It Worked!

It has been exactly a year since we wrapped up the big “Tatted Totes for Tatted Tits” project. In the end the final number of donated handmade totes was 720. Amazing!

With permission I share the following e-mail I received recently from a recipient of one of our tote bags. I hope it gives you the satisfaction, as it did for me, that the project worked!:

Good Afternoon!
I am finally able to send this email. I’m so excited to say I am done with my Chemotherapy Treatment. Going back to normal now. I have a 6 year old boy and a 9 year old girl so I Definately have lots of catching up to do, but before I moved on I wanted to say how grateful I was for this gift I received when I was diagnosed. It was very comforting knowing that someone cared what was happening to me. I had a big support group and was so important, but when something like this comes from a complete stranger you truly feel such love. It’s hard to explain but I know you definately understand.
My Tote held safely everything I needed to keep myself organized while I was going from doctor to doctor and hospitals.
THANK YOU FROM THE DEEPEST PART OF MY HEART.
Romans 12:10
Sincerely, P

We Remember

We Remember

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I never met Specialist Jayne, but because of his death I found myself one crisp evening under a canopy in the middle of his hometown high school football field. The game lights shone bright and highlighted our breath as it came out in little puffs. The father, mother, step-father and siblings of this young soldier had just spent 4 hours in the school auditorium, standing next to the casket of their fallen hero, receiving the condolences, gratitude, memories and expressions of faith from any in the community who wished to come. When I came into the auditorium it was quiet but for whispered conversations, occasional laughter when sweet memories were shared and some soft background music. I was there because my husband, an Army Chaplain, was asked to conduct the funeral of Specialist Jayne.

My husband had been with the family for a few hours before I came to the auditorium. While he was with them I searched my mind for some gift I might offer the family, especially his mother. I found a store and purchased the items required for my brainchild and then went back to my room. Carefully I ironed a white hankie, whipped together a little offering and wrapped it in some tissue paper with a ribbon.

At the auditorium, when a lull in the line presented itself, my sweetheart joined me and I waited my turn to greet the family. I didn’t have the words to say figured out in my head, but when I approached Specialist Jayne’s mother my husband introduced me and I offered, “I wanted to give you a little gift, a token from our family.” She opened the wrap and inside found the neatly pressed hankie with a double ribbon stitched near the tip. I explained, “The yellow ribbon represents the hope of a soldier coming home, and the white represents the peace we wish for your family.” She gave me a hug which was followed by another hug from her husband. With misty eyes they thanked me for the gift and for the time they’d been able to spend with my husband the Chaplain. Then they invited me to join them on the football field when the time came.

After the reception ended a few words were spoken, a slideshow of the life of Specialist Jayne was presented, there was a prayer and then the visitors were invited to exit to the football bleachers. The family took a few minutes to themselves while those who would participate in the ceremony took their places on the field.

To the sound of bagpipes I tailed the official party and they trailed the flag-draped casket as it was carried onto the field. I felt it an awkward privilege to be invited to participate so intimately, and to witness so clearly, the footsteps of the grieving family.

Taps is a forlorn melody. While living on an Army Post I hear it played every night, blasting its memoriam across the post to signal the end of the day. Hearing it at the funeral of Specialist Jayne, to the inconsolable sobs of his younger brother, was a sacred melody.

Since my hubby joined the service The Star Spangled Banner has increased in meaning to me, quite different than before I had a soldier of my own. New experiences change forever the ordinariness of extraordinary traditions.

Gunfire has a concussive effect that rattles my nerves but the salvo of a 21-Gun Salute shakes my soul, my knees nearly buckle and I often will steady myself with the sturdy arm of whoever is standing next to me. As I braced myself for the coming volleys, I wished to spare this family, especially the little brother, from this time honored tradition. The service included each of these elements, rich in meaning and emotion.

After the prayer, the folding of the flag, with its presentation to Specialist Ryan Jayne’s incredibly grounded, gracious mother, the casket was carried off the field followed by the family. On the edge of the field was a waiting hearse into which the casket was carefully placed. From a few paces away I saw as the back door was closed and a beloved brother firmly placed his hand on the window for a moment before joining his family in the warmth of the school. As I walked past I watched the foggy outline of his warm hand on the cold glass fade and disappear. I took a picture of that in my heart and it remains with me.

So – along with your day off, your rack of ribs, your freedom . . . remember to remember.

The following is a Memorial Day video honoring those Soldiers who have died with whom my husband and I had a personal connection.

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(This was a beautiful headstone I found at the National Cemetery at Fort Sam Houston, TX)

 

 

One Bag

One Bag

This article is a follow up to the project found at: https://mjslostcause.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/tatted-totes-4-tatted-tits/

Eighty days ago I sat down to write a blog.

In that time I have witnessed something extra-ordinary.

I have made a little slideshow video documenting what we accomplished together. If you donated a bag that arrived before Mother’s Day, look for it to be featured in the video. The music that accompanies the following video is like the origins of this project, the songs are just me and my computer and a $10 microphone. The songs were inspired by my own life events that seemed to compliment the spirit of this project.

The following represents my individual thanks to each seamstress and contributor; it isn’t about me, it’s about you. Sit back, check the volume and witness the miracle of true charity and love that I have seen over the last 2 months and 20 days.

Many of you wrote to me of honoring a breast cancer warrior friend or family member with your donation. I received beautiful poetry inspired by the perfect imperfections of a handmade tote. You shared with me that some of the fabric used was the left over material from making beloved baby blankets, little girls’ dresses and curtains that hang in your home. The fabric had sentimental value and you deemed this a worthy cause. You were right. I was thrilled to see moms and church leaders dusting off their sewing machines and teaching the rising generation the fundamentals of a fading domestic skill.

I have been in contact with quite a few bloggers and sewing guild leaders who promoted this project. It was shared on the internet beyond my ability to track. To those who helped in any way I thank you. Here are a few of the promoters’ websites:

so-sew-easy.com/sewing-charity-mjs-tote-bags-cancer/

https://www.facebook.com/SoSewEasy

themodernmarigold.com

sewlikemymom.com/tote-bags-breast-cancer/

sumofsix.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/tatted-totes-4-tatted-tits/

just4rambling.blogspot.com

tangledupwithstringblog.blogspot.com

craftyashleyb.com

mosaicmagpie.blogspot.com

https://www.facebook.com/SewManyPretties

A big thanks to Renae at http://richmombusiness.com/ for the interview and to skiptomylou.org/2009/07/17/how-to-make-a-simple-reversible-totebag/ for the tote pattern.

