One year

One year ago on September 24, 2015, our lives were changed by a cancer diagnosis. One year ago we learned that fear is a physical thing, a hot searing pain that can twist inside you and then burn like a flickering candle that never quite goes out. One year ago sorrow and grief sat down beside us and decided to stay awhile.

We began a journey we did not want to travel to a place we did not want to go.

Acknowledging and accepting the pain is part of the journey. But there is so much more to remember and so much more to say.

We have learned  to slow our walk and deepen our breathing. We have been awakened in a new way to the beauty of life, and we have tasted and seen that God is good. We have opened our hearts to eternity, both to our idea of it and the truth of it.

We have learned that this pain is temporary. This world is temporary. This mortal life is temporary. But there is so much that is not, so much that lasts forever. God and the truth of His words, the peace that we can have with Him through Christ, His covenant love and the thousands of joys it brings.

Marissa’s soul is eternal. And so is mine and yours.

This hard year has taught us much about truth and what matters. It has reminded us of our failures and comforted us with a risen Savior who intercedes for us, who binds our wounds and carries our sorrows. It has helped us know God, the creator and the master of the storm.

One of my favorite quotes is from Amy Carmichael. “But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.”

The overwhelming has not overwhelmed. How is it we have walked through this year with all of its difficulty? How have we held on to faith and hope? How have we laughed and loved through pain? Deliverance came. God came. We have proved it again and again.

We have been fighting for a full year, and the battle is far from over. Marissa is weary, and the storm feels so very dangerous. We can’t see what lies ahead. The waves are cold and dark and we feel them washing over us. Some days we are trembling. Some days we are barely holding on.

But He is holding us. These waves are still His.

The overwhelming will not overwhelm.
















This life

The days get filled, don’t they? You get to the end of each one and it is somehow filled up, somehow finished. All the moments swirl together to make a day, a year, and eventually, a whole life.

The moments matter, but they are swiftly moving pieces of time. It’s hard to catch them, hard to hold them down. Even “cherishing the moments” can bring frustration and a kind of despair. We can’t stop time. We can’t hold on to the moments. We can’t slow down our life or lengthen the days. Even living intentionally doesn’t stop the trickling of sand.

Lullabies to school days to rocking chair. Soft baby skin to teenage acne to wrinkled brow. Like water held in the palms of our hands, the moments trickle through. They add up, but they are hard to count.

O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Psalm 39:4,5

This lifetime feels like the big game, but it is really just a scrimmage. It is just a preparation for eternity. It is a blurry photo, a smudged essay, a shallow breath.

It is not the end.

Eternity is in our hearts. Marissa has had to stretch her understanding of what that means. She has had to broaden her idea of what makes a good life and what it means to be loved by God. She is learning to trust that whatever God gives her is enough. Enough to fulfill her purpose, enough to prepare her for eternity, enough to enjoy God and bring Him glory.

It is enough.

The Bible tells us that God’s timing is different than ours. With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. 2 Peter 3:8  We are trying to think of time like He does. We long to know what it means to live each day like it is a thousand years and at the same time like it is just a breath of eternity.

This moment is fleeting, but it is as big as a thousand years. Surely, it is enough. It is our story, our life. It is what we have, what we have been given by God. It is sacred. It is precious. It is ours.

Even when it feels like just a breath, it is enough. It is enough to lead us home.

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
















The edges of His ways

Indeed, these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! Job 26:14

The edges of His ways. That phrase rolls around in my mind these days. I think about how much I have learned about God and yet how little I know.

I think about being still enough to hear the whisper of Him.

There have been early mornings with a touch of cool, reminding me that we are on the edge of fall. We are on the edge of new, the edge of color, the edge of cozy.

It’s funny how you long for the whole when you are on the edge. You long for the idea of it, the best of it, the bigness of it. Eventually you are faced with the truth of it. The truth is more than the idea and has some gnarly bits of real. The truth of autumn with its pumpkin spice and crackling fires and beautiful trees is also coldness and too much dark and the barrenness of fallen leaves.

The edges of His ways are the same, I think. We want to fall headlong into His love and the big picture of His grace. We like the ideas of abundance and riches and faith but have to navigate through darkness and trial and hard to fully understand, to fully know Him.

Marissa is on the edge of surgery. We haven’t spent much time thinking about it, but it looms closer and now it is more real. On the edge it feels overwhelmingly frightening. It’s a new corner, unfamiliar and dark. We know the reality will be somehow both harder and better than we expect. The whole experience will grow us in ways we couldn’t know. We will be both overwhelmed and rescued, both terrified and filled with peace, both blinded and infused with light.

