Sunday, May 23, 2021

Bear One Another's Burdens

Welcome to leg three of this cancer battle.  It's radiation time, and my family has just arrived in Houston to walk this journey with me.

There is so much I want to reflect on, and as my mind is all over the place, I'm sure this post will be, too.  But, each new day is a day packed with lessons to be learned, virtues to build, and beauty in uncommon places.

So, first: I'm three days into a thirty day cycle of radiation.  I thought it was proton radiation but am mistaken, it's actually photon and electron radiation.  Every other day the radiation is a bit more intense in some parts (on those days, there is an extra layer of protection they put on my body), but each day is 25 minutes on a table with a machine moving around me (lining up with my beautiful magic marker tattoos) radiating me via 16 different rounds of beams.  It doesn't hurt, but laying in the position can get uncomfortable.  I've been told to expect what will be like a bad sunburn and quite a bit of fatigue as the radiation builds in my system, but we shall see how that exactly pans out.

So far, I've been a tiny bit tired, but I think that has more to do with having chemo and radiation together, getting adjusted to a new place, and hitting the ground running in Houston.  

My hair is growing back.  Still can't tell exactly what color it's going to be, but man it's soft!  My surgical sites are already tightening with radiation so I'm having to remember to stretch more so I don't permanently lose more range of motion.  Much of my right side is still numb, but I'm praying that comes back to life as time goes on.  I can also no longer go without worrying about the ol' mustache, dang it - ha!  There are some benefits to chemo!

More importantly, I want to talk about something else.  I want to talk about what some call my "tribe" and what I like to refer to now as the Body of Christ.  Before I was diagnosed with cancer, heck even before Agnes was born, I knew I was blessed with amazing family and friends.  But, those blessings have become ever more visible in the last nine months.

From the day we found out about Agnes' health issues, help came in all forms, mostly the power of prayer.  Through those prayers, I truly believe God has answered and fulfilled out needs in ways we could have never imagined.  One was the revival of an old friendship.

My friend Carin and I were roommates in DC when we were both working for the Bush (43) administration.  We weathered some minor storms of growing up right after college graduation and living in a new, exciting place.  What we didn't know then was how intertwined our lives would become fifteen years later.

Agnes was born on the birthday of her second daughter, nine years later.  Carin, in a roundabout way, would find the expect on LUMBAR syndrome who would become Agnes' primary specialist.  Then, in a strange last-minute recollection, she would also guide us to the doctor who I believe saved Agnes' life (or who at least changed it drastically)...her neurosurgeon.  Beyond that, she took me to and from the airport on our multiple Houston trips.  She asked the questions she knew I needed asking (often without me knowing it).  She showed up.  Always.  Sometimes with the perfect little combo of things I would need for each particular trip, and others with a cup of coffee and time for a chat.

She still does these things, and this summer our kids get to do them together.

Upon arriving in Houston, we have been greeted with indescribable hospitality.  People have shown up with toys, books and meals for our entire stay.  We've been helped getting into summer camps and activities.  We've been invited on different field trips and outings, and a cookout is even being hosted to welcome us to town.  All of this by people who nine months ago were complete strangers and some who still are.

We've been welcomed into the home of an incredibly generous family who provided a haven to recover from surgery and a priest to always hear my confession and anoint me before.

Old friends from college have reached out to take care of every need from when we were here for Agnes' surgery to now.

And beyond all of that, we've had friends from home, family, and strangers pray unceasingly.  I've had family take me to and from appointments, watch the kids, bring meals and help in other ways!  I've received notes of encouragement and care packages that bring a smile to my face.  I've walked this journey with a best friend from high school undergoing her own battle with cancer, and I've become close to then strangers on a similar path but who now provide the strength for each other to keep fighting.

I say all of this not to put one blessing above another.  I don't say it to make anyone feel bad.  I write this to say thank you.

Because when I told one stranger that sometimes it felt too much (that I felt guilty in accepting the blessings of others) she immediately said, "We bear one another's burdens [because that's what He asks of us]."

It's true.

We do it all together.  Because what hurts one, hurts us all.  What builds another up has the cumulative affect of building up others.  It doesn't stop with us.  In fact, we have within our power the ability to shoulder some of the cross we see others carrying simply by praying, reaching out, and allowing Christ to work.

I've been taught so much by these diagnoses.  Beyond learning to completely surrender and trust in God, I've learned to better share in the joys and sufferings of those around me.  

And, I have you to thank for that!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

I am His

"Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine." Isaiah 43:1

I remember watching The Chosen for the first time last spring.  At the end of the first episode, I was hooked.  Or, maybe I should say moved to tears.  I don't often cry when watching things like movies or a TV series.  But, the scene in which Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name (and tells her that He has redeemed her and she is His) will forever be etched in my mind.  So much so that at that moment I knew Agnes' middle name would be Mary Madeleine (the French version of Mary Magdalene).

But, why?

Why was that connection to that particular moment in a brand new TV series so powerful for me?

It was redemptive.  I had been struggling with my worth, with a then recent encounter with someone I trusted and with the weight of a burden I had carried far too long.  It was in that viewing that I finally gave credence to what I had known always...that my worth was tied up in trying to perfect myself in order to be worthy of the immense love and sacrifice given to me.

It was in that moment it finally made sense that I would never get there.

I would never be worthy of His love and death.

Regardless, He would always want me.  He would always seek to embrace me and hold me through the difficult, just as he did Mary Magdalene in that scene.


Because I am His.

And, that's enough.

