Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The message

As I stood in the shower covered in soap and shampoo, my mind went wild.  It started by recalling events of the previous baseball practice that Blake had, when in some sort of twist, connected in ways that even I don't understand, I found myself thinking about God, His voice and His will for us, and how we are to recognize it.

Seems like a stretch, doesn't it?  Imagine living in my head...

I stood there in the shower with water running down my back, reliving moments in the past.  Many moments of my past I wish I could forget, and the time since Steven's diagnosis takes up a space all it's own... Thinking about some of the things that we have been through, and seen, can be a stumbling block for me.  If I keep my eyes on today, the present, I do fairly well.  Usually.  However, the past and it's heartache, and the future and it's uncertainty, leaves me shaken. 

I have found that life leaves you two alternatives: finding strength, and the resolve to plant your feet to withstand the current or simply allowing the current to carry you away.  The current is powerful and comes in many forms.  Sometimes it is lethargy...and allowing the world to reduce you to a form that sits and observes as life passes you by.  Sometimes it is avoidance and denial...where you refuse to consider what 'might be'.  Sometimes the current is made up of the world and the desire to just wrap yourself up in the promises of what life offers if only your life had taken a different turn...and the emotions that envelope you when confronted with the fact that your life is what it is.  Yet your life is yours alone to determine what you do with it.

In the end, that is all that matters, right?  What we've done with this life we have been given.

*****

So, again, I was asking myself if I would know God's words, and will for me, when and if I heard them.  I was wondering if that unmistakable path of communication really existed for us...

This train of thought led me to, once more, think about the preacher and his visit to our house last August.  I put myself in his shoes and I thought about the anxiety that I would feel, pulling up to a home where two people I had never met lived...where one of them was inside, currently dying.  I thought about the awkwardness of introducing yourself to these people, only to declare that the Lord had sent you to tell them that cancer wouldn't win, and that the sick would be healed...  I thought about the nervousness that the drive over would contain, the mind spinning thoughts that played out every possible reception that might be given.  I imagined that I would wonder if the worries and the pain they were experiencing would cloud both their vision and hearing and that, instead of hope, blame might instead take root.

Then my mind settled on the fact that, despite anxiety, nervousness and uncertainty, something stronger had been at play that day in August.  Something was stronger than the possible ridicule, embarrassment, and backlash that he, the unknown preacher, might face, and that something, or someone, told him to "go".  And he listened...

*****

I have found that over time, it has become increasingly obvious that not everyone's mind works like mine does.  Not everyone thinks about the effect that actions, words, and attitudes have on others.  Not everyone thinks about the motives, and situations that push others to act a certain way.  Not everyone has their mind running wild trying to understand people and why they do what they do.  Not everyone would think about the preacher and what he was feeling when he knocked on our door, because they would be busy thinking about what they were feeling...

And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

Maybe those people are more free to do and say what they feel and think. Maybe there is a certain freedom in that way of thinking...or not thinking.

But my mind thinks.  Constantly.  And generally, it's in an attempt to understand. 

However, that day, in the shower, I wondered if I would ever be able to be like that preacher and cast all the doubts, and worries, and over-analyzing aside and find myself able to listen to, obey, and truly understand what I believed to be the voice, and will, of God

Surely His words could pierce through my scattered, never ending thoughts.  But would I hear Him?

Almost as if in an answer to my heart and mind's questioning, an image, almost like in a movie, flashed through my mind.  The memory was so clear and vivid. In that instance I knew that, without a doubt, God could speak to, and be heard by, me.  Yes.  Even me.

In fact, He already had.  How could I have forgotten...?

I saw myself sitting in a pew at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. I had came to the 8 a.m. mass with my mom and dad, while Lakyn and Blake stayed back at the hospital with Steven.  It was the Sunday morning following our surprise admittance in October 2014, when we found that the chemo hadn't worked, and prior to Steven's first transplant.  That morning, in church, I am not sure that I heard much of anything that the priest said.  My thoughts were racing and my fears had me under their control.

