This is life right now: my life.
It has taken on a visceral quality so that I find myself often referring to “the guts of life” these days. Life has become untidy and wretched with emotion, heightened senses, and amplified feelings. Here you will read my snippet of real life. As it has been months since I last blogged, let me back up to a few months back.
I won’t forget driving home from work, talking with Mom, the specific March evening this Spring that she told me about her spinal compression fractures. I was on the straight stretch of open road as Mom told me the x-ray results. My initial thoughts were, “This is good, I know that Osteoporosis causes compression fractures. Osteoporosis can be treated.” But then she continued to fill in the gap that she had had a very good bone density reading about a year ago. As much as I tried to make that still fit an Osteoporosis diagnosis in my mind, it wasn’t possible. And so I asked, “What are they querying?” “Cancer.” She replied.
During those days of awaiting a diagnosis it was best if I kept busy, otherwise there was a continual loop of scenarios and diagnoses that would run through my mind. In my gut and with the evidence before me, I knew it had to be a malignant rogue enemy destroying Mom’s spine; but, it wasn’t yet certain. After a few days I couldn’t handle it, and so I made arrangements for a week off work and prepared for my family to make the journey to Swift Current for us to be with Mom and Dad. At least then I could help practically and ensure there was a full meal on the table at dinnertime. When we arrived Mom’s height loss was clear, her stature was hunched, and her pain was evident.
That week I accompanied Mom to an appointment for the result of her bone scan which had been done in light of her compression fractures. “It’s cancer.” The doc said. Mom and I took the news in stride. No big blow, no tears. Isn’t it what we expected? Yet there it was: certainty. After that appointment Mom needed to have her pain-killers filled at the pharmacy. We did “normal” pharmacy business; but, normal had just taken a sharp turn for us. (Here my eyes opened to the reality of my own patients’ potential experiences prior to entering my pharmacy.)
I thought this diagnosis was what I was waiting for. Living in the moment, I didn’t realize that the next question is “what’s the prognosis?” I was certain this meant metastasized breast cancer, from the breast cancer mom had 2 years prior, even though Mom was assured they had got it all. So, I researched how this could be; but, kept thinking that at least breast cancer has good treatment options. That same visit to Swift Current I was able to accompany my parents to Mom’s first visit (this go around) to the Cancer Center in Regina. Here the oncologist told us it was not metastasized breast cancer, it was a different yet to be diagnosed cancer. At this point I learned the internet is not always helpful. I know enough to utilize reputable internet sources, but when you don’t have the right questions, you can’t find the right answer and I certainly didn’t like some of the answers I was finding. So, I stopped looking for answers and I started hoping and praying for TIME. Like many people in our culture, I struggle with the currency of time and over these days this commodity became precious like pure gold.
I scrambled to organize a family gathering with my sister and her family (from Okotoks, AB), as she was imminently expecting her 4th child and I had this burning need for all of us to be together because what if Mom’s time became numbered in days? Ryan, Rayna and I journeyed again from Chilliwack to Swift Current, this time driving there in one day, so we could all gather for 1 and ½ days over Mother’s Day. It was lovely, there was no place else I wanted to be on that Mother’s Day. And lovelier still was the days leading to Mother’s Day. Mom had been hospitalized in Regina, and put in a neck brace for fear of spinal cord damage. But in those days in the hospital came the long awaited answer: Multiple Myeloma. Not curable but treatable and a primary cancer.
All along this road God has been answering prayer. I praise God for the safety of Mom’s spinal cord. I am so thankful for the rides, the prayers and the meals from Mom and Dad’s church community. I am kilometers away, but I know Mom and Dad are cared for and indeed I feel prayed for too in those moments I’ve needed it most. And can I introduce my Father to you? My Dad is relaxed, motivated, and thriving in his humor-filled self. Praise God that in Mom’s illness Dad’s health is incomparable to how I’ve perhaps, ever, seen it in the past.
Mom has responded well to her chemo and she had a stem-cell transplant at the beginning of September in Saskatoon. Ryan, Rayna and I travelled to be with her in Saskatoon during this time. On many levels this was a challenging week and a half; but, that experience clarified to me what “being human” is all about. I lived out what it is to simply be present. (I am so thankful for all those who enabled me to be just that, present, with my Mom: Brad and Ashley for graciously letting us live with them, my husband for fully supporting me by caring for Rayna and never complaining in his tiring days, the work of prayer which allowed no problem getting time off work and which held off illness in our family until our return to Chilliwack). I was there when my Mom hit a low physically and emotionally. It was as “real” as life gets. I had no words for Mom to encourage her. But I don’t think I failed by simply being there. And I learned volumes on the human experience. To be honest, in those 10 days in Saskatoon I didn’t so much as utter a prayer. Thank you, for those who interceded on my (and my family’s) behalf.
This is where the “right now” of what I’ve been learning picks up. It felt good to return home from Saskatoon. The three of us were tired and it was good to find a rhythm that September seems to naturally bring with it. Yet, in these days a sensation, a feeling was beginning to well in my gut. “What next?” It asked. We’re through this now, Mom’s stem cell transplant. Mom will heal from this stem cell transplant and she should be entering years of remission, God willing. But, what next, when her rogue enemy returns? These thoughts were just beginning to simmer when God spoke clearly and pointedly (but not necessarily concisely, so bear with me). At lunch I came across a conversation on Facebook about euthanasia and the views of Kara Tippetts, a Christian woman with a young family living with terminal cancer, were highlighted by one of my friends. I read them out of interest for that topic’s sake. Then as I was about to go to bed I noticed a different friend, from a different circle all together had posted about Kara Tippetts’ story as aired on Focus on the Family and it was nothing to do with euthanasia. Now that I knew who she was I was interested. God spoke through Kara who highlighted that when we portray ourselves into the future we tend not to think of the element of God and His grace being with us there. Those moments ahead that we wish were not coming- we have to remember that God WILL show up in those moments. She cited Proverbs 1:33 which I splice here from 2 different translations : “But those who listen to me will live in peace and safety, unafraid of harm and [without dread of destruction].”
