Thursday, January 31, 2013

v20 Why Not?

As Ryan sat across from me at lunch before getting his chemo infusion yesterday he said, "We could be having the same lunch after my 200th round." I asked him, "How long would that be?" He said, "10 years." Startled by the thought, I wanted to immediately dismiss a long term outlook but knew it could be possible for us.

We've been praying for that miracle, the initial scan that shows a reduction in all tumors and the subsequent ones that show the tumors are disappearing one by one. As I chatted about complete healing with another woman whose husband has the same dreaded disease as my own, she asked me, "Why not?"

Why not?

Well, sometimes God has other purposes for why he chooses to allow continued suffering. Not everyone gets the opportunity to glorify God in their healing this side of heaven. And besides, only 1 of the 10  lepers went back to thank Jesus for his healing when they were all healed directly by the Creator of the universe! (See Luke 17:11-19.) We are selfish, at best, even in the midst of miraculous circumstances!

Stanley Toussaint, in Why O God? (184) cites two other reasons why God does not heal the suffering of some people in this world, in addition to the third aforementioned reason stated above. "1) To comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) and 2) To learn about our own inadequacies and rely on God's sufficiency (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)."

His discourse on the six areas of suffering related to Paul's writings in the Bible were breathtakingly simple, yet astoundingly profound. Everything in his discussion pointed me back to God and His purposes for suffering.

God wants me to learn it the hard way, He must. I cannot circumvent God's purposes, even if they include no immediate healing and watching Ryan suffer through chemo every other week - 20 or 200 times over.

I pray daily for immediate and profound healing, for Ryan and so many others touched by Cancer. I also pray for deliverance from suffering.

Jesus healed a multitude of people, but He didn't heal everyone. And some, like the woman with the flow of blood, had to wait years for healing.

Some people He healed instantly.

I pray we wake up one day, go in to the doctor's office and they say to us, "Ryan you have no evidence of Cancer in your body. Go live your life and give glory to God."

I pray daily - sometimes several times a day - for just such a miracle.

Why not?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Rock

I am angry.

I am angry at the word Cancer and what it does to people's lives, especially children.

I am angry at the suffering caused by illnesses, both physical and mental pain.

I am angry at the deaths I read about, the loved ones lost, the people left broken.

Then, after crying bitter tears, I realize that instead of anger, I should be ashamed.

There are people who have already lost loved spouses, and I'm still being grumpy to my husband.

There are people who have watched their children suffer painfully and die, and I have a happy, healthy child.

There are people who have lost so much, and yet love the Lord more and more through the experiences they have endured.

I am ashamed to admit my anger, hurt and frustration. It's been a year since his diagnosis and I thought it would be over by now - Ryan would be declared "NED" (no evidence of disease) and the experience would be tucked neatly behind us.

God has changed me a lot through this experience, but I still selfishly want the Cancer to just go away and leave us alone. Then I read John 14:27, which says:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

There's the crux of the problem I'm having - I'm letting my heart be troubled.

Wave upon wave of anxiety, depression, and difficulty is crashing over us as we look to another year of Cancer treatments, medical bills, and a lack of energy. But God has sustained us so far, and Ryan's tumors are all stable. We have a faith built on the Rock, and I need to continue to trust Him in what He is doing.

This is a long-term storm that I need to persevere through with patience, rather than flounder and fail, as I have been this past week.

I need renewal. I need the words of Jesus Christ.

Even though I am so weak, I am inspired by this - from Matthew 7: 24-27:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I must climb inside my house and cling to the rock with everything I've got or I'll be lost.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

v19 Cleaning House

They say that everything bad happens in sets of three. I am hoping that means today's cleaning catastrophe was the last one for a long time!

Three mornings ago I awoke late to the sound of the dog whining. "Oh, he can wait to go out until after I take a shower," I mumbled to myself, wiping the dreams from my eyes and stumbling into the four walled cube in our master bathroom.

But it was not to be. Bean, our beloved Doberman/Great Dane rescue dog with the sad puppy eyes that melted Ryan's heart (and stung my nostrils) three years ago had unloaded the entire contents of his bladder and colon all over our bamboo flooring. He knew he'd done a bad deed but clearly wasn't feeling well and couldn't hold it inside any longer. He tried to tell me the best way he knew how, but I ignored the signs.

It seems as though Bean was in tune with how stressed we were feeling about going to the hospital for another round of chemo the next day. I've been told by others that dogs can sense stress and sensitive dogs can be empathetic to difficult circumstances. I agree.

