In The Little Things

I am in my fifth day of recovering from my bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. The surgery was longer than expected, but was more than I could have asked for or hoped for.

I had two major God-sized prayers for this surgery: one of them was I hoped to have the breast implants put in on the same day as the tissue removal. Normally, tissue expanders are placed in the breasts after tissue removal to give the skin time to heal, expand, and breathe. This process can be painful,  lasts about three months, and requires a second surgery where the surgeon then replaces the tissue expanders with implants. Most people who walk in the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy path have at least two surgeries.

The second major God-sized prayer is more of an “I will tell you when I see you in person” kind of thing and not really a blog post kind of thing (sorry).

But I can tell you both of the these God-sized things I hoped for were things my surgeons were not sure they could do.

My surgery began right at 830am and I started waking up on my way to post-op recovery around 5pm. You all, that was a long day for my husband.

In post-op recovery I learned that both of my God-sized prayers were answered. The implants were able to go in the same day as the tissue removal, and my other hoped for outcome went better than the surgeons hoped for as well! I will only need to have one surgery, and I am praising the Lord!

The breast surgeon also needed to remove three lymph nodes. All my breast tissue and the three lymph nodes were sent to pathology to be thoroughly checked for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.

My pathology report came back just yesterday and all my breast tissue and lymph nodes were cancer free. I am praising the Lord for this too!

As I thought about writing this update to let you all know how I am doing and thank you all for your prayers, emails, texts, flowers, cards, gift cards—I just kept thinking about how amazing it is that God cares for us in the little things. A bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction was a hard decision for me personally— I was angry, I was scared, and I was really sad. But God cared for me in the little things all along the way.

This is not because I have an outstanding or perfect faith, I have been human and I have been a hot mess. God has cared for me in the little things because of who He is and He is faithful. God cares about the little things because He is an intimate God who knows what we need even when sometimes we don’t know what we need for ourselves.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139)

I can feel God’s hand upon me because I recognize that He is showing up in the little things and He is weaving a beautiful redemptive story for me in all of this.

He knows what I need and He has been faithful to provide for me. Tonight, as I write this post, I am just so full and so grateful.

How you can continue to pray:

Pray that I would be a good patient and find joy in sitting on the couch and recovering well. As a task-driven woman this is a tough thing for me.

Pray I would be patient and kind to my family if the kitchen countertop has a drinking glass or two on it or when I happen to see an iPad lightning cable lying on the ground. Personally I spend too much time caring about the little things—in a bad way.

Pray for healing, the story is not over yet for my two God-sized reconstruction requests. I need to heal well.

One of my prescribed medications has been giving me some really terrible headaches. I have been given the okay to stop the medicine causing the headaches, but please pray the headaches stay away. It is difficult to rest with the headaches I have been having and difficult to sit in a room with any kind of light or sound.

Please pray for my husband and my children as we adjust to a new normal. My husband is still recovering from foot surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right foot four weeks ago.

Thank you for connecting and caring in the big and the little things. And thanks be to God who cares in the big and little things too.

The Unknown, Fear, and Hope

In a few days I will be asleep from 8:30am to 3:30pm in an operating room. As a mom to four children to sleep seven straight hours during the day feels like a dream come true. As a control-freak monster, laying still and unconscious for seven hours straight feels terrifying.

I have had four scheduled c-sections and even then, I would tell my OB over the curtain that it was taking him a little too long to sew me back up.

In the unknown, I feel so much fear and hope tangled up together.

There have been many seasons in my life where I have ignored fear and pushed it aside, believing that the acknowledgment of fear was connected with personal weakness or a not-good enough faith. Only pushing the fear aside in the name of faith actually gave fear more power to linger and remain tangled up in my heart.

Fear is a real thing. the Bible says “fear not” three hundred and sixty five times because fear is real and we humans need reminding when we experience fear in real life. This bilateral prophylactic mastectomy is a big-deal-real thing and I am scared, my children are scared, and my husband is scared. Fear in this situation is a part of the process we are walking in. I have had to feel fear, and I have encouraged my children to feel the fear as well. We are letting fear in, looking fear in the face, while crying and praying with one another—but at the same time we are also trying to embrace power, love, and self-control.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

—2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

We are human so we fear, but we also are spiritual and connected to God through Jesus and His Spirit who lives in us so we also have hope. This is where and how fear and hope seem so tangled up together. There is a tension between the fear threads and the hope threads tangled up in human hearts.  

