A Country Called Cancer

There’s something they don’t tell you, something you don’t realize when you’re first diagnosed with cancer or when you first have an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer. You aren’t just entering the “worst club with the best people” as they sometimes say, you are crossing a border. You’re becoming an expat in a new land, a war zone. 

You hope that you can live there a short time, fight in the battle you’ve been recruited into, and then move on, move out, make a new home in a city called Survivor, in a town called Remission. What you don’t realize though, is that Survivor and Remission are just border towns in the country of Cancer. Once you cross the borders into Cancer, you can never go back. There are always check points, check ups, and always the chance of being recruited back into the battle again.

You also don’t realize that sometimes, for many soldiers, Survivor and Remission will never open their gates. These solders will fight in the battle and live in the war zone for the rest of their life. They may have weeks, or, God willing, maybe whole years, when they can visit or even set up home in the small neighborhood of Stable Disease. But, leaving the war zone is never an option. They’ve been drafted for life.

Often those on the outside don’t realize that you are a resident in the country of Cancer now. They think you can leave, they pray for your return, they expect you to move home someday, to be completely free of the battle. But this is a battle that leaves permanent scars, this is a citizenship that is irrevocable.

Bryan is one of those soldiers that’s been drafted for life and as his wife I’ve been drafted along with him. And we’re tired.

You see there’s something else that you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it: sometimes the periods of reprieve, the times when tumors are shrinking or stable, the times when you aren’t fighting head on and you can take a little breather on the side lines, those times are harder than being in the heart of the battle. It sounds ironic and ridiculous doesn’t it? But, let me tell you it’s true.

In the middle of the fight, in the height of the struggle, Adrenaline comes to the rescue. Fight kicks in and takes over. At the height of Bryan’s pain during the past few months I was more productive than I’ve been in ages. There was something to do, a battle to fight, and I fought it and then some extra ones too. Adrenaline carried me.

After almost three months of intense and growing pain, last week Bryan’s tumors started to shrink. His pain stopped. Thanks to lots of prayer, three tiny little pills, and God’s unending grace, we experienced our own little miracle.

Friends and family celebrate, and praise, and scatter.

And I wish I could join them, but I sit on the sidelines feeling the bruises that adrenaline kept me from feeling before. Now Adrenaline has said it’s goodbyes and left us feeling wasted and weary. With more breathing room, anxiety has space to come to the surface and yell. It lobbies for my attention at every turn. It keeps me awake at night with it’s voice in my ear.

We are grateful. And we do rejoice. We are relieved and we continually count this season a blessing we weren’t sure we were going to get. But we are still in the war zone and the quiet is deafening. We have no idea when the next raid will come, when the next battle will break in, when the next air strike will drop. And all the fight has gone out of me.

This yo-yoing back and forth, this being relieved and then being struck down again, and again, and again. It takes a toll.

Next month it’ll be five years since Bryan was drafted into this battle and we moved into the Country of Cancer. Five years. We are grateful that it has been so long. Grateful that each season of battle has been followed by a season of reprieve. Grateful that we have lived long by melanoma standards in the land that many don’t last long in. But we are weary of this citizenship.

I see the walls my little heart has built after 5 years and I wonder what sort of armor I’ll wear after a decade. Could I do a decade? I pray for a decade. I pray for more. Yet at the same time fearing the bruising and battles that a decade of this would bring.

They say “bloom where you’re planted”, but I still haven’t figured out how to bloom in the the country of Cancer. These battles take everything from me, the fear that gets stirred up each time my husband’s cancer grows again demands my full attention. And when the bombs stop falling and these battles leave me space to breathe and imagine, I always find I’m too weary and beat down to do the work. To do any work.

Today I’m reminding myself that though I have been a citizen of Cancer for five years, and a citizen of another battle ridden country (Special Needs Parenting) for just as long, these are not my only citizenships. 

I am also a citizen of another country,

a country with a promise, 

a country ruled by the King of Grace,

the God of Love. 

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Grace and peace,

Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

…And Also Weary

Lately I’ve struggled with insomnia. As I lay in bed I stare at the ceiling, or at my husbands sleeping face next to me, and I think and pray. It’s given a lot of room to my thoughts. Sometimes more than I would like.

