Everyone’s Worst Fear

“Wow. Cancer. That’s scary. That’s everyone’s worst fear.”

Thanks for saying that. To my face. When you know I have cancer. The guy who said it has a huge heart and didn’t mean to offend. And it really didn’t offend–but it did get me thinking. It seems that everything gets me thinking these days.

Many people can’t even say the word “cancer” when it pertains to someone they love. I’ve had people refer to my “health issues,” my “big trial,” and me “being sick.” Nobody wants to say “Hey, I’m sorry to hear you have cancer!” Fear causes us to dodge and hide, rather than looking the thing in the eye.

Cancer used to be one of my worst fears. It’s one of those things that happens to other people. It shows up in statistics and charts and warning labels, but when it’s applied directly to me, it’s a different thing altogether.

My biggest fear in life is not cancer. It is that my children and grandchildren will not choose Christ. I want for them all that the Christian life holds and promises. I want them to spend eternity in Heaven. I want them to be part of the blessing of living out a testimony for Him and helping usher others into His presence and grace.

My second greatest fear is that my children and grandchildren will experience abusive relationships–worst of all in childhood. Tragically, this fear has been realized in several cases and I have done my best to stand with them and provide what comfort and healing I can. My biggest weapon is prayer, and I can see God working beauty even in the ashes.

After those two, there are things that compete for third place, and cancer is definitely one of them. This, too, has now been realized and become very personal. I’m walking a road that has always been hypothetical and distant. I have become a statistic and will have my place on a chart.

Isn’t it wonderful that cancer doesn’t define me? It’s not who I am, it’s just something I’m dealing with. Fear also doesn’t have to define me. I can see dangers, be aware of pitfalls, and approach them with confidence, knowing that the One who created the universe carries me.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9”

Wherever you go. Wherever I go. The Lord my God is with me–even as I face this fear. Even as I go to see the oncologist. Even as I look ahead to surgery and the loss it will produce. Even as I look ahead to the uncertainties and intimidation of chemotherapy. Even as I watch my family struggle with the fact that their mom has cancer and could leave them. The Lord MY God is with me.

And did you catch the first part of the verse? “Have I not commanded you?” I am commanded to be strong and courageous. I am commanded not to be frightened. I am commanded not to be dismayed (distressed by something unexpected). If I am commanded, that means obedience is expected.

It follows, then, that not to obey is disobedience. This helps me. I am, by nature, a rule follower and a lover of justice. I believe the Bible to be inerrant. I believe God’s promises to be trustworthy. Because of these beliefs, I can stand on this verse (and so many others like it!) that show me that my best and safest path is to trust Him–to choose courage and strength to face this fear head on.

As I sit here contemplating my situation, I see that the fear is always bigger than the thing. When I feared cancer, It was a big and horrific thing. Now that I am living that fear, I can see the path through it. I don’t know how it will all go or how it will end (and fear lurks in that), but I do know that I am not alone, and I know I will have strength to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

Friends in Low Places

It’s been a rough weekend. My “normal” lately has been constant mental and physical fatigue, but the last two days have brought things that have just been more than I can handle.

Small things have become big things, and big things have become bigger, thanks to my reduced tolerance for stuff that rocks my boat. Last night I apologized to my husband for my over-sensitivity, even while begging him to be so careful, so kind, so gentle. It’s not fair that he has to tiptoe, but none of this journey is about fairness, and I’m learning I have to guard myself in every way possible in order to survive.

It may appear to some that it shouldn’t be this hard yet, since I haven’t even started treatment. Some have responded to me as though they don’t really believe I’m fatigued and only functioning in low gear. It takes a lot of energy to fight cancer, and I’m told mine is the most aggressive of its type. I am my harshest critic, and I struggle to allow myself to rest. I tend to listen to the voices around me (real or imagined) and think that I should be able to buck up and do all that I am used to doing.

Then, I look at our last year. Two close family deaths. Two of our three sources of income quite literally taken from our hands, through no fault of our own. My major surgery in June. It’s been a rough haul. It’s no wonder that when I heard the cancer diagnosis, my body, mind, and soul all said “Nope. Can’t do one more thing.” and shut down.

Generally speaking, I’m doing okay with the cancer diagnosis itself. I truly am surrendered to whatever path God leads me down, confident that He has great things in store at the end of it–for me and for others. I am preparing myself for a rough winter, and most days I find joy and contentment in my life.

Every so often, though, everything comes rushing in and something reaches the core of my being and all of that comes crashing down. It’s like the old Garth Brooks song. I find myself with friends in low places. Grief, despair, fear, bitterness, anger all rush to make me comfortable there and beg me to stay.

And then, after I wallow a bit in my own muck, I am reminded that I have the greatest Friend of all–even in the low places, and He calls me up and out and back to LIFE.

Isaiah 40:29-31 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

It’s a new day, and it’s going to be a good one.

Parenting

When our kids were little, I used to get so tired. I was tired of cutting food, washing faces, wiping backsides. I longed for the day when they were older–teenagers, maybe–and they could take care of themselves.