Thank you to Vanessa and Kris for providing 350 beautiful handmade cards. This took so much time and work.

Thanks to my incredibly talented friend, the artist, Karalenn for helping me design the logo that is on each of the letters. I wish I could show you more of her work. It is incredible.

MJ's Cause

The purpose of “MJ’s Lost Cause” is to highlight under-appreciated opportunities and situations. I am so pleased with the response to this project. I encourage you to take the energy received through this project and to now channel it to your local hospitals. Make as many totes as you sent me, and donate them to serve your local neighbors. (Or, find some other passion in which you can serve locally.)We have seen that together we can accomplish great things, those great things can continue in your hometown. Some, like my new friend Whitney in Utah, have already taken this idea local and are having beautiful success. Again, this project isn’t about me. It is about helping one another as we fumble through this mortal experience.

Awareness

We talk, and walk, and post on FB about breast cancer awareness. Sometimes I wonder how desensitized we might be getting to this kind of awareness. Has it inspired you to get a mammogram or perform Breast-Self-Exams? If so, great! It’s working!!! I just hope that we remember to become truly aware beyond wearing the t-shirt.

Bald2

I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma. ER/PR-. Her2 3+. My cancer was discovered at stage 2 A or B-ish. I had 3 surgeries that added up to a partial mastectomy and then underwent 6 months of AC-T chemotherapy. Two weeks after my first chemo infusion I began losing my hair. I had my kids and my husband shave it. When I began Taxol I also began 1 year of weekly Herceptin infusions. When my 6 months of chemo ended I began 7 weeks of (5 days a week) radiation.

I have no family history of breast cancer and my BRCA1&2 tests came back normal.

I had 2 babies before cancer and 2 babies after my cancer treatment was over.

I have struggled with body image for years and only recently have I found greater peace concerning how the cancer changed me emotionally and physically.

I receive annual mammograms and have just been advised to receive annual breast MRIs staggered by 6 months from my mammograms. My mammogram a couple weeks ago showed some microcalcifications that caught the eye of the doctors. I was scheduled for a biopsy, then was relieved to hear that the biopsy was not necessary. The following day I was called again and told that after consulting with multiple doctors, mine thought it would be prudent to go ahead with the biopsy. It was a stereotactic biopsy. It was an incredibly comfortable procedure. The local anesthetic did its job wonderfully. However, because of past traumas to my breast I had a very emotional reaction to the first tiny prick of the needle. After 5 days I received the news that all was well. The pathology report came back clean.

This is breast cancer awareness.

It is raw.

It is real.

It is not all peachy.

This video was recorded just as my chemotherapy treatment was starting. I write a song for my husband’s birthday each year and because of the circumstances surrounding our lives right then, his birthday song reflected the most raw, truth I was feeling.

Please be aware of changes in your breast tissue. The best way to do this is to know what lumps and dips are normal for you. Monthly Breast Self Exams (BSE) can save lives. You are not looking for cancer with BSE, you are simply becoming familiar so that you can notice changes should they occur.

Another type of breast cancer that doesn’t seem to get any front-page coverage is Inflammatory Breast Cancer. IBC. Look it up. It is usually diagnosed by a dermatologist because of the associated topical symptoms.

If you find a lump or are worried about something that doesn’t seem right in your breast do not put a visit to the doctor’s office off out of fear. Delay can change the outcome. Early detection was my friend and offered me at least 9 years more with my family.

Educate yourself on the guidelines for breast cancer screening with your particular family history. The general guidelines, simplified, are to begin annual mammograms starting at age 40 (by which time I would have been dead) and to receive clinical breast exams every 3 years starting in your 20s.

1% of breast cancers are diagnosed in men.

Dreams

In conclusion, I’d like to share that breast cancer has been a part of my life, but it is only a part. It does not define me, only links me to others who have shared in the same trial. It reminds me of mortality and the need to serve as I was served.

Life goes on and though I carry the scars of that experience, I also continue to live and dream. Someday I want to fly in a hot-air balloon, I want to grow old, I want to hear one of my songs on the radio, I want to continue my education and grow a garden and I’d love to organize another “lost cause” project.

I will find a hospital and home for every one of these love-filled handmade totes. Thank you for your generosity, your trust and your attention. I have been blessed to be in the front row, witnessing this heaven-blessed project come together. I pray the blessings of God upon each of you. May your secret acts of kindness bring the Lord’s peace in your lives.

Always,

MJ

 

P.S.

Here’s the most recent birthday song. If you liked the others, perhaps you’ll like this one too. It’s more upbeat.

If you would like to follow future projects and updates for MJ’s Lost Cause on Facebook “like” it at https://www.facebook.com/mjslostcause

You can also contact me at mjslostcause@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Takes Time to Make History

When I was 11, living in my 7th home, 3rd state, and attending my 4th elementary school I was envious of the children who had been best friends since before kindergarten. They lived in the same house, in the same neighborhood with the same bedroom since they were born. I yearned for that kind of connection to a neighborhood and to a friend. My family was tight but I wished for a friend my age to play with at recess and to count on for after school playtime hours. I didn’t begrudge those who could claim that kind of friendship, I just understood that it would take a few months before I would begin to feel warm connections.

As a military wife, married 14 years, currently living in our . . . let me count them . . . in our 11th home, I have seen a pattern develop. This is the pattern for me. The first three months in an area are kind of exciting, with lots of promise for the 1-3 years we anticipate living in that home. I spend my time setting up the house and reaching out to make new friends.

From the 3 month mark to the 6 month mark I find myself tired of extending myself, and craving familiarity instead of excitement. I sometimes find myself very down. I have learned that it isn’t uncommon to experience a sort of grieving process when you lose something special. Moving across the country, regardless of the promise of the new area, can definitely be a loss to grieve. A loss of nearness to friends who know you, a loss of order in your home, a loss of favorite hiking trails, an upsetting of knowing your place in a community, and the necessity of learning where the olives are in the local grocery store, all these can leave one feeling isolated and exhausted.

