The one where I confront my inner Peter and Martha

I greatly identify with the apostle Peter. He was a man full of great intentions whose mouth often got ahead of his mind. He reacted quickly and spoke in great sweeping generalizations. Whenever I read a passage where Peter speaks before thinking I nod with a glimmer of recognition. Oh yes. There I am. I would have been the one who brashly stated how confident I was in Jesus’ divinity. I would have confidently proclaimed that I would never abandon him in his hour of need. And then when the heat got turned up, just like Peter, I would have turned tail and run. Continue reading

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The one where I thought I had cancer

It’s the end of September, I’m determined to get back into the swing of blogging after a truly wonderful summer. I’m driving home from work with thoughts swirling around in my head. What will I write about? I’ve had several ideas on the back burner and they are almost done cooking. I’m still thinking when I get home and change for bed, and that’s when I feel it. The lump. The lump where you don’t want to feel a lump. I freeze. Maybe it was a fluke. It probably won’t be there when I feel again. It is. It’s 10:00 at night. My mother is already in bed. I wake her up. Do you feel it? Yes she feels it. Let’s not panic. Let’s go to sleep and tomorrow call your doctor. It’s probably nothing. Most definitely nothing. But let’s be safe. Let’s not leave anything to chance given the family history.

I call and the appointment is made. I’m not worried. I’m not calm either. I’m not anything. This isn’t concerning yet. The doctor visit is quick and to the point. It’s here that the word is first said. It’s said in an attempt to be reassuring, but the sound of it out loud for the first time jolts me. “In women your age it’s almost never cancer. But with the family history let’s be as proactive as we can in making sure.”

I don’t know why it’s so surprising to hear that word. After all, I’ve been thinking it in my head since that night. Why is a word so much more powerful after it’s spoken than when it’s just thought?

Being proactive means getting mammograms and sonograms. It means a long day at a doctor’s office where I wait, get poked and prodded,  then wait some more. The doctors and nurses are kind and helpful, and yet part of me hates them. I can feel them trying so hard to be positive while also treating me with kid gloves. “We’re sure this is nothing to worry about.” Then the chart is opened and the questions about the family history begin. “Your mother had it when? 1998? Lumpectomy followed by radiation? Given a clean bill of health? When did it re-occur? 2008? Ten years later?” Nobody says these next words out loud but I see them on their faces. “Cancer in a 27 year old is extremely rare, but then again so it getting cancer again after being clear for 10 years.”

I’m laying on my back in an exam room waiting for a radiologist to tell me what to do next. Music is playing softly over the speakers. It’s supposed to be soothing. It’s not. I think to myself “Every Breath You Take” by The Police is the song that’s playing when they tell me I have cancer I’m going to either die of laughter or start crying hysterically.”

The doctor is here. She wants me to come back for an MRI. I’m so young that mammograms don’t give a clear enough picture of what’s going on. There is definitely dark shading where I first felt the lump. But she’s also wondering about some darker areas on the other side. Let’s get them all checked out on the MRI machine first and then decide what to biopsy.

Maybe now I’ll feel something right? Anger? Fear? Peace? No. I feel nothing. Let’s just go let’s just move on. Make the appointment and live my life until then. Maybe it’s good I feel nothing. Nothing is better than fear right?

Oh by the way, the potential new job wants to interview me. Good news, they love me! Can I give two weeks notice at my old job and start right away? Of course! No more hour commute. Ten minutes is all I’ll be driving now. Thank you so much for the opportunity. This is good. Something good to take the focus off the bad and the scary. I hope I don’t need to take time off for treatment soon. Let’s not worry about that now. It’s a new job!