How was that for a reply to the emotion I was feeling? Of course at this point I was reminded of Matthew 6:34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
But, God didn’t stop here. He kept speaking. Five days later I was tired in the morning. I had made a commitment the week prior that I would full out strive for at least 3 days a week of quiet reflection/devotional time. Since becoming a working Mom my fitness regime has been drastically toned down. However, apart from illness or major extenuating circumstances I hold firm to 3 solid work-outs per week. It’s just the way it is. 1 Timothy 4:8 states “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.” In light of this verse I determined I could certainly commit to 3 days a week of spiritual exercise. It was hard to honor my commitment that morning. I was very tired and probably really only gave 8 minutes that day; but, God showed up. All I mustered that morning was a journalled prayer:
Fill me full, slow me down. Breathe. Breathe true life into this body. Still me so I can reflect on Your beauty, on the day before me, so I can hear the Spirit. So I’m not just rushing through to get things done. So I can engage. So I can experience in full senses the moments of today. So I can find the small moments of thankfulness and can ponder the beautiful gifts I have in my life. Still me, so I can remember my humanity. So I can remember that on my own I will wear out, but with the Saviour alongside me, with the Holy Spirit as my help-mate, I can do all things [because] He strengthens me. And so I need your peaceful touch to be set apart from the race of this life. Today I want to engage. Today I want to hear you, Spirit. Today I want to walk, not run, in tune with the Father’s voice.
Quite a lovely prayer as I reread it. But again it was as I was driving home from work that God used my prayer to speak to me. I usually listen to our Christian radio station which plays Focus on the Family at 9PM. So on my 10 minute drive home, the radio show which actually was speaking about marriage building, used the work “engage” a couple times. It gave me a flash of my prayer from the morning and so I circled the word ENGAGE in my journal from that morning.
The next day I was thinking of this idea of engaging in the present day. It made me think of the Francis Chan study on the Holy Spirit that I’ve been working through with my “girls’ group.” The most recent study had been discussing that we needn’t elucidate the big-picture plan that God has in place for us; but rather, we ought to focus on listening for what the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do today.
I went for a run that morning, my coveted Thursday morning solo run. As I was wrapping up my run Psalm 118:24 came to mind: “THIS is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And that was the emphasis that reeled through: THIS is the day. Not yesterday, not years away. Today. THIS day.
I proceeded to read the whole chapter of Psalm 118 and started to lose my high of this great verse speaking into my circumstance as the Psalmist claimed the triumph the Lord had given him after he was surrounded on all sides, but came out victorious. And I thought, “yeah, I’d sing ‘This is the day we need to rejoice in’ too if that happened to me.” But, “no,” came the quick reply, “doesn’t God conquer battles in our everyday lives if we let Him?”
So, in one week I went from beginning to dread and fear the future, to being refocused to Today, to not worry about tomorrow, but to engage in today, THIS glorious day where God will be present, because that is what He has promised.
I think my Mom learned these lessons awhile ago. I will never forget the beautiful moment we shared during my first visit the morning after the diagnosis came. It was early(ish) morning. Rayna and I were awake and Mom came to join us for breakfast. We sat in the kitchen, Rayna playing on the floor, Mom and I at the table and I broke. I couldn’t keep it together, I began to weep. My Mom stood and came to give me a hug. I met her and reached down and hugged this now fragile woman and she said to me, “It’s going to be okay.” It’s going to be okay. Fill in the gaps and you hear it: “Cancer is aggressively attacking my body, but it’s going to be okay.” “I don’t know the number of days the doctors may place on my life, but it’s going to be okay.” “My body will never be the same again, even if I beat this, but it’s going to be okay.”
Indeed these last few months I have encountered the nasty and the beautiful guts of real life through my own experiences and those of friends near. This is really what life’s all about. Our culture seeks pleasure and elusive happiness. But life is full of disaster and mishaps and loss and rogue enemies of the cancer variety and otherwise. So in all this and all I have learned in my own brush with stark humanity I share Jesus’ incomparable solace to us:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
To close I have two asides. Firstly and simply, (not inherent in the living in the present mentality) there is value in planning (indeed I am a natural planner); but, all plans are ultimately in God’s hands. I have learned this in the past (read my previous blogs – it was a big shocker when I realized I didn’t actually have the reigns of my “family planning”) and again I am learning every good gift is from the Lord and I cannot garner them on my own might. Secondly, I committed 3 mornings to quiet times and with that commitment I realize what I was really saying is, “I am committed to you God and to hearing You” and then God began speaking into my days. I understand the constraints on time. Last summer I struggled to know how possibly to create such time as I was working and my daughter was rising at 6 AM daily. But, I see how as I opened myself and committed myself God spoke as I ran, God spoke as I drove home from work. God spoke. (Because to be honest I feel meek that 3 mornings is all I can muster, but God understands our realities.) Come wherever you are, with whatever time you have, ready to hear God speak. And He will.