You’d think when my husbands tumors started to shrink the only feeling I’d feel would be gratitude. Or joy and elation. You’d think my heart would be filled with nothing but praise. You’d think that I’d start to be able to sleep at night. But, that’s not the case.

In the past three weeks since Bryan finished chemo the tumors that we can feel have shrunk a lot. They are back to where they were 4 months ago. This is amazing news. Good news. It’s news that breaths life into our days. It’s news that has enabled us to feel new freedom. The freedom to dream and pursue things on our bucket list. A month ago I didn’t think we had that kind of time. Now I do. That feels really good.

But, I have a confession to make.

Those really good feelings – gratitude, freedom, joy, thankfulness – aren’t the only feelings that flood my heart. There’s a weariness that enters in too.

Because here’s the truth. Losing Bryan would be devastating. I don’t want it to happen at all. But, somewhere in my heart I’ve started to believe that it’s coming eventually. I’m starting to believe the first oncologist we ever saw, who said, “Once it goes to stage 4 he will die of it. Treatments at that point will only be about keeping him alive as long as possible.” I’m starting to feel that, feel it deep in my core. We are just trying to keep him alive as long as possible.

And here’s my confession… somewhere deep in my heart… I sort of just want it over.

It’s the part of me that always wants to hear bad news first, the part of me that liked to finish my homework as soon as possible. It’s the part of me that doesn’t like having things I don’t like hanging over my head.

Next month it will have been three years since Bryan was diagnosed with melanoma. Three years that we have been living with this stress hanging over us. In September it will be two years since it went to stage four. That might not seem like a long time to you, but let me tell you, it feels like a long time. It’s a long time to live not knowing if you have another month together or another year.

So, here’s the truth. When I feel Bryan’s tumors shrinking I feel my grief lessen, but my stress level increase. I feel joy and gratitude that we have a bit more time to do things we want to do, that my children will have that much more time with their father, and that many more memories with him. But, I also feel like I know what’s coming and I’d rather just get it over with.

Part of me wants as much time with Bryan as I can get, wants my children to have as much time with him as they can get. And then there’s another part of me that just wants this whole nightmare over, wants to face the hard terrible inevitable that’s coming head on so that I can get it behind me.

It’s horrible. And it feels even more horrible to confess it in writing. To put it out there for all the world to judge. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling that way.

But, here’s the thing, it’s incredibly rare to feel only one emotion at any given time. That’s just not how we live this life. We are not simple beings, we are complex, and the feelings we feel about a given situation at any given time are equally complex. We mix joy with stress, worry with gratitude and confessing to one does not negate the other.

The part of me that wants it all over doesn’t make the part of me that wants to extend this journey with Bryan as long as possible any less valid or strong. One feeling does not over power or over shadow the other. My mix of feelings doesn’t mean that I love Bryan any less. It means I’m human. And we humans are really good at something, we are really good at carrying conflicting emotions around in our hearts. We all do it every single day.

But, we try to pretend that we don’t. We try to only acknowledge the emotions that we deem as “good”. When I first started to process through this feeling of “wanting it all to be over” I felt it was a horrible feeling. And yes, there is a lot of selfishness in it. But, the truth is it’s just a feeling. The problem only comes when I begin to act on it by closing off my heart. On it’s own it’s just a feeling, and when I deny that feeling I deny I part of myself. When I hide that feeling I don’t give God a chance to weed through and work through that selfishness with me. Hiding that feeling gives it the kind of power to make it “horrible”. But, bringing it out into the light, well, then it becomes just a feeling, a little bit of my truth in this moment, and fertile ground for God to step in and change me.

This road that we have been walking for three years has been long already, and it might be a lot longer. I hope it is a lot longer. But, staying in something this hard is, well, hard. Really hard.

This morning I was reading in Psalm 6 and I was stopped dead in my tracks by verse 3 – “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” That’s what I feel like crying out. How long? How long?

