It Can Be Just So Terribly Awkward – (Conversations About Cancer pt. 1)

(As I’ve been talking about Jeff’s health and our circumstances with people for a while now, I think I’m ready to write a bit about what the experience is like, to have pain in my life and to have conversations about it with others. This is part one.)

I feel kind of sorry for many of the people I’m relating to in my life right now. Because as I’m going through various conversations with them, I have a choice to make. At what point, if ever, do I mention, “My husband has cancer.” ?

Just for the record, I’m not one of those over-sharers who bares uncomfortable truth out of context, with terrible timing, throwing very private, personal and valuable information to anyone who unfortunately happens to cross my path. In fact, at times  I can be a slightly socially awkward introvert, who waits a while before opening up. I am ok with listening first, asking questions of the other and sharing healthily… if it is safe, appropriate, if I’ve read the other person well enough to guess that they are indeed interested and it is the right time. (FYI – it isn’t always safe or appropriate, I don’t always read people properly, not everyone is interested and it isn’t always the right time.) For the most part, I am comfortable with myself and even when things get personal,  I’m not a bad conversationalist.

The conundrum comes when I realize this person will be in my life for a while and Jeff’s and my situation will eventually come up. How to tell them, to introduce the information for the first time? If I bring it up too soon or botch the actual words… before they get to know who I really am…maybe before I’m emotionally ready to release such personal information…they may retreat. I don’t blame them for being unsure if they want to commit to anything more than just a superficial relationship with one whose life is going to be so very messy. On the other hand,  if I wait a long while to share, after we have actually become friends or it is obvious I’ve had the news for a while, they may justifiably ask, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” How on earth do I make this easier for them? For me?

Because that moment when I actually say the words, “My husband has cancer,” can be just so terribly awkward. It is not an emotionally neutral statement and there are so many the unspoken implications that go along with it. Where exactly does a conversation go after that? And who leads after this point?

For some, it can be an emotional moment, especially if they know Jeff, if they already care about me or my kids, or if they have a similar experience in their background and more fully understand the weight of what I just said. Some have cried or gotten choked up with me as I’ve told them, which is powerful. I am almost always touched deeply when this happens – I don’t find this awkward at all. It is just that in these moments, I realize that, while I’ve had time to process the shock and grief, the other person hasn’t. So sometimes I get thrust into that also-awkward role-reversal moment of having to offer comfort to someone else about my grief. I’m ok with this and fully understand how we get here. But sometimes it still doesn’t seem quite right.

For others, they don’t know what to say. Either because they themselves are socially awkward around heart topics and don’t want to say the wrong thing. (Which is totally ok by the way.) Or they may want to ask questions but aren’t sure just how to do it or if it is appropriate. Sometimes there can be long awkward silences I am expected to manage because I am the only one in the conversation who seems to know what to do next. For the record, I appreciate these people, because I know they mean me no harm. In fact, I don’t mind subtly coaching them on how to handle me or others like me. I usually don’t even mind leading the conversation from here based the other person’s comfort level and needs in the moment.

Then I’ve had some conversations where the other person wasn’t really listening and didn’t hear what I said… either literally or metaphorically. Or they were so unsure of what to do that they pretended they didn’t hear me. (This has happened more than once.) These are truly awkward moments because they usually go on with the conversation as if I just said, “My husband had a burrito for lunch.” And I’m left to figure out where things drifted off to the surreal. I just mentioned cancer and they are back to talking metaphorical Mexican food. I dared to get vulnerable and go to the deep end of the conversational pool, entrusting them with something valuable from my heart… and they ran, screaming for the shallows, leaving me treading water, wet and alone.

Fortunately, awkward doesn’t kill. It is just uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads me to question myself and my relating abilities, which isn’t always a bad thing. A little more introspection and self-awareness can often be quite helpful in learning to relate better to others.  Sometimes I let it hit me in my self-worth, which is pretty much always a bad thing. Or, I wonder if staying connected in my outside world is worth all the work it takes. (Hint – almost always, when I consider hiding, it is dangerous.)

Ultimately, creating congruence in my life between my inner and outer worlds, between my heart and my relationships – working the discipline of appropriate honesty rather than secret-keeping – is very worth the effort. The pain of talking about A when my heart is breaking about B…well, I suspect if I did that long enough, unlike awkwardness, it would eventually kill something inside of me. Secrets create a powerfully destructive duplicity. And this is much more painful than an awkward conversation.