I’m laying face down on a stretcher outside an MRI machine with my arms outstretched in front of me like I’m superwoman about to take off. The CD I brought to listen to won’t play in their machine and the radio is too soft to hear. My bangs are growing out and aren’t quite long enough to stay pushed behind my ear. One piece hangs in front of my right eye. Everything is blurry not just because of the hair but because I’m not wearing my glasses. I’m being moved in. It’s silent. So silent. Now it’s loud. Clanging and banging so loud. I can feel the top of the machine pressing down on me. It’s going to crush me I know it. I wish I felt nothing. Instead I’m afraid. Tears are welling up in my eyes which shakes the fear off me for a split second. I can’t cry! I’m not allowed to move my arms for the next 40 minutes. I won’t be able to wipe my face! Stop crying Janelle. Stop. Think about something else.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence. If I go up to the heavens you are there. If I make my bed in the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn; if I settle on the farthest side of the sea. Even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me.”

I’m remembering when I had to memorize the Psalm these verses are in. I’m in 6th grade and it’s my yearly passage. My mom and I walk around and around the block in our neighborhood reciting the Psalm over and over again until I have it memorized. Now I lay here and repeat those words over and over again for 40 minutes. Slowly my heart beat relaxes and the tears in my eyes dry up. My arms are numb and my nose itches like crazy but the fear is gone. I’m grateful. But before that feeling takes too deep of a hold it’s time to talk to the doctor again.

There are areas they want to biopsy. The area I felt can be done as a needle biopsy. The areas on the other side are too small for a needle biopsy so we have to do an MRI biopsy. I have no idea what that means or what it’s going to feel like. I’m just nodding my head. Good. Two biopsies. Let’s do it. How much longer is this going to take? It’s November now. I’m about to start a new job. Oh by the way the new job called can you come in and train for two days before going to your second shift job? Sure! No problem. I’ll get an MRI biopsy and work two jobs the next day. No biggie!

Is time for me to feel anything yet? No not yet. Let’s just power through. Is there something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be angry? Or afraid? Shouldn’t I be asking God why this is happening to me? If I’m not feeling any of those things shouldn’t I feel an overwhelming sense of peace? A sense that God is moving and about to do something amazing in my life? Instead I feel nothing. I’m an empty vessel who moves through her daily tasks methodically; acting like all is normal in front of the those who have no idea what’s going on (a large group) and talking through scenarios and asking for prayers with those who do. (A very small group)

I’m back on my stomach about to enter the MRI machine again. But this time I’m ready. My CD works, my verses are in my head, and my hair is pulled back with a headband. I’ve got this. Except wait, no I don’t. This is incredibly painful. I’m being squeezed so hard I know I’ll bruise. There are needles and scary sounds. A doctor I’ve never met is talking me through the procedures and I can’t even see her face. When will this stop? I’ve been here for hours it seems. It’s time to sit up and my arms will not support my weight. The nurses are helping me and I look down noticing all the blood. Is that mine? How can so much of me leave my body and I not even be aware of it?

We aren’t done. Second biopsy is less painful which would make me happy if I wasn’t in so much pain on the other side of my body. I move down the hallway shuffling like I’m an old woman. My mother keeps trying to feed me. I know I look pale. I know I’m scaring her. And still I feel nothing. Nothing except pain. The doctor is talking now. There’s not much to tell. Now we wait. Go home and rest and wait.

I’m on the couch thinking about how tomorrow I have to get up and go to training at my new job before going to work my last shift at my old one. I’m done feeling nothing. Now I’m feeling. Not anger, not fear, and certainly not peace. I feel resigned. Of course this happening. Of course this is how God works. He gives my mother cancer, lets her think it’s all gone and then hits her again ten years later. Of course he’s going to put me through this. It’s all part of his sick game right? I’m not even angry about it. I never expected anything less. I realize now that’s what I’ve been feeling all along. Not an absence of feeling, but a sense that I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen since the day my mother first got diagnosed. In a sick way I’m relieved it’s finally happened. I don’t have to wait anymore.

Now that I’ve named the feeling I’ve been feeling for so long it’s like I can’t stop the rest of them from flooding over me. Here comes the anger. Why is God doing this to me? Here comes the fear. How am I going to handle things if the worst happens? Here comes the shame. How can I feel this way about God? Didn’t he comfort me when I was afraid. How can I be so cynical?