Each time that mix of feelings rises to the surface of my heart I draw to mind an image that my pastor always likes to use. He says that the picture that goes along with the word perseverance is the image of one of those greek columns that holds up an enormous amount of weight. It stands firm under the heavy load, under all of the pressure.

My confession is that there’s a part of me that wants out from under this pressure, this weight, this heavy load. I don’t want to be the column any more. I want the weight lifted even if that means I have to carry a heavier load for a little while. A part of me wants to run away, wants the easier way out, wants to get the grieving over with so I can move on. But, I pray for the peace to remain. I sent out a prayer email recently where I wrote this:

I have been thinking a lot about two different phrases, the first is “stand firm” and the second is “hold fast”. I think that’s sort of where I’m at right now, I’m needing to just stay in it, sit with it, stand firm, hold fast, despite the fact that I feel run down, beat down, weary. Despite the fact that I would rather run away from it all and loose myself in distractions. Despite the fact that life has picked back up a little more quickly than I would have liked. Despite the fact that there could still be curve balls thrown at me around any corner and I feel like I’m walking around with all my guards up expecting to be hit again at any moment. Just hold fast, heart. Just stand firm, faith. Just stay in it, soul. Just be still.”

We still have a long way yet to go. Our oncologist encouragingly told us this last visit that we are not at our last option, we have lots of options left. We still have lots that we can try and in that we can be grateful… and also weary.

Recently two different people have sent me Hebrews 12:1-3 and I have been thinking on it often. There’s a few sections that have particularly stood out to me:

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Consider Jesus so that you do not grow weary and lose heart. Friends, after three years of this I am weary and my heart is heavy. So, tonight I’m confessing these feelings and then I’m leaving them here.

I don’t want my focus to be on my weariness at a long journey ahead, OR on my joy that the tumors are shrinking. I want my focus to be on Jesus. Because, that’s really the only way for me to hold up under the pressure, for me to run with perseverance this long race. I need Jesus. That’s it. I don’t need this cancer journey to be over more quickly. I don’t need Bryan by my side for always. I just need Jesus. So very much.

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

On Anxiety, Anger, and Trust

Slowly I put one foot in front of the other. To my right, windows reach from floor to ceiling. In the darkness of night I can see the snow on the rooftops below sparkling in the building’s light. To my left, a wall of glass looks down on the hospital entryway below. During the day the noises of people echo softly through this hall way, but now all is quiet.

From the top floor this hall circles the edge of the building, circles the entryway below, and as I walk it’s circles my heart circles around the same worries. Each lap taking me a little deeper into anxiety. I walk as if trying to shake off the day, trying to escape the fear that has gripped me, but with each circling lap it becomes more and more clear that it’s not working.

Only hours before I stood in the Urgent Care with my four year old son. He sat in a stroller nearly too small for his preschool body. His eyes glazed over in a motionless stare. His little face flushed with the fever which had reached 103 degrees only minutes before. He complained of a headache and begged me to hold him. My heart longed to sweep him up in my arms and cuddle his aches away. I wanted to hold him close and never let him go. But, my head recoiled. I would never hold back my love for my child just because I was fearful of catching whatever illness he had, or at least I had never thought that I would, but in that instant I had to. I had to protect myself as a means for protecting my husband.

Bryan is now half way through his chemo treatment. His white blood cells are starting to fall. The goal of this treatment is to bring his white blood cells as close to zero as possible. They literally want to destroy his immune system. Once he is neutropenic then the real treatment can be given. That is when they will give him the millions of white blood cells – his white blood cells – that they have grown and trained to fight his particular cancer. That is also when they will give him Interleukin 2 as a support for the cells they inject into him. During that time he will have no immune system, he will be dangerously susceptible to illnesses and infections of any and every kind.

I cannot risk getting sick now, because Bryan cannot risk getting sick now. I will not be separated from my husband during the most difficult thing he has ever walked through. So I say no to my son’s begging. I step back instead of stepping forward and my heart breaks. My sister flashes me an understanding and heartbroken look, before offering to hold Thad for me. “Thad, can I hold you? I’m not your mommy, but I am a mommy? Can I hold you?” My heart swells in gratitude for my sister – she has a beautifully mothering heart – but at the same time it aches for my son.

