Category Archives: An Uncomfortable January

Do You Feel Brave?

Hearing your stories is one of my favorite things about this blog.  A few months ago I received an email from the Von St James family. Eight years ago Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer that kills most people within two years.

Today I am posting an interview with her and I know you will be inspired by her journey just as I was. Plus, I have a crush on her hair. Heather Von St James

1. Heather, tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small town called Spearfish, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had worked in a small salon for a few years and wanderlust got the better of me. I decided to drop everything and move to Minneapolis/St Paul, in hopes of a better job and a better life. I’m a city girl at heart. I met my husband after I moved here , worked in a big salon, and eventually became part owner.

At 36, I had my first and only child. Three months after she was born I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I had to quit working, sell my portion of the business and commit my life to battling this disease. It has been 8 years and I’m still going strong.

2. When your daughter was born you started having some unusual symptoms. What were they? I was tired. BONE tired…more than what I thought a new mom should be, but I chalked it up to breastfeeding and going back to work so quick after having a c-section. I had a low-grade fever that would hit the same time of the day every day. I was loosing weight at an alarming rate. 5-7 pounds a week.

One day I woke up with what felt like a truck parked on my chest. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I became winded and breathless when walking up the stairs or standing for too long. I thought maybe I had pneumonia, but I wasn’t coughing. Also, I was very pale. I had no color in my cheeks or lips. I found out I was extremely anemic and the cancer was the cause of it all.

3. I can’t imagine what it is like to hear a diagnosis of cancer. What did the doctors tell you about your condition and what was going through your mind?

All I really remember is my doctor telling me that I had pleural mesothelioma. My husband is the one who said, “Oh, this is bad”. I just looked back and forth between the two of them not really understanding. He then asked what my dad did for a living.

When I was a little girl my dad worked construction. He would come home from work covered in dust. His jacket would be white and crusty from the drywall dust that he would be sanding off the walls. Anything that I had to do outside I liked wearing my dad’s coat. Unbeknownst to us, it was chock full of asbestos. The cancer I had was actually caused by asbestos exposure and the latency period was 10-40 years.

He then told me the news that if I did nothing, I would only live about 15 months. Chemo and radiation would give me perhaps five years. There was a radical surgery that would give me my best chances – up to 10 years or more. I just kept thinking of my three month old little girl. How she needed a mommy and how my husband needed me to help raiser her. How did this happen? So many questions were flooding my brain. I couldn’t speak.

Thank goodness my husband had a clear mind and can function under stress. He told the doctor to get us to Boston where they did the surgery. My first words were “How do we pay for this?”. I couldn’t fathom the cost involved, but my doctor took care of the insurance. He totally went to bat for me and got my insurance company to cover my surgery and hospital expenses in Boston.

4. I was reading an interview you did and you said that you kept choosing hope over fear. That is an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to do. How did you actually do that?

All I had to do was look at my little girl. I never once asked “Why me?”. Instead I figured, why not me? I was young, otherwise healthy, and I WOULD beat this. And if I did die from it? I would spend eternity dancing on the streets of gold. This gave me great comfort, but I knew I had to beat it.

I wanted to reach out to others and help them right from the beginning. I knew there had to be a purpose for all I was going through and chose to learn as much as I could to inspire others. I was choosing to be a warrior over a victim. I will never be a victim.

5. I have never heard of this type of cancer before. What was the treatment like? And what was the main thing you were looking forward to when it was over?

Surgery was recommended. Following that is chemo and radiation as precautionary treatment. The surgery is brutal and not for everyone. It consists of the removal of the entire lung, the lining around it, the left half of my diaphram and the lining of my heart. They were replaced with surgical grade gor-tex. The doctors also had to remove the 6th rib for ease of entry into the chest cavity. The procedure is called an extra pleural pneumonectomy.

I started the first of four sessions of chemo three months after that. In September of 2006 I had the radiation. By the end of October 2006 I was done. Exactly a year from when my symptoms started.

