friday, august 9, 2013.

The days are both dark and lovely. Our life teems with life. I am utterly at the end of my rope. I am spent. I am brand new. I have not a single drop left to give. I feel the thrill of this roller coaster ride. I am stretching so much farther than I ever imagined myself capable of stretching... and then some. I feel the mixed emotions inherent in laying my heart bare before eager onlookers.

I am a girl in love who arrives in Vernazza by train an hour before dawn with the man of my dreams and follows a little yellow songbird down a cobblestone side street... which gives birth to a winding trail... which leads to a mountain... which we hike all the way up, up, up through the vineyards and olive orchards until we reach the Sanctuario di Pace (Sanctuary of Peace)... where The Music Man sings me a love song he wrote for me three days prior while waiting for my plane to arrive in Rome... and I can not even catch my breath for all the joy that floods my heart when he asks me to be his bride as the sun breaks over the horizon.

I am a bride on her honeymoon, out on my first real hike, suddenly realizing I did not previously comprehend what a real hike was... a novice trudging up a mountainside on an advanced trail with a freshly torn meniscus and nearly half my weight on my back... wondering if we'll make it to the top before nightfall and worrying all the way that the old fire lookout tower we hope to call home for the week will be occupied when we arrive, thus forcing us to pop a tent in the meadow below when I know darn well that there are bears up there... trying to be strong and brave but secretly concerned that this person I just married seems to think me capable of or interested in hiking a mountain on our honeymoon... and if this is just the beginning then I am terrified of what comes next.

We have epic highs and awful lows. Life is too much. It is too good. It is too hard. It is too mountainous, too extreme, too beyond me, too beyond us.

The teacher from California we saw two weeks prior comes to Seattle and we decide to go... why not? He and his wife both teach. I grew up with holy rollers but this is definitely on the outer-edge of my comfort zone, and all of it is entirely new to The Music Man. It turns out someone else is teaching that night and I'm still recovering from surgery so we prepare to leave, but for some reason we fail to actually exit the building and we wind up just sticking it out. The new guy is completely normal and super down to earth, and although we aren't quite sure what to make of it when he casually mentions the storehouses of heaven and being so filled with God's love that it shifts the very atmosphere around us as we live our daily lives, I can say without any fear of exaggeration that what we learn about God that night alters the course of our lives profoundly. He messes with our understanding of what it looks like to listen to God, to love people well, to hear God's voice, and to step into his story for your life. As he concludes his talk, Little Buddy awakens from a deep sleep and sits himself up in his sling. His behavior is odd and surprises me but I play along with it. The teacher turns to The Music Man and I and starts telling us all about our son. "I saw figuratively a harp, but I saw music in his hands. What a musical child. And I feel like I could see a leadership gift in music and worship. And I saw a writing gift, a songwriting gift. And I feel like from the time he's young he'll be writing poetry, writing thoughts, he'll be writing, he'll be journaling. A deep, deep well; a deep soul. And I saw the Lord is gonna -- I feel like you, as a father, you have a desire for music. And you've gone a certain level in it, but you're gonna find your full joy when he manifests the fullness of his calling. And I saw him traveling around the world doing music. And I feel like the Lord just said there's an assignment on his life to restore something like tabernacle worship. And that through his life even more of your calling will manifest. What a gift, what a gift -- a family purpose that's on your life. Have so much joy in raising him because an even greater part of your call will be once when he's even older because of what's on his life. I don't know how many kids you guys have or want to have but you do a good job so have fun with it."

We approach the teacher, anxious to meet him. We talk about how cute Little Buddy is and tell him about the already-and-not-yet healing of my cancer. He tells us he sees a sickle used for harvesting. It's time. He says a quick prayer but not for healing -- he prays for a reaping of all the prayers others have prayed.

We are astonished by everything we learn that night and everything that is shared with us. We laugh that The Music Man is one of probably only a handful of people in the region who actually helps build harps, and this guy saw Little Buddy with a harp in his hands. We reminisce about when Little Buddy was in my womb, and I would press my belly against the harp while The Music Man played. We marvel that twice in two weeks we've been given a word about our son having a call on his life, and about our family purpose of worship. We remember there is a third word about worship as well...

Three years prior, we were in a time of transition and went down to visit our spiritual Papa and Mama for the afternoon. We had lunch together then went to their church with them -- the same church where we went for prayer after being diagnosed with cancer and God told me I was healed. Three years back, we were looking for direction and a few folks prayed with us after the service. One of the women praying shared what she felt the Lord was telling her: Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" She said God has given us (plural) a voice (singular) to open heavens and shatter strongholds, that he has blessed our feet, that we would be fearless to go where no one else would go, and that we are anointed for healing. She said that our life would be like a quilt, a large quilt -- each piece a life story, each thing that happens a part coming together to make up the whole.

