Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In the Eye of Cancer’s Storm

It was a moment that made me stop and suck in a long, deep breath.  Cancer.  After an endless month waiting, we’d finally learned my husband’s diagnosis.  Squamous Cell Carcinoma, HPV-positive, to be exacting – or Cancer on the back of his tongue near his tonsils, spread to a lymph node in his neck.  Um, no, not possible.   I lost my mom to this insidious disease (gastric cancer) just 9 months ago; so sorry, Cancer, I thought, you’re not allowed to rock our world again just yet.  

But of course, Cancer can’t be counted on for timing.  My husband and I walked through a haze and shared the news with thick throats.  Then, we linked arms, dusted off and readied for another fight.

Despite medical advances, Cancer conjures our worst fears, whether your prognosis is curable or life threatening.  Still, many patients, survivors and family members are molded by the experience, even despite a crushing loss.   Walking alongside my mother’s battle left me stronger in some areas, vulnerable in others, but mostly more resilient and more appreciative of life. 

So while it was crushing to receive this news so soon after losing her, my husband’s Cancer appears to be one highly responsive to treatment; my faith is strong; and we enjoy a supportive community, great doctors and health insurance.   So it’s easier for us to remain hopeful and positive.  The real heroes survive, thrive, and/or heal when they don’t have those in spades.

Recently I contributed to a book by Kathe Wunnenberg titled, Hopelifter: Creative Ways to Spread Hope when Life Hurts.  The book describes ways to comfort those enduring crisis, like Cancer, divorce, unemployment, and more.  My own loved one’s journeys with Cancer make me a giver, and receiver of hope.  Because the greatest gifts cancer delivers are the sweet expressions of love and compassion. And for that we say, Thank you, Cancer.  But don’t think we aren’t going to kick your tushie!! 

(You can follow our story at Caring )

How to Cope with Cancer:

  1. Rely on family, friends, and faith.  Tap into your support system, or create one online.  You may choose to tell just a few close friends; or you may connect with the masses via social media.  Either way, don’t do it alone.  
  2. Accept offers for Help.  Most people want to do something to ease your load.  Let them!  Graciously accept offers to drop off meals, clean your house and babysit the kids.  In time, pay it forward.
How to Help a Friend or Loved one Cope with Cancer:

  1. Listen.  So many have been been touched by Cancer, so resist the urge to immediately share your own story. Listen, first and fully.  Ask questions.   There will be time to empathize with your own experience.
Don’t worry about the words; speak from the heart.  It’s hard to know what to say to a Cancer patient, so just be real.  One of the best emails we received came from our niece, Julie, who said simply, “this really sucks."

This content originally appeared in East Valley Magazine.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's Never about the Yogurt: Peeling back the layers during a fight

What do you and your sweetie fight about?

Money, sex, parenting - the division of labor?  Living together means there’s a lot to knock heads over.  Big, little; it all counts.  But I’ve discovered my husband and I rarely have a fight that’s actually about the topic we’re squabbling over.

Case in point: the yogurt.

This is an old example, but the lesson we learned endures - if we can remember it in the moment, which is always the tricky part.  Many moons ago, my husband was bugged with me because for the trillionth time I bought the wrong flavor of yogurt.  He preferred red - raspberry, and I couldn’t seem to remember it with the other flotsam and jetsam running through my head. 

And it really, really bothered me that he criticized me when I’d been the one to go to the store and drudge through the aisles each week to buy the groceries.  Hubby and I are serial marriage counseling addicts, so during one of our many, many counseling sessions, the therapist looked me square in the eye and said, “It’s never about the yogurt.”

It was the first time I’d learned to really peel back the layers.  And she was right.  We discovered that my love’s real objection was that I hadn’t considered him enough.  I hadn’t bothered to remember his preference.  He felt neglected.  He felt like I didn’t care about him.  (Although in my defense, I find red-raspberry sells out quickly.  I wonder what other relationships are straining under the demand of red-raspberry yogurt?)

