Undone but Not Broken

Michelle Cushatt discusses her recent memoir and how she handles adversities that come her way.Michelle Cushatt never thought she would end up divorced and a single mother, but life happened and took her on the journey with it. Even still, love found its way back into her heart, and she remarried a wonderful man. The challenges of unifying their blended family were daunting enough, but an unexpected cancer diagnosis rocked her beyond the great faith about which she confessed. Barely a year later, the family of teens and preteens opened their arms, home and lives and fully loved three preschoolers in peril. Michelle chronicled her journey in her latest book, Undone: A Story of Making Peace With An Unexpected Life.

Hope for Women was able to chat with Cushatt about her memoir.

Hope: Certainly a great deal has occurred since the release of your memoir. Can you catch us up with you and the family?

Cushatt: [The book] released March of 2015. As you mentioned, quite a bit of life has happened—most notably, I experienced two cancer recurrences in 2014. Both involved extensive surgeries and recoveries, including a significant reconstruction surgery, two extended hospital stays, as well as intense radiation and chemotherapy. As of March 2015, I’m now finished with treatment and in the middle of the long, slow recovery back to health.

As for the rest of the family, we’re all doing well—children and adults alike. When one member of a family becomes seriously ill, it impacts the entire family. Each member of our family is in a state of rest and healing.

Hope: As you alluded to in Undone, your story is unique and common at the same time. What advice can you give to women who fear they are "doing it all wrong" or "totally messing up their kids’ lives”?

Cushatt: I've been there, done that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried into my pillow, convinced that my mothering was going to single-handedly lead my child into a delinquent (perhaps criminal) future. When it comes to motherly failures, I have abundant material to choose from. If my children’s future success depends on my performance and perfection, we’re all doomed.

In spite of our good intentions and feverish hard work, we’re still not getting it right. Now, we’re not doing it all wrong, either. Refusing to acknowledge this blending of our good intentions with our insufferable imperfect nature not only puts unnecessary pressure on us as moms, but it does nothing to teach our children about their own human nature and the beauty of grace.

There is only One Savior, and we are not Him.

UndoneHope: When persistent petitions to God seemed to stop below the ceiling, how did you reconcile your reality with the promises of God?

Cushatt: The question “How did you?” implies that I’ve finished all the reconciling—that all my questions are now wrapped up neatly and tied off with a bow. In fact, I’m still very much in progress with this, “in the thick of it” as some would say. I imagine I’ll continue to be until eternity.

There is much I still don’t know, many questions that remain unanswered. It baffles me that God would permit cancer to return for a second and third time after my husband and I took in three small children from a traumatic background. Didn’t we qualify for a pass? As for my career as a speaker and speaking coach, why cancer of the tongue? It makes no sense. Cancer of the big toe would’ve been much more acceptable.

And yet, here I am: a 43-year-old, three-time cancer-surviving mama of six, who now has permanent speech and eating disabilities. There is absolutely nothing I can do about this reality. Our God is either a liar or a promise-keeper. But He cannot be both. I have to decide which one I’m anchoring myself to.

The range of ages, emotions, needs, responsibilities and overall issues in your family is obviously intense. Practically speaking, how have you learned to handle it all?

The short answer? I’ve learned to ask for help. Neither my husband nor I have a problem with hard work. We’re all about rolling up our sleeves and digging in. However, the past few years have proved beyond our ability to “work out.” That means, from a practical sense, we finally learned the beauty of asking for and receiving help. Countless friends delivered dinner for months during my treatment and recovery. Neighbors helped with laundry week after week. Other friends made sure our house remained cleaned. Even as I regain my strength and health, we continue to invite outside help.

In short, we’re learning to live more simply and in community. Ironically, both of those concepts didn’t originate with us. They’re in the Bible.

Why did you ultimately decide to write the book?

Initially, I wrote the book as a way to process my own complicated story. Honestly, it was a lot to take in. The more I shared my story—on a speaking platform or one-on-one—the more I recognized its universality. The specifics of our stories may be different, but each one of us is reeling from something unexpected. I wanted to write this story simply because there’s something universally comforting in discovering we are not alone.