Monday, December 29, 2008

Spam

Nothing like a little spam to give you a reality check.

Friend and fellow-blogger (and editor--but not mine), the ZimmerMan, sometimes blogs about the spam he gets in his email account, and it's always very funny, but I usually just delete the entire cache of the spam I get, without looking at the titles and only sometimes glancing with amusement at the supposed names of the senders. Today one caught my eye, though. It said:

"A Submariner SS watch is for people who know the true value of life."

Really? What have I been doing all this time?! Shoot.

Well. Now we know. Consider this a public service announcement.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

On the Other Hand

It is Christmas. And everyone's safe. And there is something kind of poignant and relief-inducing about having the semblance of control wrested from one . . . at least, once one comes to terms with it. (Again. And again. And again.)

So . . . happy Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Journey

What a long, strange trip . . .

My dad arrived here on Monday. Is it ever great to see him. After weeks of my mother's and my breaking out the self-sufficient New England Amazon role (these are Amazons who know how to keep a fire going in the woodstove and lug the wood in all by themselves), I was really kind of done with that. Dad would have helped us get the tree "vegetage" (well, what do you call it when it isn't meat--it's not carnage?) off the lawn, except that it snowed all over it. A lot.

Yesterday, as you might have noticed, was Christmas Eve, and that was the day Dave and Lu and Hannah (aka brother, sister-in-law and baby niece) were going to arrive. Their flight out of the Midwest was scheduled to leave at 11.30 a.m. That was a nice idea.

At the time they were meant to be landing in Boston, they phoned saying they missed their connecting flight in another part of the Midwest, and now had to switch airlines and fly to still another part of the Midwest, where they would get on a flight that would get them to Boston twelve hours after they were meant to have left in the first place.

At 10 p.m. or so, they phoned again saying their plane was having technical difficulties.

Then we started having techical difficulties: the power went out again.

Are you kidding me?!

At 1.30 a.m., the three of us who were here woke up because the power came back on. Phew. The three who were traveling were still traveling . . . and we couldn't get through to them. It was a little hard to get back to sleep, although I guess I must have--pretty deeply, because I didn't hear the three travelers when they finally arrived--at 3.15 a.m.

At 8.00 a.m., someone from Ireland phoned to wish us a happy Christmas. Um . . . thanks? Hannah woke up. Well, we all woke up. Dave and Lu told us that yes, they were here . . . but their luggage had got delayed in the airline switch and was not here with them.

My godly mother said, "This the Christmas from [someplace we could euphemise as 'Hades']!"

"Wow," I said. "I've never heard you describe anything that way, Mom." Not that I disagreed with her.

My godly father said, "We've never had a Christmas like this, either."

Nope. That is true. We haven't. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fashion Slave

This is ridiculous.

Last night I received an early Christmas gift from some people I haven't received a Christmas gift from before. It was a sweatshirt. This is truly awesome, because I am in need of such types of clothing these days. It was a hoodie, which I also like. It was neon blue with neon green and pink and yellow flowery designs silkscreened on it. That last bit . . . well, it was cute, but my initial gut-reaction was, "Can I wear this in public?" I don't think I've ever worn neon anything. Even in the 80's. I said to my mother, "I'm not sure I would have picked this colour . . . "

About two seconds later, I noticed that the hood on this hoodie was emblazoned with the word (in neon pink), "Diesel."

"Diesel?!" I exclaimed.

Suddenly, I think this sweatshirt is beyond cool, and after my shift at Starbucks today, instead of going down to the church and changing out of my uniform there, I changed in the Starbucks bathroom, just in case when I came out, anybody happened to notice that I was wearing a hoodie that said "Diesel" on it in neon pink.

I'm not sure who decides which clothing companies are "cool" and get to overcharge for their merchandise, nor why I find it thrilling to own one of their products even though I doubt we stand for much of the same thing. I'm approximately 100% sure that this mindset does not line up very well with Jesus' "ideology" (if you want to call it that) about Stuff. But . . . I would be lying if I tried to tell you that I'm not quite pleased to be wearing a designer hoodie. And . . . it's not like I was trying to be designer. It just happened. (That statement right there? Also ridiculous.) I do find it kind of embarrassing that I am so easily convinced, though.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Iron Sharpens Iron

Here's an idea to keep you honest:

Make a really close friend whose worldview is totally opposed to your own and who isn't afraid to say so, and with whom you aren't afraid to disagree either.

