Unraveled…

I still had the rainbow patchwork blanket Mom crocheted me that covered my bed as a teenager, but my favorite blanket is a pink one Mom made when I had cancer the first time.  I took that blanket with me to every chemo treatment and wrapped myself in her love. Over the years, she crocheted blankets for my kids, family members, friends, and even strangers donating her creative gifts and her time for charitable organizations.  I was not sure what it was about those blankets, but they were ‘magical’.

She showed me a blanket she made for my husband.  It was blue with orange trim, the colors of his beloved alma mater, The University of Virginia. She showed me the edging and told me she crocheted it differently than she planned. She stitched around the blanket and realized she didn’t have enough yarn to finish. She unraveled the edging and started over using a different stitch to make it work. The blanket was beautiful. I would have never known it was unraveled and stitched back together.

Unraveled…

Stitched back together…

Like me.

I realized I felt like that most of the time.

How many times did I pick up the pieces and start over?  How many times did I get knocked down and stand back up?  How many times was my heart shattered and I tried desperately to hold it together?

I was never the same, but no one could tell from the outside.

I had a pretty awesome life. I had a wonderful family,  fabulous friends, a roof over my head, food on the table, and clothes on my back. I had an unwavering faith in God and I was full of hope. Most of the time, I had a smile on my face and an encouraging word in my heart.

Life was good.

On the outside, all was well.

On the inside, not so much.

When someone asked me how I was doing, my response was, “Fine” or “I’m tired”.

Both answers were true.

I was fine. My life was pretty sweet, outside of this terrible cancer. My treatment was working. I was currently stable and had been for the last 37 months. I lived a pretty normal life, considering…

But I was tired. And by tired, I meant I was exhausted … ALL.THE.TIME.

When I said I was ‘tired’, that meant I was actually tired and/or exhausted, or it meant I felt aches deep in my bones, my joints screamed in pain, my stomach was on fire, my feet were numb and throbbed all at once. It meant my mind raced with thoughts about cancer progression or leaving my children behind, or about my friend with cancer whose treatment stopped working, or who just entered hospice, or who spent her days writing letters to her children to be opened when she was gone, or who put on a brave face for her family, but inside, was terrified …

See … “tired” meant a lot of things.

But I never wanted to say all those things out loud, so I said, “I’m tired”.

It was easier that way.  No one wanted to hear what was wrong and I didn’t want to focus on those things; because if I focused on them, they consumed me.

And then the cancer won.

I kept going. I kept fighting. I kept smiling.

I was unraveled … and stitched back together. 

I didn’t do the stitching. I didn’t know how. God did. God saw me unraveling. He knew how I felt. Sometimes life pulled on that string and unraveled my plans, my thoughts, and my dreams; and sometimes the unraveling was my own doing.

Either way …

Unraveling. 

And then stitching. 

God gave me strength to get through the trials thrown at me. God gave me courage to move forward when I wanted to curl up on the couch and cry.  God gave me peace when my mind raced with anxious thoughts. God put me back together and made me the person I was. The damage was done, but my edging was perfect.

I was happy and I was joyful.

But I was sad sometimes. I was sad I had cancer. And sad my life was not what I imagined. And sad I didn’t have the time left that I thought. And sad my kids would lose their mother and my husband would lose his wife. And sad I wouldn’t see my kids grow up, get married, get jobs, and have children. 

I was grateful I was still here and my treatment was working.

But I felt guilty for the same reason. I watched my friends suffer and die. I saw pictures of mothers gone too soon. I befriended women and lost them to this disease. I watched women receive devastating news on scans, find themselves paralyzed and in pain, go through radiation for the tumors in their brains, go through chemo that made them so sick they couldn’t enjoy the short life they had left. 

I enjoyed every moment with my family. 

But I worried about leaving them. I worried about how my husband would raise two kids alone. I worried about how my kids would handle growing up without me. I worried about my Mom losing a daughter.  I worried about my children being happy. I missed my father terribly, every single day; and his passing left a hole in my heart that would never be filled. I worried about my children feeling that same ache inside. 

I celebrated birthdays and holidays and milestones more intentionally than before.

