May 25, 2020

When Mama Has Cancer

Less than six weeks after the scans showed no signs of cancer, the monstrous beast returned with a vengeance, raging through my body.  It has infiltrated the bones in my leg, has taken over the lymph nodes in my neck, has spread to my stomach, and has extended from the back of my shoulder all the way down my rib cage.  The pain is excruciating.  Food doesn’t stay down.  I now sleep most of the day.  From zero to completely invasive in less than 6 weeks.

When I was first diagnoses with stage 4 metastatic cancer a little over one year ago, I knew it was terminal, but I held on to hope that I could fight it.  At least for a little while.  And because I had no idea how long the journey would take, I haven’t shared too many details with my two youngest children.  I didn’t want to scare them.  I told them that Mama has cancer, but all that has meant to them up until now is that I went to a lot of doctors’ appointments, that I had lots of medicine, that I took long naps, that many of our friends helped us with meals and babysitting, and that I cried every day.

And to them, cancer meant that in just a few short months, my appearance completely changed.  Watching me become bald (due to the chemo), watching me lose so much weight that I look skeletal, and watching me lose the use of my arm and hand and leg (due to nerve damage caused by the tumors) has been especially frightening for them.   Every day my heart rips into pieces when I hear them pray, Dear God, please help Mama’s cancer to go away.

A few days ago, when I found my 11-year old son sobbing, something he never ever does, I held him close and asked him what was wrong.  Through his tears, he tried to catch his breath long enough to look at me and say, I just want you to be healthy again!  I knew then that it was time to tell them the truth.  My hospice team has predicted that I most likely have just a few weeks left, and now my kids need to know that as well.  I need to prepare them for what will be happening to me.  For what will be happening to them.  It was time for them to understand what Mama has cancer  really means.

I said as gently and tenderly as I could, Honey, my cancer isn’t going to go away. I’m not going to be healthy again.  I explained that I am going to die.  And that means I am going to leave and not be able to come back again.  My 5-year old daughter, who had joined our conversation by then, asked if we could maybe FaceTime, and through my own sobbing, I told her I’m so sorry, Sweetheart, but no, we can’t do that.  After I leave, you won’t see me again.

I tried my best to pull myself together long enough to let them know that God loves me, and He promises that if I believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins, I can go to heaven and live with Him.  And heaven is such a really great place to live!  There is no cancer there.  There is no pain, no medicine, no doctor’s appointments.  And there is also no tears.  Right now I am so incredibly and deeply sad that I will be leaving my precious children – the older ones as well as the younger ones - that I can hardly bear it!  I don’t understand how this is even possible, but when I am in heaven, I will no longer be sad.  I won’t need tissues anymore.

And when I go to heaven, I will get to see Jesus, the One who is my very best friend!  The One who has never stopped loving me.  The One who has been with me during the darkest of nights and has, despite my doubts and faltering faith, never given up on me.  On that day when I go to heaven, He is going to put His hands on my face and touch what I imagine will once again be my long brown hair.  He will look into my eyes and say to me, Hello Beautiful!

I assured my kids, as best as I could, that not only would I be ok, but that they would be ok too.  That they have an extraordinary dad, one who loves them so, so much, who will still be here to take good care of them.  That they have older siblings, extended relatives, and close family friends who will make sure they have everything they need.  They may be sad, but they can know with certainty that they will be safe.

There have been a lot of changes in our home and in our family over the past few years.  Foster children have come and gone, older siblings have moved out on their own, and mama has cancer that is quickly causing her to become a very different mama than the one they’ve always known.  One who is always in pain, who is frequently sleeping, who can no longer brush hair into a ponytail or pour a glass of apple juice.  But through it all, through all the changes they have witnessed and experienced, I want them to know that the one thing that will never ever change is how much I love them.  Even when I am gone and they can’t see me anymore, I will never ever stop loving them.

That was a really hard day.  A really tough conversation to have with two innocent children who are just trying to understand what is happening to their mom.  But I want them to know the truth.  I want them to know that it’s ok to talk about these things, to ask questions, to need more explanations, to try and find the words to describe our feelings.  

We probably used up an entire box of tissues that day, but even that is a good thing.  Emotions aren’t bad, and whatever we are feeling – sad, confused, scared, maybe even angry – its ok to feel those things.  No matter what we are feeling, God is right here with us.  The same God who is with me now, who is comforting me and loving me through this physical pain and emotional grief, is the very same God who will be with them, who will comfort them and love them through their sadness and their fears in the weeks and months to come.

