She Cries Not as the World Cries

Oh, she always cries, they say,

perhaps without knowing why

 

More than once

there was no promise of tomorrow

no promise of motherhood beyond now

no days without fending off fears

of leaving her greatest loves;

her children, her husband, her family

to live their lives

without her

 

Yet healing came

and with it an unspeakable gratitude

took up residence in the depths of her soul

She found it often welling up

and moving throughout her whole being

outwardly to every extremity

with trembling

filling her so full

there was simply

no room

for it all

 

Her joy is found

in the sound of their laughter

at the sight of their faces

as they call her name; “momma”

as they find their own path

as they walk it with God

as they find their true loves

and they build their own lives

She treasures equally

every shared silly moment

every momentous occasion

every inch of life she’s been given

 

And so it is

there are still times

when her gratitude abounds unbridled

and arrives candidly without warning

Then it looms so large

that it cannot be contained

and it simply escapes

without words

in deep smiles

in long hugs

and in tears

 

So yes

she cries

but not as the world cries

for her days are rich

and her nights have peace

and in all things

she is grateful

God is faithful

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The End of a Journey

Graduation season is upon us, and I, too, find myself ready to “graduate”.   With my story told, it seems only logical to wind down this blog.  I don’t look at it so much as an ending, but as an “advancement”.  It’s time to take what I have learned in looking back, turn my sights, and walk boldly into my future, armed with new knowledge, understanding and expectancy.

Although I am not grateful to have had cancer, I am grateful for how this experience has changed me.  I have been humbled by my frailty, and amazed by the strength God provides.  I walk forward with a greater appreciation for life, a deeper gratitude for relationships, and more empathy for others than I had known before.  I may have come away slightly beat-up physically, but I’ve also come away much stronger spiritually.  I have not only survived, but grown through the process.  And I am here to say, you can too.

Every one of us struggles.  I am no different than so many people… too many people.  But what I’ve been trying to say is simple; we have a choice.  Even in life’s brutal trials, we can choose how we live in it.  In most cases, no one can tell us if we will live through it, how we live in it may be the last thing we do.  I say choose hope.  How in the world, you might ask, can one have hope at such a time?  It’s simple.  You can’t… alone.  There is only one I know who offers the kind of hope that transcends even life itself, and that is God.  And there is only one I know who offers a way to be in right relationship with God, and that is Christ.  If you choose Him, you will find it truly doesn’t matter where He takes you.

So as I turn the tassel, my happy ending marks a new beginning.  There is one last thing I would want you to know, and that is how profoundly grateful I am for you.  Thank you my loving family, my caring friends, neighbors, and churches families near and far, for supporting me with massive prayer, small acts of kindness, and everything in between.  Thank you all, for not giving up on me, and for walking with me the whole way.

Note: I will keep this blog public for a time so it can remain available to new visitors. 

In God’s Eyes ©Lynnea Washburn

Hope in the Fire

The smelter’s fire.  Intense heat.  A forced forging.  A process.  One in which a solid becomes malleable.  Shifting, sifting, chaffing, changing.  A removal of impurities and unwanted elements.  A refining.  In fact, a freeing.  A freeing of what is pure from what is not.

I’ve been there, in that fire.  My fire of adversity was named cancer.  From its appearance, it looked beyond enduring.  When you are in the thick of it, you feel like you are being reduced to your base.  You have no concept of how you got there, how long you will be there, if the process will be repeated, or if you will survive it at all.  And if you do, what will be left of you?

Yet, the Smelter’s fire refines.  If you consider the word “refine”, you see its origin coming from Re, meaning again, and the verb Fine.  Again, fine.  One could even say Again Fine is merely a new starting point, as refine also means to improve little by little, as to be perfected.  Also quite compelling is the word “adversity”, as it is derived from the Latin adveretere; meaning “turn toward”.

Adversity. Turn toward.  Refine.  Again fine.  Improved.

Although we may face adversity in its very worst form, we should always remind ourselves that we still have choices while we are in it.  We can be bitter and angry at our circumstances, asking why me, or why this, or why now.  Or we can turn toward the master Smelter, trust Him, and yield to His hand.

If we trust that in this, there are impurities being purged, in this, we are being reshaped into something more, in this, a greater understanding of truth can be learned, and in this, a deeper relationship with God can be gained, then we will have hope in the fire.  And in the end, we will know that is wasn’t all for naught.

