Numbering Our Days

Three men invaded my home last weekend. Brothers, who’ve been more than friends to my husband since before I knew him.

They have their own way of talking. Subjects that they circle and come back to again. They have their own words and inside jokes.

My husband loves them. Each one of them. Being with them breathes life into his heart.

I love them. Because, for more than a decade, I have watched them love my husband. I have seen their loyalty and their care. They are guys, and they don’t always communicate as much, or as regularly, as I would like. But they show up, and they make my husband feel connected and known.

They and a few others helped shape my husband into the man he is today. I have seen the value of choosing good friends during formative years and my husband had that. He was surrounded by guys who were (and are) trustworthy and loyal, guys who laughed and had fun and goofed off, but who also stood firm in their faith and sought wisdom. My husband would not be the same without these friendships and I will always feel grateful for each of them.

It was so sweet to have them here. So bitter sweet.

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I couldn’t listen to my husband laughing with these friends without thinking, “Will this be the last time?”

I couldn’t see them playing with my children without thinking, “Will the next time be at a funeral?”

I couldn’t join them in planning another visit for next year without wondering, “Will we make it till then?”

Maybe this seems pessimistic to you, maybe it seems like I’m being ridiculous or jumping the gun. Bryan’s tumors shrunk after our last round of chemo. They are back to being about the size they were 3 months ago. We have bought ourselves some time.

We will start another experimental trial treatment at the beginning of March. Our oncologist said that we still have options – he listed off three things we could try after this trial if it doesn’t work. I know we are not at the end yet. But a year feels like a long time. Statistically, I know it’s a long time.

I try to fight those thoughts, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes they come more quickly than I can push them away. And honestly, I’m starting to think that maybe they have their value. Despite the bitter undertone these thoughts gave the weekend, they also added an addition of sweet preciousness.

A desire rose in me with each thought, a desire to soak in the whole weekend, to hold on to it, to remember.

I wish I had taken more pictures while they were here, but I was too busy. I was too busy standing back and letting it all wash over me. Soaking it in.

Most of the time this thing called cancer taints my life with a whole lot of fear and anxiety. But sometimes, it paints a precious sweetness across my days. When you truly know your days are numbered you savor them a little more. It’s cliche but it’s true.

“Teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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A Decade of Yes

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Ten years ago today this man asked me to marry him. I don’t know how to put into words the past ten years.

We were so young then. Yes, young is really the only word for it. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And, oh, there was so much we didn’t know.

I don’t feel so young now. Life and circumstances have aged us and changed us a lot. We are not the same people who said yes to love a decade ago. And yet every day that we keep saying yes we find a love that is infinitely sweeter than when we began.

We have grown and changed together. We have learned and questioned and shifted together. We have cried and fought and wounded together. We have made choices together. And we have found in one another part of ourselves.

This man, that I said yes to ten years ago, is part of me now. Because of all the yeses that we have said to one another since that day, we are now one.

And today I want to cling to him. Fiercely.

I want to cling to the life that I have with him and because of him.

Last night I rubbed his back with tears streaming down my face as he swallowed a pill full of poison. Chemo has been hard this week. He’s tired and nauseated. He’s slept through most of the week.

This morning he left for his chemo infusion without saying goodbye and my sensitive heart cried soft tears. All I could think was I should be going with him. I should be with him. I can’t not be with him. I don’t know what I would do without him. I don’t know what I would be without him.

I imagine that couples who’ve spent multiple decades together feel this even more. But, we’ve done a lot of living in our one decade of marriage. We’ve said a lot of yeses. And each yes has knit us closer together. We’ve shared a lot of life and love, hurt and hope. We are connected. And this threat of separation called cancer, it rips at me.

I had no idea what I was getting into a decade ago. But I knew that Bryan and I fit and a I know that even more now.

Marriage can be tough. Really tough. And marriages can die while both partners live on. Each “no” that we say to one another, each time we turn away, connection is cut and severed just a little bit.

I am so grateful that is not our story. I am so grateful for all the yeses that we have said to one another since that first yes. I am so deeply grateful for the ways that we have said yes to adventure and love and romance, in all the nitty gritty daily ways of real life. I am so grateful that even in the tough places, the heart crushing days, we can turn together and breath a sigh of gratitude to be together in the muck. 

There really is no one I would rather walk through this muck with than Bryan. Thank you, Bryan, for turning toward me a decade ago and every day since. Thank you for all the yeses you’ve said to me and all the opportunities you’ve given me to say yes to you.

I’m praying fiercely for another decade of yeses today. 

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Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

photo credit: Mikel Anne Photography


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Surely Goodness and Mercy

I was already sick when it happened. Sicker than I’d ever been. High fever, cough, aches all throughout my body.