Since then, in the few days since talking about what it means for mama to have cancer, our family’s prayers have changed.  We can continue to pray that God would help my cancer go away, and He could certainly choose to do that.  He is, after all, a God of miracles.  But if that day comes in the next few weeks when my body can no longer fight, on that day when I go to heaven, I don’t want my kids to be angry at God for not answering their prayers.  Instead, I want them to seek God in their grief.  To experience His strength and peace and comfort as He carries them through.  

And so, now our family’s prayers are full of gratitude and confidence.  Prayers that my children can continue even after I am gone.  We thank Him for His love and His goodness towards us.  We are so grateful that He is always with us, that He promises to never leave us.  We thank Him for giving us courage when we feel afraid, for shining His light into our hearts when we feel sad.  Last night, my 5-year old daughter prayed, Dear God, thank you that Jesus died on the cross so that we can go to heaven.   Oh, how it thrilled my heart to hear her articulate that!  Instead of Mama’s cancer causing her to turn away from God, it is causing her to draw close to God.  It is helping her understand the gospel!

Their mama has cancer, and sometime within the next few weeks, on that day when I go to heaven, their lives will be forever changed.  During their season of mourning, during their sadness and confusion and fears, it is my hope and prayer that they experience first-hand these unchanging truths in their hearts and in their lives: 

The forever love of their mama.  

The protective care of their dad.  

The collective support of those we call “our people.”  

The powerful presence of a good and loving God.

Mama has cancer.  Three little words that my children should never have to hear.  

God is good.  Three little words that I hope they will remember and believe and declare for the rest of their lives.

Know that the Lord, He is God!
    It is He who made us, and we are His;
    Give thanks to Him; 
For the Lord is good;
    His steadfast love endures forever,
    and His faithfulness to all generations.
 - from Psalm 100

April 23, 2020

Your Name

To our son, the boy who was born with no name.  

No child deserves to live the first year of life without a name.  And yet, that is how your story began.  With nothing to identify you.  We are not sure why your birth mother did not name you.  Perhaps she was trying to distance her heart, not wanting to become too attached to the baby she knew she would not keep.  Or maybe she understood what a great honor it is to name a child, and was saving that as a gift for us, the ones who would adopt you.

Whatever her reasons, she could not have possibly foreseen that the adoption process would take so long.  That for nearly a year, “Baby Boy” was officially recorded on your birth certificate, social security card, and medical insurance card.  Every time I took you to the pediatrician, the nurse would open the door to the lobby, look around at the parents and children waiting there, and call out, loud enough for everyone to hear:  Baby Boy?  Sure, those two little words were benign, seemingly harmless by themselves.  But the message they communicated?  You do not belong to a family.  You are not significant enough to have a name.  You are indistinguishable from every other orphaned child in the world.  Unnamed.  Unwanted.  Unimportant.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have been further from the truth!  When that happened, I wanted to hold you close and protect you from those words and everything they meant.  I wanted to announce to everyone in that waiting room that you do have a name.  That you are wanted.  Chosen.  Loved.  It’s just that we were waiting for the legal system to catch up to what we already knew with certainty:  that you were our son.

March 24, 2020

Good News and Bad News

Wouldn’t it be great if good news could just be announced all by itself?  You know, just a spot of sunshine to brighten your day and lift your spirits, giving you a moment to celebrate without waiting for the inevitable bad news that always seems to tag along not far behind?

A few weeks ago, I received some good news while sitting in the oncologist’s office.  The chemo was very successful.  The scans show no sign of cancer.  My colleagues and I have never seen anyone with your kind of cancer respond so well!

Oh, how I wish that the doctor could have just given us that good news all by itself.  That my husband and I could have taken even a brief moment to celebrate this positive report.  Unfortunately, however, the bad news came just a few seconds later, dampening any possibility we might have had to just pause and give thanks for this obvious answer to so many prayers.  

The chemo was successful . . . but you need to have another round.  And this one will be 12 weeks instead of the 8 weeks you just endured.  And this time it will be just as harsh, the side effects just as miserable.  And this time, you will be facing treatment with your body already weakened, your immune system already depleted.  I will be honest, it’s going to be really tough.

The scans show no sign of cancer.  My colleagues and I have never seen anyone with your kind of cancer respond so well! . . . But the response is only temporary.  You have terminal cancer, and it’s only a matter of time before it comes back.  Possibly within a few weeks or maybe, if you’re lucky, in a few months.  But it will come back, every bit as aggressive and every bit as painful as before.