I don't know that it's possible to go out and intentionally do this, but I would just say that if you find yourself in this position, you might want to consider thanking God for it and learning from Him in it, instead of running away from it like I tried to do that time (and sometimes keep trying to do). Particularly if you have been intentional about finding people who do share your worldview and can make sure you're not running off the rails somewhere.

The Milk Guy's really good at calling my bluff. I don't get to start sounding all super-spiritual without having to think about what I'm saying, and if I really mean it, and if I even begin to live up to it. And every once in a while he'll come up with a zinger of a theological insight that will set me on my heels.

This week has, as I keep mentioning, been a little rough for me, and actually the weeks leading up to it haven't been exactly stress-free, either, as we at Starbucks scramble to get enough work hours to support ourselves, for example. This kind of scenario makes me grumpy and weepy and I start making up new rude words out of existing rude words and find, to my chagrin, that I am kind of delighted with them because they are clever, even if thoroughly inappropriate for a Christian. (The Milk Guy doesn't help with that so much, because he thinks they're clever, too, and has no such scruples.)

The thing about all that is that though it doesn't make me look--or feel--very good, I don't get to make excuses for myself, like I might if I were going to go to a prayer meeting that night and rehash the day in Evangelese to my friends. The Milk Guy sees my moods and reactions in all their un-glory, and there's no explaining away with him.

It's kind of a lot of pressure. And sometimes I feel like I'm making a complete hash of reflecting Christ to anybody, let alone him. (And . . . I probably am.) But he doesn't let me wallow in "I'm such a horrible Christian" mode either. Recently I said, "I feel like God's trying to communicate with you . . . but He sure could have picked a whole lot better representative . . ."

The Milk Guy paused (understandably, as I think about it), and then said, "Aren't you kind of making yourself out to be more powerful than God when you say that?"

Oh. Right. And so we keep talking. And so he challenges me and I appreciate that, and I remember from time to time that not only am I not the perfect representative of Christ on earth, but that I don't have to be--because, as the Milk Guy himself reminded me whether he meant to or not, God is God and He'll cause whatever transformations He sees fit. Including in me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hallelujah!

The title might seem a little sacrilegious, but I think I am not amiss, these days, in praising God for small mercies . . . and maybe they're not so small, really.

Last night, shortly after I wrote the last post, I guess, the lights came back on. I didn't get to experience them until tonight, as I was still staying with Pastor Ron and Mrs. Dona, but ah, is it ever a relief!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas

The balloon ended up deflating in a flood of tears rather than a round of screaming, and the techs who did my first radiation treatment this afternoon (who were women, and not the guys of the initial visit) thought I was crying because I was upset about the treatment.

I suppose there might have been something in that. But mostly it's because I feel that, like the Milk Guy's appliances, my circuits are fried--by a whole lot of little things rather than one big thing. And added to that is guilt. Huge amounts of guilt.

I live in a "developed" country. I am not homeless. I have healthcare. I have friends with electricity and food and . . . heck, I haven't had to cook or go grocery shopping in weeks. The Nurse Practitioner's comment kind of rankles, because I want to be selfless, but apparently only on my own terms. I used to think I would go On The Mission Field for the rest of my life and maybe live somewhere less "developed" than this country and, you know . . . have to boil water or something. I've been in many different countries and managed the hole-in-the-ground toilets and eating mystery foods with my fingers and washing my face in a bowl of water and wearing the same clothes days in a row, and it didn't bother me at all. But I chose to go there and do those things, and those were the things that were "done" in certain locations.

Those things aren't generally done here, and I had no control over the circumstances bringing them about. It's not like a camping trip, which I don't enjoy much either, but which I can choose and modulate a little. And so everything in me revolts (as it does in many people, I've observed). I can listen to myself and think I sound absolutely pathetic, and yet I'm still a bundle of nerves because I can't flick a lightswitch and see the entire room.

I feel that the timing of this "ordeal" (which I feel is an unfair word, because this could have been so much worse--it's no Katrina) is sort of interesting. By which I mean, it's making me think of Christmas a little differently. Usually there's all this talk about "the true meaning of Christmas" and to some extent, I usually squint my brain every year and try to remind myself that the birth of Jesus is so much more important than the Christmas tree and that it wasn't all pretty and cozy and lights. Not . . . that there's anything wrong with that.

