The Author

Up until this point, as the author of my life, I had a number of chapters outlined well in advance.  These included the boys’ graduations, college experiences, careers, weddings and eventual families.  Chapters about a growing art business, more time with my husband, maybe some travel, and what life might become in retirement.  But when cancer entered the plot line, all those future chapters were shelved.

The long view of my story had shortened.  Now all I saw was January to June, during which eight treatments would occur every three weeks.  Then we’d see what things looked like from there.  My view was shortened again as I realized I just needed to focus on getting through those 3-week intervals.  The first week was always the hardest, followed by two in which I gradually regained strength, just in time to do it again.  It was during that first week of each cycle that my view shortened even further.  At first it was an accomplishment to get dressed by ten a.m., then an accomplishment to get dressed by noon.  Then by four p.m., then at all.  The view from here became a view of here.

What you find in the long slow hours is that you have too much time for your own thoughts.  When the clock slows down, you contemplate your situation, ponder the outcome, and wonder about everything.   This is part of the battle, these debates in your mind, when on one hand you say, OK Hope, let’s hear your argument, and on the other you say, OK Despair, let’s hear yours.  Today’s topic; a miracle.  With the theme being settled, I had plenty of time to hear both sides and decide what it truly meant.

You see, once cancer becomes a reality in your life, so do other things.  Like the idea of dying… like the idea of miracles.  These are no longer abstract concepts, but very real possibilities.  A miracle just didn’t apply to some distant bible character, or a story of someone of someone I knew, it applied to me.  My situation.  Right now.  I knew I could pray for one, I knew God answered prayer.  I knew He was completely capable.  And it intimidated me completely.  How was I possibly worthy?

Who am I to call down the power of the Creator to attend to me in such a personal way?  How in the world would I ever be able to repay God for a miracle?  How could I ever honor Him or thank Him enough for such a thing?  I was paralyzed by the very idea.  I simply could not pray for one.  In today’s war of words, Despair had won the first round, and Doubt had been his right hand man.  If the long slow hours of the day were for fair debate, the dark lonely hours of the night were for Doubt’s soapbox.

Wrestling with sleep, the questions wouldn’t stop.  How would the boys do without me?  How would they get through school?  Through relationships, through life?  How would my husband handle being a single dad?  Being alone?  How would college be paid?  How would the bills get paid?  Would the household continue to run?  Who would keep things on track?  Should I prepare?  How could I prepare?  How this… what if that…?  With Despair’s constant monologue clamoring in my head, and Doubt’s hot breath raising the hairs on my neck, I felt the dark world closing in.  With my heart racing, I bound out of bed, sank to my knees and cried… oh please Lord, grant me a miracle.

Silence.  Then peace.  Then sleep.

By the morning light, it was settled.  Despair was gone, nowhere to be found, leaving only Hope to remain standing.  Hope was the debate’s rightful victor, and in its arms, held a prize called truth.  I am worthy.  I am loved.  And when you are loved, there is no “paying back”, there is only loving back.  About this there is no debate, no matter how the story plays out.

God is the true author of my life, not I, and He writes much better than I ever could.  He knows the beginning, the middle, and He alone knows the end.  When the antagonist shows up, He can use him in the story too ~ as a catalyst for action, for growth, and for trust.  And just when you are certain that the next page is blank, God fills it, and the story goes on.

Daybreak ©Lynnea Washburn

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All Rights Reserved.

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Life’s Tilting Axis

Life respects no boundaries created by unfortunate circumstances.  It just goes barreling on regardless of what you are dealing with.  The reality is, it’s not just about you.  Even when you wish it were.  Even when you are justified that it should be.  Life is funny that way.

The very day I arrived home from the hospital, almost as soon as I was settled into my room, the phone rang.  It was the police.  They had our son down by the retention pond with cans of spray paint and fresh graffiti on a retaining wall.  I sat stunned while my husband went to retrieve him.  Why today… of all days?  Welcome home, I thought.  It really didn’t matter that I was exhausted, bruised, and broken from my hospital stay, a conversation was necessary.  So a conversation would be had.  You can’t just stop the world and get off.  Life demands what it demands.  Buck up and take it like a mom.

I already knew what the graffiti would look like.  Some composition of ” R.I.P.”, a single eye crying, a lone cypress tree standing strong yet contorted by the elements, a poetic rap surrounded by rain.  It had been his running visual dialog for the last month, ever since a friend of his had died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart condition.  In fact, that very day they were supposed to swap back the shoes they had recently borrowed from one another.  It was sudden, it was horrifying, it was real, and it was finite.  It was not something anyone can make sense of, especially not a teenager, and especially not my son, the thinker.  And on top of that, now there was my cancer.  If actions reveal the condition of the heart, our son’s graffiti revealed a heart deeply troubled.  His world had been shaken to the core, and was spinning on an axis of unanswered questions.