I had thought I understood stress. I thought I was already under as much stress as I possibly could stand, and then Thad came down with a fever and I felt my worst fears being realized. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even think. All I could picture was myself coming down with whatever Thad had and being unable to be with Bryan and then Bryan getting it anyway because he had already spent time with Thad. This has been one of my worst fears since coming to NIH. And now I felt that fear knocking on my door, threatening to come in.

Looking back on the day as I walk I try to pray. I beg God to protect Bryan and keep him well, to protect me and keep me from coming down with anything, to heal Thad and restore him quickly. Lap after lap I lay the same request before Him. But, the hall is silent and my anxiety only grows. And then as I round the corner I hear a gentle voice, “You are worrying about something you cannot control.” And I only walk faster. I want to scream, “But I WANT to control it. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want Bryan to get sick! I don’t want anything to happen to Thad and I don’t want him to suffer through illness without his mom! I DON’T WANT THIS! It’s not right! I want to worry about this because I want to control this.”

The voice comes back again, “But you can’t control this.” And I remember my blog post from a few days ago about Worry. I remember how I had concluded that it seemed ok to me to worry about things that I could control, choices I could make – it seemed ok, and perhaps even right, to worry about the things that were within my free will.

I fight back again, “But there were decisions I could have made things I could have done to prevent this! I shouldn’t have let Thad come out here. I should have kept him home. Even today when my sister told me he woke up teary and seemed out of sorts I should have heard that as a warning sign and kept him away. I should have left him and sent him to urgent care with my sister instead of going myself and exposing myself to whatever other germs there were at the urgent care. I should have… I should have… I should have…”

The voice is gentle, “You did what you could. You made the choices that seemed best to you at the time. You took steps to protect both Thad and Bryan. You got Thad on antibiotics right away, even though that wouldn’t normally be your first course of action. You wore a mask yourself and used lots of hand sanitation and even showered before going back to see Bryan. You did what you could within your free will. So, why are you still holding on to this? Why are you still so anxious over something you can’t control?”

Finishing the lap I stop and stand still. Directly in front of me is the small hospital chapel. I move towards the doorway as if pulled by gravity. But I cannot step inside. There is a war going on within me and stepping inside would be acknowledging defeat.

In my head I know that I shouldn’t be holding on to this anxiety about something I cannot control. In my head I know that Bryan could get sick while he’s neutropenic and there could be nothing that I can do to stop it. In my head I know that I could get sick – not only from my exposure to Thad, but just from the fact that I’m hanging out in a hospital all day. I know that I cannot control whether or not those things happen. I can take steps to prevent those things from happening, but now that I have done that I should be able to let go of the anxiety and trust God to do for us what is best.

But, there is the clincher. There is the heart of the issue. Trust.

Standing in that doorway, unable to step forward and yet also unable to step back I know I face a choice. The same choice I have faced a thousand times before and will probably face a thousand times again. Will I trust?

I start to cry. Not the soft tears of acceptance, but the hard sobs of anger. I am angry that Thad got sick. Angry that there is an increased risk that I will get sick and that Bryan might get sick. But, more than that I am angry that we are here at all. It is the first time I feel it, really feel it deep in my bones, this anger at the injustice, the un-rightness, of cancer. “God, how can I trust when you are not trustworthy!?!?” The words spill out of my lips thorough desperate broken cries.

“Do you really believe that?” “YES!” I cry back. And the truth is finally out. My head may proclaim God’s trustworthiness, but my heart tells a different story. In the depths of me there is not just questioning of God and his trustworthiness there is a knowing. There is a root within me that knows without a doubt that He is untrustworthy.

And now we can really talk. Now that the heart is exposed we can really begin the battle. In the silence a simple thought comes. How do you define trustworthiness? By who’s standards do you judge your God?

By my own, of course! By my own desires and goals and wills. I want what I want and when I don’t get it, like a small child, I holler and yell and believe that God is untrustworthy. Standing in that door way that is exactly what I do. I throw a classic tantrum. I fall to my knees. I play out all of my worst scenarios in my head and ask myself at the end of each “Would God be trustworthy then? How could God be trustworthy if that happened?”