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to fear, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. —Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT paraphrased)

What is hope? Hope is believing that God is good and trusting him when we cannot see in the unknown. When our human minds are fearing, weary, and cannot wrap themselves around why something is good, this is when hope takes over. Hope is believing that God is renewing us in the hard things—hope is believing that God is renewing the whole world through the hard things.

You can see fear and hope tangled up together in Lamentations 3:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall (extreme bitterness).
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Fear not is not as easy as it sounds. Fear is real. But fear should not be ignored. Fear should be felt and shredded through the power of the gospel. Facing fear and saying “I am weak and I am scared, but I am hopeful that God is good in the hard things.” This is what my renewed view of strength looks like. I am looking fear in the face and saying “I feel you and I see you, and I am weak and scared, but God’s power—his love, his grace, his faithfulness and his mercies—is bigger than my human fear.

Currently I am shredding this human fear through the gospel on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I’m feeling the fear, dealing with it, and unraveling it away with truth from God’s Word. Then trying to slowly walk—one step at a time—like a broken vessel—in hope of a renewal that I cannot see. This process is on-going and happens several times a day.

In the unknown, fear and hope feel so tangled up together, but in the gospel, there is great power over fear.

I am fighting to feel his hope and his peace as I unravel the fear tangled up in my heart as I walk into a big deal thing next week. Thank you for praying and for surrounding me and my family on this hard place journey.

Big deal thing is scheduled on Monday, November 5th from 8:30a-3:30p (EST). We will update when we are on the other side.

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Bilateral Pro-phy-WHAT?

 

Sometimes when unexpected news comes, it is shock that follows.

I experienced the feeling of shock at the age of seven, sitting on a couch in the formal living room in my childhood home when my mom told me she was sick.

I experienced the feeling of shock when I lost my mother to breast cancer at age fourteen.

I experienced shock when I sat in a genetic counselor’s office a few months ago and heard the words bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

Bilateral Pro—phy—WHAT? 

Currently I am thirty-five, a pastor’s wife, and a mom to four kids under the age of ten. I am healthy. I just had my yearly physical and I had a clear reading on my latest mammogram.

When I was given the medical recommendation to have a preventative double mastectomy, it felt a whole lot like being thrown into a cold pool for a polar plunge. In many ways I felt like my head was below water and my extremities were paralyzed, unable to tred (breaststroke? not sure if that’s funny) in the waters where I had just been thrown.

Bilateral Pro—phy—WHY?

God has been preparing me for such a time as this. He has been writing a redemptive story for me in all of this, even from the time of my first feeling of shock at the age of seven.

Once I began to recognize the redemptive story God was writing for me, I was able to begin to tred water and think about the larger picture of bilateral pro—phy—why.

Why have all my breast tissue removed? Well, the PALB2 gene mutation increases my risk to 60%. One of my doctors said, “Rach, this is not a matter of if you get cancer, this is a matter of when.”

I have learned my mother’s cancer was unresponsive to treatment. And I have learned that the PALB2 gene is twice as likely to develop into the kind of breast cancer that does not respond to treatment. So this means this is not a matter of if I get cancer, this is a matter of when I will get deadly breast cancer.

A bilateral prophylactic double mastectomy reduces my risk of breast cancer from 60% to almost 0%. For me this means I am freed from the fear and anxiety I experience with each preventative scan.

Why am I choosing to have my breast tissue removed? I want to be healthy for my family.

Bilateral Pro—phy—HOW?

As far as I understand this, the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy will consist of two parts: the breast tissue removal done by a breast surgeon and the reconstruction done by the plastic surgeon. Step one: all my breast tissue will be removed and checked for any signs of breast cancer. Step two: in the same surgery a plastic surgeon will then begin reconstruction.

Reconstruction can be done in two ways: DIEP Flap where natural tissue is taken from another part of your body and moved to your breasts or implants. The DIEP Flap procedure is one surgery and a longer one time recovery. The implant reconstruction process is a shorter two part surgery and a shorter recovery.

After much consideration, at this time I believe the best option for me is to go the implant route. I have had four c-sections and I am not sure I can handle recovering from an abdominal incision at the same time as recovering from mastectomy incisions.

