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Kathi Lipp

“How do we experience the spiritual disciplines when a mom’s day is the opposite of ‘disciplined’? Julia gives us ancient wisdom boiled down into doable steps so that we can experience our beautiful God in the midst of our messy lives.”

 

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How Motherhood Brought Me Closer to God

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What I’ve Learned from My Cancer Diagnosis

 

 

 

I was 39 weeks pregnant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer last October.

 

I’m not sure what (or who) exactly caused me to ask my nurse-practitioner to do a breast exam at my OB-GYN appointment. At the time it felt like part of that final nesting surge of wanting everything to be crossed off my list. It had occurred to me that I’d be breastfeeding for some time after having my new baby, my third, and so it might be a good idea to get checked out before all of the body changes that would entail.

 

Lots of people have asked me since then: Did you feel anything? And the answer is no. I didn’t feel anything. I 100% expected her to tell me everything was perfect, and I could check that one thing off my list. On to the next.

 

But of course that’s not what happened. She discovered a lump. Not a huge lump, but one big enough that when she pointed it out to me, I could feel it too.

 

She scheduled me for an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led to a life-changing phone call from the OB-GYN, a call that was quite upsetting for both of us.

 

Invasive ductal carcinoma, Grade 2. I didn’t even know what those words meant. I just knew they were bad.

 

I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed, my mom (who’d come into town in anticipation of the birth) next to me, rubbing my back.

 

Cancer. It seemed like the worst news I could have received. And the worst timing. I was supposed to be preparing for childbirth. My worries were supposed to be about sleep deprivation and baby weight and how my two older sons would greet their baby sister.

 

Instead, there I was making an emergency appointment with a cancer surgeon and scheduling my first-ever mammogram, which brought to mind that old phrase about locking the barn door after the horses were gone.

 

And then, because I’m a mom and that’s what we do, I had to pull it together and take my son to soccer practice, pretending like I hadn’t just been sucker punched. At the field I dropped my hugely pregnant body into my folding chair and sat stunned, my eyes continually blurring with tears behind my sunglasses as the boys warmed up.

 

Did this mean Ben was going to grow up without a mother? Did this mean that next year I wouldn’t even be here to watch him practice? And what about his little brother and this baby who hadn’t even been born yet? I started hyperventilating and had to take deep breaths to calm down. The other parents probably thought I was practicing Lamaze breathing.

 

How do people do it? I wondered. How do you keep going when you’re dealing with news like this?

 

And then something strange happened. It was as if my brain had been so heavily in panic mode it just couldn’t function there any longer.

 

My breathing slowed down and I noticed it was a gorgeous day, that I was the perfect temperature sitting there in the ocean breeze wrapped in my soccer mom blanket, and I could admire the sun-dappled leaves on a nearby tree. I was shocked to discover I could enjoy this very moment. That this moment I could handle. This moment I had and not even cancer could take it away.

 

This is how you get through it, I realized. Each moment by itself, one breath at a time.

 

We found out a lot more information in the days and weeks ahead, much of it good. My cancer was on the small side, enough to make me Stage 1; they thought it had not invaded past the original mass; it was a less aggressive type. Despite the many struggles and minor heartbreaks to follow—that I would have to go straight to the cancer surgeon’s office when we left the hospital with my newborn baby girl, that I would have to give up breastfeeding at six weeks in order to have surgery followed by chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapy—I realized that it was not the worst possible thing nor was it the worst possible time.

 

In fact, my cancer diagnosis was kind of a miracle.

 

Why in the world had I asked for a breast exam? I still don’t know. But I do know that if I hadn’t, as my pediatrician pointed out shortly after my daughter Kate’s birth, that the cancer would likely not have been caught for years, perhaps even three, since I’d breastfed both my boys for more than two years and would have probably done the same with her and then written off any lumpiness as just still-swollen milk ducts.

 

If I’d found it early in the pregnancy, I would have had to face very difficult decisions about whether to treat it or not. And if I’d somehow found it before the pregnancy, I probably wouldn’t have my baby girl at all.

Copyright 2015 @ Images by Giselle

Copyright 2015 @ Images by Giselle

 

It seems entirely possible that, in fact, I discovered the cancer at the best possible time.

 

The Bible verse that keeps coming to mind for me during this time is Romans 8:28a. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” As my pastor explains this verse, it doesn’t mean that everything is good or that it happens the way we expect it to, but that everything works together for good eventually. As I reflect on this verse, I find myself increasingly aware of how this situation too is working for good even now.

 

Knowing that I have cancer has infused my life with a radical sense of gratitude. Gratitude for my healthy baby girl and the rest of my family, for their good health and for my relative good health, gratitude for each moment I have with them and gratitude that the doctors believe I’ll have many, many more.

 

At night before I fall asleep I like to listen for the distinctive breathing of everyone in the family. At four months old, the baby sleeping next to me in the cosleeper still has rapid and somewhat erratic breathing, “Huh huh huh huh.” Sometimes she laughs in her sleep. The 12-year-old dachshund in her bed by the window snuffles and wheezes. My husband’s sleeping breathing is enviably deep and even, like someone in a mattress commercial. If I listen carefully, I can hear both boys breathing and, this time of year, occasionally coughing, in their bedroom just down the hall.

 

I am often the last one to fall asleep. Right now that’s sometimes because of one side effect or other of the chemotherapy treatments I am halfway through, but listening to my sleeping family never fails to calm and soothe me. In these moments I realize that the song of my soul is still one of gratitude. After I fall asleep, if anyone listened to me, I’d like to think that the sound of my breaths is, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Have You Affirmed Your Family Today?

Last week at dinner my younger son casually turned to me and said, “These are the things I like about you, Mommy, that you play Legos with me, that you play puppies with me, that you hug me and that you’re a good mommy.” Not to be outdone, his older brother immediately chimed in, “And […]

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Mom of Boys and. . .

I often tweet with the hashtag #momofboys. I’ve realized over the past (almost) nine years of being a mom of one and then two boys how much a part of my identity this has become. I think of myself as a mom of boys, and I love it. From the furious activity to the soccer […]

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Three Ways to Listen Better to God

My church recently held an all-night prayer vigil. Each of us could sign up for a half-hour (or longer) shift. I was lucky enough to get the very decent 9 a.m. shift and arrived in the little chapel ready to have some good time with God.   Scheduled half-hours with God are not normally part […]

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How to Help a Depressed New Mom

I’ll just come out with it: I’m an eavesdropper. I love to write and edit in coffee shops, partly because I can’t procrastinate by doing laundry and partly because I love to hear the snippets of conversation around me as I type. The coffee shop I frequent is very close to a local Christian university, […]

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Driving Like a Christian

  Today I actually stuck out my tongue at another driver. He blew around me and then cut into my lane, and I was so annoyed that’s how I responded. It could have been worse, I know, but immediately afterward I couldn’t help but think about how childish I had been. And whether my children […]

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Confessions of a Soccer Mom

Over Thanksgiving weekend we all got up crazy early, not to engage in Black Friday shopping, but to drive my son many miles away to a Thanksgiving soccer tournament.   Such a practice was not far from our norm. It has become increasingly clear over the last few months that I am now a soccer […]

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A Real-Life Proverbs 31 Woman

  Last week I received the sudden news that my grandmother was gone. It’s hard to explain to those who didn’t know her what a shock it was to hear of her death, since she was almost 91. My grandma was a “farm woman,” as her doctor called her. I believe his exact words were, […]

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