It’s been a year….

I know I haven’t written in awhile. There are a lot of factors that have gone into my extended hiatus. The main reason, I was simply burned out. I know that is a poor excuse for someone who blogs, but it’s my excuse. Within a matter of weeks I had a multitude of personal issues hit my family, and suddenly I found it very difficult to get in front a computer screen to write. However, because it has now been a year since we were diagnosed with a Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, or Breast Cancer, I decided it was too exciting of an event to not write.

We celebrated this momentous event by going on a small vacation last weekend. We went to a local hotel/water park for a day. We spent the weekend rolling through the lazy river, bouncing on the waves in the wave pool, cheering on our son as he tackled his fear of water slides, playing in the arcade, and running through the hallways playing a magic quest game. At one point we convinced our son to ride on a big slide with mommy and daddy. He was scared and apprehensive. I looked down at my son and told him that daddy would protect him. I promised him I would not let him get hurt. He reluctantly got in, took a tight grip on the handles, and we were off.

As we rushed down the water slide we all screamed, whooped, and hollered. My mind raced over all the things we have experienced this past year. So, I began to make a list in my mind of all the things we have learned over the past year as we battled Ole Scruffy.

The rest of this post is dedicated to those very things. Some of it is joyful, and some of it is very painful. Unfortunately, life doesn’t give us a choice about what lessons we are to learn, it simply hands them out as it wills. Some of the lessons make us stronger. Some of the lessons bring us hope, and some of the lessons leave us bitter, tired, frustrated, and absolutely angry.

  1. My wife is a fighter.
    •  A year ago I didn’t know the amount of fight my wife had in her. She is a feisty woman. She is very scrappy. She took the diagnosis of cancer and decided to not let Ole Scruffy get the best of her. She chose to fight. She chose to win. She chose to take cancer and curb stomp it in the face.
  2. Battling a life-threatening disease is lonely.
    • As much as some people care, no one is there all the time. No one understands the late nights of crying. No one understands the incessant fear of Ole Scruffy coming back. No one hears the cries in the dark as you fear it is really not over.
  3. Not all Medical Professionals are indifferent.
    • I have always had a jaded view of doctors and medical professionals. Cancer has shown me how a lot them truly care.
    • Our Breast Surgeon is kind, compassionate and empathetic. She has called other doctors on our behalf, attempted to make us smile, and even cried with us. She has been so kind, my bride and I joked about asking her to go on a double date with us. I know, I know, that is way too much. However, she has loved on us in a way many doctors do not.
    • Our Oncologist is a man who sees dying people every day. Somehow he manages to still tell jokes, talk about favorite audiobooks, and assure us that he is fighting with us.
    • We even had a special nurse assigned to us that went above and beyond her job description. One time, she talked with me for 30 mins while I cried on the other end of the line. I am sure I rambled. I know I did. She was still there. She still listened. For that, I am thankful.
  4. Christians can be some of the most distant people in times of crisis.
    • To be fair, we have had people in our lives go above and beyond to help us. However, there are people we expected to come close and walk with us who flat out disappeared after the diagnosis. Many of them are believers. Many of them treated us like we had the plague. Most of them made us feel like we were a nuisance or that they simply didn’t care about us.
  5. I get why Jesus tells us to touch lepers.
    • Jesus intentionally hung out with the “deplorable,” in society. He spent time with the sick. He touched the untouchables. I understand now why he did. People with life-threatening diseases don’t need buckets of compassion, or the right words spoken, they simply need people to be around. They need people who are not afraid to come near. They need people to sit through chemo, and just come over to watch a movie. Those small touches mean the world to the lepers in society.
  6. Some people don’t care about your situation, they are going to be jerks regardless.
    • I never asked to be treated differently. However, some people were flat our mean to my family. Some people used harsh language to share their opinions about choices we have made along the way. These harsh statements seem to always come after a hard decision we had to make. I get that people don’t understand. What I don’t get is the way people can talk to you without any compassion.
  7.   The church doesn’t have the market nailed on compassion.
    • To be honest, my wife and I talked a lot about how people who were not connected to church showed as much or more compassion for our situation. We had people we never expected to help shower us with love in a multitude of ways. My utopic view of the church as the place of greatest compassion in the world has been smashed over this past year.
  8. Life is short, love hard, long, and intensely.
    • Over the past year, I have learned how much I coasted through life. I realized that I loved my wife, but I didn’t love her with the intensity I should. Life tends to become melancholy until you are faced with losing someone you love. Ole Scruffy taught me this year how much more I needed to pursue my wife. He showed me the gift I have in her. He also showed me how far above my pay grade I married.

This past year has been hard. I don’t think I have fully come to grips with the emotional toll it has taken on me personally or my wife. I am grateful that our son is so young that this all will be a distant memory. He has been saved from the scars of walking through cancer. For him, this will be a story we remind him of one day. For that, I am grateful. For my bride and I, we will carry with us the scars both physical and emotional, that came from battling Ole Scruffy. The hard part is over. We now wait for a final surgery in the fall and are beginning to find a new normal in life. We certainly have learned a lot. Most of it I could have lived without. However, it has made us stronger. It has brought us closer. It also has given us a reason to keep our heads high and dream of the open water as we #LookTowardstheSea.

How I met her…

Since this week we celebrated the one day a year dedicated to affection, I figured it would be fun to share the story of how my bride and I started dating. The idea was sparked from a conversation I had recently where a friend of mine asked if marriage was hard. Telling my friend our story reminded me how thankful I am to know Andrea. It also gave me an opportunity to relive some of the greatest moments of our lives.