Sometimes, it takes the hottest fire to free us, but at all times, God is still with us.  And when adversity comes our way, if we cling to Him, and put ourselves into His loving hands, then He can use the fire to shape us into the people He made us to be.*

*Zachariah 13:9

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

Daybreak, by Lynnea Washburn, from the Living Victoriously collection.

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

To Begin Again

Watching hair grow is like taking a snail for a walk across the Sahara desert.

Strangely, as soon as fuzz appeared on my head, my wig didn’t feel like me anymore.  This was surprising considering how it had made me feel completely like myself at the beginning.  But after eight months, it felt like the old me, the chemo me, the sick me, and I was ready to leave that me behind.  Although I was still a frightful sight for the general public, around the house I would sport my five o’clock shadow style.

My inching hair was outward evidence of an inward healing that was equally as slow.  Although I had days of aching joints, deep tiredness and very foggy thinking, I began to see small improvements over time. A bit more physical strength here, a longer period of activity there, a little less needed sleep to make it through the day.  I was making progress.

As the chemo mist lifted, I began to see more clearly.  But what I saw simply overwhelmed me.  So much catching up needed to be done.  The house needed repair, the yard needed tending, furniture needed replacing, work needed work, and our bank account left a lot to be desired.  There was too much to do, too much money needed to do it, and it was all going to take too much time.  Things were a mess, and improvement seemed unattainable.  I simply felt… behind.  And for some reason, being behind was an awful, horrible, terrible thing.  It meant that I had lost.

And the reality was, I did lose something.  I lost time I could not reclaim.  Try as I may, I could not possibly catch up for the previous year.  It was gone.  I had to let go of something I never really had a grasp of anyway, and I had to stop beating myself up about it.  Yes, I had won the battle, but I needed to cede that it had cost me something.  And I had to acknowledge that what it cost me was well worth what I had won.  This is obvious, and still, it is a process.

One of the reasons recovery takes so long is that the damage inflicted from the struggle can be so far-reaching.  It can touch all the events that make up the daily flow of our lives, reach all the people we know, and affect our total being; our emotions, our minds, and our physical bodies all the way down to the cell level.

So yes.  It takes time.  But what I found was that before you can even begin to move forward, you must start by leaving what is behind behind you.  I had to accept my reality, grieve what was lost, forgive myself even though it was not my fault, and then to lay it all down at God’s feet.  Only then could I turn my eyes to the next sunrise, be grateful for the new day, and realize how blessed I was to have the chance to begin again.

Sunrise © Lynnea Washburn

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

This is a late addition to this post (because at first I chickened out):

To save you the journey through the Sahara Desert with a snail leading the way, I’ve compressed my hair-raising experience from three years down to a minute and a half.

Deep breath, here I go… if I don’t share it now, I may never.  If I can get through it, so can you.

Walking through Water

Healing.  It’s a slow walk tempered by an elusive resistance that you are unable to fully grasp and move out of your way.  Some days you feel you’ve made great strides, other days you feel your feet are stuck in muck.

With treatment over I was eager to reclaim my life.  As much as I wanted to simply put everything behind me and pick up exactly where I left off, that really isn’t how it works.  For the next five years,  I would be under close supervision.  Year one would include a scan every three months, year two, every four months, year three to year five, every six months.  The first year was critical, as it held the highest probability for the cancer to return.

But I really wasn’t listening to any of that.  I knew I was done.  In fact, I had arranged for my port to be removed by a practitioner shortly after my last treatment.  Afterwards, when I arrived for my first post-treatment evaluation, my onocologist was shocked.

“You did what?!”

“I had it taken out.  I don’t need it any more,” I said.

He sort of fell back upon his chair as he muttered something about that was “ballsy”.  I swore I thought I had heard him give me the green light to remove it.  Guess I was being too selective in my hearing, too literal, too confident, or simply too eager.  What he did say was that I could have it removed after the chemo was done. What he didn’t say was that we might need to use it for chemo again.

Nope. We will not be doing that.  I was certain of it, and I was proven right in the end.

