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

Act II

I was checking off my last-minute errands before we took off to Mexico the next day.  It was a vacation I finally felt well enough to enjoy, except for this little bout with a pesky chest infection.  No matter, I thought, another round of antibiotics should do the trick, and I was just leaving the doctor’s office with prescription in hand.  I should have known it was bad sign when the nurse came running out after me as I headed to my car after the chest x-ray.

“Can you come back in?” she asked, “The doctor would like to speak with you.”

Crap.  They found something.

A million things ran through my mind in that short walk back to his office.  My health had been returning steadily.  It had been almost four years of clean scans since my cancer treatment.  Had the lymphoma returned?  Could it be?  But these symptoms were different.  I couldn’t catch my breath after walking ten yards, my heart pounded after walking upstairs, and I couldn’t sleep due to a constant cough.  Nothing like before.  It wasn’t the same script.

Doctor N gave me that same sideways look I had seen once before.  Uh oh, I thought.

“You may have Cardiomyopathy,” he said.

“I don’t know what that is, but it has something to do with the heart…?”

“Yes, its heart damage.  Most likely caused by the chemotherapy,” he continued.  Knowing of my vacation plans he said, “You need to have an echocardiogram immediately.  I’m setting up an appointment for you downtown this afternoon, and I’m working on getting you in to see a cardiologist.”  I only learned later he had been writing “STAT” on everything all along.

Like a book you are partway through before you realize you’ve read it before (except you don’t remember the ending), this was all way too familiar.  Numbly I drove downtown, knowing the way to the hospital by rote, which allowed me too much time to ponder what this all really meant.

After the echocardiogram was done, the tech nurse asked if I could wait a minute.  She wanted to have a cardiologist check it before I left.  As more and more time ticked away, I began to realize they were debating whether they should let me go.  Finally, the nurse said I could leave, but that Doctor N would be calling me.  I got as far as the lobby outside the exam room when my phone rang.

Good news just doesn’t travel this quickly, and I knew what he was going to say even before he got the words out.  “As I suspected, you do have Cardiomyopathy.  You have an urgent appointment Monday morning to see the cardiologist.  We decided to let you go home now instead of admitting you, but Lynnea. you. cannot. go. to. Mexico.”

I sat, eyes brimming, as fear egged on emotions that I fought to contain.

“I’m so sorry,” he continued, “I know it’s not what you wanted to hear, but this is extremely serious.  If something were to happen… you may not come back.”  As that idea sunk in, I knew he was right, and although I could barely form the words, I said I would be at the appointment on Monday.

Now what.  What in the world was I dealing with?  How serious is “serious”?  What about the trip?  We’re leaving in the morning.  No wait, I’m not leaving.  Should they still go?  They should go.  Will they?  They won’t want to.  Am I safe to stay alone?  What if…?  What a mess.

Of course the first thing my husband and I did when I got home was to go to the internet and seek out as much information as possible.  That’s when we learned that… oh… Cardiomyopathy is Heart Failure.  All my symptoms were there… and, ohh… the possibility of organ transplant… and ohhh…. the possibility of sudden death.  That’s when the reading stopped.  Cue ton of bricks.

We looked at each other, held on tight, let the tears flow until we found our breath.  Shaking my head and straightening, I said,  “Well.  We’ve been here before, haven’t we?”  Conceding nods.  We both know the mantra that comes next.

“You and I both know that if it is time for me to go, then no one, and nothing, will prevent that from happening.  And, if it is not time for me to go, then no one, and nothing, can make that happen.”

If it had not been for the cancer, I would not have known this to be true.

I could not believe I was in this place again, but now was not the time to think about that.  We only had a few hours to sort things out, tell the family, and make a new plan.  It was emotional, messy, difficult, hard, hard work.  Finally, with the help of my parents, a plan emerged that we could reluctantly live with.  I would stay, my oldest son would be there with me until my parents flew in the next evening.  My husband, son and girlfriend would go to Mexico as planned with the understanding if they decided to turn around and come home at any time, they could.

So marked the inauspicious beginning of Act II; Heart Failure.

And although my heart didn’t stop working at that time, it surely felt like it was breaking.  Clearly Mexico was not where God wanted me to go.  But I couldn’t help but ask Him ~ then where in the world, God, are we heading now?

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

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

The Circus Master

It’s amazing how fast things whirl around you when you are set perfectly still.  There are times when no matter how hard we try, we just can’t keep up.  Instead of the perfectly spinning top, we find ourselves wobbling like one about to topple.  It’s in those times when we must accept that we are no longer the efficient version of ourselves.  But it’s hard to give yourself permission to carry less than you once did, and it’s hard to be the one taking on the extra load.

From where I sat, watching our Family Circus, I thought things seemed pretty typical.  The boys skirted their homework, played video games too loudly, bumped off the walls while doing just about anything, and were generally the same old mess makers they had always been.  But for some reason it seemed this was no longer tolerable to their dad, and his patience was clearly running out.  A casual thing for some perhaps, but a rare event in our household.

Our easy-going guy had become the barking task master and was now making everyone jump.  So many things got under his skin.  The dishes, the schedules, the appointments, the laundry, the housework, the meals.  All the things that made up our three-ring life.  Even my reminder of whom-needed-to-be-picked-up-when resulted in a sharp snap in my direction.  Something was definitely off.  It didn’t make sense that the regular routine had now become so irritating.

Certainly things weren’t working quite like they once had, and I could see my husband was working harder than ever.  The energy required to parent this household was already demanding enough, and now he was going it alone.  His juggling act got very complicated.  On top of his job, the boy’s schedules, and caring for me, he was trying to keep normalcy balanced up in the air for fear it would all come tumbling down.  It was no wonder he was losing his grip.  I worried, wondered if he had anyone to talk to, and decided we had better try to sort it out.

Carving out some time alone, we finally got to talk.  As we did, we began to unpack the load, sorting through the tightly bound piles looking for things he shouldn’t be carrying.  Would things go smoother if the boys pitched in more?  Sure.  But we know they aren’t going to become perfect children just because of my cancer.  A loosened knot.  It’s unrealistic to think any of them will change into superman overnight (or ever).  An untied bundle.  And you know, you can’t expect to, either.  Another burden set aside.  The piles of shoes, the backpacks, the afternoon dishes, are these really worth being so upset?  Unbound.  Considering everything… do these things really matter…?  Unloaded.

We sat talking, working, unwinding, unbinding, until there was only one thing left in our pack.  And then I saw.  It wasn’t about any of those things.  It was about the single, biggest, hugest thing we had ever carried before.  It was about the one thing we couldn’t bear to speak.  The thing too difficult to articulate.  Beyond what to do with anger when there is no right place for it to go.  Beyond staying mute with indignation while wanting to cry out I am sorry that I am sick.  It was about standing on the high wire of our life and looking out and seeing nothing underfoot.  Not daring to take a step forward, not even daring to take a breath.

Finally, we exhaled.  Then the words came.

“We both know… if God decides it’s my time to go, then no one and nothing can prevent that from happening.  But if God decides it’s not my time to go, then no one and nothing can make it happen.”

And for some reason, simply knowing only that, it was enough.

Enough to gather up the things we should carry, give all the rest to God, and walk hand in hand into another day.

Queen Anne's Lace ©Lynnea Washburn

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