He went from having no pain to intense pain in a matter of hours. He went from walking fine and taking care of me in my illness to limping and barely being able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. And it happened over night. Quick.

He put on a pretty good face when others were around, but even they could tell. He took pain meds when he never takes pain meds. He was hurting.

And it broke my heart.

The tumor in his leg bone suddenly started to cause him intense pain. And the reality of cancer sunk a little deeper into my bones, or more accurately into my lungs.

In Chinese medicine the lungs are the seat of grief, and it’s no surprise that my grief-heavy lungs were unable to fight off the illness which quickly turned into pneumonia.

This was the first time that cancer itself really caused my husband pain. He’d had small superficial tumors which had annoyed him before, and he’d had pain from drug side effects, but this was the first real intense pain from cancer itself. And that, my friends, was scary.

We’ve been very lucky, blessed, grateful that Bryan really hasn’t felt too bad since starting this whole cancer journey. His quality of life hasn’t suffered much. We’ve had nearly three years of cancer and only short seasons of pain mostly caused by drugs. But, this was different.

Cancer has been something that I knew theoretically he could die from, that I knew he was likely to die from. But even on those days when it felt very real and when I was being very realistic, it still felt sort of far off. This pain in his leg made it feel close.

I realized suddenly that cancer causes pain, that cancer eats and kills and destroys. It’s not just that drugs and treatments cause pain, it’s that cancer itself can.

The speed at which the pain came on also terrified me. It didn’t happen slowly or gradually. It was sudden. It was quick. And I found myself asking could this cancer attack his heart, his liver, his kidneys, just as suddenly? Could he wake up tomorrow with unbearable pain in a vital organ? Could he wake up tomorrow without the use of a vital organ at all?

These questions take my already labored breath right out of my lungs. They rip at my heart and make me want to choke back tears every time I look at Bryan. Every time he pulls me close. Every time he smiles at me.

His leg is better now, thanks to a strong dose of radiation. The pain is better. But his tumors aren’t shrinking. At this point the doctors are just guessing at what might work. It’s all theory. No one knows.

On Monday Bryan will start a round of chemo just for one week. There’s a theory that it could help. Not to cure the cancer – no one really thinks chemo can do that with melanoma – but help set his system up for success for the next treatment we will try. An experimental drug trial.

Another experiment.

I want to keep trying whatever we can try. I want him to do whatever they will let him. I want to follow whatever theory we can, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, one of them will work. But I’m also tired of feeling like my husband is a lab rat. Tired of it all being guess work and theory. I wish I knew something would work.

I really thought this last treatment would work. I had so much hope for it. But, it hasn’t worked. It’s not working. I’m having to face that head on. And my body hasn’t handled it well. I’m sick and I’m tired. And I feel broken.

But I keep coming back to 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I feel like that. I feel like a clay jar. Fragile. Chipped. Weak. And I pray that God’s power might be revealed in my weakness. Because although I am hard pressed, perplexed, struck down, I am not abandoned. I am not alone. My soul knows that so well. I am hurt, I am grieving, I am scared, I am frightened, I am weary, weak, and sick. But I am not destroyed. And no matter what comes I know we will not be destroyed.

To say that death has no sting feels like a lie. Even just the threat of death and separation stings my heart and lungs with pain. But I know, I trust, I believe, I feel that there is victory even in the sting of death. That the victory is just as real as the sting and the pain.

I carry around death, but I also carry around life.

And though I walk through a valley of death I know that I am not alone, the spirit of the living God walks with me. There is comfort there. Even in the pain. Even in the hurt. My cup is full. Full of life and love and so much gratitude.

I have the best husband a girl could ever ask for and it has been goodness and mercy and grace to me that I have had more than ten years with him.

And I know, surely, no matter what comes that goodness and mercy and grace will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of The Lord forever.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Rain in the Desert

When we first moved to Arizona we had a lot of dust storms. It was a very dry year and the dust threatened to swirl up around our faces, and our hearts, regularly. It felt synonymous with where we were at in our own journey. Dry, confused, swirling.

This year has been different. This year there has been a lot of rain in the desert.

There’s lots of interesting things about rain in the desert. It’s not like rain in other places. It doesn’t come very often, but when it does it comes with intention. Hard. Heavy. Fast. A flood of nourishment.

Where the ground is ready to receive, quick growing prairie grasses will sprout after rains. They are short lived growth, but beautiful in their own way. They don’t last long, but they still serve their purpose as food for wildlife, food for longer lasting dreams.

Most of the growth that comes from the rains in the desert is small and slow. The plants here respond to rain differently then plants in other landscapes. They draw it in and hold on to it. They suck it up in to their core and store it away for when they need it. Even when there is lots of rain in the desert they don’t forget that they are still in a desert.

Again this has felt so synonymous with my heart and the season I have been walking.

