Saturday, April 27, 2013

v26 The Five Senses: More than Feelings

"I feel off," Ryan says about being on chemo. He describes the feeling of chemotherapy as though you have the worst flu you've ever had.

Body aches.

Chills, but you are burning up.

Hungry but nauseated.

No energy for anything but sleep - yet it is illusive.

Bowel problems.

Then there's the sweating, the rashes that come and go, and the ever-present back pain that just won't go away.

As if all that weren't enough, there's another part. Something a lot worse than all of those symptoms combined. It's the whispering, straight from Satan.

"Maybe you won't live to see your child grow up," the doubts whisper.

"Your wife might be a widow," the Devil says.

"You may suffer before dying."

"Are you saved?"

More doubts.

Satan was crafty from the beginning. In the beginning, he whispered doubts to Adam and Eve. "Did God really say....?" he asked in Genesis 3:1.

Satan also attempted to trip up Jesus Christ when he tempted Him after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, by questioning His identity (twice), telling Him to do actions against the will of God like suggesting that He kill Himself, and prodding Him to worship the Devil (see Matthew 4:1-11).

The only remedy to this Cancer side effect is daily reading straight from the Word of God, to know the Word so well, that you can use it to fight against the schemes of the Devil as he attempts to break down your defenses and hurt you at the lowest point in your life.

It is from this daily "putting on the armor of God" (as described in Ephesians 6: 10-20) that allows you to fight against the worst side effect from battling long-term Cancer treatments with no end in sight.

The only way to fight the doubts is with the truth - clinging to the Truth in the Bible that the promises of God were written for you. Knowing the character and heart of God only comes by reading the Word of God regularly, spending time with other godly people frequently, and praying to the Lord God fervently.

Some promises to cling to:

1) You are not alone, God is with you. (See Joshua 1:9, Jeremiah 1: 8, Jeremiah 33:3, Zephaniah 3:17, Hebrews 13:6)

2) If we are not deliberately sinning, God hears our prayers. (See Psalm 40:1-2, Psalm 116:1, 2 Kings 20:5, Isaiah 30:19 )

3) If you draw close to God, He will draw close to you. (See James 4:8)

4) God is a comforter to those who are hurting. (See Psalm 34:18, Psalm 46, Matthew 5:4, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

5) We are promised Heaven if we placed our trust in His Son Jesus Christ as our Savior, the hope of our salvation. (See Isaiah 12:2, Luke 3:6, John 3:16)

As the wise words of Ryan's counselor suggest, "Don't trust your feelings. Trust the truth, the promises of God."

When have you had to fight your feelings with the truth? Share in a comment below.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

v26 The Five Senses: Hearing What Matters Most

Chirp.

"I hear that sound every minute, the pump putting that poison into me and it is a constant reminder when I'm on chemo," Ryan has said to me on numerous occasions while he is wearing his pump for 46 hours after his IV chemo treatment at City of Hope.

It sounds like a little robotic bird, whirring and chirping a rhythmic, brisk tune. Except for the fact that it's sound means poison.

For a while, I had stopped listening, because I didn't want to hear it anymore and tuned it out. It's sound is so non-threatening that it could blend right into the background. Yet for Ryan, the chemotherapy pump is the sound of his Cancer, chirping audibly in the car, our bedroom, and our lives.

Ryan's been listening to the sound of his Cancer more and more, which has plunged him into the depths of the pit. He's been hearing the statistics banging around in his head, the voice of Satan crystal clear, whispering lies and defeat. It has brought him low.

Yet there is another Voice, One that tells him of victory, and not of pain and despair. It's heard in the voices of the people we meet, and those we know and love tremendously.

"He looks good," they tell me when they look at Ryan, fighting his Stage IV Stomach Cancer.

"Oh, he's going to live," they say.

"Stage IV isn't a death sentence, you know. My cousin's brother's son had X Cancer and he's been alive five years and he's still going strong," they say.

"Well, you have already beat the odds," I told Ryan today.

"Oh yeah, how so?" he asked.

"All the statistics say the average gastric cancer patient with Stage IV Stomach Cancer lives 13 months on chemo, and here you are on Round 26 after 13 months and you're still going strong! In fact, according to the CT scan results today, the tumors are SHRINKING!" I am beaming at this point.

He, on the other hand, is not. He's not listening to me because he only hears the dreaded pump attached to his hip. He's thinking about the small nodule found in his thyroid. He's wondering why the scan didn't show that the Cancer is completely gone.