God does not defend himself. He is silent, but more present than I have ever felt him before. And then when I have few tears left to cry the words come, “Will you follow me anyway? Will you follow as Abraham did, to an alter? Will you place Thad and Bryan and Sage and all that you care for in my care, on my alter, as Abraham placed Isaac?”

Remembering the story I suddenly felt calm, “Will you give them all back to me safe and sound, as you gave Isaac back to Abraham?” But, I know as soon as I speak the words that this is not a bargaining ground. This must be trust, real trust, complete trust, heart trust. I stand again and stare through the doorway, down the isle, at the simple alter in the front of the chapel. And suddenly something breaks within me and I take that first step singing through choked tears.

You are good You are good
when there’s nothing good in me.
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 

It feels like a very long walk from the doorway to the alter, but is in reality only a couple of steps. By the time I reach the alter I fall to my knees again, arms raised in the empty chapel. This is what it means to surrender. This surrender costs something.  This is what it means to praise in the midst of darkness.

After a few minutes the tears ease up and I feel drawn to the podium. On the empty podium rests a large lectionary. I turn to the marked page – the reading for the second sunday in Advent:

 

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

I nearly laugh when I read the passage, but instead tears begin to flow again.

Many years ago when I was in college and going through a difficult season, questioning God’s goodness, I read a book called The Prisoner in the Third Cell . It was very transformative for me and centered around this passage of scripture when John the Baptist was in prison.

Here is John in the middle of his own dark night, questioning the very Jesus whom he had proclaimed. John was faced with the same question I just wrestled with in the doorway of this hospital chapel, “Will you follow me even though you don’t understand me? Will you follow me even though I don’t do things the way you want me to do things? Will you follow me even though it might cost you everything you hold dear? Will you follow me and trust me even though I may lead you to places you wouldn’t choose to go?”

The walk away from the podium, away from the alter, out of the chapel was entirely different from the walk in. My heart was light as I crossed easily through the doorway. I will follow. I do trust.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

A Tattoo And a Philosophy

We have been thinking about getting tattoos.

I always felt like a tattoo needed to be not only symbolic, but also sort of commemeratory and up until now I never felt like I had just the right thing that I wanted to symbolze and memorialize on my body for the rest of my life.

This past year however, has brought us the most challenging and life effecting thing we have ever faced – Bryan’s cancer diagnosis. A tattoo suddenly seems very fitting and appropriate. This year has changed us and I want a symbol of that.

When we got married we got wedding rings to tell the world about how we had changed. When we had a kid, well, we got a kid to show that change (not to mention stretch marks, puffy eye circles from lack of sleep, a whole slue of accessories and toys, and now a minivan). Bryan’s cancer diagnosis has been as life changing as those events for me and it seems fitting to have something to symbolize our feelings about it and what we are learning through it.

We have been talking about a lot of different ideas, and I have of course been searching pinterest for inspiration. But, of the things that we’ve talked about there’s one that I keep coming back to, one that sticks in my head and just seems to fit.

a simple symbol…the ampersand…

&

It’s a beautiful literary device that I have always been drawn to, but recently even more so.

I read something this week claiming that the essence of theological language is in the prepositions – in, of, with, to…and. I think that you could say that the heart of life is found in the prepositions – those things which place us in relation to something else.

When we live in the AND we live firmly in the life of abundance. AND is a word of abundance and continuation. & is a symbol of that abundance and continuation. A symbol that says that the sentence, the thought, the idea, the essence isn’t over; it continues. Not only does it continue but something is added to it, it increases, it expands, it extends.

AND is also a word of connection. & is a symbol of connection. It connects two (or more) things and tells us that these things are related, are connected, and belong together.

You & me

Bryan & Bethany

Us & our children

& our family, & our friends, & our community, & our God.

This year, this season, this experience & many more to come.