For me, the 6-12 month time frame offers promising friendships and a steadying of my place in the community.

When I have lived somewhere for a year I feel like I can call the place home.

When I have lived somewhere for two years I feel like the area is “mine.”

At about the 2.5 year mark I start getting “itchy gypsy feet,” (thank you, Erin) and anticipate the next move. By this time, in a highly transient area, the people who became your close friends may be getting ready to move as well and there are so many new people that the idea of extending yourself like you had in the first 6 months may feel like a lost cause. About 3 months before you move you (hopefully) have orders to a new area. You begin studying the new area and phasing out, emotionally, from the current area.

The process then begins again.

These are in no way rules to live by, but I wonder how similar this pattern is to other military families.

After living in our current home in San Antonio, TX, for a mere 8 months, we just received notification of our next assignment. We (supposedly) will be living in El Paso, TX this summer. We have had orders to El Paso before. The orders to El Paso changed to South Korea and then to upstate New York last time. I have put some effort into researching the housing at Fort Bliss, El Paso, but I haven’t emotionally invested in the idea yet. Once bitten, twice shy.

So, back to my point . . . my life, it seems, has been a series of new friendships. I started wondering if it was just my plight to make history with people only to say goodbye and never see them again except on Face Book.

Last night I sat in the home of our dear friends. We shared dinner, our children played, and my soul rested. We have finally made the rounds enough in military life to begin running in to old friends. When we were each newlywed couples, husbands entrenched in language school and military demands, we were casual friends. When our next duty station landed us in the same town our little families started to grow as well as our friendship. In the incubator of motherhood and military family life we trudged through the hardships together. She in her home, me in mine, we formed a friendship of support through our encounters at the park or on group lunch dates. Those were some intense, formative years in my life.

As we sat in their home, nearly a decade since the last time that happened, I was known. Sure, they were sketchy on the last 10 years of our lives, but they knew me. I didn’t have to start from scratch or worry about first impressions. We had history, finally.

I have concluded that “history” between friends cannot be fully appreciated until the two parties have been apart for some time.

Here’s your lost cause for the week:

If you find yourself in the ever-circling pattern of new friendships and craving familiarity – fear not – each of those friendships, however old or new when you left them, can feel like home when you find each other again.

To all my friends in Monterey, California – San Antonio, Texas – Eagle River, Alaska – Rexburg, Idaho – Boise, Idaho, Adrian, Oregon – Provo, Utah – Meridian, Idaho – Fort Drum, New York and the thousands of places so many of us have scattered to throughout the years, I look forward to crossing paths with you again and hugging you, and feeling the peace of home, the peace of being known without any effort.

It Takes Time to Make History

Tatted Totes 4 Tatted Tits

Tatted Totes 4 Tatted Tits

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This Project Has Wrapped Up
See The results of this effort at
https://mjslostcause.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/one-bag/

************************************

(I blushed just titling this blog, but it is perfectly descriptive and kinda fun to say.)

Did you know that many breast cancer patients have tattoos? I have 6.

Mine are from radiation therapy. They are tiny blue dots on my chest and sides that served as markers by which the technicians lined up the radiation field to hit precisely the same tissue for 7 weeks. Others receive reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy and have a nipple rebuilt and then add tattoo color to complete the aesthetics.

Valentine’s Day is the anniversary of my lumpectomy; the surgery that led to my breast cancer diagnosis. It has been 9 years now.

Here is my journal entry from February 19, 2005:

“It’s nearly 6 a.m. and I’ve been tossing and turning all night. So has Luke (our 2 1/2 year-old). I know because we are all sleeping in the same room. Each boy on a couch and James and I on our mattress on the floor. Our house is damaged from a burst pipe and needs $17,000 in repairs. We are hoping insurance will cover it. I had a miscarriage last Wednesday, 10 days ago, and this past Monday had a lumpectomy.

Yesterday Dr. Anderson sat with James and I in a small exam room and told me that I have breast cancer. I am 24 years old with breast cancer. When she told me I listened as she explained that in the immediate future I am looking at a mastectomy or surgery and radiation. They only have a small piece of me for information so this next Friday I will be going in for surgery to remove the tissue immediately around where the original lump was and to test to see if my lymph system has received any spreading cancer. I have so few answers and so many questions, and a whole week to speculate. My sample has been biopsied and is en rout to Washington D.C. to have further testing. On Tuesday I have an appointment with Dr. Anderson to rehash what she told us yesterday, because most of it went over our heads, and to give us the results from Washington D.C.

I have given a travel-log so far. How do I feel? . . .

I spoke with my siblings, parents, grandma and In-laws yesterday and had to tell each of them that I had cancer. Each time I knew what message I was calling them to share, but felt as though I was lying each time. I haven’t really internalized it myself. But I know it’s true. I have the care package designed for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, so . . . I must have breast cancer. My body feels strong . . . but I think this might be more extensive than a local lump. When I was having this lump looked at through ultrasound the radiologist thought it looked like a cluster of cysts, clumped together and saw other grey “cysts” all over the rest of my breast. I wonder if those aren’t cancer. This might be a big fight. And I might lose some body parts . . . but I will survive it.

I have thanked Heavenly Father many times for the miscarriage last week. All of the miscarriages make sense now. Especially, I am grateful, for not having to think about making a choice between my baby and myself. Heavenly Father has spared me from it. Usually this kind of cancer is not felt, but only seen on mammograms. Heavenly Father has shown me the cancer, taken my baby away so I could treat the cancer and made extreme things happen so that I can be on top of it and beat it. My breasts haven’t shrunk since the miscarriage. I wonder if it’s because they are full of cancer. I wonder.❤ Martha Jane”

Reading this entry again puts my heart into a very sober, raw place. It makes me want to wrap my arms around that poor, scared, clueless newbie and tell her how the next 9 years will be. I wrote that journal entry on the first page of a diary provided in the care package mentioned above. The care package also included a pen, a candle, some chocolates and some literature on breast cancer. It was packaged in no ordinary bag, but a hand-made, crafted with love, fabric tote bag. The care package represented two very profound things to me upon receiving it with my diagnosis. First, it was a physical proof that I had indeed met with the doctor and received the nightmarish news. Second, it was a tangible testament that I was loved, watched after and encircled with support from a community that was ready to help me before I even knew about the cancer inside.