The good news is that we did not have to make an immediate decision.  But we did leave that appointment that day stunned, both of us silent on the drive home as we processed what we had just heard.  It was good news, right?  That the chemo worked and the cancer was gone?  Shouldn’t we be happy?  It’s just that the . . . but  that came afterwards was so brutally honest, so hard to hear, that it made the good news almost irrelevant.

March 5, 2020

Losing Her Mother

We are enjoying ourselves, my young daughter and me, soaking in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air, and savoring this rare opportunity for just the two of us to be together.  I turn my back for just a second to grab something just out of reach, and when I turn around again, she is not there.  I turn every way, thinking surely she is just a few steps away, but I do not see her anywhere.  I start calling her name, not caring if other people are staring, and try not to panic.

After a few unsuccessful moments of being unable to find her, I locate a security guard to help me.  I describe her as best as I can:  4-years old, long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, pink sparkly dress (did it have a unicorn or a rainbow on it? I suddenly can’t remember!), flip-flops on her little feet.  He goes one way, speaking into his walkie-talkie with his colleagues, and I go the other way, calling her name, more loudly now, looking frantically in every space, around every corner, under every surface.

Ten fear-filled minutes later, I finally spot her, huddled into a heap, sobbing into her arms, crying Mommy!  I want my Mommy!  over and over again.  This young child has just endured, for ten fear-filled minutes, her worst nightmare: losing her mother.  I run to her and scoop her into my arms, where she continues weeping into my shoulder, her tears staining my shirt.  It takes a long time to console her, to assure her, Mommy’s here now.  I love you so much!  You are safe!

February 26, 2020

Supporting Our Rock

I call him our Rock, because every day he carries our family.  Each one of us depends on him and his solid, unwavering strength.  But a Rock can only stay strong for so long.

After my last blog post, describing how even the strongest Rock can become weary, we were overwhelmed by an outpouring of love!  Many of our friends are asking, What can we do?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because in general, men are hesitant to ask for help.  Even Moses, a Rock for an entire nation, needed someone to help him recognize, You cannot do this by yourself!

We see the story in Exodus 18.  It took Moses from morning until evening to carry out his many responsibilities.  When his father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said to Moses, What are you doing?  Why are you doing all this alone?  This is not good!  You are wearing yourself out!  This is too heavy for you.  You are not able to do it alone.  Look for able men, men who fear God, men who are trustworthy, and let them help you. They will bear the burden with you, and you will be able to endure.

In the same way, the Rock in our family has been wearing himself out, supporting me while I battle cancer, taking on many of my responsibilities at home, caring for our children, all while holding down a full-time job.  The words that Moses needed to hear are the same words my husband needs to hear today:  What are you doing?  Why are you doing all this alone?  This is not good!  You are wearing yourself out!  This is too heavy for you.  You are not able to do it alone.  Look for able men, men who fear God, men who are trustworthy, and let them help you.  They will bear the burden with you, and you will be able to endure.

So, who are these able men, men who fear God, men who are trustworthy?  And how can they help?  Here are just a few ideas, although the possibilities are endless!

February 22, 2020

Our Rock

I call him the Rock in our family.  Through the many tumultuous years of foster parenting, through the endless challenges of raising children with complicated needs, through deep heartache and pain and loss, and most recently through my vicious battle with Stage 4 cancer . . . through it all he is the one who has remained strong and courageous.  Resolute and steadfast.  Endlessly optimistic and confident.  The one who has never stopped believing in the goodness of God.

I call him our Rock, because every day he carries our family.  He works diligently at his job so that we can have an income, and so that we are provided with much-needed medical insurance.  Every day he faces a stressful job where many people depend on him for direction and decisions.  Decisions worth billions of dollars for his organization.  

After a long and stress-filled day, he comes home to a wife who may or may not be feeling well, who may or may not be crying, who may or may not have enough faith to make it through one more day.  After helping the kids through dinner and their bedtime routine, washing all the dishes, folding the pile of laundry left on the couch, and opening the mail (tasks I struggle to do because of painful and debilitating nerve damage that the cancer has caused in my arm and hand), he then has video-conference meetings with his colleagues who work in different time zones on the other side of the world.  He is the last one to go to bed at night, long after everyone else is asleep.

January 24, 2020

Believe For Me

The oncologist has said from the beginning, a year ago now, that because the type of cancer I have is so aggressive and so “angry,” that chemotherapy may not work.  And that because the chemotherapy would be so brutal, so powerful and so toxic, that I may not survive it.

