~ Charles Spurgeon
My voice is worsening with each passing moment, it seems. That the tumor or tumors could be growing that quickly seems almost unimaginable. Most of the day is spent thinking my imagination must be running away with me at last! Yet there is the objective truth of it...my voice is graveling and faltering just as it was before the first tumor was removed. What to do about it now is the main question. Wait until the radiation in 4 more weeks? I have contacted several world-renowned physicians at the University of Chicago to ask about a second opinion on the tumor type from another pathologist. So far no reply. So I wait. Thursday I meet with my regular doctor again to discuss where to go next. It is a conundrum.
Pray, pray, pray, dear friends, anonymous readers! Pray that this tumor shrinks. Pray for wisdom for Aaron and I, as well as our doctors. Pray that the radiation will work.
Today my mind is fixed on this verse. Even though there is tumult in my brain, my body, and the world around me seems a bit off-kilter in the light of this present crisis, my heart...my soul are in perfect peace. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee." Isaiah 26:3
And wake thy sorrow?
Wilt thou forestall it, and now grieve tomorrow,
And then again
Grieve over freshly all thy pain?
Either grief will not come, or if it must,
Do not forecast;
And while it cometh, it is almost past.
My God hath promis'd; He is just.
-- , "The Discharge"
I have felt personal oppression several times in my life, but the most recent manifestation rings most clearly in my memory. I struggled under the mantle of motherhood for three long years, uncomfortable, wondering why I had been granted these "blessings" that I didn't anticipate nor necessarily ask for. After the birth of my fourth child (and last, and first son), this burden miraculously lifted as I 'hit my stride' as a mother. The myriad joys and trials lit my soul like so many stars, and I walked around trying futilely to lessen the escaping light as it glanced off other, more miserable mothers. It was in this season of bliss that I received my diagnosis of cancer. It has been like a slow lowering into a very confining place spiritually. All around, I am hedged by fear, the gloomy faces of doctors, the confines of treatment that takes me away from my family for weeks at a time. Death is not at my doorstep, but I see him, a specter waiting far down the path, for the first time. Inevitably, I ask God why.
The interesting thing is that those stars in my soul persist. They are not snuffed out in this tight place. In fact, in some ways, the light they cast is infinitely brighter as it reflects off the granite walls of my grief so close to me on every side. My question still remains: why now? When I have finally reached a place of understanding and trust and faith, why test this new bud that has suddenly shot up from the rocky soil of my soul? Is testing the way that great gardener of my soul tends a new plant? Encourages it to grow? Certainly this bud of unshakable, overflowing motherly love wouldn't have sprung but for the adversity of early motherhood. Perhaps the crucible is His greenhouse.
The worst pains we experience are not those of the suffering itself but of our stubborn resistance to it, our resolute insistence on our independence. To be "crucified with Christ" means what Oswald Chambers calls "breaking the husk" of that independence. "Has that break come?" he asks. "All the rest is pious fraud." And you and I know, in our heart of hearts, that that sword-thrust (so typical of Chambers!) is the straight truth.
If we reject this cross, we will not find it in this world again. Here is the opportunity offered. Be patient. Wait on the Lord for whatever He appoints, wait quietly, wait trustingly. He holds every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year in His hands. Thank Him in advance for what the future holds, for He is already there. "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup" (Psalm 16:5, NIV). Shall we not gladly say, "I'll take it, Lord! YES! I'll trust you for everything. Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
~ Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart
~ Mary Knox, Evergreen Community Church
When we come, as we all do sometimes, to "the end of our hoarded resources" (hymnist Annie Johnston Flint), may we find through prayer that "our Father's full giving has only begun."
~ Sandy Hopler, wife of John Hopler, Great Commission Association of Churches
Life feels like one of those scenes from a movie, when someone is sitting still, ponderous and alone, while people pass by in a blur. I went to a baby shower today, and I felt exactly like that. I wish I could stop everyone I meet and tell them to treasure this moment - treasure the way it feels when your baby kicks you from the inside. Treasure the tired infant struggling at your breast in a last pre-sleep flurry of activity. Treasure watching your daughter, your sister, your friend as she opens gifts at her very first baby shower. Treasure the scent of your coffee, and the conversation of your friend, and the laughter of the stranger next to you. Being carefree, footloose and fancy-free...it comes and goes in this journey. Treasure it.
Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your little children...
~ Lamentation 2:19 (ESV)
a mother’s praying
low and quiet:
Listen what her tears
see her heart
upon its knees;
lift the load
from her bowed shoulders
till she sees
You, Who hold
the worlds together,
hold her problems
in Your hands.