This year I'm probably about as distracted from the birth of Christ as I've ever been, but I can't pretend I'm not interacting with it on some level all the same. There's so much going on in my life right now, and there's this kind of deprivation, and there's a very distinct (if presently guilt-inducing) reminder that Christmas is actually about inconvenience and deprivation. Jesus gave up all his glory (light! weightiness! splendour!) and schlepped around in a Roman-occupied "under-developed" country for thirty-some years, talking to a bunch of people who often didn't get what He was talking about. And Mary and Joseph gave up their reputations, and had to pack up their lives and trek down to Bethlehem, and then down to Egypt, and their lives were in upheaval for, oh . . . pretty much the rest of them.

Jesus kind of does that, I think. I suspect Mary and Joseph had to come to terms with that more than once. Unless, of course, they had no controlling tendencies at all . . . I kind of doubt it. But maybe I'm just thinking like that to make myself feel better.

Don't Stress the Cancer-Girl

When I first met the Nurse Practitioner at the Comprehensive Breast Center, she sat me down and said, "You seem like the type of person who's always thinking of others first, so you need to shift gears a little bit. While you're working through this cancer diagnosis and treatment, you need to just work on taking care of yourself and getting better. This time is about you. You need to have as little stress as possible."

Too bad nobody told the New England climate and global warming that.

Right now I feel like somebody put an alarm clock inside my stomach--that old-fashioned kind that jumps around in cartoons when it rings--and that in a second it's going to go off, and I'm going to go flying around the room like an untied balloon and scream my head off like . . . me when I'm stressed and nobody but God is around to hear me. Right now, I'm so on-the-edge that I might do it even though other people besides God are around to hear me. It will not be pretty.

Yesterday some girl came into Starbucks and said glumly that her power was still out, and I said mine was too, and she said she heard that her neighbourhood wouldn't be up and running until after Christmas.

Christmas is next week, folks. The power went out last Thursday.

And my father and my brother and my sister-in-law and my baby niece and my grandmothers and my uncle will converge on my mother and me and our house, and if we don't have lights? Um, excuse me? This is not okay.

I'm staying in the city for the mid-part of this week, at Pastor Ron and Mrs. Donna's apartment with them, and it's a huge help, but I never seem to have everything I need with me in the same place at any given time, and for example I realised two hours ago that I did not bring enough changes of clothing for the number of days I'm going to be here, and I don't have internet at church, and I don't have church phone numbers at the apartment, and I have two magazine articles to write, and a confirmation class to organize and two youth group events to cancel and the Milk Guy's power came back and then surged and fried some of his appliances and even though that doesn't directly affect me, it kind of stresses me out, too.

I think National Grid should have consulted me. I'm glad they got Old Church street up and running so that Old Church could provide food for those of us less fortunate and so that the nursing home on the same power line would be able to keep running. Hear hear. But didn't anybody tell them that there's a cancer survivor on my street, who's starting radiation today? And if they didn't, why not?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dependence

I feel that there are some lessons to be learned here about dependence. Whether or not I learn them remains to be seen. But since the power outage on Thursday I have:

1. Showered at the Clevelands'.
2. Eaten breakfast at my Old Church.
3. Done laundry and watched a movie at Pastor Steve and Pastor Val's. ("Pastor Val" is not really what anyone calls her, but it is essentially what she is, so that's her name for this blog. So there.)
4. Worshipped at my Old Church because my New Church didn't have power either.
5. Had dinner with five other families at the Barrows'.
6. Availed myself of the Clevelands' intervention with my car.
7. Used the Barrows' computer.
8. Used my computer at the Barrows' house.

I also anticipate staying at a friend's or friends' in the City a couple of nights this week.

Besides all that, I have spent the entire autumn depending on rides and hand-outs and cooking and cry-on-able shoulders of various and sundry friends and relations before this weather-related disaster, because of my health-related sort-of-disaster.

This is hard for an American. And a New Englander. And a Jennwith2ns.

I feel very dependent. The cancer diagnosis made me feel dependent on people in new ways. The "Ice Tornado" (as some people have dubbed it) has not only heightened that feeling, but also kind of highlighted how dependent I am on things that are not people. Like electricity. And my telephone. And the internet. And my car. And clear roadways. And showering.

The whole ordeal is very blessed and very irritating (two qualities which may, I suspect, belong together more often than not). Most of all I'm realising how God is the only one I can depend on. But I'm also resonating more fully with Teresa of Avila, when she told God, "If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!” (I also resonate with her saying, however, “What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”)

Fed Up

On Friday I was going to write a post that went a little something like this:

"I have decided that I think that auto insurance and health insurance plans should merge. I do not think I should have to pay more money this year for ailing anything."

