If You Feel My Heart

Put your hand here, upon my heart, you will feel the memories of our early days. It beats in my chest, pumping my blood, you are in my body. 

Feel my pulse, it is you beating. Made for you, longs for you, blood in my veins. 

And when you are not here, it rips apart, the thought of missing you, impossible to survive. Take my body and split me in two. That is what I am without you. 

Put your hand here, upon my heart. It used to beat in expectancy,now it is complete with thee, if you ever leave it will beat out of my chest in need of thee. 

This heart, it beats in me. It is you. The you in me that completes me. Beat, oh heart. Beat, you in me. 

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My Cancer Fairytale

Life is a story.  The setting is loving parents and all the possibilities of the world, an ugly boy abandoned on the street tortured by all he encounters, or perhaps a past you would like to forget.  And we must have a conflict.  Cinderella is all the more beautiful for the cruelty she endured, Snow White can only be rescued by her prince because the witch seeks to kill her, and a story is not a fairytale unless there is a conflict.

Suffering does not always feel like a fairytale.  And that is why it is called “conflict.”  The world deals with suffering in numerous ways.  When confronted with pain, those that never acknowledged God before, then curse him.  Buddhism deals with pain by seeking stoicism.  Atheist run from pain, seeing that it serves no purpose.  Only in Christianity can pain and suffering be embraced.  What in the hell do I mean?

This:  Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows.  He wept bloody tears, he overturned tables in the temple, he cursed a tree that did not bear fruit, he cried upon the death of his friend, he welcomed little children, he forgave, and he loved.

The Bible says that this world is screwed up.  The Bible says that this is not the way things are supposed to be.  Is your life at peace?  Praise God!  Life is emotion!  Cry for sorrows, celebrate accomplishments, hate evil, and love abundantly!  We were made to FEEL life!

My conflict is cancer.  I can not tell you about my life without that word creeping into the story.  Why?  Because it has been the biggest struggle of my life.  And do you know what?  IT HAS MADE ME STRONGER!  Cancer came into my life at the age of 15 and guess what?  I am an 18 year survivor!

I have cried out, I have questioned, I have had my own little (ok big) pity party…AND I HAVE COME OUT STRONGER!  In this world we will have trouble, we may get thrown into that fiery furnace, but I can say without a doubt that Jesus has walked with me through that fire!

Hardships, Suffering, Conflict, IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!  When marriages fall apart, Mine is a rock!  There is absolutely nothing that no other man has to offer me!  The best a man can do is promise and James has fulfilled that promise!  He has loved me through sickness and health!  He has provided for me despite hardship.  Hard?  We have overcome impossible!  Together we have seen God walk us through a journey that we never chose and come out of it all amazingly blessed!  Love happens during hard times.  I am loved and I love James more than I love myself!

I have cried out to God in agony over my daughter that I would gladly give my life for and I have seen God answer my prayers.  Madison’s talents, love of people and love of life, imagination, curiosity, and brilliant mind overwhelm me with thanksgiving and love.

When trials come my way, I know I can do hard.  I can suffer and come out of it stronger than ever!

Conflict, cancer, it is all part of the fairytale.  I am living my happily ever after.  And one day, I will never cry again.  One day, Jesus will call me home to perfection in eternity.  I will eat whatever I want and my body will be perfect.  I will never worry for my daughter ever again.  There will be no panic of evil that may come our way.  My home will be a mansion and I may paint the walls with new colors only to be found in heaven.  Life will be perfect.  Eternal Life will be the very best HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

I Am Wrong

Somewhere around five years ago, James and I set our minds on buying a leather couch. I had a little bitty budget that I wanted to spend and unrealistic expectations on what I could get. Routinely, I scanned Craigslist and was discovering that I had set the bar a little too high.  Perhaps, our old couch would have to do for a while longer. 

And then it happened, like the ad was shining and glittery and playing angelic music, I found it. The couch. It was exactly what I wanted for exactly my budget. It had to be a typo or a scam, it was a little too good to be true.  But I am a sucker for these kind of things, so I gave the number a call.

Nope, it hadn’t sold yet. Yep, he was available that afternoon. So, a few hours later, I loaded up toddler Madison and dragged along husband James (poor guy with a logical brain that falls in love with a dreamer like me.)

On the short drive, Madison fell asleep, so we were the kind of dorks that do things like this:  James “went in” first to scope out the safety situation and returned to watch the baby. Next, I knocked on the door to give the fashion approval.  James would return to break the deal. That is pretty much how we operate. 