My desire to wrap my arms around my younger/innocent self can only be truly expressed through perpetuating the expression of love. I want to provide the same steadying gift of love and support to the next generation of breast cancer survivors. There are women out there who, today, don’t know they have cancer growing inside them. In the coming months they will undergo a lumpectomy and hear a similar message from their doctor, “We biopsied the lump in your breast and the pathologist found cancer cells in the tissue sample . . .” This message may come to your neighbor, your sister or your aunt. It may be your husband’s grandmother, or your niece who hears these words. Two weeks ago I spoke to the breast cancer patient coordinator at my local hospital who told me that they have a few things to give to the newly diagnosed: a diary, a pen, some chocolates. She would like to add some all natural lotions, (with no chemicals, etc.) to the bag. But, a lot of the care package depends on donations. When I asked, she said that the care packages are presented in a nice paper bag with handles.

I invite you to join me in a good cause. I’d love to fill those care packages with all kinds of wonderful uplifting gifts, but for now we’ll just focus on one, very meaningful gift.

I want you to help me make and distribute at least 100 hand-made tote bags (If I find myself buried in 500+ I will find a home for every one of them). I want those who will receive them to know that they are not alone and that there is a network of survivors and supporters and cheerleaders encouraging them in this fight before they ever leave the doctor’s office.IMG_1629

Here’s how it will work:

1. Make a couple one-of-a-kind totes

Here is a link to get the basic instructions for making a lined/reversable tote-bag. It is sturdy and simple. Beginner seamstresses can totally do this one.

I chose this pattern because it is similar to the one I received and I thought mine was pretty fabulous. I also like it because of the durability and the classiness of the finished edges inside and out.

Use fabric patterns that you would enjoy in a moment of crisis. Perhaps you would enjoy something bright and fun. Others might appreciate colors that are lovely and calming, etc.  With the expanse of contributors, I imagine we’ll have quite a perfect variety when all are gathered and ready to be delivered.

Add an embellishment or two. I actually don’t know how to tat, but if you want to incorporate it into the design of your masterpiece I’d be extra impressed.

Perhaps, as you sew it, keep a prayer in your heart for the woman who will clutch it as she leaves the exam room to face an unsteady future.

2. Mail them to me by Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014

**********I have moved from the address given originally************

3. Send me an e-mail for questions or comments and to let me know the package is on its way

mjslostcause@yahoo.com

4. Check back here after Mother’s Day and I’ll show you what we accomplished together

This would be a great project to complete with your children or church group, with a family member grieving the death of a breast cancer warrior or with a current fighter.

Finally, a thousand thanks to the sweet woman who crafted my tote. In the cold of the Anchorage, Alaska winter, in an exam room of the Elmendorf Air Force Base Hospital, your gift was delivered. I received it in my most vulnerable moments of crisis and it remains a treasure to me. Whoever you are, I appreciate your gift of comfort and forethought on my behalf. If you see this, please know that your gift will now be multiplied a hundred fold.

Lets get started, folks.

Follow this project on Facebook Here

If you would like a couple of friendly reminders about your goal to join this cause, just drop me an e-mail (mjslostcause@yahoo.com) and I’ll send you a little encouragement to keep this project on track.

Love ya’ll,

MJ

**UPDATE**

Watch my online Hang-Out interview below:

**Another Update**
You can follow this project on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mjslostcause

Good Goose Bumps

Good Goose Bumps

I have a love/hate relationship with goose bumps.

When I was first learning to shave my legs I caught a cool breeze behind the shower curtain and, not realizing the danger, I shaved the tips off of hundreds of goose bumps. (Hate)

When I hear Celine Dion or Josh Groban sing “O, Holy night,” I enjoy every little tingle and tickle of every single goose bump. (Love)

For humans, they say, there is no advantage to our sympathetic nervous system’s nerve stimulation and adrenaline~produced tiny contracting muscles that cause our hairs to stand on end. Though it beefs up other mammals to look scarier to their enemies, it doesn’t have quite the same effect on humans.

A few of the humans I live with love the goose bumps produced through soft tickles with fingernails on their back, arms and neck. Me? Not so much. This just reminds me of being cold and leads to razor burn flashbacks. But, I have other inducers of goose flesh that I enjoy.

Last night, on our Valentine’s date, hubby and I were at the mall. I stopped at the Lancôme counter and had a little makeover. As the artist brushed shadow onto my eyelids and powder under my eyes I got goose bumps.

When I go to the library and the librarian takes the little bar-code reader pen and carefully glides it across the inside cover of my book, I get goose bumps.

When I call in to my bank and the specialist on the other end of the line, for security reasons, verifies my date of birth, my security code, the last four of my social AND my address, I get goose bumps.

When my husband’s fingertips glide across my back and shoulders to sweep every strand of my hair to one side I get goose bumps.

I appreciate it when someone provides me a service with meticulous care and focus. Unrushed and confident, they do their job well and are happy to help me. For some reason these short encounters make me feel.

I also enjoy listening to patriotic anthems, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” They awaken something inside me that often lies dormant.

Though not necessary, goose bumps are the evidence that I feel. They may indicate feelings of cold, fear, passion, anticipation, excitement, relief, touch or peace. They can come from both physiological or psychological stimulation. Feeling is sometimes a lost cause to me. There have been times in my life of numbness, when I ached to feel. I might not even recognize the numbness until I experience feeling, shocked that it had been so long since last I felt.

Below are the links to some music and videos that may do nothing for you but they pass the goose bump test for me:

Today’s call to action is to find at least one healthy expression that awakens you to feel. If you are feeling numb, perhaps revisit those good things that used to move you.

How long has it been since you felt? What makes you feel? What gives you Good Goose Bumps?

The Apologist: How Death Before Adam Is Biblically Sound

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A small response to the Ham/Nye Creation/Science debate:

1 Peter 3:15-16 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having good conscience: that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

As a lifelong Christian I was raised with a foundation of steady faith. I ask that you read the following thoughts to the end. Give me the benefit of not assuming that you already know what I’m going to say.

When histories, seemingly contradictory doctrines, and detractors would expose me to information that did not fit into my childlike faith I would dismiss the information, happy in my happiness. Time went on and when those same conflicts of reason and faith arose I decided to face them head on, so they wouldn’t get in the way of my joy anymore. “Head on” means that I chose to recognize that there was something that unsettled me and I would give occasional thought to the matter, keeping my mind open to possible answers.