Bilateral Pro—phy—WHEN?

My surgery is scheduled for November 5th. I would appreciate your prayers as I adjust to this new normal over the next few months.

A bilateral prophylactic mastectomy may be a hard thing, but it is the right thing for me. I believe God renews us in the hard things . . . I believe He is good in the hard things . . . I believe He will be my help and my strength in this bilateral pro—phy—WHAT hard thing.

Back to School Dinner Organization Plan

This year I am working a tad more, I have four kids in school, two children on a soccer team, one child playing fall baseball, and one child in ballet. My husband is a busy pastor which sometimes gives us an unpredictable schedule.

When it comes to dinner time I need to be prepared or else I will up like the Michelin Man from eating too many delivery pizzas. Really. I love delivery pizza. My meal planning saves me from too much melted cheese and crust dunked in butter sauce.

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For the fall, I am working with this organizational plan for my family dinners.

My personal breakfasts will be protein shakes or eggs (my husband is sweet to make eggs for me in the morning) and my lunches will be spinach salads with a small amount of grilled chicken.

The Dinner Plan:

Sunday/Mondays: After church style meals with enough leftovers for Monday nights. We will have ballet on Monday nights in the fall right around our normal dinner time at 6o’clock on the dot so leftovers will be helpful.

I will rotate between:

Prime Rib or Pot Roast

Pork Tenderloin

Ham

Fried Chicken with all the fixings for my Kentucky husband

Meatloaf

Beef Tortellini Soup

You all… this gives me a six week rotation for Sunday and Monday dinners. 

Tuesday/Wednesday: Taco Nights and Leftovers

Every Tuesday I will toss enough taco meal meat into the slow cooker to have enough to eat on Wednesday night. We have soccer on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights are free so I will be looking forward to a hump day leftover night break. I will rotate between:

Chicken Tacos and Chicken Quesadilla Leftovers

Beef Tacos and Layered Taco Bake Leftovers

Pork Carnitas and Rice Bowl Leftovers

Ranch Chicken Chili and Leftovers

This gives me a monthly taco night and leftover rotation for four weeks. 

Thursday/Friday: Our Thursday and Friday nights will be a mixture of grilling nights and oven baked nights. I know we will have soccer and baseball on Thursday nights so I will need to get whatever we have cooking by 430pm. On the agenda for the fall:

Red Pepper, Garlic, and Lemony Chicken

Wicked Good Salmon

Ranch Flavored Salmon

Garlic Grilled Ribeyes

Smoked Tomato Mozzarella Ribeyes

Korean Style Ribs

Memphis Style Ribs

Adobo Chicken Thighs

Honey Balsamic Chicken

Citrus Balsamic and Basil Chicken

Chicken Scampi with Pasta with Leftovers Friday

Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce with Leftovers Friday

Apple and Bourbon Chicken Sausages (kids will probably eat hot dogs).

Saturday Nights: For the fall, we will have baseball games so I am going to try Sandwich Night and rotate through the following:

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Cheeseburgers

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Taziki Style Chicken in a Pita Pocket

Sloppy Joes

And this is the plan that will save me and my waistline from too much melted cheese and pizza crusts dunked in butter sauce.

Having a meals in your freezer is not about having a complete meal that is all ready to go. Meal planning is simply having an organized plan to save money and hopefully eat less melted cheese.

Wishing you the best this back to school season,

Rachel

What is Beautiful?

My four year old daughter thundered down the staircase and threw our large plastic paddle brush into the dining room. “I will never be beautiful,” she said.

“I can NEVER brush through these tangles in my hair.”

Her ringlet curls do make it difficult to brush through her hair and every day brushing is a battle. For a four year old, it must feel frustrating to try to brush through hair which always seems to be tangled.

Gently, I picked up my daughter, the brush, and dug down deep for Jesus and His compassion and empathy. I told her we simply needed to wash her hair and start all over again. As I washed her hair in sink, I talked to her about how beauty is not what is seen on the outside; I told my daughter that beauty comes from within.

What is Beautiful?

This is a question I have been struggling with in my own heart lately. As a girl who loves a cute dress, a fresh highlight, and has been able to give a good first impression with my outward appearance in seasons in my life, the news of the recommendation for a double mastectomy and reconstruction at the age of thirty-five has left me thundering down the stairs and throwing things into the dining room.