To my surprise, Ryan jumped out of bed, put on some clothes and cleaned up the entire mess without complaint. I reluctantly offered to do it, but felt a slight sense of entitlement to my free pass since I did it the last time it happened, which wasn't too long ago.

Once the mess was cleaned up, I helped Ryan get out the door to work, and then I got down to business. I put the baby back to bed for her morning nap, went downstairs, and cleaned up the clutter. I figured that the messy house coupled with the kitchen construction caused some serious psychosis for both of us. When I surveyed the horizon after I was done, I felt much better and when Ryan walked in, I instantly knew he did too, especially after he said so.

Then, twenty four hours into chemo, I went into the garage to get a bottled water. I looked at the river gushing out from under our water heater and smiled. After seeing the flood, I looked over at the boxes with water damage and almost laughed out loud.

I thought to myself, "Why today?" And then the crazy thought hit me, "Why not today?"

I also pondered whether I should be angry about the damage, and given the fact that Ryan was on chemo and I had a sleeping, healthy child, I decided against it. What good would it do me anyway? Would it change what happened?

I went inside and sat down on the couch. I thought back to Monday's cleaning frenzy, how I became a whirling dervish of spotlessness. I remembered my whimpering mop, quivering after every stroke I forced out of it. My female relatives are all card-carrying monthly moppers and I, the black sheep in the family, was rejected from obtaining membership due to my "attendance" issues. Yet Monday's efforts would have been enough to make everyone proud.

"There's got to be a silver lining to this Cumulonimbus cloud - what a cumulus cloud turns into after whipping up a nice storm," I thought to myself. Ah ha! I had it! At least the water heater flooding didn't wreck my mopping job in the house!

Today, as I got out my mop again (I know, twice in one week - a new record for me) to clean up a spill in the bathroom (don't ask), I thought about the significance of the three painful cleaning experiences I had this week. No, I wasn't denying knowing my God three times like Peter, it was more like I was denying myself the "right" to laziness.

But then it struck me. Paul asked for that thorn to be removed three times. The text in Second Corinthians 12 says:

The Thorn in the Flesh

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We've been asking God to remove Ryan's Cancer almost a complete year and we are so ready to check it off our list of things we've experienced and move onto other things. But God has told us to wait, and reminds us that His grace is sufficient in difficult circumstances.

I was humbled and enlightened by the fact that I'm supposed to "take pleasure in...distresses." Well, watching Ryan go through chemo is no picnic and neither is cleaning house three times in one week, but if my weakness makes me strong and gives me the added bonus of a clean house in the process, then I'm all for it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

v19 Years


"No, this cannot be happening!" I exclaimed. The sweet married couple standing in front of me during the last five minutes of my shift at the flower shop smiled kindly at me, upset about what they saw.

"Well, we were rushing in because we have to go to a funeral and we know you guys closed soon," the man said. "So as we were rushing into the store, we realized that two men were breaking into the older blue Oldsmobile in the parking lot, which was the only car other than ours and we wanted to tell you before we left," he said.

I thanked them for telling me, then rushed outside to see the pile of glass huddled together under the solitary street lamp, which cast a sad shade of blue on the glass. I immediately started crying, then I called the police.

As I waited for the officer to arrive, I started praying. "Dear Lord," I said, "I know you know where my car is and I know you can easily return it to me. I pray that I get my car back, please." My coworker was astonished at the circumstances and waited with me while I called a friend to pick me up.

Once the officer arrived, I told him my prayer. He looked me square in the face and said, "I've seen this a thousand times. You should just accept that you'll never see your car again." I said in response, "No, you're wrong! I have a big God and there is nothing He can't do. I WILL see my car again." He shook his head at me in pity and then filled out the report.

Three days later the same officer called me and again, reminded me to give up. Once again, I told him he was wrong. He said that there's a window of opportunity and within 72 hours I should pretty much let it go. I refused and after I hung up with him, I called and asked more friends to pray for my car to return to me.

Five days after it was stolen, I got the call that they had found two men joyriding in my car in Riverside (of all places!) and confiscated my vehicle. I sang praises to God because I just knew in my heart that I would see my car again. In some ways that phone call didn't surprise me.

Although the story about my stolen car happened the summer before Ryan and I met, it reminds me of the young faith that I had when I first started following Christ. I thought ANYTHING was possible with God, and certainly something as small as wanting a stolen possession rightfully returned was totally within reach because I believed it to be so.

I knew that the world, like the officer, placed doubts in my mind, but God could do miracles because I read about them in the Bible. I also heard testimonies from friends in the faith who had their own miracles.

