Cherish the moment

This has been such a good week. Such an almost-normal week.

Last Thursday (nine days ago) Marissa had her first chemo treatment. The next day she worked–feeling odd but still pumped up from all the steroids she had been given. But on Saturday she crashed. And it was a scary, I-don’t-think-we-can-do-this kind of crash. It was physical with nausea and weakness, but it was also mental, as if her body was finally getting through to her mind.

At one point she looked up at me in almost-shock and said, “I have cancer, Mom.”

I know, baby girl, I know.

And this journey has been like that. You think you have moved on, settled into this path, but then you stumble over a new fear, a fresh revealing of reality.

You stumble, but you don’t fall. God is keeping you. He is making your way straight. He is holding you even when you don’t see Him.

Sunday was better. Still in that fog and still feeling sick, but the fog was lifting. Monday she went back to work. The first couple of days were hard, but by Wednesday she was feeling almost normal.

A gift. Normal living is a gift. I keep thinking we should do wonderful things. We should make memories! And we do sometimes. But do you know what my children remember most? They remember the normal days. They remember pancakes on cool fall mornings. They remember sitting around the table, sharing days and stories. They remember crackling fires and the smell of popcorn and everyone talking at once. They remember noise and laughter and feeling loved. They remember family.

So we are cherishing these days before the next treatment. We are cherishing normal. We are not counting on each moment to be perfect or memorable or photo-worthy. Or even good. But we are embracing each one as an opportunity to love each other, to be faithful.

An opportunity to see the beautiful moments given by a loving Father. I imagine we are going to uncover many new layers of beauty this next year. I imagine some of them will be hard to see. They will be camouflaged as beauty is sometimes. But if we look closely, we will find them.

We may even watch the sun rise. And eat pancakes.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

Guilt, Regret, and Second Causes

Marissa’s tumor is large. Her cancer has been there for awhile–growing, changing, spreading. Young women especially ask her all the time how she found the lump. Because they are scared. If it can happen to someone they know, it is real. It can happen to them.

But Marissa does not have a typical lump. She has a 10 cm mass that she thought for a long time was normal tissue. It wasn’t that she worried about it and put off telling me or anyone else. It was just that she didn’t give it a second thought. She knew to be wary of lumps, but this did not fit that description and she was not worried.

When we were on our way to the surgeon’s office to get the results of the biopsy, we talked about the possibilities. We talked about regret. She mentioned that if it was cancer (which of course it wasn’t–we were just exploring the what if’s!), it would be hard not to feel regret that she hadn’t noticed sooner.

We talked about God’s sovereignty–how He controls the mighty expanse of the universe and the smallest atom. How her story was written before the foundation of the world. How God supersedes our plans and our actions to bring about His purpose.

For He performs what is appointed for me. Job 23:14

There were a few tortured days following the diagnosis. I would wake in the night with my heart pounding wondering why? Why didn’t we find it sooner? Why didn’t they see it on her heart MRI done over a year ago? Why didn’t any of her many doctor’s appointments include an exam that would find this mass? How could I have failed my daughter so miserably?

Guilt, regret, and second causes. Swirling thoughts of doubt. The voices in my head were not kind. They were not reassuring.

They were not true.

I don’t believe everything I think. God is the only source of truth. When my mind or my feelings don’t line up with His truth, I realign my thinking. I read His words. I speak truth to myself. I remember His character. I remember Who He is. I remember that He is good.

I don’t understand all the mysteries of His providence. I don’t know how He will use this trial for good. But I know it is from His kind hand. And I trust Him.

I form light and create darkness. I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7


We had a normal morning. She had oatmeal and coffee and it seemed like any other morning.

We got to the Cancer Center right at 9 and Cassie was waiting. We prayed in the parking lot and passed the large statue of Jesus to go in the front door. (This is a catholic hospital. When Cassie was driving to the first appointment, the man on the phone told her, “Don’t come in unless you see Jesus.”) So we smile when we pass the statue and it seems significant–don’t come in unless you see Jesus. We know He is with us.