I think back to the sound of his tears, to his wet tissues hitting the floor, to the pain etched on his face. Those sounds make my soul ache, and I hear my heart sigh with empathy, wanting to make everything all better for him. I wonder how I can silence the sound of my powerlessness ringing in my ears.

Then I remember, what I should have been hearing all along as said in Deuteronomy 6:4...

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"

I am not in charge, but there is One who is!

Then I redoubled my efforts and read him the encouraging notes written on his Facebook prayer page after we got home from City of Hope tonight. He smiled in response and said, "Praise God" as he finished repairing our broken air conditioner. I heard the sounds of love in his act of service toward making our home more comfortable during the current heat wave and I smiled. It encouraged me to love on him even more.

Chirp.

I am brought back to the sound of the pump, one of the few sounds he hears while being treated. Then, the pills in the little orange bottles rattle around. And the fork is put down because food isn't appealing today. The tears signal the sound of defeat, an unwelcomed house guest sitting between us on the couch.

Oh, that the sound of that pump would cause me to pause and reflect upon the grace of my God. I would count my many blessings and see the pile of Cancer-altered but lived days in a good portion of our smart phone memory cards. I would reflect on the joyfilled moments of our small, but growing family as we have laughed at the little things, often with Ryan leading the humor. I would hear how the word of God has washed over us to refresh us, even when times are tough.

I don't want to pretend the pump is a pleasant or welcome sound. It has been an intruder from day one, like a distant death knell, a reminder of what's coming for all of us, someday.

But I do want to hear what matters most and listen  - to the word of God running through my mind, the sound of an encouraging word from a friend, the prayer of a family member, the doorbell ringing with food for our table, our voices and laughter as we draw close, all of these are the sounds of the heart of God.

Tell me, do you hear what matters most? Share in a comment below.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

v25 The Five Senses: More Vision

Light.

I awoke to a steady stream of light coming into my bedroom through a gap in the drapes where the clothespin doesn't reach, a welcome scene after the darkness of last night. I had memory flashes of Ryan leaving the room, coming in, and leaving again after a rough night of sleeplessness.

"I don't want to bother you," he says. He never does, and I say so.

I went to a study on gratitude this morning at a church that is not my own, seeing glimpses of light in the answers of the women surrounding me. 'I wish the light were coming from me this way too,' I thought.

But God has something different in store for me, for us. We have seen His magnificent light in the little details He's handled about getting Ryan help for his Cancer, His guiding light shining down the pathway of repeated chemotherapy treatments, always before us - leading the way.

There is that spark of light that returns to Ryan's eyes when I bring in his baby girl periodically when he's sick in bed and he hears her peals of laughter. Even on his worst chemo days, there is still light.

At night, I see his tears and his struggles. There is an internal battle going on, and I try to point him toward the light of God. I feel the hands of many others holding me up, and I'm grateful for that feeling. The prayers of others change my mood when the light runs thin.

Arguments and expectations always hinder this, and I realize that I'm trying too hard. Ryan has always told me to stop trying and just let things be. I'm not good at that, yet.

The sickness creeps in and I see it's lingering presence trying to steal away the little light I see left. I get out the thermometer and have flashes of late night hospital runs, my mind dashing like my feet in order to see what needs to be set in motion. Then, the perfect reading is announced and Ryan's eyes open, just a sliver.

"There's another light out," he says.

It's the best thing he's said all night. He is noticing the disappearing light too, and wants it fixed! I love my Mr. Fix It. I hope he changes it, soon.

I know that I need vision in order to see the light. The Bible says:

"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

or put another way...

"If people can’t see what God is doing,
    they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
    they are most blessed."
I have been stumbling around without the light shining brightly in my life. I know I keep saying I need more of it, like the exercise I know that should be increasing in duration and intensity each week, but I don't do the things I want to, just like Paul. And just like doing the wrong thing, I am realizing that not doing the right thing is equally as detrimental to my future.

Yes, I see the tears over "what if..." and the darkness over the drastic changes our lives have taken in the past year from severe fatigue, insomnia, illness and pain. But the light breaks through all of that, covering us in a future that is meant for our good and God's glory.

My charge to you, tonight, as well as to myself is to do this:

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

To God be the glory, this night and always!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

v25 The Five Senses: Vision

Blackness.

As I sat down to write about the effects of Ryan's Cancer on all five senses, the lights went out. I sat in total darkness until I heard a small noise upstairs - Ryan emerging from his sickbed, wanting some food.