So I try to remember that in the midst of a fight.  It’s a lifelong process – learning to mine down to the “root cause” of the issue.  It’s almost always how someone feels – and for some, it just isn’t safe to say out loud how they’re really feeling, and what they need.  So anger becomes the mask of choice.  And in the midst of raised voices and hurt feelings and wounded pride, it's a herculean effort to stop, take a moment, and ask your love what's underneath.  What's this really, really about?

So if it’s not about the “yogurt,” what is it about for you?  Think about that next time - and fight the good fight with grace, compassion grit.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 
 George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mission Accomplished: Building Hope, Finding Joy at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation

What if I told you my latest excursion involved hanging out with the coolest people on earth, enjoying a glorious massage under a twinkling skyline, showering with my feet planted on warm, glistening rocks, and meditating to live music every evening?

You’d probably think I’d scored a weekend at some decadent spa or resort.  On the contrary – my son and I went on a mission trip near Globe, Arizona. (A place you wouldn’t exactly call posh!)  We spent a week camping there with our church family during our annual mission trip to the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  (The massages?  Given by a generous camper.  The showers?  Solar!  Translation – from a plastic bag filled with water warmed by the sun.)

I knew it was going to be hard work.  What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun we’d have.   And despite standing witness to crushing poverty, we not only built hope – we found it.

Building more than just homes

In partnership with Amor Ministries, my home church, Mountain View Lutheran, just logged its 20th consecutive mission trip to build homes in impoverished communities.  We do this because Lutherans embrace a roll-up-your-sleeves brand of faith.  Our ministry doesn’t just take place within our 4 walls.  We’re called to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely – to love our neighbor across the street, and across the globe.  (And in Globe!)

San Carlos is home to the third largest reservation in the state of Arizona, where unemployment tips 75%.  We spent the week hand mixing and smoothing stubborn stucco, finishing walls, painting rooftops and toiling under the hot sun.  At the end of each day, we were baking hot, sore, tired, and grimy.

And I can’t wait to go back. 

The kids are all right

Technically this trip is designed for middle and high school aged kids. Spending time with my son minus the distractions of home was pure joy.  We joked that after a week of mixing and scooping thick, heavy stucco, chores at home wouldn’t seem so bad.

Kids and adults worked together in harmony for a higher purpose, each person in the hive falling into a busy formation.  I never once heard a grumbling complaint.  The promise of S’mores by the campfire each night probably didn’t hurt either; but we should give teens more credit. They sang while they worked; they showed respect to the adults.  They were awesome!!

After this, her third trip to Mission San Carlos, Bonnie Conrad (Ahwatukee) put it this way, “For the kids, it’s a trip that really affects them for the rest of their lives.  They find out they can build a house!  And they learn to give to others.”

It was Bonnie’s daughter, Kelly, who just graduated from Desert Vista that convinced her mom to go in the first place after she and her dad had enjoyed two trips together.  “You leave the comfort of Ahwatukee and learn how much bigger the world is, and how much need is out there.”  Kelly says the trips helped her see how much she enjoyed helping people, and inspired her to pursue a career in nursing.

Sore Muscles, Soaring Souls

We all agreed connecting with the recipients of the homes was a highlight.  Around the campfire, Karen France (Ahwatukee) shared that her “high” of the day was meeting Shirley, the Apache woman who cried when she saw her new house.  “It’s so big,” she’d marveled.  Mind you, it was 675 square feet.  Shirley’s the very reason Brett Sauer’s (Chandler) returned for all 20 trips. “I go to make people cry,” he said.

I’m so glad I listened when God called me to serve His people in San Carlos.  But as usual - it was me who received.  The experience left me moved, healed, touched.  Changed.  Who knew a week of hard labor and sleeping in a hot tent could leave you feeling so utterly restored, connected and inspired? Who knew I’d make so many friendships with people with whom I’d only passed the peace from the next pew over?

“That’s the secret of mission trips,” our pastor quipped, when I shared it with him.  Now that the secret is out – will you listen when you hear the call to serve across the street, across the globe, or near Globe, Arizona??

Enough about me - what about you?  I'd love to hear your story - so chime in!

(This piece was originally published in

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Taming the Tongue Invites both Peace & Persecution

I want to change the old adage we grew up with and revise it to read instead,  “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can really hurt me.”