AND also acknowledges that we are more than we appear, we are one thing AND another. We are made of dust AND the breath of GOD. I am a wife & a mother. A daughter & a friend. A writer & a terrible speller. A creative & the doer of the laundry day after day after day. I am what I was in the past & what I am now & what I will be in the future – I am made up of glimpses of all of these things.

Together, Bryan & I are cancer fighters, waging a war against his melanoma AND we are so much more than that too.

We fight cancer AND we live our lives. Bryan recently pointed out this verse in Ecclessiastes to me and it has quickly become a bit of a theme for us:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

When living in the AND we keep living our lives. We keep planting AND reaping. We keep moving forward AND pressing on.

& symbolizes all that to me.

It tells me that this isn’t the end of the story, this isn’t an OR, a period, or a exclamation point, this is an AND. The life God offers us, the abundant life of Christ is an AND. It’s an invitation into a relationship, us & God, that leads to a new connection between us & the world, AND gives us an eternal continuity of abundance that starts today.

The more I processed the idea of an ampersand tattoo over the past few weeks the more I liked it. I thought it was fairly original and unique and captured so much of what I want to remember and be about.

But, then today I decided to look for some more specific inspiration on Pinterest and searched for “ampersand tattoos”. I was kind of surprised by how many I found. I guess it’s not as unique an idea as I thought it was. One pinner made a comment about it being way hipster to get an ampersand tattoo. Suddenly it seemed slightly less appealing for a moment. But, as I looked at more and more ampersand tattoos I also found that I still really liked them, part of me didn’t want to still like it because it did seem so common, but I did.

And as I’ve thought about it more I think the fact that lots of others have “&” tattoos almost adds to the idea…

Us & so many others.

We are unique AND we are common.

We will sit with it for a little while, sit with our & to see if it is really what we want to symbolize this season, to see if it’s really something we want permanently on our bodies, but as of right now I’m liking it.

Us & the abundant life of our God

Us & whatever comes

AND…

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Two-Part Invention

Today I cried at the playground.

Moms don’t have a lot of space for tears, and so they break their way through – unexpected, at undesirable times. I stand there, with Sage firming resting in the wrap at my hip, kids playing all around, mom’s chatting casually on the other side of the slide. And I turn another page.

It seems that I have cried with each page of this book. The more I get into it the harder it is to fight back the tears. You’d think I’d give up reading it, but these aren’t bad tears and somehow this book is woven from the fabric of my very being. I can’t stop.

I see in the writing my own hopes and dreams. My own tendencies and loves,

“The thought that I must, that I ought to write, never leaves me for an instant.” And I add: Nor me.

And I add: Nor me.

I read:

“I was struggling to write, to keep house, help in the store, be a good mother, and yet improve my skills as a storyteller. And that decade was one of rejection slips. I would mutter as I cleaned house, ‘Emily Bronte didn’t have to run the vacuum cleaner. Jane Austin didn’t do the cooking.’… In my journal I wrote: ‘There is a gap in understanding between me and my friends and acquaintances. I can’t quite understand a life without books and study and music and pictures and a driving passion. And they, on the other hand, can’t understand why I have to write, why I am a writer.”

And again flip the pages back to the first page I earmarked in the book:

“We do not know and cannot tell when the spirit is with us. Great talent or small, it makes no difference. We are caught within our own skins, our own sensibilities; we never know if our technique has been adequate to the vision. Without doubt this is true of my own work, too. I never know, when I have finished a book, how much of what has been in my mind and heart has come through my fingers and onto the page. This inability truly to assess one’s own accomplishment is what makes rejections so bitter. When I was receiving rejections from publisher after publisher, I wondered sadly if the book I had conceived in my mind had failed utterly in getting onto the page. This lack of knowing makes the artist terribly vulnerable. When I hand in a manuscript to agent or editor I am filled with anxiety until I hear: Yes, the book is there. It needs work, but it is there.”

And I think of my first attempt at a novel, which I only just days ago sent off to friends for editing.

So much of the life I want to lead is portrayed in these pages.

But so much also of the life I feel creeping up on me and hope never to be mine.

The struggle to write and become a writer are interwoven with the story of her marriage and ultimately the story of her husbands cancer. My own fears swell up as I turn the page.

