Cancer Update: Jesus is More Than Enough

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   Twenty-seven days. That’s the number of days since the final radiation treatment for my husband’s prostate cancer. He still isn’t quite ready for a nice rare steak, but that’s getting ahead of my story. It was quite a summer, not an easy one. Yet ironically, this very summer, of all summers, our pastor embarked on a series from Colossians. The theme? Jesus is Better.

     If you haven’t already, you can read here about the rough times of late 2014 and up to now. How we put off the biopsy for months and finally went ahead with it at the same unfortunate time as his massive oral surgery. We knew the mouth issues would be tough for a long while, but had no idea radiation would dwarf that ordeal. How could we know? I’d undergone radiation during my breast cancer eleven years ago, and it was more or less a piece of cake. He, on the other hand, almost immediately, suffered constant stomach upset, no appetite, and almost daily weight loss.

    With no stamina whatsoever, each day he’d manage our business as best he could, then ask to be left alone to rest. As I grieved, I questioned. Why did he resist distractions like a small outing or a walk? Sometimes we left the house. Then a few miles out, he’d turn the car around and head home.

    Each day, though, he’d drive himself the hour to the treatment center, then the hour home. Five days a week. Alone.

    Jesus is More Than Enough

    I entered church the Sunday after his first five days of treatment, and barely acknowledged the theme’s announcement. For the next several weeks, the pain I felt during church trumped my ability to concentrate. I’d sit there and wonder why. Why he only wanted food and laundry needs met. Why he wouldn’t let me comfort him – no holding each other, not even his favorite foot rubs.

    When I did register the theme, Jesus is More Than Enough, my response was hollow. Well, I’m sure that is true in the grand scheme of things. Of course that’s what God says…The screen behind the pastor glowed with the words, but weeks passed before I actually took them in.

    I felt completely abandoned.

   Then I began to dig into Colossians at home. My pastor pointed out how Paul struggled (ch. 1:29 and 2:1) to make the people see “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I realized that God, through Paul and our pastor, wanted me to ask the question: Is Jesus really more than enough?  Going about the day, I asked, “Is Jesus better than earthly relationships?” I knew I’d have to know, really know, the answer to that someday. But I wasn’t ready to face the question just yet. It blindsided me. I’d read Colossians over and over, and wrestle with God. I’d challenge Him. “Haven’t we already worked this out? Other times of trouble in our relationship sealed the matter, didn’t it? Jesus is enough!”

    But is He More Than Enough?

    In the moments of working alone folding laundry or walking in the neighborhood, I had to face my anger, and this persistent belief that puny me, I, knew better than God what should happen. These unrelenting needs, the friendship and love of a husband who lives in the same house, who surely has many good years left, clashed noisily with the supremacy of Christ. In my head a cacophony of voices screamed against the quiet assurance: No matter what, when all else fails, Jesus will prove to be more than enough. Whether in the resolution of Hubby’s health issues and restoration of our passion.   

        Or in the loss of both.

       To jump off that cliff of trust, find the net solid underneath, then walk in the truth became the challenge of every day. Colossians 1:23 reminded me to continue “in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”

        Finally, I had to say, You are not only enough, but more than enough. You know best. You know more. You love me best. You will figure all this out.

     I had to say it over and over again, with thankfulness (Col. 2:6 and 7) as I went about caring for and releasing my Hubby.  

     How often do I have to jump, Lord? Okay, You know that, too.

    So, you might wonder, where are we now, as a couple?

    After the treatments ended, he still felt horrible. Days went by. When we woke up to the usual how are you this mornings, I’d take the temperature of the room, remembering my truth. My barometer still wondered, is the glass half full? Or half empty? Is Jesus really more than enough if my husband stays emotionally gone?

    Twenty-seven days. Not long, really. Twenty-seven days since the last treatment of summer. We made it through. The laundry smells sweeter, food tastes much better. One of these days my babe may even enjoy a steak again. It’s a process. And one we don’t take for granted.

   But he did come back to me. We comfort each other now, laugh more readily. Finally. But my heart’s desire is to live in the Jesus-is-more-than-enough mode. I want it to be my default mode. I want His enoughness to infuse every minute of every day. His enoughness will get me through the next cliff I face – and hopefully I’ll jump a bit quicker into his net.