So when I find myself sending urgent messages to her in the middle of the night, practically begging her to please start chemo as soon as possible, it’s because I have become completely desperate.  As the cancer spreads like a raging wildfire throughout my body, the searing pain has become so excruciating, so totally consuming, that I cannot bear it for one more second.  For several weeks I think, surely this the last day.  And I cry out to God, begging Him, please let this be the last day!

Thankfully, the oncologist prescribes pain meds, and when I send her a message again in the middle of the night, begging for something stronger, she responds without delay.  For the past year, she has been my enemy, the voice of doom and gloom and no good options, but suddenly, with one quick stroke of her pen, I love her! 

The next few days after my urgent message to the oncologist, there is a flurry of activity:  bloodwork and scans, getting a port surgically implanted (because the chemo drugs are too toxic to go into my veins), checking my heart to see if it is strong enough to withstand the powerful chemo drugs, verifying insurance information and signing consent forms.  The days are a blur of pain, mental fog and drowsiness from the narcotics, and sleep-deprivation.  I barely remember any of it.

The first chemo infusion is on a Friday, and by Sunday, the terrible side effects I had been warned about kick in fill-force.  Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, difficulty breathing, insomnia, and long strands of hair falling out every time I brush my hair.  And still, I am begging God, please let this be the last day!   

I had wanted so badly to face this with courage.  I had hoped that my faith would be so strong, so unwavering, that nothing, not even this, could weaken it.  That my hope and my joy would withstand these terrible, awful circumstances, and that everyone who sees me would be amazed and inspired to put their hope in God too.  That somehow, God would be glorified in this.

But it’s not like that.  Not at all!  With each new day of increasing and unrelenting pain, I am frustrated and angry that God is ignoring my prayers.  In the middle of the night when even a few minutes of sleep is totally elusive, I just sit in the chair that I have barely moved from for weeks, sobbing and moaning, crying out into the darkness, God where are you?  If you are good, why are allowing this to happen to me?  This just feels cruel.  Why aren’t you doing anything?  Hello?  God?  Are you even listening at all?  The faith that I had hoped would get me through this is completely gone.  Empty.  Not one drop left.

There is a story in Luke 5 of a man just like me.  He was just lying there on his stretcher, unable to help himself, unable to get to Jesus.  His situation was impossible.  He was without hope, most likely wondering why a good God would allow this to happen to him.  Thankfully, though, he was not alone.  His friends were right there with him, carrying his stretcher, seeking creative ways to bring him in and lay him before Jesus.  

And when Jesus saw their faith . . . he said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”  And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.   And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today!”

The amazing thing about this story, is that it has nothing to do with this man’s faith.  He didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus would heal him.  He wasn’t particularly strong or brave or full of unwavering hope. Any faith that he had at the beginning was most likely completely gone. Empty.  Not one drop left. 

But did you notice?  Jesus saw, not his faith, but he saw their faith, the faith of his friends.  The ones who were bearing his stretcher, the ones who were carrying him.  And when Jesus saw their faith, He chose to act.  He chose to speak.  He chose to heal.  It was because of their faith that everyone who saw was amazed and glorified God and was filled with awe.

And it’s the same with me.  During the past few weeks, it is my friends and my family and my neighbors and my church family who are bearing my stretcher, carrying me to Jesus when I am incapable of getting there myself. Every time someone prepares a meal for my family or drives me to an appointment or takes care of my children, that person has become my stretcher bearer.  

When my long-time friend of more than 20 years spends the night on my couch, knowing full well that she will be woken dozens of times to help me find some momentary comfort.  When my sisters travel all the way across the country to love and support and encourage me.  When my close friend from my Small Group stops by to check on me nearly every day, helping brush my daughter’s hair or fold a load of laundry or peel oranges – things I can no longer do by myself.  When people from near and from the other side of the world donate funds to pay for someone to clean my house.  When a friend who is drowning in her own deep grief stops by to see me after she gets off of work, bringing me fizzy drinks or making me smoothies.  With every act of kindness, with every volunteer sign-up, with every personal sacrifice, these are the ones who are bearing my stretcher.

And during the past few weeks, it is my friends and my family and my neighbors and my church family who are believing for me, Believing when I am unable to believe for myself.  Every time someone prays for me and my family, texts me a promise from God’s Word, sends me an encouraging sermon or podcast to listen to (since I can no longer attend worship services at church), or shares a song that reminds me to press on, he or she is believing for me.  

