Carolyn recently diagnosed with breast cancer

On August 12, 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fourteen days later, I had breast-conserving surgery to remove a “tiny” malignant tumor in my left breast.

After taking nearly a year off from blogging, I’m back on the job as I walk through this unplanned journey. You may join me along the way at Strong & Courageous, or you may follow me on Twitter. ~ cck

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You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Yesterday, my friend Alice posted as her Facebook status, “Alice can’t take much more of 9 yr old daughter drama. Really over it. Walking away…” How did all her dear Facebook friends encourage her? Did they pump her up with reminders of what a great mom she is? Did they post Bible verses or famous quotes about the rewards of perseverance? Did they offer comfort based on similar experiences they’ve come through victoriously?

Most only warned her that the worst is yet to come, “hahaha just you wait until middle school drama and then high school drama.” Why would any friend think that sort of comment would be helpful? Do we have some sort of narcissistic need for our challenges to be worse than those of our friends? Are we playing a game of one-up in which the mom with the biggest problems wins?

When Lily was a tiny baby, I thought I was going insane. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to make her stop crying. It took us two months to learn how to breastfeed. I wondered if I’d ever again get to sleep seven or eight or even just six hours straight. Well-meaning friends, friends who love me, friends who probably delivered a meal, would walk into my topsy-turvy house and say, “This stage will be gone before you know it. She’ll be 10 years old in a flash, and you’ll miss these sweet days with her as a baby.” Well, that’s true. Lily is 11 years old, and I’d give anything to hold that little 7-pound sweetheart in my arms again. However, that information did nothing but discourage me 11 years ago. I was just wondering if I’d get a shower that day and if I could keep Lily alive until the next day. The truth of the comment did nothing to help me cherish those precious days. They didn’t feel precious at the time. They felt eternal. The comment only served to make me focus all the more on my glaring inadequacies.

I, too, am guilty of this offense. I wonder how many times a dear friend has shared her struggles or frustrations with me only to be “consoled” by my dueling story of woe. Why would I even think a disheartened friend would find comfort in a tale of my personal affliction? I am exceedingly deluded if I somehow believe my friend will suddenly think, “Wow. Poor Carolyn. I really don’t have anything to complain about compared to her troubles. My difficulties suddenly seem insignificant.” No, my comparable story only serves to fuel my ego at the high price of making my friend feel totally defeated. She needed an ally, but unknowingly woke a competitor.

Why do we feel the need to minimize a fellow mom’s current struggle with foreboding news of the greater misery yet to come? Why do we act like the trials of others are nothing compared with our own? They’re not nothing. Why can’t we encourage each other through places we’ve been and come alongside when our sisters face the stage we hate today? What in us make us say, “You don’t know anything” when what other moms are feeling right now is truly difficult. Who really gives a rat’s ass if 15 is worse than 9? If you’re facing 9 today, you certainly don’t need to worry about 15 today.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~ Matthew 6:34

The mundane of parenting and of our lives matters to the God of the universe. He cares about crying babies and disobedient children. He cares about clueless husbands, dramatic pre-teens, broken dryers, missing keys, and careless friends. He has included countless examples in Scripture of how He does, indeed, care about the minute details of our lives: The cries of baby Moses’ captured the attention of a princess, and consequently, he lived to save an entire nation; God blessed Sarah beyond her wildest dreams when Abraham moved her away from her family and friends; One mother prepared a little lunch for her little boy, as she probably had every day for as long as she could remember, and Jesus used that little, bitty lunch to feed more than 5,000 people. What we do not see anywhere in scripture is any patriarch, prophet, disciple, or Jesus belittling the pain of others. Whether our problems are as significant as Job’s or as seemingly trivial as Zacchaeus’ height, the Creator, the King of Kings who sits on the throne, Jehovah seesalice emily our troubles. He loves us. Our pain always matters to Him.

The next time a fellow mom expresses her frustration over something one of her children has done to exasperate her, resist the urge to one-up her. Tell your friend she’s an awesome mom. Pray for her. Encourage her.

