Advent: Waiting for God to Step In
A week ago cancer came knocking again. For the past couple months we've been able to live our lives and sort of ignore the whole melanoma thing. In my mind I thought it'd be something we'd deal with every four months when Bryan had his follow up checks, but other than that we could just go back to normal life. Or at least our "new normal". But, last week I was struck with a stark reminder that cancer will never be out of the picture. For us normal will always involve melanoma. For us normal will always include that feeling of looking over our shoulders, and waiting for the ax to fall.
Last weekend my friend Jane wrote a blog post I can't quite get out of my mind. Jane is a dear friend from Prague and her husband is currently going through chemotherapy for leukemia. In a small way we are in similar boats, but in big ways she faces a day-in-day-out reality that I can only imagine. She wrote this and I can't stop thinking about it:
"I think I would have said a bit ago that we were 'getting used to it (cancer)'. In my mind, that was acceptance. But now I disagree with myself. 'Getting used to it' could be avoiding it, minimizing it, forgetting it, hoping it would die without attention....like all the herbs I planted in May. Tonight, acceptance means to me holding the truth in my hands, looking at it, feeling the weight of it, talking about it to God using nice and not so nice words, and trying to reach the place of honestly being able to say that with whatever circumstance I am holding, ' It is well with my soul'."
I'm trying to come to that place where I can accept, where I can hold out my hands and accept whatever God chooses to put there. But, I think I have been trying to accept melanoma in my own strength, by taking my expectations into my own hands. I'll explain, but let me start by sharing what happened this week and what led to these thoughts.
As part of the MSLT2 trial Bryan was accepted into he has to have regular ultrasounds of his lymph nodes. He had his first one on November 30th. They found that one of his lymph nodes is enlarged and did a biopsy to see if it was more melanoma. The day they did it they told us we should have the results by the following Tuesday. On Thursday they called and told us that they underestimated the time and we won't hear anything till Friday. On Friday they called and said they needed to do some more tests on the sample and wouldn't have an answer for us till next week.
It's been a long week. The not knowing. The wondering. The fear. And it looks like we have longer to go in the unknown, waiting period.
In some ways I feel like my whole life has turned into a waiting period. The truth is as much as I want to stay positive, as much as I hope and pray for 50+ more years with Bryan, ever since the melanoma diagnosis I feel like I'm just waiting for the ax to fall.
Right now he's doing well, right now our action steps are minimal, but for how long? I've read the statistics, I know his staging, I know that chances are good that we aren't done with this yet. So, the question has been when? When will the ax fall? One year, five years, twenty years? Or this week?
I hate thinking that way. Living that way. But, I can't seem to shake this foreboding feeling of waiting for something terrible to happen.
As I write this I start to think about Advent. In some ways I find myself in a season similar to that which we all find ourselves in at advent, a season of waiting for an arrival, a season of waiting in the desert, a season of waiting for a Messiah. And yet it strikes me that my waiting is completely opposite from the waiting of advent.
In advent we wait and expect the good. But as I wait, I often find myself expecting the worst.
Why is that? Why is it so hard for me to anticipate and expect good to come? Why do I spend more time worrying about and expecting potentially negative outcomes than I spend expecting God to step in and show up?
Isn't that really what Advent is about? God stepping in and showing up?
Truth be told though, that's not what I expect, it's not what I anticipate, it's not what I look for and wait on. Don't get me wrong, I do expect God to be with us, to walk with us through whatever comes. And I do expect that whatever comes, in the end God will work it for good. But, I don't expect God to, in power, step into my reality and alter it and make it good - not just FOR my good, but good. What would it look like to expect that?
Honestly, when I think about it I feel like it would be delusional and irrational and unrealistic for me to expect that kind of good, to expect God to step in. But, maybe that's sort of what God asks for us in our seasons of waiting, in our seasons of Advent...?
I mean it probably wasn't rational or realistic for the Israelites to believe and expect and trust God to step in and provide for them in the desert. And God knows that they didn't always do a good job at overcoming their own expectations for negative outcomes. But, continually God seems to call them to just that.
And then he promises them a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, but... a land already inhabited. He asks them again to expect and anticipate the best, the good, against completely unlikely and unrealistic odds.
Isn't the same sort of true when it came to their waiting for a Messiah? The things God told them about the coming messiah, where not exactly all realistic.
God hasn't stepped in and told me what to expect, told me it's all gonna be ok, told me we are gonna live in a land flowing with milk and honey, told me Bryan's gonna be ok. But, I'm starting to think perhaps that's more along the lines of what he wants me to expect.
I know that my negative expectations and worry are clearly not good for my heart, soul, or body. But, I think I fear letting go of my negative expectations, because somehow I think by expecting the worst I'm preparing for the worst. But, perhaps expecting the worst isn't really the best kind of preparation. I believe that by setting low expectations I'm protecting myself. But, perhaps it's not my job to protect myself.
Here's where it all ties back to the acceptance I talked about at the beginning... Sometimes I think I'm trying to work my way to acceptance of whatever comes by expecting the worst. If I can expect, picture, anticipate and accept the worst than I am accepting the situation. But, perhaps that's not really accepting whatever comes. Perhaps that's not really what God wants from us when desiring our acceptance. I'm beginning to think that acceptance doesn't mean sealing our fists against the worst, nor does it mean grabbing hold of the worst, obsessing over it and saying, "I will accept this! I will! I will!". No, acceptance is opening our hands to whatever comes, truly whatever.
I think it comes down to this, do I trust God enough to open my hands?
Do I trust God enough to let go of my worrying, let go of my projected outcomes, let go of my fear, let go of my negative expectations?
Can I trust him to protect me?
Can I trust him to prepare me for whatever comes?
Can I trust him to step out in power and come into my situation, to come and make whatever comes good?
Can I turn my advent of waiting for the terrible to come into an advent of peacefully anticipating the good? Can I leave my future, Bryan's future, our future, in God's hands and simply live and love in the now?
These are the thoughts I'm grappling with as we wait to hear if melanoma is back at our doorstep or not.
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman