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

Advertisements

Thoughts in Prose

A little different than previous posts ~ sharing prose penned in my journal.

Note: These are for you ~ use them, write them in cards you send, share them in conversations you have, email, text… give someone an encouraging word.

_______________________

Small Joys

You can

see the sun rise

you can

hear the birds sing

you can

feel the fresh air

passing by

For there are

small joys

that still can be found

and when it might seem

no one else is around

You can

lean on me

we can

spend the hours

listening to life

and smelling the flowers

_____________________________

Reflection

I thought of your laughter

and I found myself happier

I thought of your kindness,

and I became more considerate

I thought of your enthusiasm

and I got more accomplished

I thought of your big heart,

and I found more room in mine

Then I thought of all that you are facing,

and I got down on my knees

I’m so grateful for the ways you show up in my life,

and I pray for God to show up in yours

_____________________________

Stillness

Today,

just let the world pass…

find peace in rest,

for it is the only job

you need to do right now

Take the day

gently as it comes…

embrace the time

in which you allow yourself

to heal

For today ~

just trust…

that stillness

is best

_________________________

Present

Today

may not be going

the way you might choose,

but today

is yet a gift

because today

I can tell you once again

all that you mean

to me

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

Overliving

Halfway to the halfway mark.  You’ve got to find your milestones no matter how small they are.  A new cycle had emerged; treatment, side effects, normalcy, repeat.  Four cycles, evaluation, then four more.  It was a deceptively simple routine.  One in which I felt I was accomplishing nothing, but at the same time experiencing everything way too much.  I called it “overliving”, a side effect of sensory overload, an awareness dialed up to the tenth power.

It began with oversmelling.  Every smell had intensified so much that a once-pleasant scent was now acrid.  Cooked chicken smelled like dead foul, steak like rotting cow, and coffee smelled exactly like what it was; burnt beans.  The smells were closely paired with overtasting.  Even water now had the flavor of chemicals and chlorine.  Nothing tasted as it had before, or perhaps it tasted exactly as it should… about this I have continued to ponder.

Then there were the soaps, the cleansers, the shampoos.  I can’t tell you how many different varieties were tried.  Even the unscented had scent.  And oh, how they lingered!  On the sheets, on my clothes, on my skin.  The products certainly did their job, and no amount of rinsing reduced their ever-so-fresh guarantee.  Each scent was now overdone and overblown, and made my nose zing in agony.

Body temperature was another thing.  Whether it was my skin or my internal gauge, I was completely out of whack.  At times overly hot, but more often much too cold.  I felt every little draft, and spent many hours wrapped up and still chilled to the bone.  When a wood fire was lit in an effort to bring me comfort, it smelled as if I was inhaling the burnt cinders themselves.

Surprising however, were the emotional changes.  This wasn’t on the radar of possible side effects.  I started noticing and enjoying seemingly little things I had missed before.  I felt happiness more strongly, gratefulness daily, and found much to appreciate around me.  The purity of a bird’s song, the warmth of a single ray of sun, the peace found in the dusk of the day, and the uplifting breeze that held the promise of spring.  I found new appreciation for small joys.

Music fell fresh upon my ears, with new meaning and more emotion than before.  Sunday messages held words spoken uniquely for me as if I were the only one in the room.  Conversations were filled with insights and resonating truth.  Books were read with new levels of understanding and empathy.  I often felt as if I were seeing things for what they truly were for the very first time.  I found new significance in familiar places.

It was as if somewhere it had been decided that if I had to endure the physical discomfort of this new kind of overliving, then I would also get to experience a new kind of overjoying.  And although the physical effects would gradually diminish, there has been something lasting about the emotional ones.  One was clearly medication-based, but the other?  Perhaps… this was merely grace.

And once again I pondered, if life is not the same as it was before… perhaps now it is exactly the way it should be.

Water Lily 1 ©Lynnea Washburn

Water Lily 2 ©Lynnea Washburn

Water Lily crystal paper weight

From the Living Victoriously collection of fine products by Boston International.

All portions of this blog ©Lynnea Washburn.

Friends and Guardian Angels

As if a horn blew some warning call, so immediate were they that rallied around the one who was down… uplifting, soothing, encouraging, feeding, caring.  In all my life, I had never experienced anything like this.  Still to this day, when I think of the hours so well-tended by friends, my heart swells, my eyes fill, and I choke on humility.

My deep fear was that I would wear them out.  How long could they last, exactly what would I need?  No one knew.  I discovered it’s not a question friends ask.  They came with dinners, with books and with flowers, with lists of whom to call ~ for rides, for cleaning, for spending the night if needed.  They came with encouraging words, with prayer, with humor, and with hope.  They came with love.  I felt so undeserving, so overwhelmed, so incredibly grateful.  I was aware I was accumulating a great debt.  How in the world, I thought, how in the world… would I ever be able to thank them.

I tried keeping lists of who brought what, said what, did what.  With my mind clouded by chemo, the only clarity had been that there was absolutely no way I could keep up with all the thank yous I owed.  No way.  Tears of sadness at my own inability mixed with profound thankfulness for their deep capacity to care.  With regret I tenderly set aside the many unfinished lists, tucking them somewhere into the pages of these days.

Allowing myself to accept help was never my forte.  Admitting I was struggling was not really my thing.  Accepting this kind of friendship was like receiving a gift beyond measure, at once being something you can’t live without, and something of which you can’t possibly be worthy.

At the time, I felt completely disarmed.  Yet now I see I was armed to the nines.  For certainly I was in the trenches fighting the battle of my life, but somewhere behind me my ammunition kept coming.  Those behind me stayed steady, behind me stayed true.  I dared not turn to take my eyes off the prize. And I knew if I could reach victory, it would not be mine alone.  For each of us fought, all the way, to the end.  Each of us won, not just I.

* * * * *

Every prayer you say makes you part of the healing.  Every encouragement you speak makes you part of the hope. Every kindness you offer makes you part of the light.  Every moment you give makes you part of the fight.

And every time you held me in your thoughts, you lifted me.  Know that I felt it.  Know that I needed you.  Know that I thank you… with all of my heart.  You were both my strong guardians, and my very real angels.  Even more than that, you were my friends.

Cattails and Marsh Birds ©Lynnea Washburn

From the Living Victoriously collection of fine products from Boston International.

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