Words are powerful.  As a certified word-nerd, I’m enamored with them.  I absorb words incessantly - from books and cereal boxes to advertisements and greeting cards.  I appreciate this art form that has the power to inspire, heal and educate.  Carefully chosen words can soothe a wounded heart, stir a nation and empower the oppressed.  And of course, words said with venom will wage war, sear the soul, and leave carnage in their wake. 

I’m thinking all of this because try as I might to speak the language of peace, my tongue very often gives in to temptation.  My propensity to use it without enough forethought has landed me in trouble more than once.  This week my tongue got me in some trouble, and I got back what I gave in spades.  Here’s what happened.  (Why do I always seem to be confessing here?  Please write and tell me I’m not the only one!)

Let’s just say I had a brush with the dark side of social media.  I made a comment that, well, let’s just say, wasn’t well received.  It wasn’t my intention, but I clearly struck a nerve by protesting what I perceived as a derogatory, divisive post. Can you see where this is going?  Yep, my words added some fuel to the flame.

Big mistake on my part.  What ensued was the most vicious verbal attack I’d ever endured.  I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say – I had never encountered such maliciousness before.  I was shaken to my core.

Recently I’ve fallen in love with the book of Proverbs.  Verse after verse speaks to the issue of choosing words carefully - that the taming of the tongue is the triumph of the wise. (My paraphrase!)   One of my favorites from chapter 12 advises, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Now, why couldn’t I have remembered that before I made my comment?!

I summoned all of my humility and reached out to apologize to this man for posting on his page, as we weren’t friends either online or in real time.  Such is the alternative universe of social media.  He didn’t exactly appreciate my attempt at humility.  And I learned two very important lessons.  First, I should always take a breath to calmly consider the right words.  Are they helpful or hurtful?  Do I want to inflict pain or healing?  Is it better left unsaid, even if I have to bite my tongue?

Notice I’m not saying that holding the tongue is always the best route.  How often have you bitten your tongue, congratulated yourself on your peaceful response, only to seethe and explode later?  What I’m talking about is measuring my words, and perhaps now and again swallowing them until I can string the right ones together when I’ve worked through my immediate response.

Second, even when I do speak the language of peace, or offer apology or concession, there is very often no immediate reward.  My words could succeed in diffusing or soothing – or, they may be scrutinized, labeled as weakness, even persecuted.  But it’s what I signed up for in following Christ – to do my best to emulate his example.  So here’s another adage I’d like to wordsmith a bit.  Next time my blood pressure rises, I need to ask myself, “What would Jesus say?”

Enough about me - what about you? Tell me the last time you tripped over your tongue ... or when someone else burned a bridge with theirs.

(This piece originally appeared in the Ahwatukee Foothills News.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

From "Dear Diane" – One Girlfriend’s Advice on the Trouble with Girlfriends

Sometimes, when it comes to my girlfriends, I don’t feel much different than I did in 5th grade.  Is it the same for you?

Back then we traded clothes and secrets, and wondered when our periods would ever show up.  Today, we still trade clothes and gossip - and lament PMS and hot flashes.  Not that much changes – most women I know need their girlfriends as much as their spouses – maybe even more.  A girl without a girlfriend is like a fish without water.

What is it about women and friendships?  They’re different from men’s.  Women share everything, often, and in great detail. We listen; we empathize; we give our best advice.  We don’t always solve the problems – it’s just the processing that helps.  Hear that guys?  We love that you want to fix stuff for us, but what we really need is for someone to just listen.  We just want to talk through it - and girlfriends get that.  

The tight bonds women form, though, can create a double-edged sword.  When we invite girlfriends in to share our deepest secrets; we also open ourselves up to hurt feelings and rejection.  Sometimes their feedback does more harm than good - unintentionally or not.  Check out the advice I gave to one girlfriend who wrote in about a good friendship gone bad.  How would you have advised her?