And then that happened. They grew old enough to be responsible for their own showering, tooth brushing, and yes, backside hygiene.

The interesting thing is that my job didn’t get easier. It got harder. Sure, I could go to the grocery store without all six children in tow. I could send them to bed instead of putting them to bed. But their hearts—their hearts became oh, so much more complex. And then we added our two bonus girls, and things became even more interesting.

In childhood, children accept things as simple truths. We go to church. We love Jesus. We do or don’t do certain things, because Mom and Dad said. We work hard. We contribute. That’s just how it works.

Then, they become teens. They start to question. I remember the day my eldest at the time, about 14 years old, said to me “But what if I don’t really believe in God and all that stuff?” Y’all. The panic that struck my mother heart. I nearly wet my pants.

Somehow, God overrode my humanity and I answered “Well, that is entirely your choice. You will have to decide if being a Christian is worthwhile or if you’re going to go your own way.” At that time, she wasn’t looking to change her beliefs. She simply needed to know that the choice was hers. She needed to make her faith her own, rather than riding on the coattails of her parents’ beliefs.

Larry and I have always said “We aren’t raising children, we are raising adults.” Our goal has been to shepherd them in such a way that when they come of age physically, they will be prepared to function as adults mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

The hard thing about that theory is that letting go starts early. It starts with things like allowing a kid make a terrible purchase with too much money, knowing they will soon regret it. It’s about giving them choices, knowing they are not mature enough to make those choices wisely, but also knowing that they will gain wisdom in the process.

I used to think that parenting meant giving it my all until my children were 18 and on their own, at which point I could settle into an easier pace and “retire,” as it were, simply enjoying the fruits of my labor and, eventually, grandchildren.

Instead, I find that having teen and adult children is far more challenging. Problems aren’t solved with a kiss and a hug and a glass of water. Tears aren’t stopped simply by pulling a child into my lap and reassuring him or her. The work now is more rigorous than ever. It’s more challenging than ever. More nerve-wracking than ever.

This time of life is different than I ever imagined. But you know what? It’s also so much more rewarding. My kids are so incredibly amazing. I love watching them grow and develop as people. I hate watching them struggle, and I feel every heartache, but the growth that comes as a result is amazing. God has done some pretty cool stuff.

We have 5 adult children thus far, and I am enjoying their friendship. I am privileged to walk beside them on their journeys in life. I love that they are willing to let me be a part of their stories, and not just a spectator. And yes, I’m loving the grandchildren–7 so far! I get to walk a little more closely with the 3 kids still under my wing, and I beg time to slow down.

It is my privilege, as I see the mountain I’ll soon be climbing, to look around me and see that I have traveling companions. My children will feel my pain, and this time, they will be the caregivers.

I am humbled and blessed beyond measure.

Perspective

There are things in life that you never thought you’d say. . . out loud, at least. Like when I was on the phone with my sister-in-law and she yelled “Stop running the beaters on my curtains!” Or when I said these:

“No, you can’t be Matilda the Hun for the AWANA costume party. He’s not a Bible character. And it’s ‘Attila.'”

“If your duck is going to run around the house, she needs a diaper.”

“Son, if you keep forcing gas, you’ll have to change your pants.”

“Don’t skate on the brown ice in the pasture!”

This sort of thing is what came to my mind yesterday when I got this text from Stacey, my cancer buddy and “breast friend” (for that story, read the post Meet Stacey): “Just got the call. They approved me for a double!”

Whooping. Rejoicing. Because they are going to cut both of my friend’s breasts off.

You see, it’s all in your perspective. We’ve been praying for Stacey’s insurance to approve a double mastectomy, since that’s her best option. It’s a serious situation she’s in, and this major loss is counted as a blessing. She can see it that way because she knows the alternatives, and they aren’t good.

But it’s more than that. She can see this as a blessing because she has the support of family and friends. She has good medical care and a bright prognosis. More than that, she has trust in the One who brought this blessing to pass, who heard our prayers. He will see her through. He will see me through. And He’s given us the added blessing of walking together.

And hey, if we get the chance to trade in our nearly 50-year-old racks for new and improved models, what’s not to love?

The Journey

September 6, 2019, the world stopped turning. Plans we had made, dreams we were chasing, and day-to-day operations all came to a screeching halt. A cancer diagnosis changes everything.

After the “adrenaline week,” I crashed. I could hardly function and could barely stay upright. The emotions and thoughts of the previous week had completely wiped me out.

Since then, I’ve been introspective. Processing. What you are reading now is part of my process. . . I think and pray, and then I write. I’m sometimes surprised at what comes out. Very often, I’m more aware of my own feelings and thoughts after I have put them on the page. I’ve journaled for years, but somehow, this is different.

I know that my God does all things well. I know that nothing goes to waste, and that He brings good out of everything, no matter how terrible. Sometimes, that’s not easy to see. Sometimes, all we can see is the darkness. It’s hard to see past our pain, and harder still to see past the pain of those we love.