When my bride and I met we were both broken people. Both of us had made decisions in relationships we were not proud of. My wife was trying to step away from a guy who used her. Used is probably a nice way to say it. He, like many men, wanted her for her body, not her soul. He got what he wanted and left her in darkness. He took her surface and left her soul to rot. When I met her, she was dealing with guilt, shame, and remorse.

She found me in confusion. At an early age, I was introduced to sexuality without my consent. I had an older girl attempt to make me a man when I wasn’t ready and didn’t want it. Her advances broke me. It sent me into a spiral that led me to explore pornography as a way to cope. Porn destroyed me. It wrecked my understanding of sexuality and ruined my ability to date. I also tried to cope with my pain by finding solace in the arms of a girl I considered a dear friend. In the end, I hurt her because I never felt the same way she did. I was a coward and let it continue way too long. I used her affection as a way to feel better. For that, I will always carry regret.

By the time I met my bride, I was in a different relationship. I had convinced myself this one would end in marriage. My mind knew this wasn’t true, but my heart valiantly fought off the truth. When it ended, I was a mess. I needed someone to talk to and the only person I could think of was Andrea. So, I reached out to her. She graciously walked me through the breakup. She listened to my incessant blubbering about the lost relationship. She spent time with me and was just there. Later I would find out she was overjoyed that I was finally single because that meant I was available.

We went out a few times as friends. I was obsessive about telling her they weren’t dates. I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. I was afraid she would think she was just a rebound. I had already hurt one girl I cared about and did not want to risk messing up this relationship. I did have feelings for her, but honestly never thought she would give me the time of day. If you have met my wife, you get what I mean. Andrea could have picked any guy she wanted, I knew this, I was just thankful to have her as a friend.

Then she made a decision that changed my life. I was sitting on a couch in one of the offices on campus. I don’t remember who I was talking to. I don’t remember what I was talking about. But I can still see my beautiful bride walking in the room. As she entered I knew she had something on her mind. She confidently walked up to me, looked me right in the face, and made a statement that is imprinted on my soul forever. She said, “I am free Friday night if you want to go on a real date.” I told her it sounded like a great idea.

The rest of the week I was a basket case. I sincerely wanted to go on a real date with her. However, I was still emotionally in a bad place. I had not fully let go of my previous relationship. This created a huge problem as she got in my truck to drive off to dinner. The drive was 20 minutes to the restaurant. About 5 minutes into the drive I obviously was in shambles. Andrea got really nervous about the situation and told me that if I didn’t want to go we could just head back. In a courageous attempt to sound romantic, I responded with, “No, let’s just get to the restaurant, I will be okay.” I know, really smooth right.

We got to the restaurant and it was wonderful. We talked the whole time. It was so easy to carry a conversation with her. I ordered my food and she claimed she wasn’t that hungry. That was a lie. She ended up eating all my mashed potatoes and most of my steak. I didn’t care. She could have taken it all. I was just happy to be in that booth with her. Somewhere between bites of food, we fell in love. I know it sounds stupid, but we both knew it. Something finally clicked. There was a connection with her that I had never felt with any other girl in my life. I had finally found the person I wanted to do life with. I found the person I wanted to give my soul to. I found my bride.

I was so overwhelmed with emotion that when we got back to school I wanted to seal this momentous occasion with a kiss. I picked a romantic spot under a street light on campus. Its glow gave just enough light to fill my truck. I looked into her face, her hair shining in the light behind her, and I learned in.

The kiss was awful. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced. For a moment I feared that this was not going to work out. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. Quickly I made a statement that has become a joke between us. I looked back at her and said, “I can do better than that, let’s try again.” We did kiss again, and it was wondrous. Since then I have chalked that moment up to nerves. We both were nervous, but I will gladly take the fall for being the one who messed that up. I know a couple’s first kiss is supposed to be something magical. Our first was wretched, the second was glorious and it has only gotten better since.

We made an intentional decision as we began to date to work on our friendship and not focus so much on the romance. I am thankful we did. Because we learned to spend time together without the tension of physical exploration we built a bond that goes deeper than sex. As we continued to date in this way, I fell in love with her mind. I fell in love with her soul. With every passing day, I longed more and more to spend the rest of my days in her presence.

So, on July 31, 2004, I said, “I do,” to a woman who truly made me whole. I mad a vow to the only human being who was uniquely made to put up with me. Andrea and I met each other broken. We both felt shame from previous relationships and considered ourselves unworthy. However, we were and are perfect for each other. We will spend the rest of our lives mending each other wounds. We will spend the rest of our lives putting each other back together.

Over the years, I have learned that marriage is a war. After years of marriage, we carry scars from the battles we have fought to make this thing work. We have made harsh statements to each other. We have hurt each other, but we have always been quick to forgive.  For me, it’s been worth the fight to get to spend the rest of my life next to my bride.

In honor of Valentine’s Day I wrote Andrea a poem to describe how I feel about her. You can see it below.

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

So Pretty, So Rare

She met a boy

So Silly, So Fair

She was Confident

He was Nervous

She was Courageous

He was Unworthy

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She met a boy

And in her presence he stopped,

Lost thought

And could only stare

His life was changed and sent in a swirl

In a moment, a blink, she made his heart whirl

He never conceived something so rare

Could ever like him, love him or even care

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She had eyes like the stars that shine in the night

They burned bright in the darkness of time

With one look

With one glance

She held the boy close

He lost breathe,

His heart skipped

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

 

She made a promise

In sickness, and death

He made a promise

To love and to hold

They made a promise

As long as they both should live

And sealed it with a kiss

 

There once was a girl

Filled with beauty and grace

She was like no other

She could not be replaced

And that girl was You!