Dear Diane,

A couple of years ago I met Amy* and her husband Bill* at the gym. They are spin instructors and co-instructed the class. Bill and I became gym buddies and chatted frequently when we ran into each other at the gym. Amy didn't seem to be as interested, but one day she walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in training to run the mini marathon with her. I’ve wanted to become a runner and thought a buddy would be a perfect way to go!
We started meeting at 6 a.m. twice a week to run, but it became apparent neither one of us really had the gusto to train (and I really didn't care to run). Our early morning workouts tapered, but our friendship continued to grow.
Our families started getting together for dinner once a week and we were chatting on the phone daily. Then I started gaining weight. A lot of weight. 25 pounds to be exact. I found out later it was my medicine, but in the midst of the weight gain, I relied on Amy to help me. She helped me analyze my diet, my workouts ... but nothing worked and I continued to gain weight.
She began to feel frustrated b/c she wasn't helping me and I was only getting worse, so she sought council - without my knowledge - of another instructor at the gym. Aaron* and I had become acquaintances and shared pleasantries while a the gym. One day during my workout, he came up to me and said we needed to talk after my workout. Jokingly I said "Am I in trouble?" His response: "Sort of."
After my workout, we go sit in a quiet corner of the gym and he begins asking me about my goals and if I'm meeting them. I told him I was trying to lose weight, but I keep gaining and I don't know why. He begins asking me how hard I'm working out. I told him I felt I pushed myself to 80% at the gym. His response, "bull****." He asked how many times I was getting into the gym. I said 6 days a week. His response was again "bull****." He proceeded to tell me I'm lazy and not working hard enough and not really trying. Tears welling in my eyes, I asked, "Where is this coming from?" He says "Amy asked me to speak with you."
I went home and sobbed the whole rest of the day. I texted Amy and said we needed to speak after she got off work. I went over to her house later and said "So, I spoke to Aaron today...." and she begins laughing. She claims she went to him to help figure out new way to motivate me. But she also knew he wanted to talk to me. While she had no idea how he was going to handle the situation, I felt completely betrayed. She tells me, even to this day, she didn't do anything wrong and she thinks the reason I got upset was because I was embarrassed.
I told her I wanted to remain friends and work through this, but she backed away. She was distance and cold. Then she invited me out to dinner last night. She called it a "date." Even now I'm off the medicine that caused the weight gain, I'm still struggling to lose the weight. She asked me how things were going (in that area). I told her about my SELF magazine challenge and how I did lose 3 pounds last week. She congratulated me and then proceeded to tell me when I'm in the gym I don't work out hard enough. I workout 6 hours a week. She's like "well, I've only been to the gym for 2-30 minute sessions in the past two weeks and I get a better workout than what you're putting in."
So my heart is crushed. Our families have become so close and now I can barely stand to be around her. I don't know how to continue a friendship with someone who thinks so little of me.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Dear Shannon*,
I understand. As women, our connections to our girlfriends are so very important, so it hurts deeply when they disappoint us. I believe that some friends come into your life and stay forever; some come for a season, and some come to teach you something, and move on. It sounds to me like Amy is not necessarily "lifetime friendship" material.

First - it not her place to "fix" your issue with weight. Her role is to encourage and affirm you efforts. I'm not sure why she took on frustration for your situation - it's not hers to "own." Further, it wasn't her place to involve Aaron. His brand of tough love might work on a guy, but rarely a woman. Personally I believe that only "lifetime" caliber friends - the ones you know love you deeply and who have your back, whom you trust without reservation - have the right to apply tough love when necessary. Sometimes out of love a person should say the hard thing, but in a loving way - never a shaming way. Neither Amy or Aaron had the right to speak to you that way.

I'm a believer in forgiveness, and I think if you truly value your friendship with Amy, you might consider sharing with her, in a loving way, how much her words/actions hurt you. That you don't need her "help" - you just need her friendship. Tell her you need for her to understand how her actions affected you. "I felt really hurt when you went to Aaron and put him up to talking with me..." Use that "I" message they teach the kids in school!  If she isn't open to it, personally I say, slowly release her from your life. You, and your family will make new friends - and you can do this slowly. Boundaries are very healthy. You can love yourself by choosing your friendships very wisely. You deserve better in my opinion. 