~ Ruth Graham Bell, Listen, Lord; from Collected Poems
~ Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
Do you ever wonder how the thing that we are clinging to compares with what God has in store for us? My Grandma Fern fought hard for the last fifteen years of her life, surviving many deathbeds to be with us all and work for Christ here on earth for another season. This photo is her 80th birthday "crown", which she gave to my girls afterward and they play with still. It was glistening in the light, abandoned on my kitchen tiles in the cool, austere sunlight of a late September morning. This $2 piece of man-made plastic, spray painted silver and encrusted with glossy "jewels", marked one of Grandma's last celebrations on earth. Just think what a crown she is wearing right now, walking the streets of heaven in conversation with Jesus Himself!
I am afraid of so many things, and cling so desperately to what I know and love already. It almost seems like it would be better to live with a tumor I know about (and is probably slow-growing) than to face unknown treatments, unknown complications, separations for undetermined lengths of time, unknown secondary risks related entirely to the treatment itself. In addition, weaning is not going well, and I question why God would have me wean my son - I worry that our bond will never be the same once I "wound" him by denying him his main source of comfort and food; I worry that his health will never be the same again, as he already shows signs of food allergies or sensitivities; I worry that I will not be able to stand being "replaceable" after being such a key part of his (and his sisters) subsistence for so long. Yet I peer "through a glass, darkly" (II Corin. 3) at the prospect of what God might have laid out before me and keep stepping forward, praying "always, with all...supplication" (Eph. 6:18) that this cloud of sorrow I am passing through will lift in the days to come.
I'm trading my sickness,
I'm trading my pain,
I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Amen
I'm pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, not abandoned,
Struck down, but not destroyed,
I'm blessed beyond the curse, for his promise will endure
And his joy's gonna be my strength
Though the sorrow may last for the night,
His joy comes with the morning
~ Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart
What unbounded joy to discover that, in all things, in all ways, in all states of emotion, you are held by Him. I have discovered this in layers throughout my life, and I always reach a new layer of realization when I am tested and tried. When my body is broken and my mind realizes that I am no longer able to cope without help, there are those everlasting arms, under me, over me, comforting me and lifting me up. "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Deut. 33:27) I serve an eternal, awesome, righteous, fierce, loving, tender, just God. Why do I forget this in the bustle of everyday life? I praise God for slowing me down through this season to realize anew the depth and breadth of His love and care for me. How can I doubt Him, Who gave Himself for me??
Last night was a night filled with grief and a constant yearning that this trial might be lifted (irrational, I know, but that is how I get at 3 in the morning!). Caleb is easily giving up nursing during the day, although he seems to prefer starving to drinking the goats milk! He drinks about 2 oz. at a time, with much effort on my part. At night, however, it is a different story. He literally screams and thrashes when the bottle is put in his mouth, and nuzzles my breast, begging to nurse. I think part of the problem is that he wants comfort, not food. He was up much of the night last night as I had resolved to nurse him only three times. I believe it will be easier on him in the long run if I slowly decrease the number of nursings at night, rather than suddenly cutting him off completely. I was up with him from midnight until 5:30 a.m., although Aaron did try for a while around 2 a.m. Nothing would satisfy him. As newborn babes, crave (thirst for, earnestly desire) the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby... (I Peter 2:2) It is difficult enough to trust God with my own life, to willingly hand myself over, without proviso. Handing over my children is that "new level" of trust; it brings out the "mama bear" in me, and it is a lesson in self-control and a test of my will to ask me to do this. What possible good can come from weaning Caleb - for Caleb? For five years, as a nursing mother, I have been asked to lay myself down continually and put my children's needs first. I said goodbye to long walks alone, spending more than 2 hours alone with my husband, going anywhere or doing anything without these little bodies attached to me. I learned the lesson, and it is part of who I am now. And now God asks me to hand it back! It reminds me so much of the child-training I do every day - ask the child to do something (sometimes innane) to test where their will is at, then say, "O.K.! Good job! Now we're done with that and we're going to move on to this!" But what about little Caleb? I can give nursing back. I will mourn it, without a doubt. But I am willing. But what about my dear son, God - please tell me you've thought about him, too!
I must quiet my heart. Yes, He loves me. He gave Himself for me. He gave Himself for Caleb. He has our best in mind. Whatever ill in this world wounds me unspeakably, He will heal for eternity in heaven. And I fall on the everlasting arms again, exhausted today from the struggles of the night. But at peace; safe; comforted.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. ~ Galatians 2:20
But Thou art making me, I rail against Thee, sire.