When the pastors and the elders at my church lay hands on me with oil.  When church friends gather outside my house on a Sunday afternoon to pray that I would find healing.  When I receive an email from a friend, saying, I have prayed for your [prodigal] son many times over the years.  And I want you to know that I will continue to do so in your absence from this life.  With every heart-felt prayer, with every word of Truth spoken over my life, with every expression of faith in the goodness and power of God to act, these are the ones who are carrying me to Jesus.  The ones who are believing on my behalf.

Just like the story of the man in the Bible, the amazing thing about my story is that it has nothing to do with my faith.  I don’t necessarily believe that Jesus will heal me.  I am most certainly not strong or brave or full of unwavering hope. In fact, my faith is mostly depleted.  I have nothing left. 

Thankfully, though, God sees, not my faith, but He sees your  faith, the faith of my friends.  The ones who are bearing my stretcher, the ones who are carrying me.  And when God seesyour  faith, He may choose to act.  He may choose to speak.  He may choose to heal.  It will be because of your  faith that everyone who sees will be amazed and will glorify God and will be filled with awe.

To my friends and my family and my neighbors and my church family… please do not give up on me!  Although the worst of the pain began to subside a few days after chemo started, the side effects of the chemo are every bit as “brutal” as the oncologist said they would be.  (She is my enemy once again.)  The chemo will continue, not for weeks, but for months!  And even if the cancer goes away, it has been so invasive that it may have caused some long-term or permanent nerve damage.  This journey towards healing will most certainly be a very long and slow one.  

And there is absolutely no way I will be able to endure it alone. I am pleading with you:  please keep loving and supporting and serving our family.  Please keep being right here with me, carrying my stretcher, seeking creative ways to bring me in and lay me before Jesus.

And most importantly, please have faith for me.  Pray for me when I cannot pray for myself.  When I am unable to believe, I need you to believe for me.

December 31, 2019

Ending Well

It was one year ago, on Christmas Day, when I first felt this weird tingling sensation in my neck, which quickly turned into a lump, and then several lumps, which tests and scans and biopsies subsequently confirmed as being Stage 4 metastatic cancer.  It has been a year of fighting hard for my health.  Fighting hard for my life.

The thing about cancer is that it is a vicious, aggressive, ruthless enemy.  But unlike other enemies, when you are fighting cancer, you can never, ever, not for one second, retreat.  There is no withdrawing from the battle, no R&R weekends where you can just be a normal person for a few days before putting your armor back on to fight another day.  No, cancer is in you, and if you have any hope of winning the battle, you can never stop fighting.

But I have discovered, surprisingly, that there is an even bigger enemy inside me, one that is even more brutal and unrelenting: the enemy of fear.  Not just fear of dying or fear of the unknown future, which is huge, but fear in every decision that I make. 

When I have time in the afternoon, should I fight my fatigue by taking a nap?  After all, sleep is restorative, the only time when cells regenerate.  Or should I use that time to go outside?  I mean, I need that oxygen-rich air and vitamin D from the sun to help fight this cancer.  

Should I press fresh organic fruits and vegetables through a juicer for those essential nutrients that my body needs, or should I stay away from fruit altogether, since cancer cells thrive on glucose?  

When the pain becomes unbearable, should I apply a heat pack, since cancer cells cannot survive heat, or should I go for the cold pack, which may reduce some of the inflammation?  

Every day, with every decision, I fight the enemy of fear, knowing that my very life depends on choosing wisely.  Always aware of the lethal consequences I will face if I don’t.

December 4, 2019

Where are All the Stockings?

The day after Thanksgiving, I’m pulling out the boxes of Christmas decorations, my young children, husband and I having braved the crowds at the corner lot to buy a Christmas tree.  I string lights on the tree and hang a wreath on my front door, but even though there is festive music playing in the background, my mood is not festive.  I am sort of going through the motions, my heart not really in the Christmas spirit.  I am mentally counting down the days until December 25, wondering how I will make it through until then.  Wondering how I can possibly make this season into a happy, magical one for my kids.

My far away thoughts are brought to a screeching halt as my attention is drawn to the mantle of our fireplace.  Or more specifically, to the conspicuous absence of stockings hung on the mantle of our fireplace.  Not too long ago, our mantle was crammed full of stockings – for our young adult children, for the significant people in their lives, for the foster children who were living with us, for the youngest members of our family.  There were so many stockings, they almost didn’t fit!  I remember staring at all those stocking one evening, when the house was quiet and filled with the smell of fresh pine, and thinking to myself, my heart is full!