Emotionally my heart feels like hard-to-brush-through-tangled-up hair. This coarse feeling I have on the inside about beauty has caused me to take a closer look at how beauty impacts my personal story, what is the current cultural definition of beauty, and what is God’s definition of beauty from His Word. I have needed to go to God’s Word and wash out the untruth I have tangled-up in my heart with the gospel.

My Story of Beauty

As a woman who cares about what others think of me, I have found myself tangled-up in caring a lot about what I wear and how I look. In my story I have gotten attention for what I look like, compliments on my clothing, and affirmation about my outward appearance. This is a piece of my story I still wrestle with. Even after losing much of my youthful beauty after having four children in four years, the distorted desire to impress others with my outward appearance is a deeply woven thread in my story.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

Culture’s Story of Beauty

Our culture values beauty. Our culture sees beauty first. It is natural for our hearts to be attracted to beauty because God made things beautiful, but sin distorts our attraction to beauty. When our hearts desire being beautiful or seeking beauty more than our hearts desire the Maker of beauty we find ourselves living in a culture with an upside-down order.

This upside-down order leads to a never enough cycle of thirsty living. We feel never enough because beauty in itself can never satisfy, there is never contentment or peace in upside-down order. We find ourselves thirsty at a well that can never satisfy the longing we have inwardly. Inwardly we are made for right-side up order, to love God first and recognize all the things that are beautiful come from Him.

“ ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’ (Jeremiah 2:13).”

When I observe the world around me I see many of us women always working so hard to be beautiful. Outward beauty is highly valued in our culture. I am one of these women too. This upside-down order of seeing beauty before we see the Maker of beauty leaves us as women living with a distorted lens for what is actually beautiful.

The Gospel’s Story of Beauty

I have cried many tears over the past few weeks and I confess this has to do with the fact that my heart is tangled-up in a distorted definition of what is beautiful. I quite possibly love my current body and the way my current dresses fit more than I thought I did. Changing my body brings the weight of grief and sadness.

I have needed to take these coarse tangles in my heart to the sink of God’s Word, wash my heart with them, and start all over again; in the same way I washed my daughter’s hair in the sink and reminded her that beauty is not what is seen on the outside, beauty comes from within.

As a woman who professes faith in the gospel, the good news of Christ’s work on the cross, I have to unravel the untruths I have tangled-up in my heart about beauty. These untruths come from my personal story and the way I have observed the culture around me. Next, I need to be transformed by the renewal of God’s Word and the Spirit which transforms from the inside out. Finally, I need to walk in these truths with obedience to truth, the support and accountability of God’s community and their encouragement and love during this time.

God is using this chapter in my story to remind me that He is making me new (Rev 21:5), my body is a living sacrifice for His glory (Romans 12:1, Col 1:27), and yes outwardly I am wasting away, but inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

Before the foundation of the world God has been preparing me for this chapter in my story (Eph 1, Ps 139:16) and He has chosen this time in my life because I have wrestled with many of the coarsely woven tangled-up places in my heart. I have gone to the sink and started over. Over and over again, and I am surrounded by many people who know me, love me, will pray for me, and will remind me of God’s promises when I cannot remember them for myself.

What is Beautiful? 

Jesus is beautiful. He sacrificed Himself so many could have eternal life through their trust in Him and His work on the cross.

When I think with the lens of this gospel picture, a few scars and changes in my body feel insignificant compared to Christ’s sacrifice. I have a life giving opportunity though wounds and scars to live a longer life with my family and protect my children from the hard childhood story that still impacts my life today.

Trusting in God’s promises is beautiful. God has been writing this story for me since before the beginning of time. He has gone before me and He is holding me. I simply need to trust in Him. The path may not be easy, but God promises that when we are weak, Christ’s power is perfectly displayed (2 Cor 12:9). I am a broken person and I feel weak. But it is Christ’s power that will sustain me.

God’s people are beautiful. Though it has been hard to walk through this publicly, it has been God’s people who have walked me to the sink of God’s Word and helped me unravel the coarse places I have tangled-up in my heart. It has been God’s people who have encouraged me and reminded me of His love and His promises during this time. I am so grateful for the beauty of His church.

I am beautiful. Not because of how I look on the outside, but because of God working in and through me on the inside. Behold, He is making all things new (Rev 21:5).

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.