Hey Alice, you rock! Emily is so blessed that you’re her mom. Tell her I think you’re so cool that I wrote a whole blog post about you. She won’t be dramatic forever. Well, she might, but we can pray for God’s grace to get you through it, one day at the time. The good news is that the weekend is here! I’ll pray you can relax and enjoy your sweet, fun family!

In the game of one-up, everybody loses, so don’t play.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Thanks for voting

Paul has been doing some writing this year for Trazzler.com, a travel website. Users browse through unique, often quirky, travel write-ups submitted by users or hired freelancers like Paul. One of his “trips” is currently a semifinalist in Trazzler’s summer contest. The winner receives a $10,000 writer-in-residence contract in New York!

nasm-pkThe theme of the contest was “oasis,” and this could be taken in any direction, any escape from the norm. Paul’s entry, “Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth in Washington, D.C.” (trip #21709), is a non-literal interpretation of the theme, an oasis in the mind’s eye.

In order to advance to the Finals, Paul’s trip needs to rank in the top 10 among the semifinalists in wishlisting. After a week of wishlisting, Paul’s trip has consistently been ranked in the top 10 out of the 204 semifinalists. The competition is fierce, and the rankings change constantly. You can help by voting. The deadline for voting is September 14 at 7:59 p.m. EDT. Please register at Trazzler.com, find Paul’s trip, and click the green “add to wishlist” button. Detailed instructions can be found below.

In addition to the grand prize, Trazzler will award nine runners up with writing contracts for $250 and four Editor’s choice contracts for $500. The key is to make sure Paul’s trip is in the top 10 on September 14 at 7:59 p.m.

We are grateful for your time and effort to help us, and we are particularly thankful for your friendship. ~ cck

Voting Instructions for Facebook Users:
1) Go to http://www.trazzler.com
2) Click “Sign In Using Facebook”.
3) Find Paul’s trip (typing “koning bonds” in the trip search field brings it up, or you can return to this post and click the link); open it, and read the trip.
4) Click the green “add to wishlist” button. You have voted!

Voting Instructions for Non-Facebook Users:
1) Go to http://www.trazzler.com
2) Scroll to the bottom of the welcome page and click “About Trazzler”.
3) At the top of the next page, click “Sign In or Sign Up”.
4) Find “No Facebook Account?” and click “Sign Up”. (It’s free and takes only a moment.)
5) Register using the sign-up form. (You can opt not to receive e-mails from Trazzler.)
6) Return to the Trazzler home page and find Paul’s trip (typing “koning bonds” in the trip search field brings it up, or you can return to this post and click the link); open it, and read the trip.
7) Click the green “add to wishlist” button. You have voted!

If you’re interested in reading other travel pieces Paul has written, click here. Most of these adventures are about Africa.

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Happy Birthday, Gerda!

Paul's mom during the 2005 van Leeuwen Family Reunion

Today is my mother-in-law’s 82nd birthday. I miss her. Strange things often remind me of her, like serving spoons and quirky characteristics Lily displays.

I’ve shopped the following article around to a few magazines in pursuit of the elusive publication success. I decided to post it on the blog today as a tribute to the mother of my husband and to honor a remarkable woman of God on her birthday. I wonder how they celebrate birthdays in heaven. I imagine they’re partying big time.

The Mother-in-Law Secret
By Carolyn C. Koning

Mothers-in-law. Some are genuinely winsome—others, fiendish. Alas, even under the best of circumstances, this relationship is often a strained one. Paul’s mother died in 2008 on Mother’s Day in India while on the last of numerous mission trips. I am so thankful I discovered the Mother-in-Law Secret in time to relish this precious relationship.

Paul’s mother was a first-class prayer warrior. At her memorial service, we displayed her tattered Bible and reams of handwritten prayer requests for which she prayed faithfully. She prayed for different extended family members on certain days of the week. She prayed for some of us every day. If she ever said, “I’ll be praying for you,” you can bet your bottom dollar that she carried your concern regularly to the Mercy Seat until she heard that the situation had resolved. She prayed for missionaries around the world. She prayed for her siblings’ children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to come to know Christ. She prayed for our president and other government leaders, for pastors and Sunday school teachers, about the weather, and more. Paul was Gerda’s only son. I’m willing to guess with significant confidence that, from the moment she knew of Paul’s existence, she prayed daily for his future wife. Twenty-six years later, we finally met.