6. People who face tremendous obstacles and overcome them always seem so brave as I hear their story. Do you feel brave?

I hear that a lot. “You are so brave”. I don’t feel brave. I just followed the advice of an incredible medical team and prayed a lot. Brave? Nope. When I really think about it – TOUGH. Like holy moly look what I went through. I’m one tough mother! Then I come back to reality and just go back to the fact I did what I did to live. Brave? I don’t know.

7. Going through something like this must be life changing. How has being a cancer survivor altered the way you see life.

It has given me so much FREEDOM. I’m serious. I really don’t let a lot of things bug me the way I used to. I’m much more easy going and relaxed. I also feel like I have a lot to offer and want to try and make my corner of the world a little better. So many people helped us and I wanted to give back as much as possible.

Don’t have time for negativity anymore. I quickly found out who my real and true friends were and got rid of negative influences and people in my life. I’m just very happy and I think it shows. Cancer isn’t who I am. It is something that happened to me and knowing that makes life a little sweeter.

Heather, thanks so much for showing us what it looks like to be a warrior over a victim. I know we will all be sending prayers and thoughts your way that you continue to stay healthy. Thanks for inspiring us!

To hear more of Heather’s story and mesothelioma —> click here.

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Filed under An Uncomfortable January, Global, Kiddos, Sunday Kind Of Love

See you next year, January.

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January was quite a month around here. I started off on January 1st with a challenge to do something uncomfortable each day. It was a naive on my part because I had no idea how difficult that would be.

I cried a few tears, shared awkward photos, did some subtraction, and talked about the one that got away. 

I learned a lot this month. I hadn’t realized how protective I was of my comfort. Or how much my ‘business as usual’ mentality holds me back.

If I want to grow, I have to risk.  That means regularly getting uncomfortable and be willing to fail in the process.

Risks do pay off though. My friend , the one that got away, has contacted me since that post! There was a happy ending I wasn’t expecting.

Thanks to everyone who participated with me, wrote guest posts and emailed me some of your stories. I’ve been so inspired by what different ones of you have done.

Here is to the rest of 2013 being full of breaking down barriers, growing and doing the unimaginable.

See you next year, January!

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January 31, 2013 · 4:30 pm

why my daughter goes to public school

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A few days ago I said I would pick one question to answer for An Uncomfortable January post. You guys sent in some good ones & I may just have to answer more in the future. The question I am answering is the one that sent me into a panic , so I knew it was the right one to respond to.

Why does my daughter go to public school?

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I realized parenting is dangerous waters. Never, ever, have I experienced anything with so much judgement and opinion.

Will you use a midwife or OBGYN?

Will you do it naturally or with an epidural?

Are you going to do vaccines? 

Will you discipline or do a more child-centered parenting?

Co-sleeping or cry it our in her crib?

You will know if you answered the question wrong because they will smile and say, “Oh, well… um. If that is what you felt was best then you have to go with that I suppose.”

Translation: You are a parenting failure.

My goodness. If you aren’t a parent yet, brace yourself. Some people have strong opinions based on personal experience. Actually, we all do. And some parents are obsessive because they are totally afraid they will irreversibly screw up their kids.

To add fuel to the fire, my daughter started kindergarten this year. We looked at private schools, thought about homeschooling for maybe 3 seconds before scratching that option from the list, and visited our local public school.

We picked public school.

Why? We have a really good public school. Great academics, most of the kids come from strong families, and we know the principal. Several teachers there go to our church and told us what a truly great environment it is.

I don’t think I am sacrificing my daughter to secular thought or think she will turn into a meth addict when she graduates.

I realize that not everyone has a positive public school option. And even if you do, then you may choose to homeschool or use a private school. That is fine and there are plenty of reasons those are good choices. If your life gives you no choice but to send your kids to a underperforming public school, they will be fine too. Because God’s got their back.

Making the choice of where you send your kids is a big decision and an important one. We just have to understand that there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Every situation is different. Each kid is different.

Will all public school children become sexually active and fail to get into a good university? No.

Are all private school kids snobby with a sense of entitlement? No.

Will home schooled kids turn out socially awkward and unable to adjust to the “real” world? No. 

The important thing is that we don’t make decisions out of fear. That never leads us or our kids anywhere worth going.