I'm 39.  I've known about God's love since I was tiny.  My parents are two of the most amazing, faithful people alive.  Still, it has taken me this long, many mistakes, and many trials to finally, truly know it.  Maybe it's just taken me this long to open my arms enough to receive His embrace and assurance.

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you..."  He has compensated for all that is lacking in me.  He became everything lacking in my life.

Which brings me to today.

A year ago I was in the comfort of my living room, surrounded by seven of the sweetest, beautiful children while another was kicking inside of me and my personal Saint Joseph was sitting beside me.  But, I was broken.  Instead of resting in the gifts and beauty surrounding me, I was battling with the voices inside that reminded me of past hurts, of a relationship that haunted me, of the broken trust of someone I had put on a pedestal.  I was her.  I was Mary Magdalene, and I so desperately needed to feel His embrace.

The tears came, and with them, slowly the redemption.

I needed these pains in order to walk through what was coming.  I needed the burden to be too heavy to "handle" alone.  I needed to finally let it all go in order that I would know how in the coming months.

People have asked how I (or we as a family) have handled the past months, and I often don't exactly know what to say.

We have handled it by not handling it.  We have handled it by giving it to Him.  We have handled it by getting to a place where we realize we cannot.

Now, do we have to put one foot in front of the other every day?  Of course.  We carry this cross because we have no other choice.  But, honestly, I can carry it today because of where I was a year ago at this time.

Like I've mentioned before, I didn't want a child with special needs.  I didn't want to have cancer.  I don't want to live in fear that I'll leave this life "too soon."  

But, I also don't want to forever live like I've got this handled...or like with just one more step toward an idealized version of myself, I can finally welcome His embrace.

And, what keeps me from that?  The cross.

His cross.  Agnes' special needs.  My cancer.  The collective small disappointments, burdens, and hardships of daily life.  They're too heavy.  They remind me over and over that I need Him.

I couldn't carry the weight of anything else last year at this time.  But, in finally letting Jesus be my Simon, He prepared me for what we are facing now...He showed me that there is room enough for my burdens on His shoulders...I only have to walk alongside Him.  I only have to open my arms to His embrace.  I only have to answer when He calls me by name.

He has called.  And so, I answer, because I am already His.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Saturday Ramblings


Just less than four months ago, we were standing before this plane, anxiously awaiting the baby sister and daddy we had been apart from for too long.  Almost a month spent separated, I think each one of us realized the value of family and the strength and peace that comes from being together, as one unit, in the comfort of our home...even when that closeness can bring its own little hiccups.

Tomorrow, we do it again.  Not for as long, but equally steeped in emotion.

I will undergo surgery next week to remove both breasts and the lymph nodes under my arms.  Many have asked if I'm anxious.  And, while I'd like to say, "no" and that I have complete trust in God, I wouldn't be telling the entire truth.

I am anxious.  But right now, that anxiety stems from more than the surgery...mostly it comes from the eyes I look into as I say goodbye...those eyes that well up with tears and beg me not to leave again.  The eyes that are trying to fight back the "drips" while each one asks why I have to be gone again.  I'm worried about being apart.  I'm worried about little ones with health problems of their own.  I'm worried about the anxiety manifesting in their little hearts after the last few months.

Tuesday morning, I'll worry about my surgery.

In an ideal situation, I would tell you that the last almost six months, I've re-prioritized my life and now don't get irritated when the inconsequential things don't get done or the kids don't listen or the house doesn't stay clean for more than five minutes.  But, the situation isn't ideal, and I've been less than I should be when it comes to letting things go, in spite of my diagnosis.

I'm hoping the Lord is still chipping away at the silliness of my reactions and the lack of being who I need to be, because I don't want Him to give up...I just take a lot of molding ;)

I attended a virtual healing service last night.  That was a first for me - well, a first for a healing service of any kind.  And, while I'm so glad I did it, I went back and forth for awhile about truly what I wanted to ask God for.  I mean, I want to be well.  I want that "guarantee" that I'll see my kids have kids and share much more life with them (don't we all), but I wrestled with (and still do) what God's plan is for me.

I'm not saying that I think He wants me to die.  I just wonder how He wants to use me to reach others, and I pray daily for grace to allow that to happen.  Does He want to refine me via this cross?  I believe so.  And, it is teaching me so much about how much I lack in turning my life completely over to Him.  Can He use me as an example for others when they face their own unique crosses?  I pray so.  Does He want to use the power of a miraculous healing to bring others closer to Him?  Maybe.  I just don't know.  So, what I ask for is His will.  Be that a cure, a remission, or a constant cross...His will and the grace to accept it.

Again, Tuesday morning...I think I will worry more about the surgery.  Vainly, I'm anxious about getting lymphedema.  With my desire for control, I'm a bit worried about being helpless for awhile.  I'm also somewhat concerned about looking like Frankenstein and awaiting the pathology results.  I'm concerned about being away from home, from the ones I love most and from the familiar in the vulnerable.

Maybe in all of that, I should say those are my "thoughts" rather than my anxieties.  I know I cannot be in two places at once.  I know I have to do this in order that I may be as healthy as I can.  I know that my kids are in the hands of people who love them dearly.  And, above all, I know that God has this and is wrapping His arms around me as I go into surgery alone (cancer in COVID times;)).  I truly am not afraid.  I am ready for this, and I'm ready to be on the other side of it.

But, what I'm most ready for...these little ones waiting for me as I arrive home, much like Jesus is waiting for me to drop my arms and the weight of these thoughts and come into His.  Because if there is anything I'm learning (and trying to put into practice), it's this...little else matters besides Him.  And, we can rest in the promise that His will will be done regardless of our "help."

Come, Lord Jesus.