In the past year we had lots of rain in the desert. We had eight months of good test results from Bryan. We had visits with friends and family that were really filling. I had dreams quickly come into fruition. We had sweet moments together as a family.

And especially at the end of December and beginning of January I had the presence of God heavily surround.

I think there are seasons to our walk with God. Seasons where it is easy to feel him, where scripture and everything else as well seem alive with presence, where prayer feels like breathing, where it just feels right and filling to follow him.

And then there are seasons when he is very quiet. Seasons where there is no nourishment from the heavens, no rain in the desert, just parched thirst. And in those seasons we are asked to keep putting one foot in front of the other and follow anyway.

Not long ago I was driving alone at night, a rare occurrence, and it was raining. My heart felt flooded with gratitude for the ways God had been filling me up, the ways he had been so present lately, for the ways he has been nourishing my heart. I felt flooded with gratitude for the life that I live – it’s not the easiest life, but it’s good, and there’s a lot of stability in it, despite the unstable. I wouldn’t trade it.

And then as I watched the windshield wipers pick up the drops of water and fling them away God brought to mind the cactus. How it holds on to the rains and doesn’t let go.

How can I do that? How can I cling to and remember this feeling of fullness, this nourishment, this gratitude, even once it isn’t pouring down all around me.

Because the truth is I live in a desert. I live in a hard place. A dry place. A place that doesn’t often see lots of rain.

But I am also constantly being nourished. And what I receive I need to hold on to, remember, store up, because there are more barren days coming.

Even this week the rains have stopped. I came down with a very bad case of the flu, Bryan’s tumor in his leg grew to the point of causing him intense pain. It’s been a dry and weary week. But I’m trying to hold that rain in my heart. Trying to remember the hope I started the year with.

That’s my word for this year: hope. Brave Hope. It feels like a hard thing to hold on to right now, a fleeting, fragile thing – hope. But, I’m clinging to it, holding it close, deep within… like a cactus holding on to the rain.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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Hope: Between Desire and Surrender

I have wanted to write this post for a while. It turned over and over deep in my gut, but the words hadn’t reached my lips yet. Until today. Something shifted in my heart and I knew there were thoughts I needed to share.

In the past few years since Bryan’s cancer diagnosis and Sage’s cerebral palsy diagnosis we have run across a familiar philosophy over and over again. There are some Christian circles that it is particularly dominant in, but it permeates even the secular. This philosophy has one thing to say to us in the midst of dark seasons and difficult circumstances: Just Believe. Just Stay Positive.

When those touting this philosophy hear of Bryan’s cancer or my daughter’s cerebral palsy they say things like “You just have to have faith, you just have to believe and not doubt and the prayer offered in faith will cure the sick man. You just have to believe and it will all be ok.” The more secular version would say something like, “You just have to stay positive. If you stay positive you can change your energy. Envision what you want to happen.”

I wrestled with these statements. On a lot of levels.

A few weeks ago a woman stopped me at my son’s school and asked a few questions about my daughter, Sage. Then she asked if she could pray for Sage and I of course said yes. She didn’t get more than a few words into the prayer before I started to feel uncomfortable. She prayed the kind of prayer that prays “in faith”. She asked for my daughter’s healing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would sing loud songs of praise if my daughter was suddenly able to do the things which have so far been so difficult for her. If she could walk or talk my heart would dance.

But here’s the thing, my daughter isn’t a problem to be fixed.

I would love for God to step in and changing my daughters condition, but I am also ok if he doesn’t. And she is too. She is enough as she is. She is not a problem to be solved or a broken puzzle to be fixed. She is a beautiful, full, lively, and bright, little girl who has value exactly as she is. And I sing loud songs of praise every day and my heart dances happy steps just because I get to be her mama.

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So often, in the church especially, and western society particularly, we come at things from this industrial mindset of “fixing”. We aren’t comfortable with discomfort, we aren’t comfortable with grief, we aren’t comfortable with things that don’t fit our normal little boxes and so we try to fix them. We think that if we pray the right prayer, do the right thing, then things will be ok.

We would all say that we know being a Christian isn’t going to make our lives perfect, but when it really comes down to it isn’t that sort of what we believe? We believe we are owed something. Sometimes we put some prerequisites on it, like “if we have enough faith” or “if we’ve found enough favor” by doing the right things, but essentially we are saying if we have/do x than God will do y.

That is not the God I know.

The God I know doesn’t fit in my nice neat little boxes. He doesn’t make life perfect, or even comfortable, he likes to shake things up instead.

This whole philosophy of “having enough faith” never sat right with my heart, because it feels like putting God in a box. It feels like creating a formula for what we want.

I know there are verses that supported it, but I couldn’t fully understand them. It didn’t sit right with me because it didn’t feel like obedience to what I knew deep in my bones I was being called to do when it came to Sage’s condition, or when it came to Bryan’s.

