Since the day we found out we had a brain tumor, I joined some support groups that talk not only about the science behind tumors, but also about the emotional & mental effects having a tumor have on us and those around us.
I had a moment shortly after I first found out I had a brain tumor where I really lost it. It took me a couple of hours to have my “Why God me” moment and I think that was about all I gave it. I’m a pretty rigid person, but I gave myself that moment on the phone with a sweet friend and we both cried together for a couple of hours. I asked God all the ugly, hard, and emotional questions. The ones I knew I wouldn’t get answers to, but the ones I needed to say out loud to myself.
Who’s going to take care of my kids? Who will my husband remarry? Will my kids call her mom? What happens to our finances? Will my kids still go to private school? Will my husband live until he’s 90 so that he can take care of them? What happens if he dies? Who will take care of them? Will my family be okay? Why did you choose me for this path? What have I done wrong? What can I do to undo this? It’s not going to kill me, is it? It’s benign, right? What sin did I commit that was so bad God gave me cancer? How ugly will I be without hair? What if people don’t love me anymore? Will my kids shy away from me if I’m bald? Will I lose my job? Will my job understand the recovery process? Why am I going through this? And the most selfish question of all – can God pick someone else for this journey?
Those questions, some of them from the enemy himself, were hard to admit to myself. Some of them, I’ve never said out loud (or written) until today.
Here’s the thing about God picking you for a journey though: When God calls you to tell His story, He calls you to tell all of it. All the dirty, all the good, all the hate, all the love, all the sadness, and all the joy. But most importantly, He redeems all of it. Every single last bit of it. Because someone out there is watching you. Someone out there in this little ball we call Earth is going through something similar and is looking for answers. They want to know if God exists. They want to know the ugly questions they’re asking themself is normal. They want to know it’s okay to be hurting. Really, deeply hurting. And they want to know it’s okay to be absolutely terrified. That even though they may be a Christian, it’s okay to be scared to die.
After I got off that phone call that night, I dried my tears and walked back into my house and started doing our nightly chores as if nothing was wrong. I stuffed it deep down. I internalized it for days and even weeks. I still have some of it internalized.
I still struggle to talk about some of the things I’ve had to face. If you’ve talked to me, you know I can’t talk about writing wills for my kids or some of the final things I did before surgery without literally holding back tears and not being able to talk through it. You also know I’m an open book and I’ll share this journey with anyone who will listen because one thing cancer has shown me is God’s unfailing redemption and love for His children.
I read a lot of messages in one of the support groups I’m in and I’m still so surprised to see how many relationships are falling apart because of tumors, cancer, or even sickness in general. Part of me wants to say that they didn’t have a strong relationship in the first place, but there’s another part of me that knows those of us with a diagnosis aren’t the only ones going through this. It’s hard to lose someone you love. It’s harder to watch them die in front of you. Sometimes, the unknown, the statistics out there make it scary to see past the potential of healing. It’s even harder to see God’s mercy and grace when you aren’t a Christian or don’t have a great relationship with God.
I see the same thing in these posts/messages. A spouse or significant other left because the person with a tumor now has a shaved head. They aren’t as pretty as they used to be. They’re gaining/losing weight. They’re struggling with anger/emotional changes due to medication, pain, etc., or they’re unable to stay awake like they used to and are simply exhausted.
During this, I was talking to Richard about marriage and I put a reminder on my phone that said simply , “Write a post about divorce and tumors.” Just enough to spur my brain because I can’t seem to remember things sometimes. I write a lot of reminders these days. When the reminder popped up, I remember thinking, “What would Richard think if he saw that?”
We’ve been talking about our vows though as I’ve been praying about this post. I know God prompted this one a while back and I have been waiting for the words to fill my heart. Words that come from God, not from me.
Most people have some form of these in their wedding vows, whether you’re a Christian or not: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”
So that got my wheels turning. Where in Scripture does it say that we must stay together “in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse” exactly?
I’m not a Bible scholar by any means. Compared to some of the people out there, I’m such a green Christian, but I sure do love the Lord and all He has done for me, for my husband, my kids, my family. He has shown up over and over and it’s never been one of those “sit on the sidelines” type relationships. No, when God shows up in my life, He’s usually the announcer at my game.
Various bible verses talk about marriage:
Genesis 2: 21-24
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Matthew 19: 5-6
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Here I am over here, thinking literally:
Before you are married, you are two people. Post-marriage, you are one. Jesus talked in parables a lot, but I don’t see this one as a parable of any kind. I try to think about this literally.
Would you voluntarily want to cut off your arm? Leg? Ear? Tongue? Of course not. Maybe if it’s infected and causing immense pain, but in that case, I would argue that you aren’t likely in a good spot (hence our reference back not being in a good relationship to begin with).
You see, wounds fester. Over time, wounds can get infected. Scabs form and things get itchy and we pick at them. If you don’t clean it and deal with it, it can get worse. Then you’ll need to apply antibiotic ointment, maybe a band-aid, maybe even go to a hospital and get treatment.
That’s a lot like marriage.
