The Edge of Life

I’ve been to the edge of life. I have leaned over the void with an outstretched arm.  I have tilted perilously.  I have strained back and grasped onto my lifeline, made of the things I love.  My children, my husband, my world.  I have teetered this way, and that.  This is how the edge is.  To be sure, it is a solitary place.  Only room for one.  And there, and only there, a single question hangs in the air.

What.  Do.  You.  Believe?

Odd.  I was a bit put off by the question.  I was pretty certain I knew what I believed.  But then… there is knowing what you believe in theory, and there is knowing what you believe in reality.  There’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is knowing.  There’s put-your-life-on-it knowing.  So although I was taken aback by the question, I realized there was a good reason for its asking.  I spent time with this, mulling it over in my mind.

All the while, I just couldn’t get my thoughts away from a certain Old Testament story that always chilled me to the bone.  The one about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him.*  I could not fathom what the father must have been going through as he set out to obey God.  I could not begin to understand the level of faith that he must have had as he made preparations to carry it out.  I simply did not think I would ever be able to have that kind of faith, to put something you love so dearly so completely into God’s hands.  This story always haunted me, but why so much more now?

Then I realized.  God was speaking.  He was asking me if I was willing to put what I held most dear into His hands.  He was asking me if I would offer up the one thing I was fighting so hard to keep.  My very life.   All of it.  My boys, my husband, my family, my friends, my present, my future.  Would I trust Him to do what He wanted with it?  If I truly believed, would I surrender all?

I had a choice, and just like Abraham, it seemed there was no good choice.  I could say yes to God and possibly lose my life.  I could say no to God and possibly live the rest of my life without Him.  For me, the latter was simply not an option.  I realized that more than anything, I wanted to be where God was, instead of where He was not.  No matter where that led me.  Be assured, this was difficult.  It was not easy to bind all the things of my life together, prepare the tinder, and set them upon the altar.  Fighting back my own will, I knew this was exactly what I needed to do.  Then I was reminded that once Abraham set Isaac upon the altar, God let His plan be known, and He supplied an animal to be sacrificed in his place.

So with that, I slowly opened my firmly clutched fists, and gave everything over to Him.

My chemo treatment was complete.  All that could be done was done, and now it was The Time of Waiting.  Waiting for the medicine to work, or not. Waiting for the scan results, good or bad.  Waiting for an answer, whatever it may be.  I was in no rush.  There was no point.  For I knew this: if my whole world were to fall away, I would still be with God, and somehow, some way… it would all be okay.

* * * * *

Often, before God acts, He asks us to first believe.  In this way He grows a great faith in us.  Sometimes it takes being at life’s edge before we truly know what it means to believe.  Sometimes when we are most afraid, we must offer our Isaac up, give it all to Him, and simply trust.  Once we do, God shows up, and lets us know He’s been there all along.

*Genesis 22: 1-18

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Reshaped

I looked like an alternate version of myself.  My bottom eyelashes were finally gone.  I still had some on top, although they were pretty wimpy too, and my eyebrows were not much better.  My shape was also shifting, my weight was up and my face was round.  Without my wig on, I looked rather a lot like Buddha, especially when I sat cross-legged.  But darn it all, I had made it to the halfway mark and could use a break, so I decided I would still go to the party.

After finding a new blouse (in a larger size), squeezing into old jeans (for the last time), I put on my wig, and painted my face.  Literally.  My eyes were constantly watering from the meds, and the bit of eyeliner I managed to get on kept wearing off, so I brought it with me to reapply often.  It took a lot of work, but I thought I looked okay.  Apparently, I wasn’t fooling anyone.

I was met with concerned faces.  Everyone was so kind and caring… but also so worried.  I began to feel uneasy.  I had wanted some fun, to forget my troubles for a while, mingle in a happy crowd, and have a pleasant distraction.  But I wound up spending the night explaining my diagnosis, my treatment, and how I was feeling about everything.  Consolation followed me everywhere.  Not exactly the night I envisioned.

Near the end of the evening it slowly occurred to me.  Oh…I thought, they think this might be the last time they see me.  This set my jaw. I wanted to stand up on a chair in the middle of the room, stomp my foot and scream WAIT! I am not going anywhere!  I decided it would be my last public event for a while.  How long, who knew.  But one thing I did know, I was just going to have to prove them wrong.

Looking forward, I braced myself for the second half of treatment.  I had begun to count them down backwards, four to go, two after the next one, one more after that.  Somehow this helped.  Chemo was slowly reshaping my resistance.  It was getting a little harder to bounce back, that “flu” feeling was lasting longer, and I was getting more tired out each time.  Seeing that last date finally approach was huge.