I read:

“I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when the good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”

As I read this book I feel it. It lodges itself deep in my heart on so many levels. It is as if it was written for me and as if it was written for me at such a time as this.

I’ve been drawn to Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention for years. I remember as quite a young woman seeing it on my parent’s shelf and wanting to read it. And yet, somehow, I never did. I must have picked it up to read a dozen times and yet as much as I wanted to read it, as much as I knew that I should read it and would one day read it, I also knew that it wasn’t time yet.

After Sage was born, when we were packing to move up to Seattle, our boxes were stuffed full and yet somehow I managed to squeeze it in – stollen off my parent’s book shelf.

When we moved into our apartment in the small town of Bothell, just north and east of the sprawling metropolis that is Seattle, I carefully looked at each book and then promptly packed almost all of them back up in boxes to store in our small attached storage. I didn’t pack Two-Part Invention back up. It was one of only about a dozen books that have sat on my shelves over the past year, and yet despite that I have never picked it up to read, until this week.

I feel almost as if it audibly called out to me. “Read me. Read me. Now.” It whispered.

And so I did. And it feels serendipitous to have picked up this book at this time and not before.

If I had read it when I was younger, I do not believe that it would have been anything more to me than a touching story book and a good book. If I had read it last year in the midst of Bryan’s melanoma diagnosis I do not think I would have been able to finish. It would have hit too close to home.

But, now, at this season, when my heart is still largely filled with thoughts of cancer and what that terrible foe might hold for us in the future, and when I am more firm in my identity as a writer than I have ever been before, this book comes as a God send. One of those rare books that I know I will look back on as formative, even life changing.

I turn another page:

“Prayer. What about prayer? A friend wrote to me in genuine concern about Hugh, saying that she didn’t understand much about intercessory prayer. I don’t, either. Perhaps the greatest saints do. Most of us don’t, and that is all right. We don’t have to understand to know that prayer is love, and love is never wasted.
Ellis Peters, in A Morbid Taste for Bones, one of her delightful medieval whodunits, gives a beautiful descriptions of what I believe to be intercessory prayer: ‘He prayed as he breathed, forming no words and making no specific requests, only holding in his heart, like broken birds in cupped hands, all those people who were in stress or grief.’
And George MacDonald asks, ‘And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only reply, Why should my love be powerless to help another?’
I do not believe that our love is powerless, though I am less and less specific in my prayers, simply holding out to God those for whom I am praying.

What happens to all those prayers when not only are they not ‘answered’ but things get far worse than anyone ever anticipated? What about prayer?

Surely the prayers have sustained me, are sustaining me. Perhaps there will be unexpected answers to these prayers, answers I may not even be aware of for years. But they are not wasted. They are not lost. I do not know where they have gone, but I believe that God holds them, hand outstretched to receive them like precious pearls.”

And I cry.

Each tear drop a separate prayer escaping up to heaven.

A prayer without words, a prayer deeper than words.

I cry for my friends, Jane and Martin, fighting cancer far across the ocean. I cry for friends whose aching wombs have lost babies. I cry for friends who are struggling with job loss and financial crisis. I cry for my daughter, Sage, who may never walk or talk. I cry for myself for the threatening loss I fear. I cry for Madeleine and the battle her husband, Hugh, fought with cancer all those many years ago.

 

And tears become prayers. And the prayers echo.

 

And I turn back a few pages:

 

“I do not want ever to be indifferent to the joys and beauties of this life. For through these, as through pain, we are enabled to see purpose in randomness, pattern in chaos. We do not have to understand in order to believe that behind the mystery and the fascination there is love.
In the midst of what we are going through this summer I have to hold on to this, to return to the eternal questions without demanding an answer. The questions worth asking are not answerable. Could we be fascinated by a Maker who was completely explained and understood? The mystery is tremendous, and the fascination that keeps me returning to the questions affirms that they are worth asking, and that any God worth believing in is the God not only of the immensities of the galaxies I rejoice in at night when I walk the dogs, but also the God of love who cares about sufferings of us human brings and is here, with us, for us, in our pain and in our joy.”

 

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.