To some onlookers, Paul and I may seem like an odd match, but I believe the way we complement each other is a specific answer to Gerda’s relentless prayers. However, I always worried that she thought I was from a different planet. Gerda and I were east and west, night and day, oil and water. I often wondered if she ever asked God if He had misunderstood her prayers: surely, I was a mistake. I was confident that I was not what she had in mind when she prayed every single day for twenty-six years for a godly wife for Paul. I’m sure she never imagined a woman who talked as much as I do. I’m sure she envisioned someone more like June Cleaver than Lucy Ricardo. The one and only thing Gerda and I had in common was our faith in the Lord Jesus, but in the end and as always, He was enough.

Paul’s mother was a flawless housekeeper; her home was always “Dutch clean.” On a regular basis, she swept baseboards with her little straw whisk broom. A vacuum cleaner attachment did not produce satisfactory results. Baseboards? People really clean baseboards? Cleaning has never been one of my fortes. Whenever Grandma and Grandpa were scheduled to arrive for a visit, I would endeavor in a frenzy to accomplish weeks, maybe months, worth of straightening and cleaning. Generally, the result was presentable, but I knew it was never as good as she would have done. After our children, Lily and Silas, were born, she was rather outspoken about how children should be raised. I was easily offended when she suggested an approach other than what we were doing in response to acting-out behaviors.

Whenever we visited Paul’s parents or they visited us, I found myself begging God, “Please let Lily and Silas be obedient. Please let Lily and Silas be obedient. Please let Lily and Silas be obedient.” Inevitably, because they are, indeed, children, they would get into something or do something they were told not to do or even break something, and once again, our parenting methods were proven to be erroneous and ineffective. My anxiety and even depression at times over the situation caused Paul significant grief. He couldn’t change either me or his mother; he loved both of us, and he desired peaceful, fun family gatherings. Gerda and I were never outright hostile toward one another, but when we were together, I seemed to hyper-focus on my shortcomings, and I imagined that she was critically scrutinizing my every move.

I agonized over this never-ending cycle until I finally figured out the Mother-in-Law Secret. I began to follow the example of my mother-in-law. I began praying for her. Rather than praying for Lily and Silas to be 100% obedient, which is really quite impossible, I prayed for them to be blessings to Grandma. I prayed that she would get to know her grandchildren and enjoy them. I prayed that I would be a blessing to her, that God would show me ways to encourage her, that we would both enjoy our relationship. I consciously had to make myself stop worrying about what she was thinking (or not thinking, as the case may be). I needed to realize that it was not my responsibility to please her and that we might never agree on how to load a dishwasher or how to raise children. In truth, those differences didn’t matter. I began to thank God for her, for her godly example to me and to my children, and for her life of faithful service to the Lord Jesus.

As much as I wanted her to change, I was the one who needed changing. The results were incredibly sweet. I genuinely looked forward to her visits and her company. My soul filled with joy as I watched Silas explaining some convoluted idea to her as she listened attentively. I cherished the scene of Lily and her playing Scrabble for hours, meticulously keeping score. I remember one particular weekend at their little condo when all six of us had worked for hours on an impossible 1000-piece puzzle. Grandpa decided to take Paul, Lily, and Silas down to his little makeshift workshop where he creates spectacles for pennies—his faithful, tireless, never-ending contribution toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Left puzzling with Grandma, I thought about what a remarkable woman she was and how blessed I was that she was my mother-in-law. We worked in silence (which was generally easy for her, more challenging for me), but it was a sweet silence—the kind you feel with those you truly love, and who you know love you, the kind you don’t necessarily need to fill with conversation for the sake of conversation. And I thanked my God. He had abundantly answered my prayers.

My in-laws didn’t stumble upon Paul’s name by accident. They named him for one of history’s earliest and most influential missionaries because of their mutual passion for missions. Paul and I met in Kenya where we were both serving as missionaries. While they never said as much, Paul’s parents may have been disappointed when we didn’t return to the mission field soon after we were married. It was no coincidence then that we were in Kenya when Gerda died. Perhaps she had been praying that God would lead us back into missions. His timing may have been different than she would have liked, but ultimately, her faithful God answered her prayer, as He always had. Grandma and Grandpa were in India teaching Indian Christians to make Grandpa’s glasses when God called her home. Even in her death, she continued to be a godly example for my children.