For me, getting that port out was a huge proactive step away from illness.  I had always hated it, and the way it made me feel so… alien.  I felt I belonged in a science fiction movie where you get plugged into a slimy entity that simultaneously provides you with sustenance while it poisons you slowly.  You endure the chill of the swab, the noise of juicy suction, the heat in your veins.  You dare not break the tether for you know the alternative is far worse.  I craved to be rid of it.  When not in use, it often sent waves of pain down my left arm, making me fear I was having heart attacks.  Where ever I went, I had felt it’s invisible chains keeping me linked to the chemotherapy chair. The day that tie was finally broken, it was as if I was finally free, to run again… to run fast… to run away.

Ah… but healing.  You start off with a bang, excited and pent up and ready to sprint like the wind.  But it’s a lot like running full speed into water, all the motions are there, but the minute you reach it, you hit a wall.  No matter how fast you were when you entered this seemingly benign substance, it immediately forces all your efforts into slow motion.  That’s when you realize you better readjust, for it turns out you’re in a long distance event after all.  A five year matter at least, perhaps longer.

In many ways, Overcoming the Cancer was the preliminary heat in a new contest called Overcoming the Treatment.  Turns out they’re both Olympic events, albeit in very different ways.  Now, triumph would be measured in the smallest of gains over the longest of periods with the most consistency of effort.  Like walking through deep water.  So you plod.  You keep going.  One heavy foot in front of the other.  You don’t quit, for there is no going back.  No way.  You remember how God had shown up for you in the past.  And you trust.  You keep the faith that you are getting somewhere.  That you are healing.  And with the grace of God, you will prevail.

Water Lily 1 ©Lynnea Washburn

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

The Day

“Your tumor is gone,” he said.  My mouth dropped open.  “What?”

“Your large tumor is gone, and all the other lymph nodes except one are back to their normal size,” my doctor said, “and that, we believe, is only scar tissue.”

My eyes filled, and blinking back the tears, I asked if he’d wouldn’t mind telling me that again, I wanted to hear it again, I needed to hear it again.  He knew, and obliged… about five times in all.

My husband and I sat stunned and then quickly found each others arms, and held on for the emotional ride that followed.  Tears poured out with relief unimaginable, words lost in overwhelming gratitude.  A joy never understood until now rushed in and filled every corner of my mind, my heart, my soul.  A complete release overcame me like I had never known before.  It was over.  A new breath of life filled me, breathing in relief, exhaling release.  Relief, release.  And I began to pray.

What I had claimed all along, that my God was bigger than my cancer, was now a reality.  What I believed from the start, that the treatment would work in accordance to His plan, was now a fact.  But to have this day come, and to hear the words “your tumor is gone”, was not something I had allowed myself to imagine.  It took time before I could find my voice and repeat the words out loud for fear I might somehow jinx the results.

What I didn’t know was that the next several months would be critical in keeping the cancer at bay.  But I didn’t need to know that now.  It was gone.  I had won.  That’s all I needed to know.  The Day of dancing, The Day of singing, The Day of praise had come.  The Day of good news, of laughter, of living completely unbound was here.  It was The Day my future was returned.  Life was mine, and it was mine right now.  How interesting that it came after I had surrendered completely to God.  I was on a cloud that could not be brought down for anything.

How I longed for the extraordinary ordinariness that had been missing in my life.  How refreshing it would be to operate from a viewpoint that did not center on me.  I was looking forward to looking outward.  Yet, it is only after the battle that one can take stock of what’s left on the battlefield, and just because my cancer was gone was not the same as if it had never happened.  Yes, there was collateral damage to contend with, and yes, there was incredible bounty as well, but all that could wait for tomorrow.  Today was a new day with new hope.

In my profound gratitude, I spent time simply residing in the love of God.  Grateful that His will for me aligned with the answer to my prayer, the intimate cry of my heart, spoken prior to the coming news of The Day.  Lord, mold me, use me, shape me to become who you want me to be.  Use my cancer to do your work.  How can I serve you through this Lord?  Use my cancer to make me… into anything you want.  You know how much I love my children Lord, my heart overflows with love for them.  Allow me a full and healthy life so I may raise them completely, let me experience the joy of their lives.  I know you must feel the same way towards me that I feel towards them.  It is impossible to express.  I pray, Lord, that you will heal me completely.  Thank you Lord.  Amen.

And amen.

Queen Anne's Lace/Welcome Home ©Lynnea Washburn

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