Well, approximately two minutes later, I return to the car decorated in a huge silly grin, “I bought it.”

“Huh?”  I had overstepped boundaries, James is the final deal maker.

So I explained the situation:  the couch was perfect. In fact, it was a practically brand new $1,500 couch and the guy was asking $400.  Yes, I was going to buy it. I was already thrilled about the situation. But just because I am American and good enough is never good enough, I just have to ask, “Will you take anything less?”  And I waited for the guy to tell me to leave for being rude, insulting, and ungrateful of a good deal when I see one.

But he pauses and smiles at me like I am his daughter that he can’t tell no, “Sure, I’ll take $300.”  If I had the strength, I would have grabbed the couch and ran at that point, but the man is not done yet, “No…” And damnit, I should have grabbed the thing and ran while I could, sure he was changing his mind, but he continues, “No…I’ll take $250.” (!!!)

At that point, I felt a little obligated to explain Math to him, “Dude, you just dealt in the wrong direction.”

I smiled, offered my many thanks and walked away with the furniture I wanted and a little extra cash. 

I love the story, but I am just like that man, almost every single day. There is something that comes with proclaiming the truth, people want to debate. But it goes a little like this with me:

Person:  You call yourself a Christian?  Well, You are a sinner!  Me: oh yes!  The very worst!

Person:  Well, Jesus said to give all your stuff to the poor!  Me:  I know.  I should do that. I really suck!

Person:  Yeah?  Well, the church is a bunch of hypocrites!  Me:  oh, much worse!  They are liars, cheats, murderers….much worse than hypocrites!

Person:  I am my own god. Nobody tells me what to do.  Me:  I suck as a god!  Glad you have it all figured out because I am really screwed up!

Ya see, being a Christian is not about winning the debate or having a clean house or a new car or well behaved children or going to a Wednesday morning Bible study. It looks more like the outcast guy scraping the bloody man up off the pavement and taking him to the hospital, it looks more like the Mommy sitting with her eight year old for the tenth time in one day and apologizing that Mommy is a sinner, it is more like the woman dragged into the streets and having her tongue cut out by her brother because she rejected the family faith and gave her life to Jesus. 

So, in this debate, before you even say it, I confess I AM WRONG but the only hope is JESUS IS RIGHT. 

The Journey Begins

Christ is my author.  He wrote my life.  God makes no mistakes.  I was first diagnosed with cancer the summer of 1996.  My cancer story does not begin here.  I graduated from high school.  I received my degree in Elementary Education.  I married the man of my dreams.  I had a baby.  Not just any baby.  A miracle baby.  The most amazing little human being that I have ever laid my eyes on. The nurse laid her on my stomach and immediately all the pains of childbirth disappeared.  She was everything.  Michael Phelps on the starting block.  Chocolate chip cookies in the oven.  The sun rising.  Christmas Eve.  She was the possibility of everything.  I would give it to her.  I was raised in a family with eight children, I babysat, I nannied, I had a degree in Elementary Education and teaching experience behind me.  I thought I had this kid thing down pat.  But when my eyes first fell on her, my whole entire world got flipped upside down.  

From the moment she came into our lives, her Daddy and I worked harder, we researched with intensity, we read more, and we did everything to better ourselves and the world that surrounded her.  We were about to learn that we were completely out of control. 

Prior to Madison’s birth, we researched.  We had been given the green light to try to get pregnant. However, with my medical past, it would be incredibly hard to get pregnant and once I was pregnant, it would be incredibly hard to keep the baby.  God had different plans, I got pregnant right away with my little miracle baby.  

When Madison was three months old, we visited a genetic counselor.  We were not prepared for what we were about to hear.  We had been told that Madison had a 50% chance of inheriting my cancer gene.  We had been told that if she inherited cancer, she would have her thyroid removed and that would be the end of the story.  Well, on this day, we held our three month old miracle in our arms as the genetic counselor told us it was not that easy.  She had a 50% chance of inheriting my cancer gene.  If it was positive, she would have surgery to have her thyroid removed.  However, that would not be the end.  She would spend her life having routine scans, blood work, and the label of cancer hovering over her entire life. 

No.  I had given God my life.  I had accepted cancer in my life since the age of 15.  He could not have my daughter.  He could not have my baby.  No God.  This was too much.  He was asking too much of me. 

James (my husband, Madison’s Daddy) and I prayed.  We prayed every morning.  We prayed every night.  We prayed during the day.  We prayed together.  We prayed alone.  