Awkward passes. Thank you Jesus. So I’ll keep at it, trying to figure out how to do that for which there is no real instruction manual. Trying to learn conversational graciousness, kindness and gentleness – and walk with others well as we learn to communicate about important things during an important season of life.

Pr. 12:25 An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

 

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He Walks Into Our Pain With Us (Jesus pt. 90)

Sometimes I come to Jesus with tears in my eyes, almost always with them in my heart, and I ask… sometimes sob, sometimes wail, sometimes just whisper …”Fix this. Oh please, fix this.”

And instead of fixing it like I hoped, wanted, asked, begged…He does something different… unexpected…at times so very disappointing…yet ultimately better. He walks into the pain with me.

Walking with Jesus...is a bit more intense as one walks further with Him.

When you start walking with Jesus there is no telling where He will lead you.

A God who doesn’t always fix things. Who has the power to resolve and heal with a word yet chooses not to. Not how I expect anyway. Who says, “I know this hurts. I know how things are playing out is profoundly disappointing for you. I know my choices for you aren’t what you would choose and lead you to question my goodness and love for you. But what you see as a “non-answer” is actually a better answer. There are things I am doing in you through the pain that are worth far more than just the avoidance of the pain. Will you trust Me? Will you let me walk into it with you? Will you follow Me where I am leading you?”

Somehow, walking with Jesus into my pain is better than Him just fixing it.

A God who willingly gets His hands dirty in the mess of my life. Who not only allows, but welcomes the questions and wrestling that come with an honest experience with Him. Who doesn’t phone in His participation in my life, but goes there with me, to the darkness, the weeping…and walks with me in it all. And then, when I can’t walk anymore but just crumple on the roadside, sits with me, holds me, watches over me, till I can get up again.

The journey of sanctification, of growing in my faith, of growing me, leads through pain, not around it.

Pain has a work to do in my life. One that is so important, so valuable and ultimately so wonderful that Jesus, in His love, can’t deny me. It leads me to Him. To more of Him. To bypassing the trap of knowing a lot about Jesus and thinking that is the same as actually KNOWING Him.

A God who gives His presence as the greatest gift. Who refuses to allow me to think His gifts are the greatest gift. Who takes my pain and flips it, using it for me and not against me.

Ps. 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Slowness Isn’t The Same As Abandonment (Jesus pt. 89)

There are days when my life feels so painfully slow. The times past when it all felt vibrant or active seems so far away that I almost can’t remember them. It can feel like Jesus is molasses. That my life is stuck in neutral with nowhere to go. I know the right answer here. My life isn’t slow. There is always much going on in it and inside of me, even if from an outside view it appears so…well…slow.DSC03569

Yet.

I am tempted in those moments and days, sometimes those weeks or months (or years), to view the slowness of my life as Jesus’ abandonment of me. I think and feel that if I can’t readily identify His work in and with my life in the terms I expect, then He must not be present. Must not be pleased with Me. Must have abandoned me. Must not love or want me.

I am learning that slowness isn’t the same as abandonment. On the contrary, His slowness in my life is often a sign of His deep work in my heart. Of His very near presence.

An earthquake, the power to move and shape continents, appears sudden and random to us on the outside. But it is actually the result of years of subtle, gradual, inexorable movement and foundational shifting that takes place under the surface. The build-up is hidden. The speed and power of an earthquake is predicated upon a prolonged season of perceived slowness.

Sanctification works in a similar way. We want the spiritual earthquake…the change now. We resist the tension and time required to move the truly big things in our heart.

Slowness doesn’t mean nothing is happening. It doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned. It might mean there are things going on underneath our sight lines that are so big, they need time to develop fully. Then, when the shaping forces with in us have reached their fulfillment… the speed of things just might take our breath away, just might change the landscape of our lives so suddenly or dramatically that we are utterly amazed and profoundly delighted.

I am learning that God’s slowness may actually be a sign of His favor. Of His purposes. Of His intentional movement. Because He isn’t working on small things in me, but the continental.

And if I can learn to wait on Him, to cooperate with His work in my life for which time has no substitute…I just might be utterly amazed and profoundly delighted by the results.

2 Pet. 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.