cancer, faith, Holley Gerth

The “C” Word

Cancer. The word no one wants to hear. I was in the vehicle with my husband when the doctor gave me the news. My first thought was “Poor Nick,” because his previous wife had died from cancer. Fear hit sometime the next day, after a night of tossing and turning. I reminded myself that fear is not from God and asked my husband to pray with me.

Much of this past year has been about prayer as I reveled in my first year of marriage with Nick, and for good reason. It was prayer that initially connected us. We began each of our dates with prayer and have continued to pray together daily. I credit that practice, along with our daily Bible study, for a marriage relationship that is unlike anything we could have hoped for or imagined at this point in our life.

I began praying in all things, big and little. approximately ten years ago, involving prayer and discernment in what books I read, movies I watch and even what journals I use. I get a little thrill choosing a new journal from the huge stack I store in a cupboard; little journals, big ones, wire bound, hardcover, paperback, colorful decorated pages or quotes interspersed throughout. Always lined, sometimes with a ribbon marker to keep my place.

Which journal do I pick? I asked on September 1st. It would be journal #14 since I began utilizing expressive writing as a healing tool in 2012. I caressed each cover lightly, flipping through pages, before landing on the colorful hardbound journal with Proverbs 31:25 She is clothed with strength and dignity on the front cover. Nick and I had just begun a Bible study of Proverbs a few days before. We were learning about wisdom and listening as it applies to marriage. What better journal to begin my second year of striving to be a Proverbs 31 wife to Nick?

I don’t journal every day. I’d only gotten a few pages in when I was diagnosed with cancer on September 13th. Writing out a prayer the next morning, I took great comfort in the bible verse at the bottom of the page.

I read the intro to the journal for the first time a couple of days later, in awe of how fitting it was for the situation.

Let His presence cast out any weakness and guide you through every circumstance and decision you face. Be strong in the Lord, and may His unfailing love guide your heart into a fearless future. I turned to the back cover and noted the quote by one of my favorite authors, Holly Gerth. God’s love is what we need to carry on and will carry us when our strength feels small. Ah, yes, this spoke to my heart too.

I’ve journaled nearly every day since the diagnosis, as I waited to see an oncology doctor, facing a surgery that will determine the stage of the cancer. God already answered two appeals I dared to convey; instead of the 5-12 days I was warned I could expect before hearing from the oncologist, the call came in just three days, when I was informed the consultation would be September 30th. September 30th, a day we would be in Iowa City anyway for an appointment my husband had made with a rheumatologist two and a half months ago. My oncology appointment in the same town scheduled for the exact same day, and with enough time between appointments? What are the odds? I will tell you; not likely.

God went before me. God knew in July when Nick’s appointment was scheduled that I would be diagnosed with cancer and need to see an oncologist. He orchestrated events so that the timing of our appointments would coincide. While I thought I was choosing a journal to help me be the best wife I could be for Nick (with strength and dignity), God knew better. Months before I would need it, God drew my attention to the colorful journal on the shelf of a thrift store. Yes, God goes to Goodwill with me. Because I ask for his guidance even in the little things, of all the journals I had to choose from in my cupboard, he knew which one I would need for this journey with cancer. He knew which bible study Nick and I would need right now. And if God cares about those little things; the timing of appointments, the right journal or bible study, I have no doubt God cares about me in this big thing, this cancer. God is in this too. He will use it for good. He may have work to do in me, in Nick, or in our marriage. I will face this cancer with strength and dignity. I will be strong in the Lord.

cancer, faith, Jacob

When the Light Went Out~

From a November 8, 2012 blog posting:

“The small light in the kitchen has been on for seven months now. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. David always shut it off before he went to bed, and now I leave it on all the time. When I come downstairs in the morning, there it is above the coffeemaker; glowing and greeting me in the darkness of the house.”

‘That’s one of your rituals,’ my friend casually observed, as if it were perfectly sane to leave a light on for seven months.”