There are some perfect calamities that rock our human soul and shake our foundation and leave us lost. These often result from unreconcilable differences between heart and mind. Is it possible that we prematurely give up on these seeming contradictions, and abandon what could have become our highest joy? The crux of the Nye/Ham debate seemed to hinge on the doctrine in the following verse, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, (1 Corinthians 15:21),” or specifically, the introduction of death to the world through Adam. The belief, “There was no death before Adam,” in light of what we observe in fossils, ice layers and tree rings that tell the story of an Earth history longer than 6,000 years leaves many who have a hope in Christ with doubts and which, when embraced, can lead to personal apostasy.

The question, “But, what about the dinosaurs?” used to require me to fracture my beliefs as I felt forced to either dismiss a glaring discrepancy or marginalize my faith.

Because I choose to stand firmly in my faith in Jesus Christ and his plan of redemption I approach these “contradictions” with the assertion, “God is real and I know it – This other information also appears to be true. How can they both be true?” This is not a rhetorical question, it is a mission statement.

For Young Earth Creationists, their belief system demands that all of these Earth layers and fossils had been created/organized formed in approximately the last six millennia. This doctrinal demand comes from the assertion that there was no death before Adam, meaning that during Adam’s lifetime the animals, plants and people began to die. I assert that the Bible does not demand that we believe death to be 6,000 years old.

Nye and Ham each stood with a flag shouting, “This is truth,” and, “This is truth.” As an observer I appreciate the wonderful opportunity to receive as much truth as I am willing to receive.

Do I have a dog in the fight? Absolutely! I have a life which has been built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All of my joy has come through this life of faith; the man I chose to marry, the incredible peace I have felt when I should have crumbled, the joy of wholeness through the miracle of forgiveness, the hope for a reunion with loved ones lost to death. I have found wholeness and joy in this life and am teaching my children the joy of faith. The world offers me nothing in comparison. I am determined to keep the faith.

Mr. Ham was asked, if there were proof that the Earth was not created in 6 days and was less than 10,000 years old, would he still believe in Jesus of Nazareth and that Jesus was the son of God? He sidestepped this hypothetical by stating that if you believe in decomposition and death beyond 6,000 years ago – you have a problem with the Bible.

I look around me and the reason that settles easily on my mind is that the world around me is very old. I love the Bible and its teachings. I used to have a major issue with my religious understanding of my world in light of my observed surroundings. No longer. I do not have a problem with the Bible. I’ll tell you why.

To justify and address the “incompatibility” of the pivotal principle of the doctrine of death with the evidence of prehistoric and pre-Adam death, I will begin with another doctrine.

There was no Atonement before Jesus Christ.

From the beginning of man to the fulfillment of the Atonement, the children of the Great I AM performed sacrifices in similitude of the great and final, the eternal and infinite, perfect sacrifice that would fulfill the law of Justice and enact the laws of Mercy through Jesus of Nazareth.

There was no Atonement before Jesus Christ.

The Children of Israel performed sacrifices, sin offerings, days of Atonement, the slaughter of the scapegoat, prayers and incense. The Jews felt the effects of the Atonement before it was physically performed. This pattern is set forward in the book of Job. In Job 42: 7-8 the man Eliphaz is commanded of the Lord to take bullocks and rams to Job for sacrifice, because Job is acceptable of the Lord. Eliphaz is to do this lest the Lord deal with him “after his folly.” Through sacrifice Eliphaz was spared what would have been his undesirable wages.

There was no Atonement before Jesus Christ: True

There was Atonement before Jesus Christ: also True.

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This same standard can be placed upon the assertions:

There was no Death before Adam: True

There was Death before Adam: also True

These were the characters who introduced spiritual atonement and physical death to the world, the consequences of their actions were not bound by time.

Retroactive Physical Death, as brought about through Adam, need not be a stumbling stone, just as Retroactive Spiritual Life, graced to all those who would receive Jesus Christ, even those who lived before his life, is widely embraced.

Further, The Fall of Adam was necessary to introduce the beginning of Spiritual Death into the world, a literal beginning because he was the first with the capacity to sin. In parallel, the Atonement of Jesus Christ introduced the beginning of Immortality, a literal beginning because he was the first to be resurrected.

This is the conclusion we have settled upon in our home. I share it not with the assertion that it is doctrine, that it is the gospel truth, nor that this belief is necessary for salvation. I only share it with the peace and confidence that this is a pretty reasonable approach that appreciates both the assertion of the Bible, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead,” as well as the tale told by the Earth. I am a Christian Apologist. I will defend the reality of my God, my Savior and the Holy Spirit. The workings of God in my life are as real and tangible to me as the soil between my toes. If this conclusion is not right, at the very least it offers something I can hold onto until fuller truth and knowledge come my way. There are answers. Let’s not abandon the cause of Joy just because we cannot understand all things right now.

You’re Not Ready for Homeschool

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As a homeschooling mom I have been asked many questions about how it works, how to choose the right curriculum, how I provide my children with opportunities to learn social skills and how I gained the confidence to homeschool. These questions came from a range of friendly sources to skeptical naysayers. I will begin with my own experience and that of my son, which opened my eyes to thinking outside the box.

The seeds of discontent sprouted in 2008 when my second grader told me he wanted to run away from home, but the seeds were planted in 1991 when I was in 6th grade.

Middle School is a wonderful mess of hormones, identity struggles and learning. I was the 6th Grade Class President and had friends, but as a 12 year-old girl I was ill equipped to answer the sexual harassment of my peers and the physical abuse on the bus by older boys. My skin crawled when my shop teacher winked at me, which happened often. He never tried anything but a wink meant something to my 12 year-old self and I was very uncomfortable.  I am wary of the tendency to cut and run when things get awkward. I believe in working through things. But, with the gender based power struggles I experienced in Middle School – I felt acted upon and did not know how to act. The gift my mother gave me, the option to homeschool, gave me the time and experience I needed to return to public school for my sophomore, junior and senior years empowered and not academically deficient. I had no trouble getting into college.