I was freaked out. A little excited, a little curious, and a lot freaked out. I had just abandoned an intense career for a better, less expensive life that didn't involve copious quantities of overtime or office drama. I wasn't really that interested in an adventure, especially one that would hold me to a standard I wasn't really interested in living up to. I liked my life. I likes my grey areas. But after God tells you something three times, you start thinking he must really mean it.

So many unexpected things happen that I forget about cancer from time to time, but alongside the freedom and the beauty there is an ugliness as well. There is a threat of chemo. There are angry outbursts, as I struggle to keep my emotions in check. There is the reality that I am not in control. There is this drive to escape -- to escape the madness, the continual waiting, the unknown quantities, the fear of the future, the sorrow of the past, the confusion of each present moment. Escape can take any of many forms: work too hard, eat too much, binge on movies, scrub the house to within an inch of its life... whatever it takes to not hurt, to not fear, to not notice the constant lies whispered softly in my ears which I drink down too quickly, too often, like too much red wine. The lies are always there. I can't see them and seldom see them for what they are, but they are ever present. I tell myself these dark days don't last long, but some days I honestly don't believe it and I wonder if this weight will ever be lifted.

We try not to brace ourselves for bad news when we see Doctor Two a week after surgery. He enters the room, opens my chart, closes my chart, and leaves the room. I overhear him double-checking with Nurse Nicole, "is this right?" I smile wide at The Music Man, and wider still as Doctor Two says out loud what my body has been telling me in secret: to our very great delight and Doctor Two's very great surprise, my levels have dropped a full 50% (hCG 1559 in one week). We both know he did not cut away the cancer fully contained within the wall of my womb. He cannot account for the change, though he agrees it is meaningful. He cautions us that it doesn't matter where I'm coming from, it matters where I end up. He is not wrong.

He says the pathology shows there is (only) a very small amount of trophablast material (the yucky stuff) in the small amount of tissue he was able to extract during my (nine minute) surgery, and he urges me to start cancer treatment (immediately). His eyes meet mine and I blink a somewhat slow, unmotivated, indifferent blink. This is the extent of the response which he receives. And then, for the first time, perhaps ever, he cracks a smile and asks me sheepishly, "I don't suppose I could interest you in a shot of chemo today, could I?" "No thanks," I reply, and wanting to offer him a glimmer of hope I add, "maybe later?" We agree I'll keep coming in for weekly blood work and give it a little more time. He leans back, lets out a long sigh of resignation, and proceeds to give us what sounds suspiciously like his you're-in-the-home-stretch spiel: once my level gets down to three (as in, you can count it on one hand), I'll continue to have weekly blood tests for one month, then we'll switch to monthly tests for six months, then every three months for the rest of the year, and then, assuming my level remains below three, I won't need to see him anymore... ever.

It takes a while for it to really sink in: we're not just talking meaningful change here, we're talking 1,000 points lower than my lowest level since our miscarriage. My level the following week shows another big drop -- down by a third (hCG 1014). And the following week, which is exactly three months after being diagnosed with cancer, Nurse Nicole calls to congratulate me because my level comes back as zero! I'm so excited that I practically hang up on her and immediately call The Music Man, who tells a bunch of people the fabulous news as he ditches work early and runs home to scoop me up in his arms and twirl me around a time or two and kiss me soft and long and sweet. We spend an absolutely thrilling couple of minutes thanking God for healing me (quite loudly, in fact) before the nurse sheepishly calls back to confess there has been a computer glitch in the lab. They double-check my level and it is not zero (RATS!) but it is down by nearly half (hCG 550). I have no hard feelings about the mix up. It's a test run. Zero felt amazing for a moment, but 550 feels pretty good too. I'm almost certain Doctor Two only performed the surgery to prove to me it wouldn't help so I would just shut up already and go to chemo, and here we are, three weeks later, in the home stretch. It is a slow miracle in progress, surgery and all.

I am in awe of how this is not just about freedom from a bunch of messed up cells, but about freedom from a bunch of messed up attitudes and behaviors and beliefs. I don't just want to be set free and made whole in my body, but in my very soul as well. God is so good. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He is our Father and he loves his children. He longs for intimacy with us. I technically know these things, but I long to fully know them... to understand them with my mind, to believe them in my heart, to experience them, to actually live them: God is good, he gives good gifts, he loves us, he longs for intimacy... with everyone, yes, but also with me. Me. Me, whose life has been marked by so much sorrow and suffering, pain and ugliness. Me, who has made such a mess of so many things. Me, who has willfully turned away and made my great escape, in big and small ways. Me, who for the last few weeks has struggled deeply with some really big, ugly issues that scare me at least as much as cancer. If there was a chemo for such things, I would take it immediately and without hesitation! Alas, there is no drug, no shot, no easy answer. But if Jesus can heal cancer, and I know he can, then surely he can heal hearts and minds and souls, attitudes and behaviors and beliefs... both yours and mine. It doesn't matter where we're coming from, it matters where we end up. It's about the journey, yes, but not just the journey. There is a goal: intimacy -- to know him and to be known by him. And not just some day in heaven, but here and now on earth.