That isn’t my story this season.  This time, my heart doesn’t feel full at all.  I am asking myself this year, Where are all the stockings?  The nearly empty mantle is taunting me, representing loneliness and great loss, the changes that can happen in a person’s life when he or she least expects it.  

I am not alone in feeling this way.  Some of my dearest friends and I have had, quite frankly, a year that has been full of heartache and pain.  Struggles that we never thought would happen to nice people like us.  Altogether we have been irreparably impacted by overwhelming circumstances, like a gigantic tidal wave of grief and sorrow.  We have faced debilitating mental illness that keeps our families in a perpetual state of high alert; powerful addictions that seem impossible to break; the long hard road of unemployment, wondering how to provide for our families;  the sudden, unexplainable loss of a beloved child; the shame and dark despair of incarceration; shocking suicide attempts; a failed business venture; the abandonment of a spouse who had once vowed to be faithful; domestic violence so dangerous, so out of control that we had no choice but to call the police; a prodigal child who may or may not ever come home; a precious grandchild who, due to broken family relationships, we may never know; the terrifying diagnosis of a terminal illness.

As we face such tragic and devastating circumstances, how can we enter this season with joy?  In the midst of all of that grief and suffering, how can we be thankful?  When our hearts are so heavy that, in spite of our brave faces, the tears keep overflowing long into the night, is it even possible to find peace, that elusive peace that the birth of Jesus promised to bring?  When I stand in front of the fireplace and ask myself, Where are all the stockings?, how can this still be a happy, magical season?

November 20, 2019

Whatever It Takes

My husband and I have been asking ourselves, what would mean for us to give the first and best of our time, of our talent, and of our treasure.  

For more than 20 years, we had an unspoken motto:  We were fully committed to doing whatever it takes to care for any foster child in our home. We sacrificed hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of free time, hobbies, friendships, date nights, even family vacations for one child.   And then for the next child, and then for the one after that.  This is what it meant for us to give the first and best of our time.

Caring for these children was our passion, the joy of our heart.  It was such an honor to care for the sickest, the weakest, the most broken and frail, and then to experience the thrill of watching them grow and thrive.  Of course, having a child who was frequently in the hospital, or who was connected to life-saving equipment at home, or who struggled with unpredictable and destructive behaviors meant that we were unable to serve in church ministries or teach Sunday School classes or lead Bible studies.  But it did mean that we were doing what God had called us and uniquely gifted us to do.  This is what it meant for us to give the first and best of our talent.

Earlier this year, when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, our motto suddenly, by necessity, switch directions.  Now instead of doing whatever it takes to care for a foster child, we became committed to doing whatever it takes for me to fight cancer.  For me to find healing and wholeness.

October 12, 2019

Reluctant Warrior

There are many roles I have chosen for myself.  Roles I love.  I am a Christ-follower, a wife, a long-time foster and adoptive mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a homeschool teacher, a neighbor, a sign-language interpreter and a blogger.  But now, for the past few months, I have had another role thrown at me: a warrior.  Being a warrior is not a role I would have chosen for myself.  I did not voluntarily sign up for this.  I am unskilled, ill-equipped, and insecure at times, but a reluctant warrior nonetheless.

When I first heard the words cancer, rare, aggressive, incurable, stage 4, I naturally felt deep fear.  Terrified at the unknown future.  How long do I have left to live?  And how long will I still feel like me?  How long will I feel well and be able to take care of myself and take care of the two youngest children that God has brought into our family through adoption?  What will the symptoms be like as they worsen and progress?  What will it feel like when I am no longer able to speak or to swallow or to breathe on my own?  What if the pain becomes excruciating?  How will I bear it?

Suddenly, it felt like this little village that is my body was being attacked, under siege by a powerful enemy, and even if I could somehow defend myself from its progression, it would only be a matter of time before this evil conqueror would eventually prevail.

Sitting in the oncologist’s office that day, I felt weak and helpless, utterly at the mercy of the cold, clinical medical technology and what it would do to me.  I felt like a victim.  No choice, no voice, no power over the limited treatment options I was being offered, nor the dreadful side effects – both temporary and permanent – that would be left in their wake.  I felt a deep emptiness inside, knowing that my season of advocating for orphaned and vulnerable children, of caring for them and loving them in my home, was over.  Now, instead of foster mom, adoptive mom, speaker, advocate, mentor – roles I was passionate about - I was forced to become “cancer patient.”  And with every bone in my body, I hated it, grieving the loss of all that I had lost.