First stop is the lab where they access the port for the first time. Marissa laughs with the nurses that I put the numbing cream in the wrong place and I probably did. I am a mom, but not a nurse. I handle the medical paperwork with ease, but sometimes I cringe with the physical stuff. I don’t shrink back, though. This is my story, too.

We head to to the chemo floor. It’s a very nice facility. You can choose a darker room with a TV or a room with an outside view. We choose light.

Our nurse is not the friendliest. She seems annoyed that we have brought two visitors when there is only one chair. As she does her work, Marissa engages her. She looks her in the eye and asks about her life. How long has she been doing this? What about her family? And this is why people love Marissa. While she is sitting in her chair waiting for her fist chemo treatment, she is genuinely interested in this nurse. And we all relax a little, because this nurse is a real person with a real story. She has done this job for over 40 years. She has twin grandsons. She is brave.

The IV is started and they are giving her liquids and nausea medicine and steroids and Benadryl. Then she will get two drugs to fight the cancer. When it comes time to administer the dark red drug, the nurse puts on full protective gear. They double check the dosage and instructions. It is a big deal. She pushes this drug slowly into the IV with syringes and tells Marissa that this is the drug that will make her hair fall out. I watch this red poison being pushed into my daughter’s body. It is both terrifying and thrilling. It is an awful drug and it is a wonderful drug. It might make my daughter very ill but it might kill her cancer.

I find myself cheering for the drugs, mentally urging them to do their work well. Marissa is doing fine. The Benadryl and the steroids are fighting with each other–she switches between sleepy and wired. When the last bag is emptied we have been there over 5 hours.

When we walk into the elevator, you can see the look of accomplishment in her face. She feels so happy it is over. She is fuzzy-headed but fine. One down, and 15 to go. She’ll face the side effects soon enough, but for now she is good. It’s done.

We walk out into the parking lot. The sun is shining and there stands the statue of Jesus.

He is with us. He has been there all along. We see Him.

Hush. Be still.

The story of Jesus in the boat with His disciples is one of my favorites. They have been ministering to the crowds, but now it is evening and they want to go to the other side of the lake. Almost immediately, Jesus falls asleep. When the sudden, fierce storm pops up, the disciples are frantically doing what they know to do. They are lowering sails and bailing water, but the waves are covering the boat. This is no typical squall. The water is relentless, and they are no match for this storm. They are going to die, and Jesus is asleep.

He is asleep. They wake Him with incredulous pleading. “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And you can hear the accusation in the question. Don’t you see us? Aren’t you going to help? Are You the Son of God? Can we believe in You?

And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea. “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. Mark 4:39

Jesus is not alarmed by the storm. He is not surprised by its suddenness or its duration or its effects. He is able to bring an amazing, immediate calm with His words. He shows His power and demonstrates the truth of Who He is.

He is master of the storm.

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them. Psalm 89:9

When I am weak

I woke up crying.

We had ended the day with a celebration–pizza and presents and happy hearts with a grandson turning four. We were all together and there was play-doh and Spider-man and matchbox cars so it was good.

But I woke up crying. Middle of the night tears. Before I was even awake tears.

Because this cancer thing? It’s not for sissies. This chemo? It’s got teeth and it snarls and it bites and sometimes I just want to run. Take my girl’s hand and run.

Sometimes I cry in the night.

There is this huge mountain ahead of us. We don’t want to climb it and we don’t have the strength. We just want to turn around and find another way.

But there is a Guide Who knows the mountain. He knows all the places we’ll be scared; all the places we might fall.

He is strong enough to carry us when we fall.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12:9

A letter to my children

This is a hard road. This will change your lives.

A few weeks ago you didn’t even really know what cancer was. You had heard of it and prayed for people with it, but it had not touched you. You were innocent and free of its pain. You were not afraid.