I’m so thankful I figured out the Mother-in-Law Secret in time to enjoy that relationship and to appreciate God’s blessings for me through her. God has infinite blessings for daughters-in-law through mothers-in-law if we will simply allow Him to speak and work through people we may perceive to be unlikely candidates.

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Area 51

It’s secrets are known only to the military elite. I’ve read rumors that even the president doesn’t have visitation privileges. Located somewhere in Nevada, the U.S. Air Force base is shrouded in mystery. Access is restricted exclusively to those with the highest level of security clearance.

A passing reference to Area 51 appears in National Treasure II, the film Lily and two of her closest friends watched in the car on the way to Wrightsville Beach yesterday, the official celebration of Lily’s 11th birthday. We briefly discussed the location of and legends surrounding Area 51 and immediately moved on to more significant topics and escapades. Three 11-year-old girls who have known each other for six years generate ongoing silliness beyond all reason and audible natural explosions that rival those of drunken sailors and fraternity boys.

After five hours of sand, surf, and sunscreen, Lily had a hankering for clam chowder at The Dockside, one of our family’s long-time favorites. This birthday extravaganza needed only dessert for total perfection. We made the happy discovery of Rita’s Ice Custard Happiness! Gelatis (“a layering of your favorite Italian Ice and creamy Frozen Custard”) in hand, we loaded into the van for the two-hour drive back toFriends in the car Raleigh.

At some point along I-40, Betsy squealed, “I spilled my slushy in Area 51!” I glanced back to see Betsy’s lap covered in sour apple slushy. As if that wasn’t funny enough to cause me to drive into a ditch, Olivia had to add, “Well, I have sand in Area 52!” Betsy announced, “I can just ride home in my underwear,” but Lily reminded, “You’re not wearing underwear.” The girls had worn their bathing suits in the car on the way to the beach, but Betsy had forgotten to include panties among the items in her change of clothes. Tears streamed down my face as I struggled to control side-splitting laughter and deliver Lily’s friends safely to their parents.

We would be wise to teach our daughters that Area 51 is very special and secret, should remain a mystery to outsiders, and can only to be visited by one who has the highest level of security clearance. ~ cck

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We almost had a fight,

But Julie showed up.

monet-gardenWe’re redoing our front yard. It’s only a hair bigger than a postage stamp and only seems to be able to sustain crabgrass, bermuda, and weeds. We are abandoning grass completely and gunning for a Monet-ish garden.

 

We continue to be the bane of the neighborhood. Last Fall, I sprayed the whole yard with Round-Up, still thinking we might attempt grass. We went with this dead look for about six months. This Spring, a lovely crop of weeds sprang up. Then I reconnected with a friend from high school who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture. She agreed to help us out. Her first act in transforming our dirt and weeds into a Monet painting was to dump a truck load of topsoil in the front yard and a truck load of mulch in the driveway.front yard

 

In case you don’t have boys, you may not fully appreciate the lure of a huge mound of black dirt on an eight-year-old’s psyche. After we finished homework, Silas, Lily, Silas’ two neighborhood buddies, and I began spreading dirt with an assortment of shovels, pitch forks, rakes, a borrowed wheel barrow, and a wagon. We all anticipated Paul’s enthusiasm and gratitude when he saw his army of zealous helpers. My understanding was that Paul was coming home early to help spread dirt. Instead, we welcomed home a tired, grumpy daddy who was not early.

 

Paul’s love language is “quality time” (The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman). That means he feels loved and demonstrates love by doing things with the people he cares about – camping, hiking, going to a ball game or movie, going anywhere, really, as long as we’re together. Paul often works in the yard alone (not on the grass), but he truly enjoys the “quality time” opportunity yard work offers.

 

Not today.

 

He looked on our questionable landscape team with utter bewilderment. He proceeded to ask why we had done this and why we had done that. After some sort of unkind muttering to Paul which our little gardening crew witnessed, I, furious, sent all the kids to the back yard. I stomped around putting tools and wheel barrows away, secretly vowing not to touch the yard ever again, as long as I live. Paul, equally brooding, at least in my imagination, went off to mow what little grass we do have.

