“Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness… This is the kind of faith that can be developed and displayed only in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.”
(~Nancy Guthrie, “Holding on to Hope)
It has been 23 years since the first time I heard the word cancer spoken about me. Five times in 23 years, and I will never get accustomed to hearing that word spoken about me.
This week marks six years since my breast cancer progressed to stage IV. Since my breath stopped when I heard, “There is no cure.” I am one of the 18% who have lived more than five years. In four more years, I pray I am one of the 10%. Four more years… that is, God willing, Ash finishing at CNU and Bear and Bella graduating and us becoming empty nesters. We refinanced our house last week, and there were moments as we talked about how quickly it could be paid off, I found myself thinking, “How are we planning that far ahead?” How do we plan when there. is. no. cure?
But how do we NOT plan? We don’t stop living. We can’t. We won’t.
There are days when my mortality is smacking me in the face and I can only weep, and there are days where I stand confident in the truth that He has numbered my days. There are days when I cannot catch my breath and wheeze after I climb stairs and there are days where I take mile walks with my pup and my girl. There are nights where I writhe in pain and nights where I sleep soundly for six hours. There are moments where I cannot open my Bible because I am too weary to wrestle again and times where I can’t stop devouring every word. This journey of faith is not an easy one.
I have not been well lately.
I am struggling through some medication changes and side effects and increased bone pain from treatment and depression from my treatment and weaning off the old medications to try the new ones. It has been a debilitating few months, and having my family home sheltering in place to protect me in love during this pandemic has only opened their eyes to how weak Mom is… and opened my eyes to how I tend to place my value on my own productivity. And I struggle with my perceived not-enough-ness.
Before COVID-19 my family would leave and head off to work or to school, and I would do small chores and rest so I would be strong in the evenings and able to go to all the things with them and live life with them. Now they are home and they see just how much time I spend resting, and they are understanding more just how bad this is. How Mom has strength for so little.
Oh, but y’all… here is what is true.
My strength may be small, but I will always have the strength to love them deeply.
Bella and I wake earlier than the boys and we make coffee and chat about the day as we empty the dishwasher together. We curl up under warm blankets and read a devotional and we pray. Bella makes us breakfast and we talk about school or the musical (she has a named part! They’re doing it like a movie this year to keep the children safe. It’s so fun hearing my songbird in her room every day). Then we grab Coop and run up the back stairs about 10 minutes after Bear’s alarm blares. “Let’s go get him!” And Coop jumps on his bed and nuzzles his face and Bear starts his morning with a smile and a groan. I make him hot chocolate to sip during classes and his day begins hearing of my love.
Bri comes down freshly showered and grabs breakfast and coffee and goes to the library nook for his office set-up to begin his work day. Bella and Bear start virtual classes. I throw a load of laundry in or pay some bills and then sit at the table with my girl as she works, and I listen to a sermon on my AirPods and read and write. I love the accessibility the internet offers and just how much good stuff is out there. I listen to poetry podcasts and sermon series (just starting one on Ezra and our faithful God). Then I nap. Then it’s break between classes and I help Bella with English paper ideas and listen to Bear on the phone with a friend trying to figure out Analysis homework (I would be of absolutely no help there). Then class number two. I switch laundry loads, do a little meal prep and then nap again.
Cancer is a lonely disease, and the loneliness has been intensified by the pandemic. I live like I do during flu season a couple months a year, only even more cautious… and with no end in sight of living this way. And the hardest struggle has been that my family sees just how weak I am. Every time I throw up from treatment, my Bella girl is there. She’s bringing me water and holding my hair and rubbing my back, and I weep. “It’s not supposed to be this way. I’m the Mom. I take care of you.” And she rubs my back harder and she says, “Mama, no one is independent. This is where you need me, and I’m here.” And I marvel at her… at her wisdom and nurturing heart. She dreams of being a kindergarten teacher and a librarian one day, and as I write this, tears fall as I think of all those young ones who will have the joy of knowing Bella’s love.
And when I go there… I also go here: “Please God? Please let me be here to see it? To watch the lives of my family as they grow and change and please let them run hard after you?”
We just watched “Fellowship of the Ring” on Saturday for pizza and movie night, yelling “Nerd!” laughingly at each other whenever one of us would quote the movie before the quote actually came. At one point, during a hard pass, Saruman’s voiceover speaks as the fellowship climbs, “If the mountain defeats you, will you risk more dangerous road?”
Y’all, I feel defeated these days. The mountain of treatment is hard. My body is so broken and I’m in constant pain and my depression is crushing and my chemo brain is so bad. Some days I do wonder if this mountain will defeat me.
But then I sit on the phone with my Ash for an hour and talk through life and questions and struggle and hear all about his love for college. And I laugh hysterically with my family on family game night. And we go on family drives through our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. And I curl up to read with my girl and we share quotes from our books. And I sit with my Bri and we plan next steps for small facelifts we want to do inside our weathered farmhouse of a home. And my Bear drives me on errands and we talk about life and dreams. And we have patio dates with friends and porch date sermon and worship times. And, like every family, we work through hard things, and we fight and we forgive. And this looks nothing like defeat.
My friend, Donna, mailed me a mustard seed a while ago. “One for you and one for me.” she wrote. So that we could remember faith as small as a mustard seed. She’s an essential worker in a nursing home, and the stuff she deals with… sigh. Y’all. This pandemic is awful.
Faith as small as a mustard seed. Will the mountain defeat me? Perhaps. But that tiny seed sitting on my dresser for me to focus on every day reminds me the mountain can be moved. And I will, in the strength God gives me, fight even more dangerous road… I will fight for my life and my loves and I will, as the psalmist says, “live to declare the works of the Lord.”
My faith has been shaken by cancer. Shaken hard.
For 23 years cancer has been part of my story. But y’all, the sureness of my Father God’s love for me cannot be shaken. And that has been far longer than 23 years. That has been from eternity past. The mountain cannot ultimately defeat me; neither can more dangerous road.
And so, like I’ve said ever since I started this blog fourteen years ago: we will live.
We will live today for Jesus, caring for each other, for our family and friends and for our neighbors.
God still owns tomorrow… and He owns the mountains we have to cross, too.