I never did shut the light off, and at some point, it seemed as though I actually couldn’t. I fully expected it to go off on the one-year anniversary of David’s death. When it didn’t, I got close to shutting it off myself, reaching behind the coffee maker twice during the day, and then, inexplicably withdrawing my hand.

The light began flickering wildly on the afternoon of June 24th, my grandson’s 8th birthday.

“The kitchen light is going out,” Dan announced in the doorway, and I got up from my desk chair and joined him in the kitchen. We just stood there for a moment in silence. I considered the timing.

Why this particular day after more than 450 days of burning brightly for twenty-four hours a day?

“Stop it. I know what you’re thinking, and it doesn’t mean that Jacob’s light is fading, or anything like that.” my son Dan warned as we stood together, staring at it.

In the week since his eighth birthday, Jacob has been experiencing pain in his chest and side, and some difficulty breathing. Yesterday the doctors prescribed morphine and oxygen for him. They advised against draining the fluid in his chest since it would inevitably return, probably within a week.

I can barely stand to type these words, imagining the pain that inhabits my daughter’s heart. I could hardly breathe when Elizabeth called to tell me that the doctors weren’t going to drain the fluid. “Jacob is asking questions,” she told me. “He knows that something is different.”

Each question brings her fresh pain. I imagine Jacob’s questioning brown eyes, the same eyes that can light up an entire room.

“Is Jacob going to die?” my grand-daughter asked me yesterday while I babysat for her.

“We’re all going to die,” my thirteen-year-old next to me blurts out, and there is the undeniable truth in her response.

Each day, each hour, a child somewhere dies; from cancer, from hunger, with injuries suffered in a car accident, in a horrific fire, at the hands of an abductor, from a gunshot wound in their safe classroom. Firemen die bravely fighting a fire. A beloved husband and father dies, sitting in his recliner three days after he came home from the hospital following a heart stent surgery.

And then there are the everyday miracles, the against-all-odds stories; the woman whose pancreatic cancer disappears, the sole survivor of a plane crash, the child who escapes the clutches of a maniac, the man who sees heaven when he is clinically dead and is brought back to life, a young father whose doctors told him he would not survive a brain tumor, still alive years later.

Am I delusional or unable to face reality if I stubbornly continue to pray for a miracle for our Jacob? I acknowledge that all things point to the outcome the doctors have predicted, and yet I cling to this unreasonable hope, the knowledge that our God is bigger than this; whatever this is. Fear? Worry? Sadness? Cancer? I feel a dim, flickering light in the darkness that threatens to overtake my soul. My recent past experience tells me that light remains, that there is a meaning behind all this that I cannot even begin to understand, that I don’t need to understand.

Psalm 27

Of David.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?”

This morning, in the still quiet of a house full of sleeping children, I searched for answers. I prayed. I picked up the library book I’d set aside a couple of nights ago. Help, Thanks, Wow, by Anne Lamott. I opened it to the page I’d discontinued reading, book-marked with a cash register receipt, page 15, and I read:

” Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through…

…There are no words for the broken hearts of people losing people, so I ask God, with me in tow, to respond to them with graciousness and encouragement enough for the day. Everyone we love and for whom we pray with such passion will die, which is the one real fly in the ointment, so we pray for miracles-please help this friend live, please help that friend die gracefully- and we pray for the survivors to somehow come through.”

and then on page 16:

“In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light. In God there is no darkness. I see God’s light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: ‘Look, Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up.’ But it wouldn’t work. So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics.”

I ponder these words, contemplating all that has transpired in my life in the last two years. I think about the woman I was two years ago, and the woman I have become. I can clearly see how God has worked in my life. I know without a doubt, he still has work to do in me. I remember my husband’s words the day before he died:

“Why would God allow a little boy to have cancer?”

A shake of my head was my only response, and David’s next words;

“If I could go, and he could stay, I’d go in an instant.”