For several weeks after receiving my diagnosis, my heart was filled with fear and dread.  Uncertainty about which direction to take.  My husband and I spent countless hours researching and discussing options, praying for wisdom, weeping in grief and worry, seeking counsel.  For weeks I lost sleep, was unable to think of anything else, and was almost completely paralyzed with anxiety.  Not only did I have a physical enemy that was attacking my bodily health, but I had a mental enemy, every bit as detrimental, that was attacking my emotional health.  I couldn’t go on like this.

October 2, 2019

Building the Bridge

Even before I turn the corner to the hallway leading to my daughter’s preschool classroom, I can hear the cries coming from that direction.  And a moment later, I can see where the cries are coming from.  A little girl, clinging frantically onto her daddy’s leg, begging him not to leave.  

This is a fairly common scene on a weekday morning at preschools everywhere, but for some reason, on this particular morning, this particular little girl catches my attention.  Her sobs and the tears running down her face touch my heart in almost a physical way.  I can practically feel her pain.

I don’t know this girl, and I don’t know why she is crying.  Maybe she cries every time he leaves, and she hasn’t yet learned how to say goodbye.  Maybe she needs an extra moment of connection with him before they separate for the next few hours.  An extra reassurance from him, as she faces the terrifying world of social and academic expectations, that Sweetheart, everything is going to be ok.  

She clearly has some big emotions, and hasn’t yet learned how to talk about them or how to handle them in any other way, so she is expressing those big emotions the only way she knows how.  By crying and clinging onto her daddy.

Her daddy speaks harshly to his little girl, telling her to Stop crying!  He peels her arms away from his leg, and pushes her away towards the classroom door.  He pushes her away!  

August 25, 2019

Teaching Him

Please, God.  Please don’t make me do this!  Surely there is some other way.  Surely there is a solution I haven’t thought of yet.  You know me!  You know I am weak and exhausted and ill-equipped for this path.  You know I have cancer, for heaven’s sake!  God, you know I can’t do this!

And yet, despite my tear-filled tantrum, despite my reminding God of all the things He already knows, this is precisely what He is asking me to do.  He is asking me to teach my son.  At home.  We tried sending him to school where he might be able to receive the special education that he needs.  But that was not the answer.  We tried hiring a private teacher at home where his fragile health will be protected.  But that was not the answer either.  

No, I know in the depths of my heart that there is no other option for his education.  For this season, anyway, God is calling me to this task.  He is calling me to rely on, not the experts or the professionals or the “multitudes.” There is certainly a time and a place and season for those resources. But for this season, He wants me to rely on the Holy One of Israel.  He wants me to seek help from Him as I walk this path.  (Isaiah 31:1)

And the path, for me, is daunting. Since the day I met him nearly ten years ago, I have poured myself wholeheartedly into protecting him and keeping him healthy.  I have researched his complicated physical conditions and have found the very best specialists who can help him to thrive.  And it has been such a tremendous joy to see him thrive!  Every day, his vibrant personality and zeal for life simply amazes me! The fact that he is alive simply amazes me!

But his learning difficulties? His neuro-developmental disabilities? Those are way beyond me.  They defy my ability to understand.  How can I possibly teach him to read, much less to comprehend and apply what he is reading?  How can I help him memorize math facts when numbers make no sense to him? But even more frightening than the academics is the life-skills that are so essential for him to learn.  How can I possibly teach him everything he needs to know to live a productive and independent life some day?  The very thought of it overwhelms and almost paralyzes me.

June 6, 2019

When Your Bucket List Overflows

It’s cancer.  Malignant. Stage 4.  Angry and aggressive.  Rare.  Incurable.

The oncologist is speaking, and she is saying words that surely I must have heard before.  But never have I realized what ugly, vile words they are.  These words?  Describing me?  Unbelievable!

The oncologist goes on, almost apologetically, explaining that medical science doesn’t know what could have caused this terrible disease, especially since I do not have any of the usual risk factors. I am young-ish, not overweight, non-smoker, no family history.  Not even any genetic mutations or elevated tumor markers.  Well, medical science may not have clinical evidence to prove it, but secretly, I suspect the real cause.  In fact, I have suspected it for years.