I was angry.  I was angry at God.  This was my daughter.  She needed me.  I would protect her.  I would give her everything.  I had trusted God with my life.  I had defended my faith to the bitter end and now I questioned everything.  Was it all real?  Was there a God?  Did he hear my prayers?  Could he change anything?  Did he love Madison?  I wanted so much to claim control.  I wanted so much to be in charge.  I wanted so much to walk away from my faith and say, “I’ve got this.”  But I had nothing.  I could do nothing.  I was completely helpless.  I fell to my knees. James and I placed infant Madison on our bed.  She was laid upon the altar.  We literally fell to our knees.  We prayed.  We begged.  I cried out to God and I begged him for the health and for the life of my baby.  “God, I need you.  You are the only one who can save her.  I can do nothing.” I learned to pray. 

And this is where my cancer journey began.  It did not begin when I was fifteen and I was diagnosed with cancer.  I could have given that.  I could have given myself.  I could have given my life and never trusted God in this way.  It was here, when I had to lay my daughter on the altar and say, “God, she is yours.  She is not mine.  I trust you.  I trust you with my baby.  I trust you with my everything.” We did not get an answer.  We played with our precious baby.  We cared for her every need and every desire.  I placed her soft cheek to mine and sang softly of the love of Jesus.  I was singing more to myself than to her, reminding myself of God’s promises.  I began to realize that as much as I loved Madison, I was only getting a tiny glimpse of the love that God has for me.  

I am his daughter.  He held me in his arms and loved me just like I love Madison. Why then?  Why would he give me cancer?  If I am his daughter, and he loves me, why would God give me cancer? 

I looked at my life as a parent.  I took Madison to the pediatrician to get shots.  She cried.  It hurt.  She had no idea why I was letting this happen.  I allowed it to happen.  Why?  Because I love her.  I allowed this hurtful thing to happen because I love her.  Even though she did not understand it, it was the best thing for her. I learned just a little bit more of how much my Heavenly Father loves me.

Time passed, we continued to pray.  We were waiting on results from the genetic counselor to see if Madison had tested positive for the gene.  It was a simple blood test, but the results took time.  Two months had passed and we still had no result.

One night, as James and I crawled into bed, I turned to James, “She is going to be ok.  God told me she is going to be ok.”  I had not heard an audible voice, but he spoke directly to my heart.  As I started to pray, he said, “OK. I will answer your prayer.  Madison will be healthy.  Now, pray for something else.”  I had not gotten the results from the doctor, but I knew, my daughter was healthy. 

Two more weeks passed, then on July 31, 2007, I received the call, “Madison is healthy.  She tested negative for the gene.  She has no more chance of getting cancer than the general public.  You never need to see a doctor about this for her ever again.” 

Those were the hardest two and a  half months of my life.  But I learned Madison is not mine.  She belongs to God.  And he is a much better parent than I am.  Not only can he give her the world, he can give her a perfect heaven. And this is where my journey begins.  This is where I learned what real hurt is.  This is where I learned real fear.  This is where I learned to trust God.  I learned to pray.  I learned I am not in control. 

My name is Caroline.  I have cancer.  I have battled an extremely rare form of MEN2A cancer for the last 18 years.  I travel frequently from TN to Duke University Hospital in NC to see doctors and specialists.  I have scans.  I have blood work.  I have been left with Addison’s Disease.  I take lots of medicine.  I have a medical alert bracelet.  I get sick.  I crave salt.  I have scars covering my neck and my stomach.  I have a scar on my arm and on my leg.  My back itches.  I have a husband that loves me.  I have a daughter that needs me. My name is Caroline.  I have cancer.  I have God.  I have a beautiful life.

How Badly Do I Want to be a Writer?

Writing is number three. Writing is me. 

I LOVE, swoon and draw it out, LOOOOOOVE, fall over, clasp my hands, dance around, throw my hands in the air, spin around with my arms out by my side, LOOOOOOVE to write. Writing is me. 

But I am number three. 

What do I want the most?  1.  To be a godly wife.  2.  To raise my daughter to love and serve Jesus. 3.  And number three is me. I want to be me. I want to write. Writing is what I do, who I am, what I feel, and love, and need. 

I can do it, it is just being me. But I am number three. 

I have an amazing family.  How wonderful to be me. And now I am seeing the unraveling of number three. 

Old Sticky Love

I believe in goals.  I believe in knowing what race you are in and running toward that finish line.  I believe in knowing what road you are on and what the destination is.