We will know the hard edge of experience along with the soft edges of His ways. We will see the panoramic view of beautiful mountains almost impossible to climb, of sun-filled meadows only accessible through thorny trails.

We will know Him more, trust Him more, love Him more.

What new thing is speaking fear to you? What overwhelms and burdens your heart? What are you on the edge of that takes your breath away?

Trust in the edges of His ways and long to know the whole of Him. In the stillness of your fear, listen to His whisper.

Even the edges of His ways are filled with grace.

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19








A day at Duke

We get up early so we can be out the door by 6 a.m.  Marissa eats a quick breakfast and we both have coffee. We pack snacks and books and laptops. She brings a pillow and a blanket so she can sleep on the way home.

We thought we would listen to lots of audio books and sermons, but on the way we usually just talk. The trip goes faster than I thought it would–she fills me in on what’s happening at work and in her life. We watch the sunrise and we talk about mostly mundane things. Sometimes we are quiet and just watch the miles go by.

We hit Charlotte during morning rush hour. Sometimes traffic has slowed down to a crawl, but it is always busy. Just after Charlotte, there is a construction zone for several miles. Once we are past that, the road opens up and the driving is easier.

We are on the road for about three and a half hours before we exit the highway. We try to grab a bite to eat before we get to the cancer center since we will be there all day. The Chick-Fil-A near the hospital conveniently has a free breakfast item every Wednesday, so it’s fun to see what will be free each week.

We pull into the parking garage and begin the search for a parking place. We take an elevator to the second floor, walk down the long hallway to another set of elevators, and then go to the basement for lab work. Marissa checks in, gets a pager, and waits for it to buzz. We usually wait 15 or 20 minutes before she is called back. She heads into the lab and they access her port for blood work. It doesn’t take long unless they can’t get blood return, and then they have to tip her chair back or have her flap her arms to get the blood flowing.

When she comes out we head to the fourth floor for chemotherapy. She checks in and gets another pager. We wait in a large waiting room where they have tables with puzzles and lots of seating. We are usually here for an hour or more. Marissa’s chemo is considered a long session so they need a room for five hours. We don’t usually see the same people each week, and we rarely see anyone near her age. Some older patients are in wheelchairs, and some are weak and worn, but most patients look pretty healthy.

When they call her back, they ask if she wants a chair or a bed, and the nurses are always surprised when she asks for a bed. Evidently, people do not like the beds at all. Maybe it makes them feel sick or maybe it reminds them of being in the hospital. Marissa loves the bed because it means she can take a nap if she gets sleepy, and the nurses are always grateful.

When she gets to the room, they take her blood pressure and temperature. Then they give her steroids and anti-nausea medication in pill form. They start her IV fluids and give about half before they start her first chemo. The medication gives her a headache and she starts to get puffy from the combination of steroids and fluids. The first chemo is Gemzar which runs for about 30 minutes. Then more fluids before they start the Cisplatin which runs for an hour. Then they finish the fluids and she is done.

If she has a bed, she usually naps. Sometimes I join her on the bed and rest, too. When she is awake, she is usually checking her phone or her laptop. Her head is fuzzy so she doesn’t usually read. We don’t talk too much–she is fighting the physical discomfort as well as the mental challenge of facing the next few days. It’s hard to watch the meds that you know will make you sick drip into your body. The mental battle is the hardest–staying focused, pushing back discouragement, enduring and hanging on to faith.

I read and I pray and I hang on with her.

There are volunteers at Duke in almost every area. We have met several, and they are mostly people who have been helped in the past and now want to serve. They come by once or twice to offer drinks and snacks. Some of them are really friendly and want to know Marissa and her story, and she’s always glad to talk with them.

The last IV usually beeps between 4:30 and 6:00. We head back down to the parking garage and get started on our way home. We drive about an hour before we stop for a bite to eat and drink. (They encourage her to drink lots to flush the chemo drugs out.)  Marissa is not hungry and usually has a hard time deciding what to eat, but she knows it will help to eat something. She never wants to stay because she is anxious to get home, so we grab something and get back on the road.

She tries to sleep and doesn’t talk much. Her head is hurting so we usually don’t listen to anything (although there was that Patch the Pirate sing-along!) We are both “sky” people, so we enjoy the changing skies. We have had at least a few minutes of rain on every trip, and we have watched the sunset each time. Even on a busy road, heading home from a challenging day, the skies and sunsets remind us of God’s faithful, powerful love.

We move through the traffic in Charlotte, past the peach water tower in Gaffney, on toward Spartanburg and home. When we see our exit, there is a feeling of relief. One more trip down, one more chemo finished, one step closer to done.

We pull in the driveway and breathe. We are safely home.