The next few days are hard. My body doesn’t feel like my own. I lay in bed at night and cry. Not because I’m in physical pain, but because I’m worried about how cynical I feel towards God. I don’t want to be a person who thinks the worst of the person who loves me more than anyone in the universe. When the tears stop I lay in the silence and wait.

I wait

And wait

And wait

And then deep in my spirit, he speaks.

“Let me feel what you feel. I’m here.”

But I’m so cynical

“It’s okay. I’m full of hope. Let’s trade.”

I’m so angry

“It’s okay. I’m full of happiness. Let’s trade.”

I’m so afraid

“It’s okay. I’m full of courage. Let’s trade.”


The answer isn’t totally clear so I do the best I can. Every day I take each thought captive and trade them for one of His. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works a lot of the time. I have to speak out loud “that’s not true.” Repeat things that are true. I am loved. I am made whole in Him who made me regardless of what happens in my body.

The new job has begun. I’m waiting for the call. It comes on my lunch break. I wait for the doctor to come on the phone and I finally feel it. That peace that truly passes all understanding washes over me like warm water drenching me from head to toe. I’ve traded enough of my thoughts for his that now I think like him. And I know he cares for those he loves. Like a mother hen tending to her chicks he tends to me. No matter what the answer is he’ll tend to me.

It’s not cancer. I’m fine. Totally and completely healthy. I need to come in to talk about removing some things just to be safe, but I have no cancer in my body. I cry of course. I cry out of sheer relief and gratitude. Now things can go back to normal.

I’ve struggled with how to end this story. This incredibly long story that seemed never ending when I lived it but was really only a little over a month. I think I’ve struggled because this is my life. There is no neat and simple ending to the story. There will probably always be a part of me that wonders if someday I’ll hear different words than the ones I did a few weeks ago.But going through all of this jump started my Spirit in a radical way. It made me be real in front of Jesus. Really myself. Messy, scared and afraid. Not having the right answers, not knowing the right thing to say or do. And guess what? He took care of me anyway. He didn’t need me to go through this in any particular way. He just needed me to invite him to go along with me while I walked through it. That’s all he wants; to be invited on the journey.

This part of my journey is over. But the rest of my life stretches before me winding and weaving in ways I can’t even being to understand. I can’t wait to walk it with Him. It’s going to be an adventure.

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The one about my tired arms

“Hi friend, just praying for you tonight as God brought you to mind. Praying for a new job that abundantly provides for all your needs & uses your gifts with a purpose that makes you excited to get up in the morning & go! Excited to see what it will be!”

The text came at the perfect moment. Nothing particularly had gone wrong that day but I still felt a general malaise. A malaise that had been increasing over the last 2 months. Every afternoon when the moment came to get into my car and make that long commute I could feel the cold fingers of it creeping over my shoulders. Every evening when my writers block seemed to be getting worse and not better I felt its creeping breath on my neck. Every morning when the resumes went out and nothing came back I felt the shadow of it darken my vision. I had gotten so used to the feeling that it was a shock when these words broke through the malaise for one second and I felt my weak spirit lift its head.  Continue reading

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The one where I’m more than enough

Life seems like a series of contradictions lately. It’s as if life teaches me one thing followed immediately by the phrase “but not all the time” or “not in every circumstance.” It can be a little confusing and frustrating.

“Be open; but protect yourself too”

“Love who are you, your personality, you character, your attitudes, but don’t be content to stay exactly the same your whole life”

“Accept criticism even when it comes from places you don’t trust; but know that some criticism you can throw right in the garbage even when it comes from those you do trust.”