When my 8 year-old son, who was quick to understand his school lessons and easily made friends, announced his desire to run away from home I took notice and pursued the root of the problem. I learned that his struggle was not at home, but at school. His classroom environment was high on anxiety, low on clarity and that the children lost many of their recesses for discipline. My husband and I spoke with the principle and were successful in having our son transferred to a different classroom in the same school. We made the change immediately after the Christmas break was over. He enjoyed his new teacher and no longer wanted to run away. I was content, sort of.

I resented the fact that my influence on my school age kids was so public-school centric. Each morning we woke up to rush them out the door. After they were gone for the best hours of the day, they would return with homework to be done, dinner to eat and then off to bed. I resented the daily log I had to fill out stating the titles of books, pages and minutes I had read with each of my children. One recurring homework assignment that especially got under my skin was that my 2nd grader use his spelling words to fill in the provided crossword puzzle. It often took us 30-45 minutes of trying, to figure out that the crossword framework was impossible to complete because there weren’t enough boxes for the letters. We would draw extra boxes, fill in the spelling words and my resentment would grow. I wanted those minutes with my child to be ours. I did not want 5 days a week to be totally entrapped by “the system’s” tenticles. Over the summer, thoughts of homeschool started to take root in my little mommy-heart and the decision was made when my 2nd-born was assigned to the same class that inspired our 1st-born to run away. Our family’s first round of homeschool lasted one year.

My first motivation to homeschool was driven by my desire to reclaim my right, as Mother, to influence my children’s tender years.

As a military family we received our orders to New York and chose, once again, to put the kids in public school to establish our family in the community and to give the kids opportunity to build friendships around our new home. After two years I had the desire to gather my children around me again. I learned and fulfilled the legal requirements to homeschool in the state of New York and we homeschooled for one semester. Then, for the second semester of the school year we switched gears again as I sent three of our four off to school each morning and enjoyed a couple hours alone with our baby and anxiously watched for our daughter’s kindergarten bus to drop her off around lunchtime. I had gained an attitude toward the public school system that was liberating. My attitude was this: I will use the public school system when I feel they can fulfill the needs of my children. I sent them each day to public school with a secret agenda, “For homeschool this semester we will be experiencing public school.”

Near the end of the school year we moved with orders to Texas. Knowing that we will be here for only one year I gave the children a choice. “Would you like to homeschool or go to public school this year?” Our oldest opted for public school and the younger two school kids opted to stay home. We lived the dual life for a few weeks before, “I think I want to come back to homeschool,” graced my eager ears. Like we made our oldest stick out his difficult circumstances in second grade until the semester ended, we likewise required him to stick with his decision to go to public school. We didn’t want to encourage him to bail on hard situations so we told him that he could return to homeschool at the end of the first quarter if he had straight A’s. He met the parameters we had set and in turn we kept our end of the bargain. I invested in grade level texts for him and he joined the rest of the family in our school day.

That is the summary of our use of homeschool so far, it may sound cruel, disjointed and flagrantly unsettling. It may be unsettling for some children, it is not “easy” for mine, but it works. It works because my kids are mine and I know them.

This history, flawed as it may or may not be, does not answer the questions that I have met with through the years. The “how,” “what,” and a major portion of “why,” has not been, and cannot be, fully addressed. With this post I will try to answer the single query of how I gained the confidence to homeschool.

First of all, when I started to homeschool my kids I had no confidence in my ability; I had no officially recognized qualifications to back the audacity that I could educate my own children. I just had a resolve, a God-given stewardship, a lifestyle that afforded me the time and I had love, not confidence.

The homeschool world can be overwhelming. Choosing curricula is a head-spinning process that weighs heavily on a home-educators mind and heart. This decision is both pinnacle and foundational. There are countless resources available and finding the “right” one, for me, has become a lost cause. I tried to find a great curriculum that I could really fully embrace. I had put myself in a double-bind. Finding a satisfactory, fully developed curriculum was not possible for me at that time because at the beginning of my homeschooling adventure my primary motivation was to cut ties that dictated every facet of my children’s education. I also felt passionate about educating my kids without having to buy into someone’s ready-made curriculum to the tune of thousands of dollars. 

I was seeking freedom, freedom from engrained social norms that most have come to accept as mandatory. I had a fiery fight inside my otherwise conflict-avoidant soul. So in the beginning I lacked not only confidence, but I began the school year without a fully developed plan. This I knew; I knew that I had a solid understanding of 2nd and 3rd grade principles. I bought a book that outlined the goals for each of those grade levels. With that book I began providing the best eclectic education I could come up with – and I saw my children thrive. This was the beginning of my confidence.

As we have tackled a variety of grade levels I have found that I don’t remember everything my kids are learning; for instance, all of the tricks in 7th grade math. But my children do not suffer because over the years I have found that I love using the Saxon Math text books. I buy the companion Solutions Manual and together we decode any difficult principles. The false assumption is that I cannot teach anything I do not know. By seeking out and incorporating worthy texts – I learn with my children and our house becomes a house of learning. It is a beautiful experience. This strengthens my confidence.

I thought that confidence would come through deciding on a curriculum. I thought confidence would come through a degree in early childhood education. I thought confidence would only come through knowing everything before I tried to homeschool my kids. Each of these can add to and support confidence, but the fact is – the perfect curriculum doesn’t exist, except the one I provide through prayer and inspiration for my children individually. Another fact – friends with a degree in early childhood education, who have professionally taught in public school, have shared that even they waver in their confidence to educate their children at home.

As it is with parenthood, so it is with homeschooling. If parents are well socialized, children generally follow suit regardless of their status as home or public schoolers.

Another parallel I have observed is that homeschooling is as much a leap of faith as is becoming a parent. You are never “ready,” so don’t wait for that magical moment before you follow the promptings of our Lord if He is leading you in that direction. Simultaneously, there are ways to prepare yourself, your home and your family to find joy and success, do not neglect these preparations.

Do I have confidence in homeschooling? I have a lot more than I had at the beginning. My confidence comes from seeing my children grow in character and knowledge. My confidence grows as I see them provide piano accompaniment at a youth church meeting. Confidence has also come through discovering the world around us and recognizing our place in the world. Watch this video of the past year’s homeschool highlights:

With my family dynamics right now, homeschooling works wonderfully to bless our home. This may not always be the case so, today, I will appreciate the time I have to gather my children around me, confident that I am providing them, not with what others can offer, but with what only I can offer.