I figured by this you would know that I was having car trouble.

It turned out, though, that I wasn't having car trouble. I was just stupid. I don't want to tell you what I did, because then the full extent of my idiocy would be on the internet for all to read, and I need to retain at least some self-respect . . .

But anyway, before I found out all that, and before I could whinge about it, we had an ice storm. As the Milk Guy said, "I used to kind of like ice storms. They made things all shiny."

Yeah. Not anymore. I lay in my bed all night on Thursday (after the power had already gone out), listening to tree after after tree losing life and limb. You might know I kind of like trees. I felt like crying for them. I was also scared out of my brains that one of them was going to fall on my house.

It's kind of surprising one didn't. The yard is a wreck. The road is a wreck. I would like to know why I voted to keep our state tax, when so far nothing has been done (except by neighbours) to take care of the trees leaning on power lines and the branches dangling precariously above the road. I'm immensely grateful my mom has been here during this ordeal, or I might actually have lost my mind, being in the house and dealing with this all by myself. (It hasn't been totally by myself, as it turns out, and as I will likely describe later, but it would have felt a lot more like it without Mom.) Still, I feel mighty close to losing my mind anyway. Fortunately there's a woodstove in the house, and people around who do have power, but meanwhile, we're filling up water bottles at friends's houses, flushing our toilets with water from a creek, washing dishes when we have to, showering elsewhere, and stumbling around in the dark. It doesn't look like things will get better any time soon.

I have a whole lot of processing going on in my head, but suffice it to say that right this second? This ordeal is bugging me a whole lot more than the cancer diagnosis ever did.

Plus, yesterday my exhaust system started dragging on the ground. Maybe I do have car trouble after all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All Fun and Games

I'm kind of a sore loser. When I was growing up, I didn't like games of strategy because I'm just not that strategic of a thinker. And I didn't like games of chance because I'm not that lucky. Once I got old enough to opt out, when my family would sit down to a game, I'd camp out in the same room with a book and make more or less helpful or snide comments to the players in the background. Now that there are team games like Cranium or Pictionary, I'm more likely to play, maybe because they involve teams so if I lose there is an entire group of people who goes down with me.

That's a nice realisation for a Wednesday night . . .

All the same, when we had group projects in eighth grade social studies class, I liked inventing board games. I'm not sure someone who dislikes games is capable of making good ones, but I am here to tell you that, nevertheless, I have come up with a new game. It is great, because it combines both strategy and chance. Get ready for next Christmas, folks, and start saving now. It's pretty expensive. It is called:

Cancer: The Board Game

The object of the game is to move from cancer diagnosis through treatment to being cancer-free, first, and without dying. The "Start" block is a doctor's office for a routine check-up, and depending on a roll of the dice, you can end up with a clean bill of health, or with a complication which you have to get checked out. If you get a clean bill of health, you're pretty much out of the game. I haven't figured out if that means you won or you lost, since the game is called Cancer: The Board Game, and since you pretty much haven't completed any of the objectives. Anyway, whatever. Go get yourself a book and make snide comments to those of us who get diagnosed with cancer in this game. (Note: that part is not very true-to-life. No one has yet made any snide comments about my real diagnosis. Also not very true-to-life is the idea that cancer patients are out to race each other to a positive outcome. I think this is something that is Not Done. But we're talking retail profit here. No one wants to buy a game where all you do is help each other. Do they?)

Everybody else who rolls a complication is guaranteed to get a cancer diagnosis, because this is Cancer: The Board Game, and not Anurysm: The Card Game or Deep Vein Thrombosis Solitaire or anything like that. Various things happen based on dice rolls, and then finally you get to treatment stage where you encounter "Treatment Cards." This is where actual thinking might happen. If you feel like it.

Say you roll the dice and you land on a space that says, "You have stage 1, grade 2 cancer. You may opt for the traditional treatment [which entails going down a long and circuitous chemotherapy track that has all sorts of pitfalls sending you back five spaces or something] or draw a Treatment Card." You know that if you draw a Treatment Card, you might mis-roll later and end up back in that very chemotherapy trail you were hoping to avoid, but if you don't, you'll be that much closer to the end of the game and beating out your fellow cancer-sufferers.