So, lets all just take a deep breath. My daughter goes to public school. Maybe yours doesn’t. Guess what? We can still be friends.

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Filed under An Uncomfortable January, Kiddos

dreaming without fear

An Uncomfrotable January2

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I want to dream without being afraid of falling off the ladder.
photo credit: Hanna Lerski

I took a British literature class in college & I learned two things that year. First, it is great to have your best friend be the teachers assistant and the one grading your papers. I would get funny inside jokes back with very lenient grading on all my grammar mistakes.

Second thing I learned was that everyone has a tragic flaw. That one thing that seems to haunt them and somehow foreshadow their impending downfall. Othello had his jealousy. Faustus had his ambition. Juliet had her loyalty to Romeo.

I’ll tell you my tragic flaw. But first, I must tell you about one of my greatest strengths. I am a dreamer. I can think and envision the future tirelessly. The endless options of what could be done to solve a problem or create something new. My imagination is my strength and my greatest weakness.

Now, for that tragic flaw. My dreaming, when done with fear, can turn into vain imagination. I dream all the bad bits, the scary outcomes and tragic endings that could occur. Fear turns rational people into ridiculous, manic responders. Myself included.

If I begin to notice one of my children is shy, I immediately research every sign of autism spectrum disorders to rule out anything serious. If I imagine what it would be like to risk in a new venture, I balance it with thinking how disappointed I would be if it didn’t work out. The excitement of climbing high is paralleled with the fear of falling far.

I dream with fear. I let it rule and create alleys in my thinking. Places where monsters and worst-case scenario’s lurk. I say it is being wise, but really it is being worried. Wisdom and fear should never be confused.

Today for Uncomfortable January, I am setting aside time to dream. Dream God’s dreams for my life, my family & my future. It will be uncomfortable at first to dream my “Plan A”s without plotting out “Plan B” in case “Plan A” crashes and burns. It will feel risky & vulnerable. However, over time I will teach myself to dream and trust God that He will put the right nets in place. I will live the life of risking , knowing that He can catch whatever falls.

I will dream without fear. I will kill my tragic flaw before it kills me.

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An Uncomfortable January : Erika Kraus

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On the phone while playing a game.

Our last guest post for An Uncomfortable January comes from one of my best friends. Erika Kraus is pretty hard to introduce, I’ll be honest. She is smart, funny, beautiful… Erika helped us plant a church in Seattle and currently serves as Country Director for Haiti Transformed. To say I am proud of her would be an understatement. She is sharing with us today her addiction to her cell phone. An addiction I share & I am guessing most of you do too!

An Uncomfortable January : Erika Kraus

Right before Christmas anticipating our entire family coming together my Mom said to me in jest, “I need to get myself a gadget so that while everyone else is on theirs, I have “MY gadget”.   The special voice she used for “my gadget” made me laugh and I for whatever reason immediately thought of Gollum from The Hobbit saying “my precious” (for the record my mom did not sound like that).  This was likely a providential connection because it had me thinking.  I pictured all of us sitting around using “our gadgets” during a special holiday (I had been living overseas and time with our entire family is few and far between) and I became a bit sad.  Of course I immediately and embarrassingly began reminding myself why I need to always be on my gadget….I need to stay up on my support raising process, I need to make sure our team is doing well in Haiti, I need to text my boss something ASAP, I need to check my bank account, I need to see how many people liked my photo, I need to play my friends back on words with friends (they are all waiting), I’m really behind on emails…

Thinking about all my “needs” in that moment, I felt a conflict between my deep-seeded attachment to “my gadget” (even fear of not being near it) and a sudden weariness that I was so tied down by all these needs and with that, a longing to be free.

An uncomfortable awareness was growing, and I decided that it was high time to remind myself what my gadget was actually for.

So, this is what I decided:

I do not use “my gadget”

  • to fill space or stay busy
  • to escape or forget pain
  • to protect myself from unwanted interaction
  • to feel important

I do use “my gadget”

  • to create meaningful connections
  • to work faithfully
  • to be organized
  • to celebrate or make beautiful things

Well lists are great and all but without actually responding to my realization, I am still a Gollum-like darling human, growing weaker every day.So I’ve started to practice using my gadget for what it is really for and not what it’s not.That means stopping and being still when I find myself clamoring – busy – disengaged from the world and myself.