“Strive to grow in your faith and in your ability to worship and trust God, but don’t worry when you feel like you’ve been in the same place for months at at time”

“Don’t over think everything, but don’t turn off your instincts”

“Don’t worry about everything, but have a healthy concern that you are making the right choices.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes it can feel like a tug of war in my mind. I like things to have a simple answer. If something is the right thing to do I want it to ALWAYS be the right thing to do. I’m great with living in the tension as long as it’s not a situation directly affecting me. But the thing is, most of life isn’t a simple yes or no. Most of life is found in the tension. In the moments where I decide what is the right approach. And here’s the best/worst part. Sometimes I’ll choose wrong. And you know what?

That’s okay. I’m not always going to pick the right thing.

I can’t live my life worrying about all the choices I have to make. Because what is that worry really hiding? It’s hiding my need to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m going to make a LOT of wrong choices. So what! That’s part of life. The biggest thing I’m learning right now is how to accept my imperfections. Acceptance doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be better; but it means I stop acting like the things I want to work on in myself are always bad in every circumstance. Taking care to make the right choice isn’t always bad. Being cautious with how open I am with others is healthy. Working to became the best version of myself I can be doesn’t mean taking out all the things that make me interesting.

I’m not too much. I’m not too little. I’m me.

And that is more than enough



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The one about confronting the mean

Does anybody take pride in being a mean person? I’m not talking about “I don’t take crap from anyone” “I don’t let anyone push me around and if that makes me mean so be it” kind of mean. I’m talking about the kind of person who dislikes people for no real reason. Who is not just jealous of other’s people success but actively hopes they start not succeeding. A person who smiles a little inside when something goes wrong for a person she doesn’t like. Maybe genuinely evil people take pride in their meanness, but most of us pretend those parts of us don’t exist. We push it down and put a smile on our face and pretend that we are nice. But that doesn’t change anything. The mean is still there. Silently waiting for an opportunity to jump up in front of your face and remind you that sometimes you are really not a nice person.

I had a moment like that today. A moment where the ugliness of my thoughts startled me. Did I really just think that? About another human being? What is wrong with me? It was like a mirror was held up in front of my soul and it was not a pretty sight. It always seems like those moments and thoughts come up right after I’ve decided to pat myself on the back because of how kind I’m being. I went out of my way to help somebody, or give somebody a kind word, I must be a really nice person. Look at how compassionate I am. Look at how good I’m getting at keeping my mouth shut.  And then BAM I’m reminded of how far I really have to go.

I think the trick in confronting my “mean” is to walk the line between self flagellation over my mistakes, and letting myself off the hook too easily. I’m not the first person to indulge the side of myself that can be petty and jealous. We all do it, and we all do it way more than we probably like to admit. But, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s a part of myself I should be proud of or indulge myself in. The next time I start getting on a high horse about my own behavior I hope I remember the capacity I have to make the wrong decision, to hope for the wrong things, to indulge the mean. I am trying not pretend that the mean part of me doesn’t exist or that it is somehow not the “real” me. The same person who cares deeply about people and is very sensitive to the needs to others can also be rude, prideful, and yes mean. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply makes me a human being.

So here I am admitting it in the public square that is the blogosphere. My name is Janelle and sometimes, I’m a really mean person. I get jealous and worried that other people are going to outshine me. I think other people have it much easier than me. I dislike people for ridiculous reasons. I hold grudges. I get mad over silly things and I can be very impatient. The good news is I’m not afraid to confront my mean. The better news is that when I confront my mean I’m able to beat it, even if it’s only temporarily. But hey, I’ll take the small wins every time. Give me enough small wins and I’ll look back and see that I’m further than I was a month ago.

I’m not afraid of my mean. That isn’t all I am. I’m also capable of great warmth and compassion. When I love people I love them wholeheartedly, would do anything to help them, and root for good things to happen in their lives. I can be burdened with a need to help those I know have it much worse than me. I get over my ridiculous reasons for not liking someone. I admit that I’m mad about something silly and let my grudge go. When I confront my mean I free myself up to notice the good in myself too. I’m not either/or. I’m both. Today I was a little mean. That’s okay. Tomorrow is going to be different.