It's been a typical routine, he sleeps during the first twenty-four hours of chemo, then a full day after he gets the pump put on, he arises just once, briefly, to eat something that appeals to his deadened taste buds.

It's a familiar, yet haunting dance - a sad song we've danced to 25 times over the course of a little over a year. We wish we didn't know the steps, but the pattern is becoming rote now. More recently we dance on auto-pilot.

It's fitting that the lights turned out tonight because I wanted to first describe the look of Ryan's Cancer. Aside from Ryan's ever-changing waist-line, his numb hands and feet that he rubs in a way that I haven't seen in the 13 years I've known him, and the fluctuation of his skin pigment - Ryan's Cancer has a look to it.

The look of his Cancer is a haunted sadness, an aching uncertainty of the future, and this look begins the disturbance of our typical routine every other week.

It is normal, interrupted.

Ryan and I have spent the past 13 months looking for answers, searching the Scriptures and interrogating the internet. Ryan has found hope in the blogs of other survivors, hope in the faith of his doctors, friends, and family, in addition to hope in his eternal destination.

We have also seen our share of sadness, the suffering of children with Cancer is heart-wrenching and wrong, the death of parents so preposterous, the death of spouses unbearable to watch. This is the blackness I felt when the doctors first said the word "Cancer." This is the blackness that Ryan sees as he weeps for me, as well as his daughter.

Although the Cancer itself makes the future seem bleak and hopeless, I know if I stare at it, I might lose my hope. But instead, I need to be reminded to continually look up, and that my hope is not in Ryan's Cancer cure, but in the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth! If He made all of that, He can certainly take care of our family in an amazing way in the future, just as He has done since all of this began!

When I look at Him, I smile. I am no longer worried about Ryan's uncertain future - and I remind myself it wasn't certain before Ryan had Cancer, anyway. I look to the Author and Finisher of my faith, and it erases the look of Cancer to instead give me a vision of Heaven.

What has changed your perspective from one of blackness to a vision of Heaven? Share in a comment below.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lost & Found

I feel lost lately. I have been walking into a new stage in our journey, one that doesn't have a road map. I feel as though we're driving through a very foggy area, a grey mist surrounding us, like the tears that won't stop when either of us thinks of the inevitable ending.

How do you "get over" the pain of Cancer and what it threatens you with?

How do you grieve a looming loss?

How do you stop the incessant "what if's" playing in your mind?

I think back to my childhood, a family disabled by a child with Down syndrome. I have so many heartbreaking memories of people mocking my brother, staring and being mean to him and us. I remember mourning the loss of a "normal" family and grieving the pain of my brother's differences. But I also remember the good times too.

One time in particular, I remember all of us going to the Strawberry Festival. It was far away from our home, but I remember the thrilling anticipation of seeing all the arts and crafts, spending a lovely afternoon as a family, together. I think it was that particular trip that solidified my love of the arts, teddy bears, and my continuing equestrian enjoyment.

My parents bought me a little red gingham bear with a cloth diaper, held on by a silver safety pin. I cherished that bear tremendously and stared at it during the whole ride home.

I also remember being allowed to pet the Clydesdale horses, my father raising me up to touch their sturdy structure, tall and towering over a little elementary school girl.

It was a day to remember, a day in heaven.

Ryan and I have days like that too, where he says he almost feels "normal" and the tears are far away. But with every round of chemo looming over the horizon, it's as though we can see the storm clouds gathering in the distance as the week wears on. Or it can be like the ground fog moving in during the early morning hours, settling into the low parts of our soul.

Other days, like the recent collection of them that we are experiencing lately, are filled with deep pockets of depression, strife, and disappointment.

Why are we prone to wander?

Why is contentment fleeting?

Why can't we just get over this?

Since November, Ryan has been focused upon the negatives and that has brought both him and I down. He has wondered if it was the last time we would celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and our birthdays together. He is sad thinking about leaving Talitha without a Dad and me without a husband.

Five continuous months of depression culminated into five days of deep despair. He didn't get out of bed to eat, except once, to go to church with Talitha and I and have lunch afterward. How can you argue with someone who is living in the bed, asleep? How does one live that way, really?

I think of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

I think of our family, Ryan and I with our baby, wandering in the desert, fumbling through the fog, not really getting it right. But God finds us when we are lost and wandering, plucks us out of our frightened state and puts us high up on His shoulders to bring us home.

Depression is a scary place to be, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Seek after God because He is looking for you. Search for Him in His scriptures and find Him through the fog. He will carry you back home.