bird by bird

Last July, we were in Evergreen, Colorado. I grew up visiting my Aunt Karla and Uncle Tupper (my mom’s twin brother) and my cousins in the summers. I’d always wanted to take Brent and the kids and show them the Rockies and breathe that crisp air. So when I learned that I would only get ONE week off from school, I told my aunt and uncle that I wanted to come see them and that I hoped the invitation from years earlier was a standing one. I suspect they had to rearrange a few plans as they always have an adventure or three on the calendar, but they didn’t say anything except, “Yes! Come!”

So we road tripped through the Badlands and visited Mount Rushmore and rolled up to their beautiful mountain home a few days before the 4th of July. It was amazing how much thought and work went into preparing for us to visit with our four kids. The club house was cleaned and decked out with a new rug. Bikes for the kids were lined up with freshly filled tires. Karla is the cowgirl hybrid of Snow White and Mary Poppins. She is a child/animal/plant whisperer. She knows how to tell a story and bring the house down in tears or laughter or a combination of the both. You’d love her if you don’t already.

Our trip was magical. The guys went white water rafting with Tupper while the girls decorated (more like decimated) a birthday cake. We sat out by the fire and roasted s’mores while Tupper played the banjo. The kids ran with dogs down the drive to see the bison everyday. They played on the rope swing in the barn. We went four-wheeling, which was hilariously terrifying for prairie folks. They took us to see the Rockies play at the mile high stadium. Did I mention that it was magical? 

  So, when I found out this past April that Karla was diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to have a double mastectomy, I was shocked. Not our Aunt Karla! Whenever someone I love is in any kind of distress, my first instinct is to move toward it, to get there and assess the damage and see if I can do anything and if nothing else, to come along side and validate that this situation really, really sucks. I really had very little experience with cancer up to this point in my life and I didn’t have any language to even know what questions to ask, or how to encourage, or really anything to say. 

Karla’s surgery went perfectly and her kids flew in from the coasts to care for her, cooking and entertaining and generally being the amazing offspring of Karla and Tupper you’d expect. She was doing well, but I just couldn’t shake the need to go see her for myself. So, Brent and I decided I could go before the kids were let out for summer. I found a cheap flight and booked it and Karla and Tupper assured me that if they had any plans, I would fit right into them. I was so relieved to know I would be there in just two and a half weeks, Memorial Day through Wednesday. I didn’t know how I would help, if I’d be helpful at all, but at least I’d be there.

A week and a half later, I found the lump. The Friday before I left was the first diagnostic imaging. My visit to Evergreen would be Monday through Wednesday. They scheduled my biopsy for Thursday morning. I would have to go visit my aunt not knowing. Are you kidding me?! This trip is about her! 

I deliberated over whether I should say anything to her. Finally, the day before I left, I emailed her. Here is our email exchange.

Sweetest Aunt Karla,
My desire in coming to see you is to bless you in any way I can. And that’s what I hope to do. I think I need to give you a heads up on this past week. Tuesday night, I was rolling over in my sleep and I felt it–the lump. I woke up for just a few minutes thinking about how I’ve thought something was there for months, but now it felt undeniably bigger. Wednesday, I called Neely on the way to the gym because I thought I remembered she had a lump that turned into nothing. We spoke and I felt relieved(ish). Thursday I had my annual wellness exam (plus getting staples removed from my head!). My doc confirmed the obvious, ordered a diagnostic mammogram and told me that you usually get results same day. Friday morning, I had the mammogram and ultrasound. They saw that I also have an enlarged lymph. I have a breast and lymphatic biopsy scheduled for Thursday morning. I only planned on taking a carry on, but that’s my extra baggage 😉 I was not planning on saying anything, because I do not want this visit to become about me. But it seems stupid not to tell you. I haven’t told my parents yet. I honestly haven’t had time and I don’t want to unnecessarily concern them.
I want so badly to bless you. The only things I’m sure of: God is good and seeing you will be the best thing in the world.

Karla doesn’t really love the technology, so I wasn’t sure she’d even get the email before I would be boarding the plane the next day. I was relieved when she responded the same day.

Dearest Jenna,

Whoa!  Here is what I know:  Anne Lamott wrote a book titled, “Bird by Bird”.  She grew up in a complicated family, like most of us…One night her Dad heard her little brother crying and in between sobs the little guy told his Dad that he had an assignment due the next day and he hadn’t even started work.  Dad asked, what the assignment was and the boy said he had to write a report on all the birds on Northern California.  Anne remembers her Dad scooping her brother up in his arms and saying, “don’t worry Buddy, we will just take it bird by bird”.  By morning the report was finished.

So when you get here I will hold you in my arms and tell you, don’t worry Buddy, we will just take it bird by bird.

I love you,
Aunt Karla

Trust me when I tell you I wanted the domain name, but it was already taken by someone who wasn’t even using it.

The trip with Karla and Tupper had God’s fingerprints all over it. I was able to join Karla for her six week post-operative appointment with her surgeon. I learned just enough to make me a little less scared of what was most likely coming next. I was comforted, loved, assured, entertained and gently ushered into this new reality taking it one bird at a time.

5 thoughts on “bird by bird

  1. This is Sarah’s sister of the same name as your amazing aunt. Jenna, please know that you have been in my thoughts and prayers so often the past few weeks, many times first thing in the morning or in the middle of the night. My heart hurts for you and your family, yet I know that God is good.

    I love seeing you blogging again, though I wish it was for a different reason. Today’s post especially touched me. Bird by bird…life is so much less overwhelming that way! God bless, and stay strong….


  2. Can’t wait to hug Aunt Karla. I love what she said and how in her simple “Here is what I know…” it has become the only thing we really need to know.


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