What starts out as a simple argument or pain point gets a little infection. If you don’t deal with it then, it gets itchy. Maybe then, you start to pray or start to ask someone to help you wash it and apply a band-aid. But if it gets too bad, you’re heading to a hospital (church, counseling, community) where you start to deal with a much bigger problem/infection and start needing more urgent treatment before you have to amputate your leg or arm and suddenly, you ARE no longer one flesh. You are now separated from your body, you are hurting, you are wounded, and that takes a lot of time to heal. It takes recovery to learn how to do things without a piece of your body. You have to re-learn how to eat, to walk, to do things where that limb was cut off.
It is not lost on me the toll that my own tumor/cancer diagnosis is taking on my husband. I have always been proud of myself for never visiting the doctor, but the reality is, I visit the surgeon instead. I’ve been through 8 major surgeries now. Richard has been through each one of them with me. Right by my side. Each time, he has had to care for me, our home, our kids and our farm. He has had to do all the gross things that come with medical care of your wife and all the hard things. He has had to endure the emotional and mental effects of medication I’m on, the crankiness, the sleepiness, the crying, the frustration, the stubbornness, the yelling and more. He has been there through each event with me, in sickness and health.
I can’t find anything Biblically that tells us to stay together in sickness and in health, but I can find that God told me that we are now one flesh. I’m not much of a thrill seeker, so I’m not gonna go cutting off my arms voluntarily. If I have a cut or a scrape (or an issue with my husband), I’m not amputating. I’m dealing with it before it becomes a problem. I’m having a conversation, even if that means we’re driving in a car.
What I love about Richard most is that he’s really good about being open. Since we completed Celebrate Recovery and pre-marital ministry, we’ve learned that it’s okay to have a moment of frustration, but then we come back and deal with it. We do that in front of our kids, too. We show them that not everything is perfect and we show them how to handle conflict, how to approach forgiveness, and how to love one another. We also model for them daily that when the tough stuff happens, you don’t just bail. That’s society’s way of life. God’s way is reconciliation. God’s way is to ask for forgiveness. So that’s what we do.
I have a great family. I have a great job. I have a great boss. I have a great church and school family. I have wonderful friends. None of that comes without God lining that path for us. Richard and I have been through so much together. However, our story of redemption, of reconciliation, of God’s mercy and grace isn’t our own. It is a testimony that we hope when share, it encourages others that even if the road looks dark and grim, there is light and hope. The thing about darkness is, it can’t exist where light is.
My point in this isn’t my own marriage or family, though.
Trials come in life. Trials come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re in that spot where your spouse (or a friend or family member) is dealing with tough things, sickness, etc., talk about it. It’s okay to cry, yell, and ask questions like I did that suck and are hard and nasty to admit. Honor that time with yourself and with your relationships. Don’t hide in the closet where it’s dark and light isn’t there. More importantly, don’t bail when you are needed most. If you’re married, remember that you took an oath before God. You made a promise. It wasn’t an easy promise. Bring others in to help you work through your own trauma. Talk to your spouse. I guarantee you, they are hurting, too, even if they don’t admit it.
Listen, we are not perfect. None of us are. We’re living in a world where the devil roams freely thinking God isn’t coming back for us. We live in a world where society wants us to believe that being self-centered is a good thing. We are encouraged to exist for what makes us happy, to live for the moment, to shut off things that make us unhappy. But that’s anything but Biblical. We are given laws to follow (commandments). We are told to forgive. Everyone. For everything. Just as Christ Jesus forgave us our sins. Even when society says it’s okay to vote people off your island. We are encouraged to isolate ourselves from things that irritate us mildly. You can find whole rows of books dedicated to “self” help and self-love.
We’re processing our own trials just as anyone else would. We’re taking it one day at a time. Cancer sucks. Seriously. I ask myself every day if I’ll live long enough to see my kids graduate and that thought crushes my heart into a million tiny pieces. I have to wipe tears out of my eyes just putting the words on this page. I ask myself what I’ll look like when I’m bald if/when I have to finally go through chemo/radiation. I cry at my own self-centeredness when I realize that question is in my head. I wonder if one day, another woman will be in this home and my kids will call her mom when I’m gone. My heart breaks, but yet rejoices that someone might be willing to pick up that hammer and step in.
Honor the hard stuff. Pray. Talk to God. You don’t have to fall on your knees and shout fancy prayers. God just wants to hear from you. You can close your eyes and just start talking silently. Don’t worry about your words of if your prayer sounds collegiate. Some of the best prayers come from children and they stumble with words. Their innocence is something I go to God with, often. He’s listening and I guarantee you, He knows your heart. Surround yourself with others who will honestly pray for you. We live in a world where people say they’re praying like they ask how you’re doing. They don’t mean it. Invest in prayer. It’s important.
If you’re going through a trial, talk. If you’re spouse or a family member is going through it, talk. Honor the steps. They’re placed in front of you for a reason. Trust God with the next steps. He loves you, more than can possibly imagine. He loves you more than any person on this earth could love you. And sometimes, we just need to be told that.
Love you all,