends to get it done. I was able to find a home that was perfect for our family and the bakery. It was easy to find good foods here. It was easy to get our business started. All of a sudden, I found myself praising God, utterly grateful the way all of our hard things had been covered over with a giant cloud of grace. An ocean of grace. With mercy and provision, with love and kindness. We have been given so much more than we deserve. I tried to think of someone I know without troubles, and it quickly became apparent to me that we all have our share of troubles.
Yes, that is no real epiphany. I have known that for such a long time. But somehow the powerful flood of goodness and mercy and love and grace watered my soul and fed me with nourishing comfort. I was able to pick up my empty cup and my Bible and return to the house filled.
Now, don't get me wrong! I still was scared. My imagination would threaten to take over and every worse case scenario played out in my mind as I tried to joke and laugh with the kids, telling them I was going to offer to pay the surgeon $50 dollars extra if he would suck out some stomach fat while he was in there taking out the cancer.
Then I would go in my room and cry.
Well, the good news is, we were able to go to Dallas, to Baylor Medical Center. I had an amazing gyno-oncologist who did a stellar job. A total hysterectomy, an oophorectomy and salpingectomy. Whew. That is a mouthful, isn't it? And by the way, I forgot to ask about the liposuction. I have a feeling he wouldn't have taken that on for a mere $50. The best part, pathology showed that the cancerous tumor was completely contained, that they didn't find any cancer cells anywhere else in my body. I will have extensive follow-ups for the next five years, but other than healing from the surgery, there shouldn't be need for anymore treatment.
Once again, hard circumstance, but the easy version. And I am humbled to experience once again an outpouring of love and support. Folks here in the area, plus friends in Virginia have given to us financially. Enough to cover the two months of missed work in the bakery, since I am supposed to rest and heal and not life anything heavier than a gallon of milk. R and Mom and Dad were with me in the hospital. Larry and Lynne drove all the way to far West Texas to love on me and drive kids and be a presence and to deliver gifts of love. Holly came for the better part of a week to drive and cook and clean and love us, all the way from New Orleans. Friends here sacrifice to chaufffeur, babysit, bring meals, and more, more, more.
I stand amazed, perplexed, guilty. How to receive such love? Remind me to share with you the "miracle of the stale fortune cookie" sometime soon, and you will see how silly little things help. In the meantime, I continue to thank God for the many hearts and hands that help bear our burdens. I pray that each one, each gift equally valuable, whether the hand drawn picture crafted by my favorite customer Leif, attached to the gorgeous bouquet brought by his mama, or the enormous financial gifts, the fruits, the meals, the prayers, the hugs, I pray that each person would get back a gigantic return on their investment. I pray that everytime they have a hard time, they will experience the easy version, covered in love and grace. I pray that every time they need a meal and can't make one, that one would appear. That when they need a hug or an ear or a helping hand with their farm or their car of their house, or their kids, the help would appear.
We give thanks that I am cancer free. I rejoice that my children don't have to suffer with fear over my health. But please know that if we had been one of the multitude that got the bad news that we were too late, and that I was going to die sooner rather than later, I have complete confidence that my children would be cared for, carried and loved, and from heaven I would pray that they would be clothed with strength and dignity, able to laugh at the times to come.
Okay. I know I need to come back, edit, rewrite, cut out about half of this. Or turn it into three posts instead of one jumbled up pile of info. But here I am with a few minutes, I have missed you guys and really wanted to let you know what has been going on. I owe some of you letters, and hopefully you will get one soon. I thought I would get back from the hospital and then would be ready to sit down to write, write write. But I guess all the drugs in the hospital have left me a bit scatter-brained and unfocused. Am feeling better.
Have so much more to say. So Garden, part 2 coming in a day or two. Maybe as I feel stronger I will be able to use this time of pause to be able to put down some of the stories that have been swirling in my head the past few month.