Did You Hear That?

“Did you hear that?”

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(A new mommy approaches a group of her friends at a park, carrying her newborn. Her friends are chatting as they watch their toddlers play)

New Mommy: Hi, everyone! I’m back!

Friend #1: Hi! It’s good to see you out with your new baby.

Friend #2: I didn’t get out for weeks after my son was born.

Friend #3: Oh, I know! After my C-section I was down for the count for nearly two months.

Friend #2: I almost had to have a C-section, but at the last minute they checked me again and I was fully dilated. The doctors had already gone to scrub up for the operation. The thing that kept me home for so long was the mastitis. I was on three different medications before that started improving. I have never experienced pain like that in my life. You know, I heard of someone once . . .

—-

These sweet women, in their eagerness to share have managed to never acknowledge each other’s story. Also, in a few short minutes this New Mommy, who spent 25 minutes choosing and dressing her newborn in a special outfit, who brushed her hair and put a little make-up on for the first time in a week and was bursting to share the highlights of her first ever birth experience – in a few short minutes this mommy’s excitement turns to disappointment. If she wants to share what’s in her heart she’ll have to join the pecking-order of one-ups. For some this is a perfectly fulfilling conversation. For others – it leaves much to be desired.

There is a place for superficial scattering of self-talk, there is. But, I think, it is too often the standard. Women want to be heard. They want to be known and understood, validated and appreciated. In this pursuit, we spend so much time interjecting our own stories because we have little faith that anyone will give us the opportunity. In these situations we can either sit and quietly listen to others’ experiences or we can snag the spotlight for a few seconds and try to fill our craving for validation. Yet, as the play-date continues, we feel empty because our contribution to the stream of evolving stories is never actually acknowledged.

Sure, the others may sit quietly while we speak, but at the end of your story another voice begins her own tale.

Imagine the dynamic change that would bless this New Mommy from our opening scenario if, instead of jockeying for attention, the others in the group invited her to share. What if they handed her the spotlight? What if they let her bask in the warmth of her friends’ encouragement and attention for 3.5 minutes? Would that threaten the worth of the others in the group? No. In fact it would change the rat-race for attention. When one woman feels heard she becomes free to actually hear and fill that same need in another. The trick is to give that first gift to someone.

Sometimes it is difficult to swim against the current of social norms. However, I suggest that next time you experience this scenario – and you find yourself tempted to add your own story – throw a wrench in the beloved social norm. Instead of one-upping the last story, bring the superficial to a screeching halt with the introduction of a simple tactic. It is called a follow-up question.

Perhaps a return to our “New Mommy Scenario” will help animate this principle.

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(When last we left our play-date Friend #2 was just about to begin another story)

Friend #2: I heard of someone once . . .

Friend #1: . . . Hold on, just a sec. I want to hear your story, Friend #2, but first I want to hear about how New Mommy is doing. New Mommy, how are you feeling? Where did you get Baby’s cute outfit?

New Mommy: I am exhausted, but it’s okay. My mom will be flying in tomorrow. She’ll be a big help. She’s actually the one who bought this sweet little outfit. Look, it’s got a matching Binki.

Friend #3: How cute! Tells us about the past week of your life. I bet you’ve got some great stories.

—-

As a social, yet quiet, woman I found myself in these situations without the tools to navigate them. I would awkwardly try to add a story of my own and then felt it fall flat when it was left unacknowledged. This disappointment led to less sharing on my part and a feeling of isolation from the group. I didn’t have the confidence to take more than 10 seconds of the group’s time for my own story. But, I had just shared something that meant a whole lot to me. (“Did you hear that? I just said something.”) I could only guess that I was either uninteresting, invalid, or poorly timed. So, in social situations I usually opted to speak with other ladies one-on-one, hoping to give them the validation and to receive the validation and connection we each craved. One-on-one is great, but I think we can boost the encouragement and love even in our group settings.

This lost cause came to my attention when, one Sunday, I sat in church waiting for class to begin. A new mother carried in her new baby. I observed as the woman seated next to me said to the mother, “Oh, what a cute baby!” and then proceeded to talk all about her own child. The new mother was kind and moved on to look for a seat. I watched as an older woman stopped this new mother, looked at the baby, gently patted the baby’s legs and asked the new mommy all about the baby, all about the family, the mother, her health, her needs and then offered encouragement. I considered upon how this wise older woman must have made this struggling, exhausted, mama feel; she looked so alive as they spoke, like she could breathe better. It made me want to make people feel that way too.

A few years ago, in a church hallway, I ran into my brother-in-law’s sister. She started out with the typical, “Hey, how are you doing?” and I answered with the typical, “Oh, pretty good.” But then she asked that wonderful follow-up question. “I heard you’re mom wasn’t feeling well. Is she doing any better?” I answered. She followed this up by asking another question, “What have you been doing for fun lately?” Now, as we established before, I am quiet, not much of a talker. But, she kept asking questions and I was happy to answer them. She seemed genuinely interested. Then came another question, “Oh, you said you’re son’s birthday is coming up, how old will he be?” This sweet lady was filling up my little heart. She had no idea how floored I was that she was interested in me, my thoughts, my family. She had plenty of other things she could have been doing, but she focused, for those 3 minutes, on me and I felt so … valid and loved. I have thought about that conversation many times since then. She has a gift. It is not just the gift of keeping up a conversation, but I think her gift is that she actually cares about people. The source of her interest was not social pressure to look thoughtful. She just is thoughtful. As the conversation continued I found myself trying to reciprocate the attention. She answered my question and then somehow I found myself answering another question. She’s good. Her gift of 3 minutes has been a lesson to me and I hope to become more like her.

Not every life event needs to be heralded at every social gathering we go to in a big way. That would get really old and annoying.

Not every woman wants all eyes on her and not every “conversation” of story sharing needs to be hijacked. There’s a happy usefulness to that kind of free-flow, too. But in these free-flow situations we could do better to at least say, “Wow. I can’t believe that happened to you,” or, “You are one brave woman,” before we start our own story. (Apparently acknowledgment is pretty important to me. As a side note: in our marriage my sweetie will hear what I say, but sometimes he’ll get lost in the thought of what I just told him and end up saying absolutely nothing. A few years ago I told him that I would at least like him to grunt or something, just so I know he heard me. He usually responds when I tell him a story, but now if I say something, and a minute passes without any sort of acknowledgment, I’ll grunt for him. He’ll hear me and laugh, recognizing that he must have zoned out a little. We all need reminders.)