I mean, the human body can only endure so much anxiety and trauma and grief and heartache, before something has got to give. Honestly, during our 20+ years of caring for some of our community’s most broken and most fragile and most needy children in our home, I have given my finite body an Olympic-worthy workout. I have demanded of my little adrenal glands, day after day, year after year that they keep producing an almost constant stream of adrenaline and cortisol, those hormones that the body needs during times of extreme stress.  How can that not eventually have an adverse effect?

Those thousands of nights when I should have been sleeping, that vital time when the body’s cells restore and rejuvenate, but instead I was keeping vigil at a child’s bedside, wondering if he or she would survive until morning.  The thousands of nights when I cried into my pillow, wondered if I  would survive until morning.  Managing countless moments of destructive behaviors, calming violent outbursts and tantrums, trying desperately to understand the hidden fears and hurts behind the rage.  Grabbing a quick granola bar or skipping meals altogether on my way out the door to yet another appointment or meeting or visit or court hearing.  The frequent worry and desperate prayers for a child’s uncertain and precarious future.  The dozens and dozens of times that I was overcome by grief, weeping for days when a flawed court system suddenly decided that a precious child who had been a part of my heart and a beloved member of our family for months or years, would not be able to stay, and I knew that life would never again be the same.

How could many years of, quite literally, laying down my life (John 15:13) for the least of these (Matthew 25:45) not eventually have an impact?  How could a lifetime of “being poured out as a drink offering” (2 Timothy 4:6) not eventually take its toll?  

May 24, 2019

That Time We Said No

This is the new foster placement coordinator 
(I don’t think we have met yet).  I see from our 
records that you have space available in your 
home, and I was wondering if you might be 
interested in taking a new foster placement.

We would be willing to consider it, sure!
Can you give me some more details?

There is a 3-year old little boy who is in the
hospital and ready to be discharged soon.

Oh, wow!  Do you know why he is in the 
hospital? Does he have a lot of medical 
needs?  Will he need special care?

I just got the paperwork from the investigator, 
so I am unfamiliar with the case.  Let’s see . . .

It looks like he has a feeding tube and he has 
a trach.  And possibly some endocrine issues.  
He is being taken into protective custody due 
to medical neglect.

Oh, no!  That poor child!  My heart goes out 
to him.  However, we have had several 
children with trachs over the years, and they 
are SO hard!  They need full-time, 24-hour 
care, and we just cannot commit to that.  We 
are going to have to say no. I’m so sorry!

Ok, well, let me see if I can get some more
information and then get back with you.

That’s fine if you want to find out more 
information, but we are unable to take a child 
with a trach.  We really need to say no.

Thank you for your honesty.  I understand 
that this would be a big commitment.  Let me 
put you in touch with his medical team at the 
hospital.  They may be able to give you more 
details about his care, and answer any 
questions you may have.

Ok, sure.  It never hurts to get more 
information and ask some questions, right?

May 18, 2019

Who He Was Created to Be

After waiting for a few minutes in the waiting room, we hear our name being called and follow the click-clack of the woman’s heels down the hall towards her office.  She motions for us to take a seat on the other side of her desk, offering us coffee.  Commenting on the weather.  Asking if we were able to find a spot in the parking deck across the street without too much trouble.  She is obviously trying to be polite and make us feel comfortable, but I am impatient and ready to get down to business.  We are here for answers, not small talk.

Finally, she sits behind her desk and hands us a thick stack of papers, neatly bound together with a large binder clip.  It my first hint that this meeting is not going to be quick.  Or that the news inside these documents is not going to be good.  I had been secretly hoping that she would give us a single sheet of paper, one that said something simple like, Your child’s test scores all came back in the “normal” range, and you have absolutely nothing to worry about.  Have a nice day!  But of course my secret hopes were entirely unrealistic.  We wouldn’t have requested these evaluations in the first place unless we had suspected that something was seriously wrong.  The thick stack of papers is a professional’s report, confirming and articulating in technical terminology what we already know to be true.

She starts talking about the report, explaining some of the details and diagnoses.  You know how, when Charlie Brown’s teacher talks, all you can hear is Wah wah, wah wah, wah wah wah instead of the actual words?  That is exactly what this feel like.  I can hear this woman’s voice, and I know she is saying actual words, but I am unable to understand any of it through the fog of shock.  How can these words be describing our child?

Seeing our child’s weaknesses and struggles right here in black and white, complete with specific codes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is sobering and heart-breaking.  What parents want to read a document that officially declares that their child is deficient? What parents want to admit that their child is fundamentally flawed? Abnormal?  Broken?