What Thou hast done and doest Thou knows't well,
although I mightedst not admit it.
Alas, I hinder Thee; flailing in Thy fire
I will run burning; from Thy potter's wheel
I fly in pieces, and my brain doth reel.
Tho Thy grace shall be enough the grief to quell,
I forget it and grieve still
Proving Thy strength perfect through weakness dire.
~ Genevieve Thul, Diary of a Young Soul, September 25
What Thou hast done and doest Thou knows't well.
And I will help Thee; gently in Thy fire
I will lie burning; on Thy potter's wheel
I will whirl patient, though my brain should reel.
Thy grace shall be enough the grief to quell,
And growing strength perfect through weakness dire.
~ George MacDonald, Diary Of an Old Soul, October 2
I haven't lay burning or whirled patiently this morning! It is one of those days when I run around putting out fire after fire. If someone were to draw a caricature of me today, it would be a mother bent at the waist, picking things up behind a laughing toddler busy strewing things every which way! I finally gave up and sent the older three outdoors to get dirty (and happy) while I clean up the morning messes indoors. Now I am sitting holding one baby (Susan) while another baby squeals to be held. I managed to read a short devotional that is e-mailed me each day from Elisabeth Elliot's publications. This paragraph from George MacDonald inspired me to quiet my soul in prayer and beg for assistance as I love and care for these dear children today.
Why is it that the pain of the impending separation sometimes makes me hold my children closer, cherishing them more, and at other times makes me want to push them away? I don't understand that about my nature. It is as if the pain drives me to that which I am grieving! I withdraw from them emotionally, or get irritated by their little failings or innocent mischief, when it is the loss of emotional connection and being surrounded by their precious little hands and feet that I am so lamenting. What is it about us humans that compels us to that which is exactly opposite of what we desire and strive for?? I wish I could cut this part out with some magic spiritual knife - toss the "old sin nature" far from me and walk forward on the path I have intended without swerving. I pray that is the work that is being done in my nature through this trial. That I may develop that steadfastness of purpose and unhindered dependence on Him for mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering (Colossians 3:12).
1. Bring glory to God each and every day I'm alive.
2. Bring up four kids who want to serve Jesus.
3. Help and honor my husband every day we're alive together.
4. Write a book about suffering.
5. Write the biography of the children I cared for while they died.
7. Teach all four of my kids to read (and love books).
8. Meet my grandchildren.
9. Mash wine grapes between my toes.
11. Hear a song I wrote played on the radio.
12. Leave an inheritance for my children.
13. Leave a legacy for my children's children.
14. Go hunting with my husband in Africa.
15. Adopt a baby (or maybe several).
17. Teach all four of my children to play the piano and sing harmony.
18. Write a textbook.
19. Publish an article on the ethical dilemma of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.
37. Throw a pot. With my mom.
40. Own a yellow car.
51. Shake hands with a President.
56. Sarah McLachlan.
57. Norah Jones.
58. Eric Clapton.
62. Sara Groves.
71. Swim with dolphins.
73. Go to Disneyworld/land.
76. Own a horse. And get really, really comfortable riding it.
81. Get a concealed carry permit.
89. Sleep in a castle.
90. See at least part of all 6 inhabited continents: Asia
96. and maybe Greenland and/or Iceland (why they don't count, I don't know!)
What a wonderful analogy this is. My children don't know my character very well yet (thank goodness!), yet they love me, a simple return of the love I invest in them from the day they are born. What beauty there is in the simplicity of this relationship, before they understand what love even is. Later will come much difficulty, I suspect, as they learn the complexities of life and free will. Now I bask in that pure, uncomplicated adoration they bestow on me. I wonder if God in heaven thinks the same of the love of newborn saints, so enthralled with His grace and humbled by His free gift of salvation? And what does He think of more developed love from saints who have been walking along with Him for many years? Is it richer, or just different? The quality of my love and appreciation for Him has certainly changed since I was saved as a child. Now there is a tinge of heartache as I realize the depth of my sins, so black against the snowy backdrop of His holiness; the rich timbre of my worship, a response to the multitudinous graces He has extended me over time; sorrows over lost time that should have been spent serving Him; prayerful "abiding" as I go about my days work.
~ Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
I have basked in the delightful truths and nuances in this book, lent me quite unexpectedly by an acquaintance at church. I began it dolefully, and finished it wishing it were twice as long. It is such an encouragement that life as I know it has been being meted out by Christian women for centuries; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). I will be quoting it frequently in the next few days, as I organize the thoughts that have been spurred on by this long-dead author.