On treatment day my husband and I arrived with an edgy eagerness.  Deep breath, here we go, last one. But at the check-in desk, I was told I was not on the schedule.  What?  Heat began to rise within me, and I fought to keep my voice in control.  No I’m there, you must be mistaken. I sat right here when you made the appointment. No. You’ve got to be kidding. This is my last time.  You can’t tell me that.  I could tell by her nervousness as she checked her books, that she knew it wasn’t going to happen.  I’m sorry was all she could say.  I stomped my foot and cried WAIT!  I am not going anywhere!  Then, I lost it.  I began to sob.  Uncontrollably.  Loudly.

Wisely, they found me a room where I continued to weep in private.  It was only then that I realized how much it took to get here, to this building, to this floor, to these rooms with their smells, their day-chairs, their IVs.  It took every ounce of strength, every bit of courage I had to walk in here knowing how critical this all was, how venomous the drugs were, how sick I’d feel afterwards, how desperately I needed it to work.  It simply took everything.  When it all came spilling out, there was just no stopping it.

We waited through the morning hoping for a no-show, which would allow me to take their place.  This was a good thing, as it gave me the time I needed to gain some control over my emotions.  When it became clear there was no chance for this to happen, we scheduled it once again, and silently went home.  Not nearly the day I expected.

* * * * *

When things go awry, it’s not always easy to see what God is doing.  But often He uses circumstances to mold us and shape us into who He wants us to be; a better version of ourselves.  One experience can shape our determination, while another can temper it with patience, forming a new resilience not present before. And when He is finally done, no doubt His fingerprints will be all over us.  The bad news is that it hurts sometimes; the good news is that all the while, we are in His hands.

* * * * *

Olives/Faith ©Lynnea Washburn

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Prayer

Most days I felt hope.  It really was quite unexplainable.  But after a while, I began to see why.  Prayers were being said for me everywhere, virtually all over the country.  From my family and friends, to their friends and families, to their congregations, they could have easily counted into the hundreds, most probably the thousands.  I even knew of someone, unsure about this whole God thing, turn to Him and pray on my behalf.  Now that must have really gotten His attention.

Of course, I also prayed.  A lot.  Being the visual person I am, I often put my prayers into imagery that I could really connect with.  Daily, I visualized God’s hand wrapped around my tumor and squeezing it, crushing out the cancer.  Some time later, a scan would show that the tumor had shrunk by 60%.  My doctor explained that although we might always see something where the tumor once was, to think of it like a burnt marshmallow; if you hold it up to the sun, you would see a solid, but if you touched it, it would turn to ash.  I visualized God’s breath blowing the ash away.

In prayer, I visualized my body as a home for the Holy Spirit where nothing unholy was allowed to live.  Later, I was told that my Non-Hodgkin’s cancer was in fact “curable” and not something I would need to “manage” my entire life.  I was told that in time, all my enlarged lymph nodes would go back to their original size, and my lymph system would be working properly again.  A house put back into order.

As I walked into treatment, I felt emboldened as I visualized myself arm in arm with Christ.  After a couple of rounds, treatments became easier, and as a result my drip speed was increased, shortening my treatment time significantly.  Anti-anxiety medications were soon dropped as they were no longer needed, and the side effects of the medication were gone as well.

When I went in for the Famously Painful Injection the day after chemo to boost my red blood cells (one that required warming the skin and an extremely slow rate of injection to ease the wasp-like sting), once again I visualized myself alongside my Trusted Friend, and walked out without experiencing pain.

In the long slow hours of the most difficult days of sickness, when there was nothing left for me to do but simply endure, tears fell as I visualized myself sitting like a child curled up at the feet of Christ.  Simply being in His presence, leaning on Him, I found the inner strength to bear the discomfort, but more than that, I also found peace.

I had always believed in prayer, but now I actually felt prayer.  There were times when I would find myself suddenly uplifted and smiling for no reason at all.  Times when I felt as though I had already won the battle, and optimism would escape from my lips with a gasp.  Yes, there were hard days, but there were also many more days when I felt… well… happy.  And although the whole matter had not yet been settled, one thing was very clear.  Prayer mattered.

Did I think my chemotherapy was working?  Absolutely.  Did I think that prayer was also working?  Absolutely.  To my mental, emotional and physical state, prayer made a difference.  It was clear I was not fighting alone.  Christ said whenever two of you come together and ask anything of my Father, it will be done for you. When two or three gather in my name, I am with them.*  This I take to heart.  Whether it is spoken in thousands of whispers or in the small voice of a boy with his mom, prayer works.  Whether it be expressed with words, with imagery, or only with tears, God hears.  And God cares.

*Matthew 18: 19-20

Thankful ©Lynnea Washburn