I look at Ryan's Cancer diagnosis, and the world straightaway screams, "He's going to die from it!" I have to face the opposition head on and say, "No, I know he is going to live for years."

"Yes, but we've seen this kind of thing before and look at all the others who have died within weeks or months after diagnosis, plus all the statistics say only 4% of patients live to 5 years!" the world cruelly exclaims.

"But my God is a big God," I say back. "I have prayed and asked God for wisdom about Ryan's life like James 1:5 says and the Holy Spirit has whispered 'years' to me," I respond. "Not to mention the fact that he's approaching the twelve month mark soon -- already outliving the 'average gastric cancer patient.' God is still doing miracles, and Ryan will live to see another birthday, Lord willing," I say definitively.


You just can't argue with God. After all, He made this place and He already knows the future for all of us.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Big Red Balloon Falls Down

The big red balloon was one month and one week shy of floating a year. Oh, it still bobs a bit and is now safely nestled between the couch and a wall, where it will remain until this Valentine's Day. But we were hoping it would stay aloft exactly a year.

"Your depression brought it down," Ryan said to me on Tuesday, the darkest day of the year so far. I was afraid he was right.

I had no right to be depressed, but I found myself sinking, like the balloon in our family room from Valentine's Day 2012. Unresolved feelings, sadness from Ryan's Cancer sticking around for almost a year, and no kitchen sink all combined to bring me low for one day.

Ryan stayed home half of the day to pick me up with his presence and conversation about God. He always points me in the direction that matters.

"Is God real?" he asked me. "Yes, of course," I said without hesitating. "Then where is your hope now?" he asked. I had to admit I had lost hope that day, dwelling on my uncertain circumstances.

"Besides, it could be SO much worse!" he exclaimed. And he was right. I knew from all the Facebook posts I'd been reading about sick children with Cancer, people recovering from car accidents, and those who are dealing with the death of a loved one, especially from the dreaded disease Ryan was battling. What was my problem?

Then he showed me the picture of our sleeping daughter in the baby monitor, something I'd done to him a thousand times.

"Look at that little girl, she is such a blessing!" he said. "God gave her to us," he reminded me as we watched our peaceful child sleeping soundly. The taste of my own medicine was sweet and lifted me up.

Two days later I was attending a Bible study and the speaker talked about the specter of Cancer looming large in her life, the sixth time between her husband and her. I wept. My heart ached for her in a way I'd never known before a year ago.

I wished neither of us felt those two syllables in our lives. But God wanted us to walk those steps, with His Son guiding us perfectly. She quoted the book of Isaiah, chapter 58, verse 11:

The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I giggled like a schoolgirl at the reference to my last name. My God will never fail, and as long as I praise His name, we won't fail either.

Two days later I was restored and uplifted by my husband's reminders of God's promises and the witness of a woman whose Cancer journey was five times as grievous as ours. My lowered perspective, like the deflating balloon took me away from watching the One who orchestrated it all. My husband this woman pointed me back in His direction. God's word says He draws close to the brokenhearted, and I could feel Him near.

I'm so glad all of this is part of His plan

Sunday, January 6, 2013

v18 More Time

I've been reading another book on how to live in the moment. It's message is simple and it's words, profound: be grateful for everything.

I've always known that being grateful for things pays off in a big way. But I never thought about how gratitude buys me time.

Friends have been telling me that they would go crazy if they had to stay home one week out of two. Yet what they don't get to see is how time slows down when you aren't rushing around, always busy doing things.

Drinking in each moment that I am allowed to have with Ryan and being purposeful about how I'll spend what I've been given genuinely changes the outcome of each day I have with him. Before I used to be flippant about going to unimportant places and running errands to accomplish unimportant things. Now I want to be able to be grateful for each task, purposeful about where I choose to go and with whom I choose to spend my time.

"What if you knew this was your last year on earth?" I asked Ryan. "What would you want to do, see or learn?" I waited for an incredible insight, ready to pack my bags to see some distant shore.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said simply. "I would keep doing what I've always been doing."

"Really?" I asked, incredulously. I knew my husband was happy and content, but I never realized the extent of it.

"Really," he said.

When we were at City of Hope yesterday, I caught the last snippets of a cell phone conversation about a woman telling the other person about her everyday life.

'Life still goes on, even when you have Cancer,' I thought to myself. 'People still have to make a living, visit friends, and keep house.' I thought life just stopped and everything changed. But it's not true - life continues as normal, but we have added new doctor appointments, feelings, and experiences to our days. We get to do more of what Ryan truly enjoys, being together. And I get to be grateful for more time to live life together.