And my prayer this morning becomes:

“Dear Lord, I had hoped when David died you were honoring his wish; that Jacob would then be able to stay with us. And now, when all things point to that not happening, I cannot help but feel disillusioned with your ways. You have repeatedly shown me this past year that you are there, in the smallest of things. I ask that you continue to show us the same in this very big thing. Hold my daughter and the son of my heart in your arms as they navigate this journey that no parent can face alone. Hold our dear Jacob close to you. Please allow him peace and comfort in the days to come. I thank you for the people you have brought into our lives through this. I give thanks for the opportunity to speak your word even as my heart aches. And, yes, Lord, I continue to ask you for a miracle of magnitude for this little boy. I pray for strength and courage for each of us who love this little boy, as we accept that we cannot possibly know or understand the future. Most of all, Lord, thy will be done. I have no doubt you are working in all of this and that there is a meaning behind it. This little child has touched the hearts of multitudes already.”

cancer, faith, Jacob

No Such Thing As a Random Stranger

Click on this link for a feel-good story that involves a group of people pulling together to make a day of tremendous fun for my grandson:

The Core and ‘Star Wars’ actor thrill young cancer patient.

“I’m going to England to visit him someday.”

That was what Jacob told his mother after his meeting with the soft-spoken, gentle actor who had spent the better part of an hour before the public was allowed in the comic book store event, and most of the evening meal with him.

Those words gave both me and his mother reason to pause. It was Jacob’s status as a terminally ill child that gave him such a privilege. Yet he insisted the planned visit would be a fantastical reality.

Terminal. No one had actually used the word in relation to Jacob until two weeks before when a radio station announced a car cruise benefit for him. It was jarring to hear it. Doctors have skirted around it with their “nothing more we can do,” “palliative care,” and the recommendation to connect with Hospice. As for those of us who love him, Jacob is the epitome of someone living with cancer, not someone dying from it.

“And after all, aren’t we all terminal?” I reminded my daughter when she expressed her dismay at hearing the word for the first time.

As I watched the interplay between the lean, handsome, English gentleman and the small quiet boy, I was struck by how naturally Jacob had taken to a virtual stranger and the motley crew of characters that had warmly welcomed and surrounded him at this event.

By the end of the momentous day, Jacob had not only made a lifelong friend whose home he intended to visit someday, but he’d interacted with more than a dozen strangers (mostly with huge smiles, widened eyes and nods of his head) whose lives were likely irrevocably changed by the meeting. As for the grandmother who followed him in awe, by nightfall I’d added some very nice people to my roster of friends on Facebook.

It occurred to me that I’d been meeting an awful lot of “random strangers” in the last few years; strangers that ended up touching my life or the life of a loved one in some way.

Saturday evening, as I sat across the table from Mr. Jeremy Bulloch and my grandson, who had been dubbed both “Coda Fett” (by the Mandalorian Mercs) and “Jacob Fett” by the actor himself, I was struck again by the meeting I had neither orchestrated nor arranged. Across the table I watched as the actor entertained Jacob with impromptu magic tricks and an imaginary piano recital. Jacob surprised me by mimicking the moves of the man’s musical prowess. To the right of me, I heard the comic book store owner mention he’d met Jeremy many times in the previous years. Though he’d initially hoped to have him come during the school year when college was still in session, this was the only time they could work it out with Jeremy’s schedule. “This event was three years in the making,” Mike mentioned. I marveled once again about the timing of this event, and how, in early May, on “free comic book day,” Mike had also been a stranger to me.

I’d only asked Mike the day before what had prompted him to approach my grandson in his store that day and extend a personal invitation to meet his favorite character from the “Star Wars” movies.

“I like to think it was God,” I’d written in my e-mail.

“Then it was, through Jeremy,” he replied. “Jeremy was the guy at the front door who was letting people in. He recognized a member of ‘the club.’ Jeremy is a cancer survivor. It was a miracle he could even get my attention that day.”