What is both incredibly uncomfortable and delightful is that without all this incessant business I am entirely PRESENT with the world and myself. At times this renewed connectedness has been lovely – – I hear a full story rather than parts of it, I ask better questions, I remember things, I take better notes, I enjoy quietness, I feel like a better friend and colleague and I have amazingly uncluttered and clear thoughts.

However, in the stillness and spaciousness, I also experience the ways I sometimes do not feel full, whole, satisfied, loved or desirable.I feel want.(the call I’m waiting on, sting from a broken relationship, loneliness, frustration with circumstance, fear, etc.)It’s in that moment I find myself reaching (for my phone) to drown all this out again.

It’s here that I sometimes win.I embrace the ache.I put the gadget down and allow myself to be filled, satisfied, loved or desired.I trade in emptiness and drink in the deep of God.

And it’s here that I sometimes don’t. I hold on tight and click and clamor and “check on things” and text my way back to oblivion…

Nevertheless, I’m aware and this silly gadget realignment has inspired me toward a better engagement with “want” and to “need” in other areas of my life as well. In this process I’ve seen that rather living with God-given authority over something, something had dominion over me. In digger deeper, it was not actually my beautiful gadget and all it’s fabulous apps.Instead my “want” had become “My precious” rather than the Father who meets me with manna and meets me love when I am alive and expectant enough to receive.

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January 28, 2013 · 3:37 pm

From Russia With Love

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I know you are all wondering how I came to be this international woman of mystery that I am today. Well, from ages 11-13 I lived in Russia. Central Siberia to be exact. Our family went to the bustling city of Irkutsk to plant a church in the mid-90s. Russia has stayed in my heart ever since and it is today’s Sunday Kind of Love. A truly beautiful nation. Plus, these old photos are completely embarrassing, so it works for An Uncomfortable January too.

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A street in downtown Irkutsk.

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Houses in the snow. A common site.

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Oh, the athleticism displayed in this photo The great thing about long winters and so much snow is that it gets packed down hard enough to ski or ice skate if you need to go somewhere.

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The kitchen in a friend’s old house.

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I’ll give you one chance to find the American in this pic.

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Parent’s would gather and build amazing forts of ice and snow around the city. They had slides and stairs. A winter’s playground.

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Just the neighbors butchering meat in the hallway of our apartment building.

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One of our church’s small groups.

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My beautiful mama in blue. And that’s me in the red sheep sweatshirt. Handling some meat. Grind, slice, chop…

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Doing math homework on my abacus.

Well, hope you enjoyed memory lane as much as I did. I’m guessing your junior high experience was a little different than mine?

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Filed under An Uncomfortable January, Global, My Life Thus Far

Who wants worms?

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They say the early bird gets the worm, but who wants a worm? No thanks, you can have that. I prefer to be late. Not too late, just rushing in the door to make it barely on time. So, for An Uncomfortable January today I decided to explore that a bit more. I had a day this week that had several meetings and I was determined to be early.

What I noticed is that I do, in fact, normally arrive early. But I will sit in my car scanning Instagram or texting until it is time for the meeting to start. Not today. I went on in.

The room was pretty much empty and I immediately identified the underlying problem with being early. It makes me feel unimportant.

If I show up early then I obviously wasn’t doing anything significant before the meeting. Sadly, I just always viewed early people as the ones who don’t get invited to as many things, so they are beyond eager be at something. I realize this isn’t true, they are simply more responsible than me. And manage time better than me, which isn’t a difficult feat.

So, I sat there early. Awkwardly. As people began to rush in minutes before it began I realized my second reason for hating being early.

You don’t get as much attention. When you come into a room of two people already seated, everyone says hi to you. But if you come into a room with twenty people seated, they all say hi to you as well. I prefer the attention of twenty any day.

These are dumb reasons, I know. Obviously, being late has nothing to do with being more important or more popular.

Just another uncomfortable thing I’ve realized about myself this month. Anyone else feel this way about being early???

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