I was in tears before the mass even started.  Shortly after it did I remember looking back as a young family, with four small kids, entered the pew behind us.  I wondered at their choice of seat considering the activity level of their children, their late entrance, and the open pews in many other places...places much less visible and in much further proximity from other church goers.  Still, I had other things to think about...meMy life.  My husband.  My kids.

I remember spending the entire mass praying and trying to make bargains with God although I was pretty sure He didn't work that way.  I promised to bridge gaps in relationships.  I promised to reach out to loved ones that I had let grow distant.  I promised to forgive those who I felt had done unforgivable things.  I promised so much...  I begged God to save my husband and each time I gave a reason why he deserved to be spared, it seemed as if God pointed me elsewhere.  As much as I tried to tell God why I needed Steven, and what I needed from Him, God kept showing me what others needed from me.

I cried.  I sat there during mass surrounded by a chapel full of strangers, and I cried.  I hated being weak and I tried to keep it under control.  I didn't want sympathy from my mom and dad, or even gentle touches of their reassurance.  I knew they couldn't give me the peace I needed and kindness made it even harder to keep myself in check. 

Throughout mass, my prayers were only interrupted by the sound of cries, talking, playing and banging on the wooden pew behind me, coming from the four young, restless children: the oldest, maybe four, and the youngest in a baby carrier.  I marveled at the young parents, and the number of kids with so few years separating them.  I would glance backwards, occasionally, wondering if there was any discipline that the parents would exercise, because the distraction was becoming increasingly apparent.  Here I was, in a church, begging for God's grace...and yet I was barely able to sort my thoughts for the sound of squeals behind me.  My mom looked over and gave me a knowing glance, letting me know that the kids were as big of a distraction to her as they had been to me.  I lowered my eyes, and again bowed my head.

During my prayers, I truly felt that God, by refusing to give me peace about Steven's situation, must be telling me that He wasn't going to see him through.  I wanted to hear Him, and feel Him say that Steven would be ok.  However, that morning, all I felt was desperate.  And alone.  

After mass I knelt down and said my final prayers.  I raised up and prepared to go.  I needed to get back to the hospital to make sure Steven, and the kids, were still ok.  The anxiety of being away from them had almost gotten too much to stand and I felt an urgency to get to them. I picked up my purse as the kids behind me were being wrangled by their parents in an effort to get them bundled up and out the door.

I turned to leave and it was then that I felt God speaking...and I knew it.  It made me uncomfortable and I didn't want to believe that it was Him.  So I hurried myself and mentally told myself all the reasons why I couldn't do what He wanted, or why I must have misunderstood Him, and began to leave. 

In that moment, the feeling was so strong it was almost as if someone had put their hand out and stopped me in my tracks.  I knew then that I had to follow through, or I would have a feeling of disobedience all day.  If not longer...

With mascara trailing down my cheeks, red eyes, and a face swollen from all the tears that had been shed over the previous five days, I turned and faced the overwhelmed young mother.  As she saw that I was turning and directing myself to her, she looked up at me with questioning and a bit of apprehension.  Rightly so.  I had glanced back throughout church, generally with tears in my eyes, and pain on my face, and I am sure that the sight hadn't felt overly warm or welcoming. 

Shamefully, maybe I hadn't intended it to be.

But in that instant I knew, with no doubts, what God wanted me to do and what I needed to say.  I looked at her and then looked at her children.  With tears in my eyes, I commented on how beautiful her children were, and I told her how amazing I thought it was that she made a point to get up, get her four small children ready for church, and come attend the 8 a.m. mass with her children and her husband at her side. 

As I continued talking, I could see her start to visibly relax, although she had to be wondering why this crazy woman, with crying eyes, had decided to start up conversation.  I told her that I had two children of my own, years older than hers, and that I knew what a struggle it was to get everybody ready and out the door on time.  I told her that I admired the determination she had to make sure that they made it to church, and that I was sure this importance would not be lost on her children.