How about you? Do you confront the mean in your own life? Have you ever had a thought that startled you in its meanness? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


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The one where all will be well

One of the few good things about my long commute to work is how much time I have to listen to things in the car. Usually I pick podcasts because it makes the drive go quicker (I’ve listed some of my favorites here.) But, sometimes I like to put my windows down, my ipod on shuffle and let fate pick my music. Over the past week or so a certain song seems to come up almost every time I’m driving. Around the 5th or 6th time I started really listening to the lyrics and had kind of light bulb going on moment. The song is called All Will Be Well and it’s by The Gabe Dixon Band.  I first heard the song a few years ago when my friend Heather made me a mix of new music. Parks and Recreation, of my favorite TV shows, also used it in a montage last year and it was amazing. But even though I’ve known the song for a few years, this past week in particular it seemed to really stir something in me. I kept listening to it over and over again. The song would end and I would immediately repeat it. Take a listen before you read the rest of what I have to say. Continue reading

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The one about God’s “perfect will”

I’m a bit of a control freak. (I know this fact comes as no surprise to those of you who know me.) I like to have things go the way I want them. I plan things to a minute degree. Being a worrier and a control freak often go hand in hand especially in moments where I feel out of control. Learning to let go and not worry so much is something I am constantly working on. I find it’s the hardest to let go during periods of transition. When I’m in a place where I’m making decisions about my life I can feel my blood pressure rising as I start to worry about the inevitable ways I will screw up my choices. There’s one phrase in particular that if I hear it during the times I’ve just described I will lose my mind. I’m talking about the phrase “the perfect will of God.”

Christians love to talk about God’s perfect will. It comes up in prayers. (Lord, we just pray that you will bring about your perfect will.) It comes up when talking about jobs. (Lord, is this job in your perfect will for me?) It comes up in relationships. (Is this person God’s perfect will for me?) For those of us who like to be in control at all times, the idea of a perfect will of God just might be the most stressful thing we have ever dealt with. What if I make a wrong choice? What if I take the wrong job? What if move to the wrong state? What if I marry the wrong person?

What if,

What if,

What if,

I’m in a time of transition in my life. (Ugh, I hate that even typed such a cliche sentence, but it really is true) And sure enough the need to constantly be in control is becoming an issue again. What if I choose the wrong thing and then my whole life is screwed up? When I start to spiral like this I try to remember the most comforting debunking of God’s perfect will I’ve ever heard. During college I had a Bible professor who brought up this very topic. He first asked how many of us had dealt with the pressure of choosing God’s perfect will in the past. After some discussion he used the following illustration to shatter all of our illusions about God’s will.

God’s will is like a playground. When you take a child to a playground you don’t tell them “Okay, you need to swing on the swings for twenty minutes. Then you need to go down the slide eight times. Only after you do those two things can you go on the jungle gym.” No, instead you tell the child, “You can play on anything at this playground for as long as you want, just don’t leave the playground.” That’s just how God is with our life choices. There are certain parameters he sets up like a fence around a playground. But, that fence encompasses a giant space. He looks at his children and he says. “Go play. Go play and have fun.”

How freeing was this analogy for me? I almost did cartwheels out of the classroom that’s how awesome I felt. Now, when I start to feel anxiety creep up when I have to make a big decision I remind myself to just play on the playground. I no longer believe there is a perfect will for my life. I believe there are lots of good choices and whichever one I pick becomes God’s perfect will for me. Are there some choices that might be better than others? Possibly. If your child isn’t that great on the swings and chooses to spend their time there instead of the slide that might not be the best choice. But does it ruin their life? Nope. There’s room for correction. Everything doesn’t have to be set in stone.

So, I’ve got some decisions I have to make soon. The part of me that needs to feel in control is freaked out. But the part of me that is secure in my creator’s love for me reminds the rest of my brain to relax and enjoy this part of my life. Go and play on the playground. It’s going to be a great day.

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