Love.  I want my love to be sticky.

Newlywed James and Caroline were magnificently in love with love.  We promised and we dreamed but we were only tying on our tennis shoes and the gun had not even yet been shot.  Counseled, researched, planned, and eager, we set out in the race of marriage and a life together.  But we had not yet gotten shin splints, holes in our tennis shoes, and the weather was a perfect sixty-five degree sunny day.

Newlywed James and Caroline sat in the food court of the shopping mall, planning where the day and our life would take us.  And then we got some of the best advice new love can be given.

Their age was old.  The kind of old that can barely move and the movements are slow and thought through.  She sat with white hair and a shriveled body in a wheelchair pushed by a white haired man, leaning over using her wheelchair as a cane.  Her hand was held across her body and her fingers were gnarled.  Their short walk from the door was an exercise in and of itself.

They sat.  Sat at the table right beside us.  He slowly and patiently moved the chair at the table and replaced it with her wheelchair.  There was no talking, just slow movements.  And then, she was left, left waiting.  He, the more mobile one, departed and began a slow shuffle just a few feet away but each step was a goal accomplished.  He achieved what he had set out for and slowly returned to her side.

He dipped the spoon into the cold, creamy vanilla.  Their eyes met and they lovingly smiled at each other.  He lifted the spoon to her lips, his hands were shaking with a tremor and uncontrolled movements.  She opened her mouth as the spoon fluttered forward.

Love.  Love fed her ice cream.  Love was sticky all over her face.  Their painstaking and exhausting mission was to set out and share an ice cream.  After a couple of bites, she had it all over her face, sitting smiling, smiling at her love.

The cup was emptied.  With great labor, he threw away the cup.  With great pains, he returned the chair to the table.  And they began their slow march to the exit.

James took my hand in his.  We smiled at each other.  We each had the same goal.

Now, the gun has been shot.  We have gone through a few pairs of tennis shoes.  We have helped each other up a few times.  We run and run.  Quitting is not an option.  One day we will sit and have our celebratory ice cream and then we will pick ourselves up and soar one last time right through the finish line.

We never talked to them, but their actions spoke louder:  Love can be sticky.

Wonderfully Wrecked

My heart skipped a beat, my breath stopped, and my brain studdered. I stared in complete admiration of the man that stood before me. I could not take my eyes off him. Khaki pants and a red button down shirt. Dressed up for the special night at King College and just standing there in my path. He might as well have been wearing a president’s mask and holding an automatic because that is the night he stole my heart. 

Twenty year old Caroline lay stoic on my dorm room bed staring up at the white ceiling. I was holding my 2001 cell phone to my heart as a lonely tear slipped down the side of my face and then the gun fired and the race horses bolted through the metal gate. Tears raced down my face like the Kentucky Derby. I had a countdown. Four weeks and six days. Four Weeks and six lonely, miserable days. My love was fourteen hours away. I would see him again in four weeks and six days but I would die if I did not see him in the next minute. 

A proposal on his knee, a white dress walked down the isle and promised forever, and purchasing our first old one bedroom condo. I thought I was the richest woman in those newly wed days, pinching pennies to buy things for our home and making do with what we had. But immensely, lavishly, spoiled rotten in love, which is far greater than money. 

My life was wonderfully wrecked by this outrageously beautiful dream come true that has her Daddy’s smile. Miracle of miracles, she medically never should have been born. But one more time, God’s blessings did not depend on human logic. In one more way, she bonds and holds us together as we share the greatest responsibility of a human life we both adore. Her logical mind is due to her Daddy and her hosting spirit must belong to me. Her life and her smile and her blonde hair is because of us. 

Every other day I am grumpy and moody and outright mean. I demand and pout and insist on my way. And every single day, this man choses me. He listens to my rants and gives and serves and loves. Hot fresh coffee early in the morning, making new dreams on a Friday hot date because our old ones have already come true, a new handmade coffee table in my living room, and laughing til I’m crying with him when I should already be asleep.  

If love is an attraction, I have loved the deepest. Could love just be a desire to be together?  Then I have been made one. Is love promising my life to him?  Then that duty is done. But could love be a miracle of something otherwise that never could be?  Well then, she walks among us smiling so innocently. But I have come to realize, maybe love is when I am at my worst and he still choses me. 

It can’t be defined nor wrapped up and contained, but one thing is certain, I have been loved beyond explaining and I love beyond words. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FAVORITE MAN IN THE WHOLE WORLD!  I LOVE YOU JAMES!