Our conversation started with sad eyes and deep sighs.  Tell us about the graffiti. Tell us about your feelings.  Let’s talk about other choices.  Let’s talk about your friend, let’s talk about my illness.  Let us tell you how we see you, the young man that you really are.  Let us tell you how God sees you, the young man that you can be.  Let’s talk about Him.  We must remember how much He loves us, remember what He desires for us, and remember how much we must trust Him.  Really trust Him.  Even when things don’t make sense.

It was one of those rare moments when everything that is pent up comes rushing out wordlessly.  Fears and worry, doubts and frustration, truth and love expressed in trembling hugs and silent cries.  When parent and child meet on common ground each holding broken pieces of themselves in their hands, and look straight into each other with tears in their eyes and yet see everything clearly.  When hearts connect through shared pain, and honesty becomes the gateway to understanding, at a time when there is little understanding of life.  Nothing was as important as that moment, and it was critical for our beginning to cope.

Later that night I realized that what I thought was a cruelly timed problem was really a gift for each one of us.  For had it not been for the circumstances, we would have never had the conversation.  A conversation through which we gathered our brokenness, laid them out before the Lord, and simply said; this is who we are, remind us of who You are.  One through which our heartaches were heard, and our hands were guided to piece our fragile world back together, gently reset it on it’s axis, and get back on.

 

 

All portions of this blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.

Beyond the Threshold

The night was endless. I spent it walking, standing, sitting.  Trying any position that might give some relief to the ever-growing pain.  I sent prayers to the heavens seeking help.  Things were getting desperate, and right before dawn my body began to shake.  I had hit my threshold, and became very afraid about what might lie beyond it.

I thought I knew all about pain.  After all, I’d been through three natural childbirths with back labor to boot.  As it turned out, that was mere child’s play.  None of my pain management techniques worked.  When a tumor is pressing directly on your spine, well, the world could end and you wouldn’t notice.

Off to the ER we went.  After multiple hours and morphine doses I finally began to endure my existence.  Although it seemed barely enough, a higher dose would be dangerous, and the pain ebbed and flowed like an unruly tide.  The cancer that didn’t yet seem real had shown itself to be very real indeed, at once holding captive my every thought, and assaulting my every move.  Why, I thought, had no one warned me that cancer could be so painful.

The next few days were a blur.  A myriad of tests were done as quickly as possible, under threat of the swelling tide of agony that could rush in any moment.  Cat scans, MRI, bone marrow draw, EKG, and a few others I can’t recall.  Then there were the IV’s, the burning injections, and the surgical implantation of a port in my chest, which was then quickly utilized by my first round of chemotherapy.  It would be only after receiving this, that the pain would begin to subside.

But there was one procedure that no one will ever forget.  The spinal tap.  I was forewarned that it might be uncomfortable, but it was only a thirty minute procedure, in and out and done.  So I agreed to let an intern do it under the close scrutiny of a doctor who happened to be “the best there is”.  I curled up in a ball and with my back to them, they began. But the intern could not get the needle all the way in.  He tried again, to no avail.  Deep breath, some instruction, then once again he started, and once again he stopped, without success.

Murmurs and shuffling ensued.  I sensed the doctors exchanging places and furrowed faces.  My husband left the room.  I uncurled and curled up again.  My arms felt the strain and I shivered slightly. But okay, I thought, we have The Best There Is, so here we go now.  No problem.

Problem.  He couldn’t get in.  He tried again.  No luck.  And again.  And again.

Tenseness was rising in the room.  Just then, my oncologist entered.  Looking alarmed, he immediately said what’s happening and I think we need to stop.  They paused.  Strained conversation.  I could sense the heat of frustration warming the coldness of my back.  It just wasn’t going well for The Best There Is.  Yet, who else could do it if not he?  They asked me if I could handle one more try.  I said yes, I’m okay, let’s just get it done, and finally, finally, they did.

Later my oncologist would confess he’d never seen anyone go through that before.  Never had he entered a room so thick with stress that you could cut it with a knife.  Never had he seen it take nine punctures with a four-inch needle to get the job done. Never had he seen The Best bested.  And never had he been so close to demanding respected colleagues to get out of the room.  Now.  Five years later, he still recants this story.

“If someone had told me then, that you were now going to climb Mt. Everest, I’d say, ‘Of course she is.’ ”

* * * * *

But you see… the thing is, I’m not really that strong.  I’ve had my few tenacious moments, but I simply wasn’t capable of breaking all hospital records for tolerance.  Not even in perfect health.  The reality was I had hit my very real, very human threshold days before, during that first long night.  Everything beyond that, I had not handled on my own.

Beyond the threshold of our limitation there is no need to fear, for beyond the threshold of our limitation there is God.  He was waiting at the ready, waiting for me to cross the plane.  And when I did, it was He who carried me through.  In the coming days, He would show up again.  And again.  And again.  Until it finally set in… He would handle those things that I could not.

"make no mistake, it takes everything you have, but know deep down, you have enough"

©Lynnea Washburn

Glass plate from the Living Victoriously collection by Boston International (see Links).

All portions of the blog are ©Lynnea Washburn.  All rights reserved.