 

The three boys had a little squabble in the back yard, and not being in much of a peace-keeping mood, I sent everybody home. I wonder if they thought I had gone insane. They generally believe I’m sort of a fun mom.

 

Not today.

 

I walked into my room to freshen up so I could cook dinner and found both Lily and Silas, still FILTHY, lying on MY bed watching television. I lost it. I unleashed all my wrath on my pumpkins, turning off the television in the middle of a favorite program (Phineas and Ferb is the most hilarious cartoon ever created!), shouting all sorts of admonitions for having grungy feet, hands, clothes, and everything on MY bed, evicting everyone to pursue showers. Lily started bawling, “I just helped you for four hours [it was actually more like two]. Why are you being so mean to me?” I did confess that I was mad at Daddy, not so much at her, but I did want her nasty self off MY bed.

 

I was banging and tossing things around in the kitchen when Paul appeared. “I was trying to speak YOUR love language” is as far as I got. I realized someone else was in the kitchen with us, but I thought it was Lily. She was behind me, so I only saw her enter in my peripheral vision. I suddenly realized it wasn’t Lily; it was Julie.

 

Julie is a missionary kid we got to know last year at RVA. Her parents also worked at the school and are some of our dearest friends. Paul has known her parents longer than he’s known me. When Julie decided to go to Wake Tech for college, we invited her to live with us. That’s why she was in the kitchen; she lives here.

 

God sent Julie to the kitchen at that precise moment! Before I could lay into Paul with all my hurt feelings and “You can do the *$%@# yard by yourself from now on,” Paul and I both fell out laughing. Julie had no idea she had circumvented an argument. Later she told me she was thinking, “How cool that they’re talking about the love language book.” She recently read the love language book, and like I felt when I first read it, she thinks it’s the greatest insight into relationships since the creation of marriage.

 

Thanks to Julie, I wasn’t mad any more. We’ve had the movie Fireproof  from Netflix for over a month and still haven’t watched it. We joked during dinner that perhaps we should watch it now. Later, we were able to have a civilized conversation about the yard debacle. The truth of the matter is, very little is worth going to war over. And having a college student live with you is good for the soul on multiple levels. ~ cck

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Encourage one another

Bill and Cindy Finley presented a marriage seminar in the Ukraine last spring. The result may have been transformed Ukrainian marriages, but I think Bill and Cindy experienced the greatest change. The short version is that they fell in love with Katya and have been working towards legally adopting her ever since. The whole story is remarkable and wonderful! One interesting detail is the fact that they already have six biological children.

The Finleys have partnered with LifeSong for Orphans, a non-profit Christian ministry dedicated to help meet the needs of orphan children around the world. As a non-profit, LifeSong can receive donations on behalf of Katya and the Finleys and provide their supporters with a tax deduction. Contributed funds go towards the adoption fees that will exceed $25,000, an impossible amount for a family of eight living on a small church’s pastor’s salary.

Sometimes we don’t even realize when we encourage others. Lily and Silas won the NCAA pool at Paul’s office. The pool administrator joked that they should start calling it the Koning Kids’ College Fund. Two or three years ago, Silas finished second after Lily had made a stellar showing along the way. They chose to give 10% of their 2009 winnings towards the expenses of the Finleys adopting Katya. I wrote Cindy so she would know that the majority of my check was actually from Lily and Silas, not me and Paul. Little did I know how much that information would encourage her. Visit her blog for her shout out to Lily and Silas!

My point is not to teach your children to gamble, and God will bless them, so they can bless others. I simply hope to persuade you to encourage others today. You never know who may need a little cheer, hope, or faith. You never know how a kind word, smile, or crazy story will remind others of God’s love and faithfulness. Who needs your encouragement today? To whom can you send a quick e-mail with a few words of comfort? Can you easily double the dinner you’re cooking tonight for supper? If so, who would be blessed by a meal? Little or big, it matters not. You have great power to bless others. How will you use your newly realized super power? ~ cck

If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.
~ Acts 13:15

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
~ Hebrews 3:13

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