I learned more about my situation and options on Friday at my endocrinology appointment. The treatment protocol at Mayo is experimental, and involves the use of the MISCA scoring system to "grade" thyroid cancer, followed by mostly surgical management of recurrences in the lymph nodes. The particular protocols are written for either papillary or follicular carcinoma; my tumor is a hybrid of the two, and, although I was included in the papillary group, my tumor can mimic either type. Follicular carcinomas spread microscopically via the blood stream, and therefore full body monitoring is a must to catch metastasis early on. The treatment protocol at Mayo does not include anything but local screening for metastasis through the lymph nodes in the neck region. We have unequivocally decided to continue treatment locally at Luther, where the old "gold standard" method will be employed: radioactive iodine ablation followed by frequent whole body scans and neck ultrasounds.
One small boon amongst the thorns of this treatment decision: I must be off my replacement hormone for six long weeks, meaning I don't have to wean Caleb until October 23! A whole blessed month to nurse him. I am relieved, for both of us. This will mean much less emotional pain for him, better nutrition for longer, and less physical and emotional pain for me as I can ease into this bitter transition. I am so thankful. My ablation is scheduled to commence November 3, with a trace dose of radioactivity, and end November 6, with the large dose.
The tears are less over the past few days. I have been distracted by church camp and family festivities. I try to soak these joys up like a sponge, yet I don't want it to distract too much from the suffering I am undertaking for Christ's glory. I am willing to suffer, and I want this trial to work in my life to its maximum potential. I want to become a better listener, and a better speaker, entering into a more thorough discourse with God over every minute decision and feeling and consequence of my days. I want to understand this life - and forthcoming death - to a much deeper extent by the time I am done with this trial. I don't want to just soak up the distractions of this world to the exclusion of the purposeful pain that has been put in my days for this season. I want to walk that fine line of learning yet not dwelling, understanding yet not being anxious, studying yet not abandoning my duty for the vain pursuit of knowledge. I want true wisdom, that "sweet spot" that puts feet to knowledge and action to mere words.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Proverbs 31:26-27)
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
~ George Will, Are You Better Off? That Depends
Life demands explanation, contemplation, assessment. It is in crises like the one I am experiencing that you suddenly find your life reduced to it's elements, and you ask yourself questions above how to derive meaning, what meaning is, and how to measure it. It is a blessing in disguise, I think - this reshuffling and almost automatic recalibration of my internal priority mechanisms. Caleb lets out one whimper, and my schoolwork is set aside for the pleasure of basking in his chubby baby-ness. Rosy and Amy start to fight, and I drop lunch preparations for a quick oiling and re-tuning of the sibling interactions. Aaron hovers near me for a mere moment, and the housework that once seemed so compelling and necessary fades quickly into the background category of "things to be done when there is extra time".
I think about statistics alot these days - primarily because over half of my graduate credits are statistics-related this semester. I am constantly reminded that they are but a tool to describe truth. Truth exists independent of the statistics that describe it. Statistics may be manipulated, carressed; truth is solid and unshakeable. The probabilities of my cancer recurring or of the iodine treatment being effective are ultimately inconsequential because God knows my comings and goings, my heart, my longings, my dreams and hopes, and my eventual end. Statistics are but a feeble human means to capture the essence of my truth. Intuition cannot be expressed in statistics; nor can trust. I have both, gifts from an intuitive and faithful Savior when He created me. I have been reminded of this time and again as a nurse - an artist in understanding and helping humanity through the physical (and consequently, emotional and psychological) challenges of mortal living. I am asked over and over if nursing is a science, and what statistical methods and designs are best suited to study it. While I value science as a means to an end, I ultimately believe in a bigger picture - and a much broader perspective on human life as an immeasurable gift of a loving God.