I would seek out this Jeremy during Saturday’s event, approaching him and another man as they handed out tickets at the door.

“I hear you are the one to thank for pointing out Jacob to Mike. I want to personally thank you,” I told him. He pulled back the collar of his shirt to reveal the scar from a port, the same scar Jacob sports from the one he’d had inserted during his last treatment, a port that allows for frequent blood tests and chemotherapy treatments. That port was removed after Jacob’s last treatment so now the little boy endures a weekly blood test without it.

“We’re members of the same club. We stick together,” Jeremy said. Before he could resist or protest, I gave him a well-deserved hug.

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“My husband was a member of the same club,” I told him. “He became a five-year survivor. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive the heart attack he had last year.”

I heard a slight gasp from the man next to Jeremy. “I’ve had five by-pass operations. I died once and God brought me back to life.” He looked much too young to have endured so much, but then, as we have learned so well, disease and illness know no age restrictions.

“Then you need a hug, too,” I said as I wrapped my arms around him.

“We’re just a bunch of wounded people,” he commented wryly, and I warmed with the knowledge that he was including me, with the wounded heart, in his assessment.

I’m not sure which of the three of us suggested hooking up on Facebook, but I didn’t need any convincing. I wanted to keep in touch with these “random strangers,” the two brave men God had put in my path.

Because that is what I believe: There is no such thing as a “random stranger.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Three years ago, as Mike made plans to bring Jeremy Bulloch to his comic book store in Cedar Falls, Iowa, God knew that the month he arrived would be the very month that a little boy with cancer would have recently been labeled “terminally ill.” He knew that the very same little boy would be celebrating his eighth birthday that month, and that his father had recently begun collecting autographs for both his son and himself. He knew that the father would enjoy the meeting just as much as the son. He not only knew that a cancer survivor would be at the door of the store on free comic book day, he’d orchestrated it. He knew the grandmother of that little boy would want to take her grandson with her when she attended an event that she had never attended before. Her nephew, also a cancer survivor, had just been hired by the TOPPS company and was going to be a featured artist at the event, signing drawings. It was God who had prompted Mike to personally invite Jacob to the event, God who had arranged the meeting with the two men who stood at the door; the men who had endured ailments that may have physically challenged them, but left them stronger in other ways. Ways that might make one of them point out to his boss a small bald boy with big brown eyes that got even bigger when he spotted anything related to Star Wars. God knew that Mr. Jeremy Bulloch was not the type of celebrity who put himself above his fans. No, Mr. Bulloch had a grandfather’s heart and would know how to relate to the little boy with the big eyes and even bigger smile. He knew that a group of men who delight in dressing in costumes would want to appear at this event. He put it in the heart of one of them to design a helmet specifically for Jacob.

What if we treated every day as the momentous event that it truly is? If we allowed that the strangers we meet each day might be the friends of tomorrow? What if we are all presented with “random strangers,” “random encounters,” and “random moments” that are not so very random? What if the next morning, when I stopped at a local gas station to pick up newspapers, the fact that I turned around and one of the men from the Mandalorian Mercs who had attended in costume the day before, was not a random encounter, but instead a chance for me to thank him again and tell him “God bless you for what you do?” I believe we all are given those opportunities to make a friend, help someone, be helped, to hug, to be hugged, to say “God bless you,” and mean it.  It is a personal relationship with God that allows us to recognize those moments for what they are. Just three years ago, I might not have hugged those deserving men, might not have followed the promptings that led me to a comic book store, may have turned away from the kind, questioning eyes of the owner who leaned down to talk to my grandson and then inexplicably offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to personally meet and spend time with an actor who had played in the very movies that little boy watched repeatedly.

What if the doctors are wrong, and Jacob is right when he tells us that he is going to visit England someday? What if someday a young man flies on an airplane to England  and knocks on a door, and Jeremy Bullock opens it.

“It is so wonderful to see you, my young warrior friend, Jacob Fett.”

The Lord was already there.