She smiled and let out her breath which she had held, and nodded, seemingly both in acceptance of the compliment and in acceptance of the strain that she carried and held all through mass, when she knew that it would have been easier if they had just stayed home. In that moment, I could almost see the relief and I hope that my words fired her  determination to continue the Sunday morning battle, and beat the stress that, no doubt, attending services brought.  I believe that is what God intended my words to do...because they weren't my words.  They were His words and I was the voice.

I was the voice that didn't want to be used and had many reasons why:  I was physically a mess and I couldn't keep the tears from flooding my eyes.  I had my own problems.  I, myself, had fought irritation over their lack of obedience, and restlessness, while I was trying earnestly to talk to God.

Yet, God used those children, and their parents, to talk to me

In my life, I have never had a conviction as strong as that one and there was no doubt  who  was convicting me.

*****

I pray that the same held true for the preacher who claimed Steven's healing.  Despite a million reasons he had to stay away...he knocked on our door and shared his experience.  I often think about him and his words- the words that I have to believe were God's.

I hope that the woman and her children still attend church.  I hope that love and understanding floods everyone that sits near to them.  I pray that my heart may be open to hear the voice of God more often, because there has never been more peace than I had in that moment-the moment when I knew I had done as He willed me to do.

Although my words were meant for that family, I believe that God intended for my actions, and the humbling of myself, to be a lesson for me.  God, in that instant, showed me that it wasn't about what He could do for me, but rather, what I should do for Him.

I hope I never lose sight of that.

What hope, and what encouragement, would we all bring to others if we listened to God, and did as he asked?  What would our conversation looked like if we "talked" to God about someone other than ourselves? 

He is there.  I believe that if He is able to speak to me, through my strung together, and far off thoughts, He is able to speak to us all.

How has God spoken to you?




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

His Gift

This morning, while driving to work, I was admiring a rainbow that had formed after the early rain. My mind raced witha million thoughts, much like it does at nearly any given moment. However, one thought settled: This rainbow, was MY rainbow. A rainbow from God, for my birthday.
How corny is that? I had just decided that the rainbow before me, for the world to see, was meant just for me.

I realize it was ridiculous and I knew it even as I thought it, but that didn't keep my mind from continuing on. As I marveled at God's handiwork and majesty, the thoughts continued...

If this rainbow, my rainbow, was sent to me, WHAT was it's message? Was it the traditional promise that God wasn't going to let the rain (literal and figurative) keep falling? That there wouldn't be a flood? What message was God sending me, with the gift of a rainbow on my 40th birthday? (Yes, the gift that I had claimed as mine...)

So, I decided to google, "the biblical meaning of a rainbow". I wanted to know, in google's words, what the broadly accepted view was and what scholars had deemed the "right" message. And the answer? "A symbol of God's faithfulness and mercy".

Yes. A symbol which God gave "me" on my 40th birthday. My thoughts immediately clung to the coincidence of the "40". After experiencing rain for 40 days and 40 nights, Noah was "gifted" a rainbow. On my 40th birthday I was too.

40... Once again, I turned to Google, wondering the biblical relevance of 40, as determined by people much smarter than myself. I knew it was mentioned many times throughout the Bible, but what was the common thread? I found out that "40" in the Bible, generall represented a period of "testing, trial and probation".

So, today, on my 40th birthday, I am choosing to believe that God gave me a visible gift of His faithfulness and mercy, after this period of testing, trial and probation that my family has been through. I am clinging to the belief that God has already permanently healed Steven, and that I will continue to build on the faith that has been made stronger during my last "40".

Faithfulness and mercy. I couldn't think of a better gift.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Waiting

I was standing at the foot of my bed folding laundry that was still warm from the dryer.  I had called Blake in to join me so that I could talk to him about his upcoming birthday.

Admittedly, it was like my mind had unconsciously just blacked out that week on the calendar and I didn't even realize it.  Once I realized that it was three weeks away, it jarred me with the unexpectedness of it all.  