I went for a second opinion because the first didn't "jive" with either my scientific knowledge or my intuition. But in this adventure of seeking treatment through traditional medical means, I pray I don't lose sight of the all-powerful hand of God in swaying the end result in either direction. The best I can do as I feel led, involve my husband and his wonderful sense of discernment, and pray that God grants mercy in this current crisis - for the health of the mama and the children as we embark into new territory as a family.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking...When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. ~ Hebrews 12:25 & 27
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
~ Augustus Toplady, 1776, Rock of Ages
~ John Piper, The "All or Nothing" Impediment to Prayer
I have several "all or nothing" impediments myself. First, the one referred to above - that I pray for healing and then assume I have been given a "no" answer when healing is not accomplished in the way or the time-frame that I imagined. Second, praying itself is all or nothing for me, too often! I have written before about my desire to "pray and work" (ora et labora), but it is something that continues to be difficult for me. I often forget to pray until I am angry (I need help, Lord!), stricken with sorrow (please comfort me, Lord), or surprised by joy (thank you, Lord!). But what about all the little things in the middle of the spectrum? The cuddling and nursing my baby this morning, both of us too sleepy to think. A missed opportunity for thanks, a missed opportunity to beg my Lord for mercy as I give up the innumerable little habits and joys of a nursing mother. (I did beg Him to send me another baby someday so that I might have this joy again) Then the moments spent disciplining my children for throwing each other to the ground in anger over a particularly beautiful pink tu-tu with gold glittery stars. I prayed as I had been taught ("May I do this for your glory, Lord") just before I spoke to them, then went through the next 20 minutes of teaching them without seeking counsel, solace, or joy in the Lord. I still feel as though my prayers waffle between the regimented, habitual prayers I learned as a child, to the cries from the desert of extreme emotions.
My day of joy yesterday involved many, many tears. Those great racking sobs that cannot be controlled and are literally a physical phenomenom. Yet I persisted in giving thanks, even through the tears. Today the "one thing" I will is to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17). Please pray for me, friends. I feel as though I am literally coated in thick clay mud, my feet are planted in this spot of sorrow. I cannot shake it and I cannot lessen it today. It is just here with me, regardless of what I pray, say, do, think. It is present in all my thoughts and it is difficult not to let the tears just brim over constantly. Someone told me that sudden weaning of my last baby might feel like the death of a child. I haven't ever lost one, so I don't know. But I do know that the intensity of this grief has taken me by surprise, and I need help to navigate it. I assume this grief will be short-lived, but here I am regardless, completely beyond my own human ability to cope these past few days. I am clinging to these later words from I Thessalonians 5:
...the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (v. 23-24)
You dance over me while I am unaware
You sing all around but I never hear the sound
Lord I'm amazed by You
And how You love me
You paint the morning sky with miracles in mind
My hope will always stand
For You hold me in Your hand
How deep how wide
How great is Your love for me
~ Jared Anderson, Amazed
Yesterday was my day of mourning. Do you ever have a day when you feel like it is raining on you, no matter what the weather is like for the rest of the world? This morning I woke up to the sun streaming through the windows. The first thing I did upon waking was give my son a bottle of homemade goat's milk formula. It felt as thought God were smiling down on me, reassuring me of the satiating, brimming over love He has for me and all my children. He has provided so graciously for us, giving me a son who's more interested in life than breastfeeding, new flavors than old, new experiences rather than familiar ones. I am drinking my morning coffee out of a cup with two beautiful pears painted on it, and the motto, "Give thanks".
That is what I set out to do today. Elisabeth Elliot quotes Kirkegaard, stating that purity of heart is to will only one thing. My "one thing" today: "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God!" (I Thessalonians 5:18)
I lay awake in bed last night, peering into the corner of our bedroom, where the crib sits. I have done just that many times in these years of young motherhood. Straining to see the outline of the sleeping form of my precious babe, to catch the reassurance of the steady rise and fall of their shoulders as they breath. Last night the moon was bright, and lit the room through our thin cotton curtains. The outline of the crib was a familiar pale yellow, faded almost to black and white tones in the darkness. I could make out the balloons painted by my mother when I was a baby, but not their colors. The white dresser beside stood silently and majestically like a sentry. I was struck by the truth from II Corinthians 3, that this image before me, so plaintively beautiful in the moonlight, is hauntingly similar to my short life here on this earth. How sad it would be if I never held my baby during the night, content to peer through the darkness at the familiar shadows reassuring me that he is safe and happy! Likewise, if I focus exclusively on the time God has given me here, I will surely miss the foreshadowing of His endless gift, eternity. I cherish these moments with my family as I face the next hurdle, yet keep in mind that I am running a race with a finish line and, most importantly, a prize at the end. Jesus and Heaven must remain my first hope - not these quickly fading days that will pass into dim memory so soon, like the faint specters in our room in the moonlight.
Thank You, God,
You lead me from the darkness.
Thank You, God,
You are my song.
What was glorious before
Has no glory compared to You,
What seemed hopeless before
You fill with hope.
God, You are my hero,
Lord, You are my Savior,
I rejoice in the glory and hope of You.