The book of Eccelsiastes explains this well:

Ecclesiastes 3

New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfactionin all their toil—this is the gift of God. 

I've learned that in order to follow the rhythms of our new daily life, I need to be grateful for everything, pray for others who have different struggles, and ask God for more time to do all the things that we normally do together. 

Gratitude to God will give me more time - I can count on it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

v18 Stuck

'Oh NO!' I thought to myself. I'd broken a glass while loading the dishwasher and I feared my mother's response. I was 8 years old.

"Mom," I said timidly, as I was walking toward her, shaking. "I broke a glass." I winced, knowing how important her dishes were to her and how I'd let her down. She took one look at me and I started crying hard. I was a disappointment.

"Oh, Anna," she said compassionately. "It's just a silly dish, come here," she said tenderly. She held me and I melted in her hug, feeling the warmth and comfort only a loving mother can give to her daughter. She let me cry for a long time and I apologized profusely. Her hug conveyed more than just her forgiveness.

"We all make mistakes," she said. It's one of those lessons that I've carried into my interactions with others, both spoken and otherwise.

Ryan has been apologizing to me about getting Cancer, much in the same way I approached my Mom with the broken dish. How could I be angry at him? It wasn't his fault. And even if it was, anger wouldn't change anything or help the situation.

He's lamented at how the Cancer treatments have changed our lives from the normal rhythms of a work week and free weekend to a chemo-week and an alternating non-chemo week.

"What is my alternative?" Ryan asked me. We were discussing the possibilities of treatment options, as some people have asked us about, and there are very few options.

"Well, there are different forms of chemo or alternative therapies, like a strict vegetarian diet," I offered. "Or you could just quit chemo altogether..." my voice trailed off because I didn't like even saying that option out loud.

"And then I'd die," he said.

The tears again.

"I feel so... stuck." Ryan was stuck because he wanted the Cancer to just GO AWAY but it has stubbornly persisted, like a nagging toothache, but worse. We've discussed going vegan if it meant the Cancer would go away, but many people change their diet, stand on their head and drink asparagus juice daily to find that the Cancer remains.

Just like the irreparable dish, Cancer has forever altered our life pathway. We are stuck in a loop that cannot be changed unless God says so. And now we see life from a totally different perspective because there are so many people out there whose lives are affected drastically by Cancer.

This is why I must hold onto God's promises when I see the bleak depression that can set in with being stuck thinking about the "what ifs" and "how I wish life was different than...":

Jeremiah 29:11-13

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cancer Free

"Well, you know you had Cancer right?" my doctor asked me. How could I forget? When faced with the possibility of having Cancer like Ryan, I was not happy. My mind was spinning.

"We need to do an ultrasound because I felt something," she said. My thorough and friendly endocrinologist always checks the area where my thyroid used to be five years ago (before it was surgically removed) to make sure the cancer hadn't returned. This was the first time she said anything about needing to check and make sure the Thyroid Cancer wasn't back again.

After my appointment, I called Ryan. I know that phone call really bothered him, and it reminded him of all the other medical issues I've had in the past. He dropped everything at work and asked for the address, stating he was done with work for the day and was driving to meet me at my ultrasound appointment in a few hours.

I felt very blessed by him making me a priority in his schedule.

"Don't die," he said as he was holding Talitha in the ultrasound room. I thought back to the last time we were standing in front of an ultrasound machine and the reason was so much happier back in February. I prayed that we'd be standing in front of a different ultrasound machine for the same reason as before, soon. Then I said, "Well, I'm going to die, like everyone else, silly."

I hated those words.

I don't want to die! I want to live! I am not ready to even face that possibility, even though I know its a certainty. I know what he meant, but I didn't even want to say those words because I wanted to preserve my life and not think about my inevitable ending.

We didn't even have to wait 24 hours to get the answer, but the next morning I was praying about it and asked God about it. Was I supposed to have Cancer too? Really? Even in the same year as Ryan's diagnosis?

"No," the Holy Spirit whispered to me over Raisin Bran and Bible study notes. It's one of the few times I liked being told no.

It'd been a long, long time since I'd asked for prayers for myself and it felt foreign to me. I used to pray for myself all the time, but when I asked for prayers on Ryan's Facebook page, I realized just how much I've been focusing on Ryan's healing. It felt good to expend my energy on such a noble cause as asking others to pray for my sick husband, and strange to pray for myself.

Well, God's not done with me yet, and I guess Cancer isn't in my near future.