So you draw a Treatment Card and it says, "You are going to be treated with radiation and hormone therapy. Go to Radiation." You move your playing piece to the Radiation section and it says, "You will be here for six weeks. Every day heterosexual members of the opposite sex who are your age or younger will radiate a part of your body you do not wish them to see. Lose six turns." (I haven't figured what happens when everybody is losing multiple turns at once . . . )

Then after that you move your piece to Hormone Therapy and it says, "You are taking Tamoxifen. Side effects are usually mild and treatable, but may include . . . [yeah, actually, I don't want to write them here. You can click here if you really want to know]. Lose a turn and go back two spaces."

I'll let you know how the game ends up. These are just examples of the hosts of diagnoses, moves, decisions you can encounter in this fabulous game. Don't you want to play?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pre-positions

There's a church down the street. It is neither my Old Church or my New Church, but I used to work at a living history museum with one of their lay leaders, so I feel a mini-connexion with it anyway.

They have one of those signs out front where you can put out the movable white letters on the black backdrop and either announce church events, or put a thought-for-the-period-of-time-before-you-remember-to-put-the-next-thing-up-there.

Back in September and October the sign said, "Everyone is invited at God's table."

For the entire time it was up, whenever I would drive by, I would do a little grammar-and-theology shuffling with that verse. Something doesn't seem quite right, but I still can't make it say what it seems like it should, to be both grammatically and theologically correct.

To me, "Everyone is invited at God's table," sounds like what we often do in the Church anyway. We sit around and look at everyone already at the table (as we assume, anyway) and yeah, we're all invited. The question is, to what? If we're already there, what's next? Going into the Divine Family Room to watch angel football?

Or maybe it's one of those assertions of the obvious: "See all those people at the table there? They were invited." Oh. I guess it's comforting to know there are no gatecrashers? I guess?

I thought maybe it should have said, "Everyone is invited to God's table." That could, I suppose, sound like we can just help ourselves to the table and leave. But when I first thought of it, it was in the context of the invitation through Jesus being open to everyone, and we just have to accept the invite. I suppose it could be further clarified by saying, "Everyone is invited to come to God's table," or to "dine at God's table." Or something.

My dad suggested it could say "Everyone is welcome at God's table," which I think probably says the "invited to" thing a little better, although it might imply, "under any conditions," which, if the conditions were without the received forgiveness of Christ, I think would also be erroneous.

In spite of all the brainwaves being invested in this conundrum, the letters on the board did not move. I still have questions, though. The first one is, do you think we as Christians act as if we're the only invited ones, sometimes? What do you do with the "many are called but few are chosen" verse, and are any of the above sign-posting suggestions valid in light of that? Are we actually supposed to do anything with that verse, or should we just treat everyone as if they were both called and chosen? And if we did that, what would it look like?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Balking

When I saw my Oncologist a week ago, she gave me a choice: chemo or randomisation (wherein I would either get chemo anyway, or I wouldn't, but I'd have no choice in the matter). I was feeling tired and stressed and sort of resigned, so I thought I was going to go for the chemo. I didn't feel like fighting with my very pro-chemo doctor, and I didn't feel like deciding anything. I didn't feel like talking to my Second Opinion Doctor, either. But I did.

"Great!" she said. "You have a low recurrence score! You'll do great in the protocol!"

But I don't like the idea of being randomised. Waiting some more, just to find out I'm being assigned something by chance, doesn't really thrill me. No one was suggesting I could just opt out of chemo altogether. My Oncologist is a treatment-conservative (which, for some reason, translates into very un-conservative treatment). My Second-Opinion Doctor is a researcher. Why would they offer me the "third way," I guess?

Then the People Closest to Me started asking questions, which basically boiled down to "How on earth is pumping extra toxins into your body when you only have a 9% risk of recurrence actually going to help you?" and "Why don't you just refuse the chemo?"

Oh. I can do that?

I understand that my cancer may come back. And maybe it will be worse. And maybe I'll have to have chemo then. But maybe it would even with the poison. And maybe I'd go into menopause before I'm forty. And maybe I wouldn't be able to work at Starbucks because my immune system would be compromised and working there is pretty much like working in a preschool with how everybody gets sick in the winter. And maybe the long-term effects would be such that years from now I'd be regretting the treatment more than the recurrence of the disease.

I kind of feel like Daniel and his friends when they asked the Babylonian steward to let them be vegetarians. Maybe someone should do research on the hormone-therapy/radiation/prayer course of treatment.
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