In Your delight and Your grace,
In this privileged place,
I stand in the peace of Your love.
Thank You, God,
You reach down from the heavens,
To touch my heart,
this heart of stone.
You remove the walls around me
and bring me out into
The wide open space,
Your amazing grace.
At least it is "pretty"! I had my appointment for a second opinion regarding the treatment (or observation) of my cancer. The several doctors consulted this time feel that my cancer is aggressive, potentially still growing as evidenced by my latest ultrasound results, and needs treatment. I will be seeing the local endocrinologist, who travels from Mayo but is not part of the specialized time I saw there, on Friday to set up my treatment dates. I will require 1-4 high-dose treatments using radioactive iodine-131, which seeks out and destroys thyroid or tumor cells using radiation. Each of these treatments will necessitate a separation from my family, as I cannot be within 3 feet of children (or anyone else for extended periods of time) for 2-4 weeks after each treatment. I will be having full body scans to detect radiation levels, and will be allowed to return home when those levels are once again safe. The radioactive isotope can be found in breastmilk for up to 150 days after each exposure, so I also must wean Caleb.
I have been nursing babies for five years. I thought this season would last a lot longer - I didn't expect to have children so close together, nor did I expect the last two to be weaned before they were 3 (the age Katy and Rosy naturally weaned themselves). It is impossible to describe the utter gut-wrenching loss I am feeling at this moment, so I won't try. Please lift me up in prayer as I struggle through this. The incremental griefs of living and losing are so tangible, gritty, stark, heavy. I cannot get a handle on my emotions enough to describe them. I have been up most of the night savoring my baby, who I will soon leave for weeks. Who I will never comfort at my breast again. It is the end of such a precious, unspeakably precious time. Today I will go out to buy herbs to dry up my milk - clary sage, parsley and hibiscus, which sounds so lovely, reminiscent of the Simon & Garfunkel song - to buy bottles, sterilizers, fake nipples, powdered goat's milk, vitamin drops. And struggle to learn how to make something mundane back into the magic that I have shared with my babies while feeding them naturally. Write notes on the bottles to remind me to feed "on both sides" for eye development...warm milk to mimic my own...add maple syrup we made over the campfire this spring with Caleb just newborn...sing songs...praise God in spite of...pray for healing.
My heart aches.
My heart and flesh cry out to you the living God
Your spirit’s water to my soul
I’ve tasted and I’ve seen
Come once again to my
I will draw near to you
I will draw near to you
(Matt Redman, Better is One Day)
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me...
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace--
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon.... "
~ Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet
What a powerful witness it is when we can achieve this spirit of forgiveness to which Paul called us centuries ago (II Corin 2). Being in the maelstrom of a health crisis inevitably makes one more vulnerable, and the little slights or disappointments brought us at the hands of friends and acquaintances grate just a bit more than usual. Although I strive for inhuman (Godly) courage and strength, I also find myself giving way to fear, and that very human desire to be given extra grace, space, or help in time of need. When it doesn't come, it is easy to slide into anger, bitterness, or disappointment. The temptation that I face now that I don't usually deal with is pulling away, withdrawing completely from the source of any small injury. I think it is a self-protective instinct, born of that "old man" inside me, whereas Christ would tell me to sacrifice self, regardless of the pain.
I like the prayer from St. Francis that Elisabeth Elliot quoted above. How great the measure of forgiveness I have been dealt by my Savior!
How deep the Father's love for us!
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should send His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure.
I was putting patches on some hand-me-down jeans for Katrina yesterday. You know me, I was busy with a mundane task with these deep undercurrents of thought running through my brain. I was considering those jeans, well-loved by some other little girl, now to be repaired, patched up and tailored for my little girl to love. You could tell which jeans were hardly worn (knees in near-new condition), which were worn quite a bit (a hole in one knee), and those that were favorites (knees obliterated and needing extensive patching - or suitable only as "cut offs"). My body is kind of like that. I started out glowing, pink, healthy, beautiful, with not a mark on me. Now I have a patch here and there where I've worn through or needed some tailoring. In a spiritual sense, this is a sign of how well-loved I am. My Father in heaven is taking time to tailor me, snip a little here, add some new fabric there, as a sign of His investment in me, His care for me. It takes a little extra work, but my tests and trials, pain and suffering are not a punishment - they are a blessing that is lending new richness and character to myself and everyone who knows me. Some people might say those old, holey jeans were worthless and should have been thrown out. My daughter, who likes everything better old, just like her Mama, thinks otherwise: these are comfortable and they have character because of the funny little patches on them. I praise God that I am still worth the extra work in His gracious eyes.