Throughout the first few years of Bryan’s cancer diagnosis, and especially at this time last year, I didn’t feel like I could hope, and honestly I didn’t feel like I was suppose to.

I constantly felt God calling me to put Bryan (and Sage) completely and utterly on the alter, as Abraham put Isaac on the alter, completely ready for the worst to happen. I had to wrestle through all of my feelings associated with the worst happening. I had to come to a place where I could say “Yes, Lord, I will follow you even into that.” I had to wrestle with God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness.

I had to go into the dark places. Not avoid them with nice platitudes or positive thinking.

Holding on to positive thoughts, holding hope and faith, felt fake. I couldn’t for the life of me make it feel honest. I knew in my heart that when I tried to be positive, tried to believe that Bryan was going to be ok, all I was doing was running from God, trying to cover over my fear in my own strength. When I forced myself to think of positive outcomes, when I forced belief that I didn’t have, I made it all about me instead of about God.

And that is exactly what that sort of “just have enough faith” thinking does, isn’t it? It makes it all about us. It makes it all about what we can do for God. I don’t want a faith like that.

The truth was that I couldn’t hold positivity and hold obedient surrender at the same time. Believing in the best possible outcome went hand-in-hand with trying to control my own future and I knew deep down that wasn’t what God wanted from me.

He wanted something entirely different. I heard it in every whisper of the spirit. I sensed it in every dark corner of my heart. I felt it with all my fear and all my broken humanity. We were waging a battle and the battle wasn’t for belief it was for control. It was for my very soul.

I didn’t need to pray the prayer that could move mountains, I needed to pray the prayer of Gethsemane. I needed to voice my desire to go another way. “Lord, if there is another way”, and wrestle with the God who says no.

I needed to lay down all my plans for the future in the hands of a sovereign God. I needed to abandon all of my idols, the most significant being my own way. I needed to come to the place where I could enter into my worst fear, go into the darkness of the worst possible scenario, and find God still there. I needed to come to a place where I knew that the Spirit would still be trustworthy whatever cross might be laid upon my shoulders.

I had a moment last Christmas when all of that wrestling with God came to a head. And something in my soul broke. Of course there have been other battles for control since, but I have lost them more quickly and laid them down more gladly.

But, now there is something new.

There are so many parallels between this Christmas season and last Christmas season when it comes to Bryan’s cancer, but this season feels so different.

Last Christmas at this time everything was uncertain, Bryan had tumors all over his body and we weren’t sure if the treatment we were pursuing would do any good. This year the same is true, Bryan’s tumors are growing slowly but steadily. The treatments we have been using don’t seem to be working and we don’t know if they will start to work.

But, my heart is in a different fight now.

In this season there has been another whisper that comes to me when I am quiet. At random times over dishes, or laundry, or on my yoga mat I feel it. Hope is rising. Without effort on my part, without contriving. It comes.

And I am instantly faced with a temptation. Will I let it in? Or will I doubt hope’s whispers? Will I only believe what my eyes can see or will I hold hope in faith?

When Bryan’s tumors stopped responding to the last treatment, when they started to grow again last fall, and we knew we had to pursue another treatment, I felt so clearly and strongly that this next treatment would work. Maybe not forever (probably not forever) but for awhile. Now we are pretty far into this treatment and there is no sign that it’s working. Bryan has a tumor in his stomach the size of my fist which isn’t getting any smaller. I can see things growing. I can feel new tumors appearing. There is a temptation to panic.

Yet that voice keeps calling me, “Will you listen to me instead of to what you see?” Hebrews 11 keeps coming to mind, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I come again to the story of Abraham and Isaac but with different eyes and a different struggle. I face now the faith of Abraham. And I hear the voice of Spirit with a loud and clear message, a message of hope.

I come again to the passages about faith which can move mountains and they don’t sit as awkwardly and uncomfortably in my heart.

Last year I couldn’t hope. Last year I couldn’t believe. And I don’t think God wanted me to, not then. Because last year, I couldn’t hold hope without holding on to the outcome I wanted. I couldn’t hold belief without holding onto control. I couldn’t hold faith without making it all about me and my own desires.

But, something is different now, and I feel it deep in my gut. Now that I know what it feels like to surrender to sovereignty, I can ask for faith without trying to force faith upon myself in my own strength. Now that I am not trying to escape from anything or fix anything, I can explore what it means to ask in hope. 

I had to let go of everything before I could begin to learn what it is to hold on to something with hope.

Now, I can feel the freedom to hope. Not with a childlike hope, which requires getting what it wants in order to be fulfilled, but with an mature hope. A hope that can hold desire with open hands, a hope that can hold the white space between desire and surrender.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany


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