I also hope that you give yourself a break on the weight loss. There are so many messages out there telling us women we should be less. Buck the system and LOVE yourself! Accept yourself first, and others will follow. Eat right, get your exercise and focus on all the good in your life. Allow happiness, joy, peace and compassion to radiate from within you - and what's more beautiful that that?
I wish you the best and I hope I shed new light for you to consider. You have the answer - follow your heart.

I hope this helps!
Chime in - did you agree with my advice?  What would you tell her?   Ditch the dishes or the reports for a few minutes and join the conversation!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Opposites Attract: It's Friction with Benefits

The obituary said it all.  

A wife whose husband had passed described him as, "My beloved lover, friend and adversary for 30 years."

It made me smile.  And also tear up a little. (I do that a lot.)  Because I too, married an adversary.  Or, didn't we all?

I have a friend who says, “Opposites might attract – but similiars stick.”  It made sense to me at first, because I married my opposite, and we’ve been fighting the good fight ever since. (Actually not always the good fight, if I'm keeping it real!)  I loved my man’s confidence when I met him; later, it seemed overbearing.  I liked how he took charge and had the world by the tail; later, it seemed controlling.  I loved that my husband said out loud things most people would only think. Later, I thought it was crude.  Sound familiar?  It's because the stuff which initially attracts us can later drive us apart.

In times of despair, I've wondered, Why didn’t I marry a guy who shared my more laid-back sensibilities?  Why hadn’t I chosen one who didn’t like clutter around the house even for a few minutes?  Why didn’t I marry a guy who wanted to listen to my tales of insolent children and cranky clients more instead of spouting off solutions instead? “This is what you do, Diane… Next problem?”

That always goes over really well.  Come on, honey – I just need you to listen to me rant and rave for 5 minutes and I’ll be all better.  God bless my own personal Mr. Fix-it! 

So maybe it's true.   If I‘d married someone more similar, we’d have stuck together more easily instead of just by sheer determination.  But I wouldn’t have grown.  I might not ever have been made fully aware of my serious propensity for losing my keys and glasses and wallet on a daily basis.  I might never have busted through the towering piles on my desk to create order. And I might live in a house where I never fixed what was broken.  It hurts to say it all - but my husband’s right a lot. (Gulp.  Don't tell him I said that.) I’ve got issues!  

For me, marrying my opposite bred years of struggle and strife.  It hasn’t been easy, and I’m sure we’ve given our kids plenty of fodder for future therapy sessions.  Even as a person of faith I never could quite live up to “good wife” status, try as I might to respect my knight-in-shining armor.  Still, all in all – I can say that triumphing over it, something my man and I will likely do every single day – has shaped me.  I’ve grown through the struggles – I’ve matured, become more resilient, and even learned to fix a few things about myself I'd rather sort of shove under the rug.  (Along with the dust bunnies.)

So while there are times I crave more compatibility and appreciation for my creative, nurturing spirit, my husband also saved me in a way.  What happens when two pack-rats live together?  Or when two “spendies” merge?  Or when two alcoholics connect?  They can enable each other to continue in those habits, because one doesn’t feel right pointing out the very flaw with which he or she also wrestles. 

But - when a neat-nick shacks up with a slacker – you can bet that once they learn to fight fair and compromise, the slacker will help the neat-nick relax a bit, and the neat-nick makes sure the slacker doesn’t end up on an episode of Hoarders.  But fighting's not all bad. It means you care.  Fighting is intimate.  Fighting means you're family.

In other words, opposites attract, but if they’re resilient and humble and committed and selfless – they can also manage to stick.  Yes – if I’d chosen someone more similar, our house might have been quieter, our rocky road a lot smoother.  But after 18 years, you know what?  My husband still gives me butterflies when he hugs me in the morning before work.  He's my adversary and my biggest critic - but also, my most passionate fan.

Friction has its benefits, after all.

What about you?  Did you marry an adversary?  Do you have a bombastic and passionate relationship? Do you fight the good fight, or are you still trying to prove you're right?  Tell me!  And check out my Facebook page, and I'll visit yours!