He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.' " Luke 5:36-39
While all this was going on, I was reading the blog of a woman from Minnesota who has cancer. She was featured on KARE 11 when I was waiting for my consult at Mayo, after the biopsy revealed possible cancer but we still didn't have a definitive diagnosis. I avoided cancer blogs like the plague at that stage, as I struggle with the tendency to worry anyway, and didn't need any encouragement toward anxiety at that juncture! However, after seeing Amy's story on the news (which I almost never watch - thus, I felt it was a little 'nudge' from God), I visited her website back in the end of May. I feel oddly connected to this woman, because she has a similar approach to life and because she seemed like a potential harbinger of struggles still on my horizon. Her journey began with the discovery of a small lump in her breast while pregnant with her second child, and she is now facing terminal bone metastasis. Her latest scans have shown far-reaching spread of her cancer to many of the bones in her body. I feel a deep hollowness in the pit of my stomach after reading this, and I am thankful for the perspective God is lending me through four joyful children, pulling me back into the blessings of the present. Please pray for Amy & Warren as they face this next bump in their very rocky road.
And here is a link to the story I watched on KARE11:
~ Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet
I have totally been at the Throne begging for "instant escape". I vacillate between begging for endurance and begging for deliverance. I need to become more consistent in asking "Thy will be done" (Mt. 6:10). I need to ask for strength and courage and stamina, not relief or liberation from the test.
I could wallow, singing the songs of the world...
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind
(Kansas, Dust in the Wind)
Instead, I sing with the saints of old...
Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home
When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me
I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me (He watches me)
~ His Eye is on the Sparrow
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:1-3
God does amazing things - even in the "prospective". I have trusted in Him, and I praise Him, yet He leaves things undone. I am not healed, I am not cancer-free. Even the "best doctors" say my cancer is still active - there is something still growing in my chest, my throat. Threatening to choke me out. My friends are not sorrow-free. Regardless of my own health (or lack thereof), I know those who suffer regardless of God's proclamations of worthiness and healing. Yet His hand is in my life - visibly, inexorably, undeniably. I suffer, yet I am at peace. There is pain, yet hope. There is beauty and ugliness. There is sickness and health. Coexistence. I am more - and less - than the sum of my parts. More in that my life is not the only thing that matters - more in that eternity matters more than this 100 or so years. Less in that God rules all - God dictates what matters, what the outcomes are, how life confuses and frustrates the purposes of man.
I am no less than the apple, and no more.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to the newness of loving
in practical ways:
and sorting out clothes,
all say, “I love you,”
when lovingly done.
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to the length of his stride,
the song he is singing,
the trail he must ride,
the tensions that make him
the man that he is,
the world he must face,
the life that is his.
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to being the heart,
not the forefront of life;
a part of himself,
not the object—
~ Ruth Bell Graham, from Collected Poems: Footprints of a Pilgrim
I decided, years ago, to avoid crying around my husband too frequently. He works with women, and scared and sometimes dying patients and their families, so you could say his job is a "vale of tears" at times. Thus, I try to do my crying "privately". I love these words on the subject by Ruth Graham. This has been a season of much crying, but, oddly, not much shared crying. Aaron and I celebrated our anniversary tonight and it was the first time we dealt with my cancer together, united both in sorrow and in hope. He said it out loud for the first time, "My wife might have metastatic cancer." He wrote in the card about loneliness, and fear of losing me. How difficult to read...yet how much I needed to read it. To know that it is soaking in. That we are facing this together, in reality together. To know that I am important. To hear that I am loved.
I am reminded of that passage that was the backbone of our wedding, and is traced in Greek around our wedding bands: αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ σπαρτίον, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4:12)
But we all live with the scars we choose
They might hurt like hell, but they all make us stronger
~ Sugarland, Take Me As I Am
Lord knows how we survived.
The first one was hard and the last one wasn't planned
What a big surprise
That's him with his daddy's eyes
But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn't last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be
The very last country song.