But in the back of my mind, I worried it would be my last.  I prayed every year when I packed the Christmas decorations that I would be there to open them next year. I picked out a Valentine’s Day card and wondered if it would be the last one my husband received from me. I chose carefully what to write inside. My doctors told me I had 3 more birthdays and holidays. I did the math all the time, and I was about to celebrate my third Christmas. That weighed heavily on my heart. 

I was surrounded by wonderful friends.

But I was devastated by friends who disappeared when I got sick. I worked hard to maintain friendships but that hard work wasn’t always reciprocated. I felt unimportant sometimes and wasn’t sure where I fit in. I had a hard time deciding when to stay and when to let go. I was surrounded by many people, but I often felt alone and unheard. 

My life was Mom’s crocheted blanket. The edges were stitched… and unraveled … and stitched again, but you couldn’t tell if you didn’t know.

Everything looked perfect.

Things weren’t okay. Things were actually pretty messed up.

But somehow God took all those messed up things and made everything alright.

Broken. Repaired. Made new. 

I looked at the people around me.

They were beautiful. They were strong. They were amazing.

But they were broken too.

A friend grew up without encouragement from her mother, never hearing a kind word, never sure her mother loved her. She grew up not feeling that comfort of an unconditional love.

Yet, she was her children’s loudest cheerleader and biggest fan. From her heart and her lips flowed undeniable acceptance. She blanketed her children with love and affection so they never questioned her love for them. She was strong and victorious. God turned her brokenness into resolve to raise her children with the love she didn’t receive. I was amazed by God’s grace in her life every day.

Unraveled…yet stitched back together. 

Another friend was hurt by her mother. Physically, emotionally, and verbally. She grew up not knowing the love a mother was supposed to give her children. She grew up with a mother who never lived up to the role she assumed when she gave birth.

Yet, I watched this friend bend over backwards for her own family. I watched her give so much of herself there was often nothing left. She was one of the strongest women I knew and I was in awe of what she had overcome, and the strength God gave her to show so much love for her family.

Unraveled … yet stitched back together. 

Another friend grew up in a nightmare. She was beaten and abused and forced to abandon her own childhood to care for her siblings. She could have been a statistic and chose the wrong path; and after what she endured, no one would have blamed her.

But she overcame her circumstances with faith and hope. God helped her survive a reality that would have defeated the strongest of men. Her strength was only dimmed by her sensitivity. She wore a tough outer shell that fooled those not willing to take a closer look, but she was as loving and loyal as they came.

Unraveled … yet stitched back together.

We were all broken inside. We were shattered pieces of our unfinished plans and unrealized dreams. We were looped recordings of hurtful words spoken to us, and a scrapyard of crushing blows we received. We were fragments of the pain and suffering and shame we endured.

Unraveled.

But God repaired us and made us new. He put us back together, piece by piece; and He reinforced our seams and supported our failed joints. God used our brokenness to make us stronger.  God turned assaults we suffered into strength to power through the next obstacle that got in our way.  God turned our doubts into resolve, and our fears into courage.

Stitched back together.

No one saw the yarn once twisted and knotted in a pile on the floor. No one saw the pain and devastation that caused the wrecking of our edges, the bruising of our souls, and the breaking of our hearts.  No one knew the effort we exerted to hold our sutured wounds together.

Only God saw the damage inside, a tapestry of cracks and flaws and gaps and imperfections. Only He saw the fractures and holes and chips and defects we collected through our years.

Others only saw the outside with the perfect edging.

We stood near each other in the grocery line, at the bus stop, and at school events.  We spoke at work and church and family functions. We knew each other for months and years and decades.

Still, we only saw a finished blanket with the pretty edging suitable for viewing.

If only we had eyes to see the pain in other’s hearts, the difficult paths they traveled, the injuries of days gone by; maybe we would treat each other with more compassion.

I was a mess of yarn piled on the floor  … unraveled.

I was made stronger for it … stitched back together.

I was tired … but I knew I was going to be okay.

Because God made me that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

3 thoughts on “Unraveled…”

Leave a Reply to Susan Casson Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s