But now it is here. Now you live next to it. You feel it and you see the pain of it. You can never go back to a few weeks ago. Now you are afraid.

I would not have chosen this path for our family. Given the choice, I would have run hard to escape. I would have held you close and shielded you. I would have given you happy, carefree days.

But I am not always wise. And I don’t hold the world in my hands. And I am not all-knowing. I can’t work this all out for good.

But God is, and He does, and He can.

He will.

He will use this in your heart if you let Him. He will change your mind if you read His words. He will be near to you if you draw near to Him. He will be a friend Who is closer than a brother. He will take this awful thing and bring beauty and life and joy from it.

Because that’s Who He is. And that’s what He wants you to know.

Let it change you.

We are His poem

I have always liked poetry.  From the time I was a small child I have been drawn to language and the beauty of words. I have no patience with mediocre fiction. Give me a real and beautiful story, one where there is pain but with it resilience and hope. Give me an author who can write well.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

My pastor preached a sermon where he mentioned that the word “workmanship” could be translated “sculpture” or “poem.” We are His sculpture. We are His poem. Already written. Already made beautiful. God has prepared us for these good works ahead of time and gifted us to walk in them.

I was sharing some of these thoughts with Marissa the other day. How she is uniquely chosen to walk this path. How this is part of her story. How this is part of her poem.

How she can trust the Author Who writes beautifully and well.

The path of life

I suppose the hard begins next week.

We see the oncologist on Tuesday for the results of all the tests. Although he called us Wednesday with the good news that there was no cancer in her bones or other organs, we are still waiting for the pathology reports from biopsies done on Thursday. We assume it has spread to lymph nodes based on the MRI. We are hopeful that the biopsies done on her right breast will be clear. Either way, we will begin a new phase of Marissa’s journey.

The plan is 20 weeks of chemotherapy; then surgery; then radiation. On paper it seems doable. It looks like any other doctor visit summary–here’s what you have and here’s the plan to fix it. On paper it doesn’t hurt so much.

Marissa and I had a sweet talk after the biopsies. She was telling me about her initial reaction to the diagnosis, about how almost immediately she had the assurance that this was from God. This was God directing her path; this was God keeping her way straight.

I suppose there is nothing that gives me more joy. Nothing that brings me more hope. To know that she loves God. To know that He loves her.

It doesn’t make sense on paper. But it makes all the difference.

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

It’s just like Jesus to roll the clouds away

I can’t stop smiling.

I didn’t realize how scared I was that the cancer had spread. God had been blanketing our hearts with His peace so we had been calm. But cancer had been a shock, Stage III cancer had been a shock, and we just didn’t know if Stage IV cancer would be the next shock. We didn’t know if that was part of Marissa’s story.

When we missed a call with “urgent news” we were terrified to call back. But Marissa called and held out the phone so we could all hear and what we heard was good news–the cancer had not spread.

I believe God is good no matter what. A Stage IV diagnosis would not change His goodness. But we had prayed for some good news, and in His perfect providence He gave us good news.

We understand the seriousness of Stage III cancer. We know there are tough days ahead. We know there are no guarantees of tomorrow. Sometimes He gives grace for bearing up under the worst storm. Sometimes He rolls the clouds away.

Today, the sun is shining.

More than I can handle

Sometimes Christians comfort each other with the thought, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I used to believe that. I used to think that God wouldn’t give us more than we could bear.

But of course He does.

David’s life was full of unbearable betrayal, fear, and heartache. Paul talks about being burdened beyond his strength (2 Cor. 1:8).

In the middle of life’s simple joys, there are hard places. There are times we cannot lift up our heads. There are days we cannot face alone.

And that is exactly the point. God doesn’t want us to handle it. He wants our heartache to drive us to His arms. He wants us to lean hard into Him.

He wants to carry our burden.

The eternal God is a dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)