~ Sugarland, Very Last Country Song
I was singing along to this new Sugarland CD on the way home from St. Cloud last night. I bought the CD for Aaron for our 6th anniversary, because track 6 is called Genevieve, and speaks of a passionate love lost. Fitting for what we are facing right now. In Very Last Country Song, country music is a euphemism for life: without pain, there is no joy; without suffering, what lends beauty to our days? Sometimes I wish I could hold on to a moment forever - snuggling Caleb and breathing in the baby smells from the crook of his neck; watching Rosy walk down the aisle as a flowergirl - in just a few years, she will be the bride! Katy's silly little songs all day long, and the tender way she cares for Amelia and Caleb; Amy's stutter and deep need for "Mom". These moments are so fleeting, and will soon be gone. But to name them as my treasure, put my stock in those moments of passing beauty in the here and now, is to deny that a greater treasure lies ahead and sell heaven short for a fading glory here on earth.
For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! ~ II Corinthians 3:10-11
Without saying a word you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing
The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There’s a truth in your eyes sayin’ you’ll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all
~ Don Schlitz & Paul Overstreet, When You Say Nothing At All
- Leisurely walks through the farmer's market
- Snowboarding in the morning after night shift until our legs turned to jelly
- Homemade carbernet, roasted beets & steak off the gas grill in the backyard
- Traveling by plane
- Sleeping in - just two people in the bed!
- Working together on housecleaning once a week
- Cooking together in our tiny kitchen
- Working hard and playing hard
- Taking the dogs down to Minnehaha Creek for a swim
- Biking to work together through Minneapolis traffic
- Winter camping
- Celebrating the rare trip to the farmer's market - four kids in tow - and enjoying the veggies we buy for weeks at a time
- Snowboarding is a great mini-vacation in our own region...every other year!
- Sharing cab, roasted beets and steak with our kids ("You must eat four bites of everything!")
- Traveling by car, seeing the sites on the way
- "Sleeping in" - until 8 a.m.! Still feels great. Even though there are 6 people in the bed by the time we wake up!
- Working together on housecleaning every morning and every night
- Cooking together in our big kitchen, feeding bites of raw veggies to Amy to keep her quiet until supper is done.
- Working hard...and going straight to bed together - skip the playing!
- Taking the dogs into the backyard for a run or down to the slough for a swim
- Biking together - towing four kids! It's a much better work-out...
- Car camping - seriously, we filled the minivan AND the boat last time we went - and we still forgot some things!
After six years, I still look at my husband and wonder how I got so lucky. I can't imagine living life any other way. Time is flying by. At his cousin's wedding last night, they had their first dance to the Alison Krauss song I sang to Aaron at our wedding exactly 6 years earlier. I looked at my husband, cuddled up to two of our kids, and thought how much life has changed in such a short time. I thought forward to watching our kids dance at their weddings. The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8) Life is bittersweet, isn't it?
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. ~ I Peter 5:6-8
~ Psalm 22
Today was my follow-up appointment at Mayo. I had a neck ultrasound, which initially looked grave - several enlarged lymph nodes (one 3 cm), one with very strange appearance, and another nodule (though small) in the area my thyroid used to occupy. The appointment with the endocrine oncologist revealed that the final radiology report was mixed: no mention of the enlarged lymph nodes, the nodule is probably "insignificant clinically", and the strange lymph node is too small to worry about right now. Based on the score they use to calculate risk and odds, the team feels it is appropriate to treat my cancer conservatively - no further treatment at the moment, follow-up in 3 and 6 months, and frequent ultrasounds for at least 5 years.
The difficulties are these: the information was contradictory, very similar to the information we received just before the decision was made to go to surgery (when one pathologist thought cancer and the other - from Mayo - thought benign). In addition, Mayo is the only facility in the U.S. that does not treat all cases of papillary carcinoma - follicular variant with radioactive iodine. The team is asking me to accept their superior expertise and override all the other information I can gather about this scenario. What to do?
I am back at the "dirty dishrag" stage right now - I think there might even be a layer of some slimy orange scum on me this evening (sorry attempt at humor here!). I am wrung out and wasted, completely poured out to the spiritual, emotional and physical exercise of accepting and comprehending the depth and breadth of this trial.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. ~ I Corinthians 15:25-26
Death is an enemy - one I should fight. If what is presented to me doesn't ring true with my past and present experiences, knowledge and intuition, I need to fight to find an answer that does resonate. If I am not at peace, I need to press on until I find that "peace that passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. ~ Psalm 27:13-14
Death and life are in God's hand, whatever my decision in this. He has laid out a path for me, and He may be asking me to "abide in Him" (John 15:5) through this difficult period of waiting for a clear answer.
The tears ran down my face this afternoon as I recalled the words to this powerful old hymn, and sang it to my children:
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,
Filled with messages from Thee.
Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne,
It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
~ Frances R. Havergal, 1874, Take My Life and Let It Be