Some people don’t want to see past their pain. Instead, they nestle into it and make it their safe space–afraid that if they let go of the pain it means letting go of that person or thing they lost. Sometimes, I think pain becomes comfortable and we don’t move on because we fear that finding happiness and freedom means making a new start, finding a new normal, and what if we fail? What if the new thing is harder than the pain that we know?

This morning, I’ve been reading in Philippians. The Apostle Paul was a man who knew pain. He knew pain in ways I never will, and had an amazing outlook on it. I’m sure he struggled just like every other human, but He always saw that God was still in control, and that there was purpose in whatever hardship he was facing.

Philippians 1:12-14 caught my eye. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear that throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

My first thought as I applied this to my situation was I can’t compare myself to the Apostle Paul! Why not? He was just a man. He did incredible things for the Lord and advanced the gospel, but he did it by being teachable and usable. It was the power of God flowing through him that made the difference.

That same power flows through me, if I let it. If I remain surrendered and willing, if I trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness, this thing that has stopped my personal world can change the world around me.

And so, this is my prayer: that these “chains” that hold me would show those around me that God is worthy of praise. That He can be trusted with every fiber of my being. That a life without Him is empty and meaningless. The day-to-day road I walk can be rocky and difficult, especially the mountain that is directly before me. But my Travel Companion is gracious and kind, loving and perfect. There is so much joy in the journey, and if even one person gains courage through me, it is a journey worth taking.

Blender

I’ve loved the same man for twenty-five years. We “met” in the nursery at the Sandstone Evangelical Free Church. Since he is two years older and went to a different school, we didn’t really interact much growing up. When I was 23, Larry and I met up at a party. We started seeing each other, and were married a year and a half later.

My husband is an honest, hard-working, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of man. He doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and you can count on him to help any time he can.

Even though Larry is all these wonderful things, I tend to get picky. In my selfishness, I overlook some of these solid qualities and get resentful that he isn’t this or that. For example, I am a person who thrives on encouragement and physical affection. I want him to come in from work, sweep me into his arms and proclaim that he’s missed me and been thinking of me all day. Y’all. He’s a dude. That alone should tell me that there’s a high probability that he’s not thinking on that wavelength in the middle of a busy day. More likely, he’s trying to grab a quick bite so that he can get back to whatever it was he was doing on the farm.

We have had conversations for years about love languages and speaking my language and things like that. In those conversations, I’m sure I’ve been more concerned about him learning to speak my language than about me learning to hear his.

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I have seen him pay attention more obviously than ever before. He has been willing to go to appointments (he HATES leaving home, going to cities, and being in medical facilities of any sort) and yet, he’s there every time I need him. He has made sure not to worry me about the added financial burden my cancer brings, though I can see it weighs on him. He sees that I get rest and that I don’t feel like an inconvenience. But maybe the biggest indicator of his concern is the blender.

In our first oncology meeting, the nurse walked us through the chemo process and what to expect. She mentioned that eating would likely be an issue and, in passing, said that maybe protein shakes would be a good idea. We spent 3 hours in that appointment learning more than we ever wanted to know. It pretty much fried our brains, so we went to lunch at a place of my choosing. Just the fact that he was willing to try a Japanese restaurant was amazing in itself, and a sacrifice. Larry is a buffet man, through and through.

Walmart came next, to grab a few things before heading home. Larry headed for the kitchenware section and straight to the blenders. Odd. He started comparing smoothie blenders and when I asked him why, he said “Well, that nurse said protein shakes would be a good idea, so I figured we better get a blender. Which one do you think would be best?”

Now, my husband is not one to spend money on such things. The fact that he spent $90 on a blender that I might need screamed loudly to me of his love and devotion. I saw then that he wanted to help–wanted to fix anything he could–even at personal cost. It humbled me. Like so many other aspects of this journey, it reminded me that things are not always what they seem or what I expect.

I am now the owner of an awesome Ninja blender with several different settings and some technology that is probably smarter than I am. I use it frequently and enjoy it. My favorite function, though, is that it shows me loudly and clearly that I am cherished by the one that I love most.

Priorities

Today, I’m thankful. I’m here, I’m breathing, I’m not in pain. I’m sitting outside the barn at a barrel race, waiting for my daughter to run.

I haven’t been to many races this year. I’ve been working, leading 4h, keeping house, and a host of other things that have kept me too busy to enjoy the small things, which are really sometimes the big things.

I’m looking ahead to the next 6 months of my life, praying for the best, preparing for the worst, and realizing that my window for “normal” life is pretty small.

In three weeks, I’ll have surgery, closely followed by 4.5 months of chemotherapy. I’m at peace with all of that; it just makes me more conscious of moments and days, rather than months and years.

*

Tonight, I’m tired. But I’m so blessed and happy and even more grateful. I just fed 13 kids from age 12 to 22. Hospitality is my very heart, and when my house is full, my heart is full. The meal wasn’t gourmet–not even close. It was mac and cheese with hot dogs and chips. But it was FUN, and relationships were formed and built upon. This is life. This is important.

So tonight, when I lay my head down, I’ll be exhausted. I overspent my energy and may regret it tomorrow. But I’m content–and so grateful for this day.