How had I failed to have it on my mom radar?  The weight of the oversight felt like it would crush me.  This was my son's birthday and I was his mother...and all these years I tried to never lose sight of the fact that when you are a child, you live for Christmas and your birthday.  There are all sorts of reasons this is true, and yes, I know gifts are one, but happiness and joy and being celebrated are all reasons too.

And I had failed to even think about his day of celebration.

I could offer up excuses.   For the past week, I have been trying not to think about the future at all.  The news last week of Steven's lowered counts, and the intensified fear of relapse, set me back to a place I hadn't been for awhile.  It's funny how it took me being in my bed with covers over my head, dreading the day ahead, sick to my stomach and fighting back tears and wishing I didn't have to get up, to realize how far I really had came in my recovery.

******

I started seeing a psychologist after returning home.  I needed somewhere to go with my pent up worries and fears and I knew that she couldn't take them away and that no one could, but I was willing to do anything that would help...and it sure wouldn't hurt.

After taking a "test" of very odd and random, yes-no questions, I was surprised with a few of my diagnoses.  Obviously, I was rated high on anxiety/depression.  That alone was pretty spot on and I didn't need that test to tell me that.  Not far behind, though, was PTSD and social aversion. 

The last week has given me perspective that I didn't have before.  Returning to where I was, reminded me where I had been and I had came a long way.  I didn't avoid going to the grocery store or Wal-Mart, or to a public place.  I enjoyed going to my kids' ballgames.  I would leave the house to go out and eat with family.

In fact, I had returned to work in January,  and had forced myself to act "normal" since then.  However, in hindsight I now realize I was acting less and less.

Yes. I had definitely gotten better, but each day this week has been a struggle and many days I went to bed feeling like I had lost the battle.  Letting my mind linger too long on the "what if" of relapse was enough to paralyze me all over again.  The fear of being separated from my kids and the fear of losing my husband had me regressing and returning to the place where I had once been before and I know my kids deserve better. 

*****

As I folded a pair of Blake's jeans I looked at him and said with excitement, "So...what do you want for your birthday, buddy?"

He looked at me and his face grew red.  Then his eyes got glossy.

I knew what was coming and I started towards him.

"What?  Why are you about to cry?"

As the dam burst he shared that all he wanted for his birthday was for his "daddy to be ok". I told him that was all I wanted too, and that, right now, he was.  Right then, in that moment, his daddy was at home, and healthy, and active.

In an avalanche of emotions he released feelings that had been kept inside-probably some for almost a year and he spoke of how he felt like we "always" missed his birthday since Steven's illness. Even before I could gently remind him that only one birthday had passed since Steven's diagnosis, and that we had made it home from the hospital last year in time for it...or remind him that even though we had to leave the party early to go back to St. Louis that evening, we made sure that everyone stayed and the party went on, Blake, still crying, but in a wisdom beyond his ten years, realized all that himself and said..."It isn't that.  That's not what I meant.  It's just...I guess...bad memories."

And my heart shattered.

Because, oh, how I knew of the bad memories.  Suddenly, I wasn't so surprised that I hadn't thought of Blake's birthday.  That day...that painful day.  Blake playing outside, cake and presents sitting around, people laughing in the other room...and Steven sitting at the kitchen table telling me that he felt like his 113.6 pound body was shutting down on him and that he wasn't going back to St. Louis - because he wanted to just stay home and die.

Yeah.  Bad memories.

Although Blake's memories aren't the same as mine, and he doesn't know about his daddy's feelings that night, he knows that his daddy was so very sick.  He knows that we had to leave in a hurry.  He knows that we spent that night in St. Louis and that a few weeks later we found out that all that chemo that contributed to the physical shape my husband was in, had failed to completely kill the cancer because it was still alive and well.  He knows that the friends that were supposed to come over and celebrate his birthday with him, didn't, until August due to the fear of exposing Steven to illness.

My aching heart moved me and I picked up his 86 pound body that is almost as tall as mine and I carried him to the chair in my room and I rocked him.  And we both cried.  I assured him, without false promises, that right now, everything looked good with his daddy.  Right now, I didn't see any reason that his birthday wouldn't go off without a hitch.  However, I also told him that I can't promise that things won't change and, unfortunately, we both know how quickly they could.