This lost cause is just a little reminder: In one-on-one and group situations – grab that spotlight and shine it on another so that she doesn’t have to fight for the appreciation she needs. Fill her bucket a little and you just might find your own easier to fill. It may take some time and you may have to grab the spotlight and shine it on every other woman in the group before the culture changes, but trust me, your minutes-long sacrifice will be well worth it and some New Mommy out there will love you for it. (All that, and if nothing else, a nod and a grunt is a good place to start.)

Look at Me

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(I was trying to avoid writing another post that stems from my experiences in 2005, but I’ll trust that you’ll appreciate it for its relevance and look forward to more dynamic inspiration sources in future posts. The thing is – there are some experiences that anchor us and serve as fertile soil for self-discovery. Here is a little tidbit I picked up along my path.)

You turn a corner in the grocery store and, coming down the aisle, you see a woman with one arm. She begins walking toward you. Where do you look? What do you do?

You are walking in the park where a severely scarred man sits on a bench. As you come nearer he looks up and your eyes meet. What do you say? Where do you look?

You see a friend who just had her baby. Excitedly, you come close to get a peek at the tiny child and see that her little mouth is deformed with a cavity cutting through her upper lip to her nose. What do you say? What do you do?

Before I became the elephant in the room, I had no idea what to do in these situations. I would look straight through the lady in the baking aisle. I thought this would help her feel normal. I might divert my eyes from the scarred man, so he wouldn’t feel my stare. I might smile at the new mommy and talk about anything but her baby’s cleft palate.

In 2005, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24, my husband and I had two little boys. As my surgeries and chemotherapy treatments began many family members took turns flying up to Alaska from the lower 48 to be with me and my family. They were an amazing help to my little crew.

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So that my  helpers could know how best to help in our home, I had two main rules. Rule number one: if at any time my little boys wanted their mommy, no matter my drowsiness, nausea, etc., they could come to me. I would be available to them. Rule number two: I wanted to do the grocery shopping. It’s a funny thing, but buying groceries for my family was important to me. As my hair fell out I needed to make a choice about how to present myself in public. A dear lady from church ordered a cute wig for me and I used it a time or two. Chemo and Lupron threw me into a temporary menopause and I got a good taste of the lovely hot flashes associated with that phase of womanhood. The itchiness of the wig and the hot flashes were too much for me. One day after church I pulled the wig off, my skin crawling from the irritation, and I swore off ever wearing it again. I began thinking that bandanas and handkerchiefs were going to be my cover of choice. There were times, though, that even the bandana was too hot.

I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself. I didn’t want to be a distraction in church. I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable but, dang-it, I had cancer. I was already feeling so powerless to control my body. I didn’t feel like I should be required to endure greater anxiety and discomfort for the sake of silly social norms. For me anxiety and discomfort came from the wig and sometimes the bandanas and knitted caps. For other cancer patients the anxiety and discomfort of not wearing a cover on their head would outweigh the discomfort of the various head covering options. In the end I opted for skin with the occasional scarf/head wrap.

I was nervous at first. Wondering if my brazen disregard for social norms would receive fierce backlash. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my church community was supportive of this. I was even encouraged in it as congregants would share what a great time of learning it was for their children to see and experience the cancer process with me. I was also pleasantly received by the other park-goers when I’d take my kids to play at our neighborhood park. Among my friends and neighbors I felt pretty normal. I noticed that my most poignant moments of social stress were at the grocery store.

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There I was, pushing my cart down the aisle. A young woman, with a cart full of groceries, sporting a shiny scalp. Something was obviously amiss with me compared to what’s usually met with. After a few weeks, the lack of stubble on my dome indicated that I hadn’t just “Bic-ed it” for fun. As I made my way through the store I noticed, time after time, other shoppers just looking through me. I was the elephant in the room and no one acknowledged me. When I had hair people would warmly nod as we passed in the dairy section, or not notice me at all as they went about their business of choosing which brand of peaches to buy. Without my hair many would fix their eyes on their chosen sundry item and remain that way an unnatural length of time until I passed.

I did not take offense to this because I knew exactly what they were doing and why. I had done the same thing thousands of times. I found it, rather, as an intriguing observation that I wanted to learn from. What did I want from them? How did I wish they would interact with me?

I wanted them to look at me.

“I am not a transparent ghost. I’m not dead yet. I am alive and standing right in front of you. Look at me. Acknowledge my presence. You don’t have to give me sympathy, you don’t have to comment on my obvious oddity. Just don’t look through me. I don’t demand that everyone smile and nod my way, but if you notice me, it’s okay to . . . notice me.”

If you meet an amputee on the baking aisle and don’t know where to look, or what to say . . . look at her in the eyes and say, “Good morning.”

If you are caught looking at the man’s scarred hands and face . . . look him in the eye, easily smile, and say, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

If you don’t know how to react to the baby’s unexpected mal-formation you can offer, “She’s beautiful!” If you want, you can follow that up with, “Is her palate cleft? Isn’t modern medicine amazing, the way they can help us in all sorts of ways?”

I am very comfortable asking bold questions of other breast cancer survivors. I already know them on at least one fundamental level and so my ignorance of their situation is no longer a barrier. But, there are a billion other experiences which I haven’t had, so I am still unsure how my actions will be perceived and received. So I recognize that these suggestions are not 100% failsafe responses to everyone. Sometimes elephants like to be invisible.

I simply suggest that when there is an elephant in the room, if you smile at her or acknowledge him, the elephant usually transforms into a person. This approach can even work with heavily pierced, tattooed, chrome contact-lensed fellow-shoppers at the thrift store. (It’s fun, try it.) We know that we don’t look quite “normal,” but if you look in our eyes, and see us as a whole soul, you’ll make our grocery shopping experience a little nicer. Your smile will make our day at the park brighter. Beyond that, perhaps, you’ll remind us that we are not only a bald head, a webbed scar, a missing body part or a one and a half-inch gauge. That reminder is sometimes the simplest and most needful gift you can give.

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It’s okay . . . Look at me.