And then God punched me.

Not really.  But He might as well have.  And I needed it.

I had been praying that I would come to clearly recognize God's voice, and yesterday it came through loud and clear...and it sounded a lot like my son's.

"Mom?  It feels like all we are doing is...just waiting."

Right there.  That's when He hit me.  Because the moment the words left Blake's mouth, I knew what he meant.  I have struggled with this since September 5, 2014.

I am waiting.

I am not living.

I am waiting.

I am waiting for something...some false sense of certainty, whether in the form of a cure or a death.

Isn't that awful?  How horrible am I?

Do not mistake those last two words of that statement for a wish.  If God was to take my husband from me, it would cripple me like nothing ever has before.  I pray and pray and pray for God to save my husband, and I pray again that He listens.  I am sick with worry in a way that many can never imagine, and so, I also ask you not to judge.

This false sense of certainty I long for?  I venture to say that you take it for granted too.  

I know that only God knows what tomorrow holds and we are called to trust Him, but this world, it lulls you into a false sense of security.  How easy is it to go day to day and just expect tomorrow for things to be the same?  Most people just take it for granted...

But now I never can.

I attend graduation and see pictures of kids and their parents and wonder if my husband will still be alive to see our children graduate.   A possible school trip for the next school year is being planned and my daughter asks if I can chaperone and go along and I can't commit because even in just a year our lives could look drastically, totally, unrecognizably different.  

How will our life look?  Well, that is anyone's guess.  

Where will we be?  St. Louis?  Home?  

Will we still be together?  In tact?

Sure, I have heard it before.  You could say that everyone's life bears the risk of trials and loss.  And they do, and you are right.  However, has someone told you that there is a 50% chance that yours (in the very near future) will?  

If so, then you know, all of a sudden, no decision is an easy one.

And so you find yourself sitting in the waiting room of life.

I don't believe that is where God intends us to be...or where He has put us.  

*****

I asked Blake what exactly he felt we were waiting for.  I sensed I already knew, but I wanted him to tell me, and I didn't want to put words in his mouth.

I was a little relieved when he only voiced the positive, "for daddy to get better".

He knows, and I know, that we both know there is another side to the "waiting".   It had been only a few weeks before that he had asked me, again, how many years had to pass before we could feel more certain that his daddy wouldn't relapse.  I told him, "3-5 from the time of transplant and we are now eight months out".

He nodded.

That's too much waiting for any child to have to do.

He will be almost 16 years old (and Lakyn will be 18) when they get done waiting for "their daddy to get better".  

They will be so much older than that if he doesn't, and I don't mean their age.

The waiting has to stop.  I have got to force myself to stop it.  I never, ever would have believed that the kids would've picked up on this struggle, much less feel it themselves, because I thought I had came so far. 

Far isn't far enough.

The kids have wanted to go camping but my own "bad memories", associated with Steven's relapse last May, had kept me from it.  I never told the kids why, and despite their begging, I still haven't planned a trip this summer.  

I just keep waiting...and my waiting is preventing my kids from having good memories.  Good memories to replace their bad ones. 

So...with you all as my witnesses, I am vowing to try and wait no more.

I also challenge you to put aside anything that makes you hold back from living the life that you should, and the life that your kids need you to live, because your kids are growing up while you are waitingWaiting for whatever it is that you are waiting for.  I think most of us have something, and it isn't always as dramatic as a husband and father fighting cancer, but it is debilitating just the same.  God does not wish this for us.  I have got to find a way to give God this anxiety and stop pulling it back out of His hands.

I know that this will be a huge challenge for me.  My heart is in it, but when my mind is gripped in fear, my body follows suit.  And vice versa.  Logically, I can know what I should be doing and why, but emotionally, sometimes it all threatens to be too much.  And so I will pray more.  I ask you to do the same.

This year, this summer, I don't want to wait anymore.  I'm going to need your prayers to get out of this waiting room and out into life.  Please pray for our whole family.

Living-2010