    Until the day I get to jump right into His arms. Won’t that be grand?

Thirty Seconds to Laugh Out Loud…Go!

Thirty Seconds To Laugh

Sometimes I can laugh at myself. Once, in the dark aisle of the Majestic Theatre, I stumbled trying to get to my seat. Thankfully I didn’t land in someone’s lap, but the thought of it struck me as very funny. A few months ago I ungracefully sailed from someone’s foyer into their living room. And several years ago I fell backwards into a bed of cactus (written in detail here).  In these moments I couldn’t help myself. I laughed like a lunatic. Maybe a nervous tick? (no pun intended.).

But sometimes laughing is no laughing matter. It’s just plain work.

Recently, someone passed me off like the proverbial “chopped liver.”  Someone I believed cared for me. When after several days the “special person” didn’t hear me out, I felt trapped in a junior high-ish inner drama. I thought I would burst with codependent frustration.

A few days later, while walking into the grocery store, I felt embarrassed about it all. Your pity party has gone on way too long. It’s left spoiling chip dip and stinky, moldy dixie cups all over the place. It’s time to get a grip.

Time to get a grip. Not time to pretend it never happened. Not necessarily time to fix it. (Heaven knows, I’d tried that..) Not even time to confront. (I’d actually done that, too.) But time to see something else through my progressive bifocals. I hadn’t felt like laughing in days, and I hadn’t. Nothing seemed funny. The acute pain, no longer cute, now reduced to a dull ache, left behind a sadness that began to feel like– sin.

Sheepish, ashamed, I got my cart and entered the produce end of the store.

By the time I passed the flower department I knew my answer: to laugh. I must laugh in thirty seconds or fade away like the Witch of the West (or East? when doused with water). I could almost picture a pool of blue jean and orange t-shirt mush. There I’d lie, or not lie, gone, except for the clothes. The tabloids would read, “Texas Woman Melts in Produce Aisle.” Or “Agitated Texas Woman Disappears While Shopping.” How silly. Surely, agitation could never cause such an extreme reaction. Ah, but we know it can. Disney has perfected witches who get mad and swirl around and round until they swirl out of existence.

So I sort of laughed at that thought.

Then I tried to snicker a bit at the green peppers. Not even a bit funny, I realized the pretend “ha” wasn’t working. Somehow I had to sell this thing. I glanced around, made sure no bored produce man or inquisitive shopper saw me.

“Ha, Ha, Ha!” I ventured out loud.

Maybe the green peppers weren’t funny. But the apples might be.

I don’t know why the stickers grabbed me. Every single apple – a sticker?  Who did that? Probably a machine nabbed them as they tumbled all helter skelter down some padded conveyor belt. This gave me pause, but my thirty seconds still weren’t up.

Why did each one need identification? Sure, there were many varieties. Could that be the reason? And who would make sure every apple had a sticker? This struck me as a funny job. I thought of an old “I Love Lucy” chocolate conveyor belt episode. I have to find that episode.

Then the smile took over my face and I chuckled. How much more important than apples (or chocolates) are we? Does our pain have some purpose? Does someone care? Am I stickered?

Yup. And you are too. I realized that taking control of my mood had to become more important than cuddling a cold, empty latte cup. I can control my mood when I realize how little control I have over my circumstances. I can control my mood when I see my needs and desires in a more realistic perspective.

Have you perfected the Laugh on Command? I am working on it. I need to keep a rolodex of funny, yet true things about myself and the world, and how cosmically absurd this fact is: I am loved. I am loved by the One who has stickered me for a purpose. I’m created and identified for a purpose.

Hanging around happy people helps. Do you know someone you hear before you see? Our family laughs just thinking about Jarrod. We don’t even have to be around him. He doesn’t live a charmed life any more than anyone does. He just chooses to see everything in it’s funniest light. So at almost forty-nine he’s perfected the skill of controlling his mood.

You hear Jarrod before you see him. It’s the laugh.

Can you laugh, if you had to, in thirty seconds? Now, go!

Change Mad to Sad in a Fight

Normally I would greet my husband’s entrance into my tiny office with a smile. But the day I happened to be engaged in a lively phone gab, how dare he walk in and give me the “timeout” sign followed by a flat-handed cutting motion under his chin? I wasn’t ready to either get off the phone or take a break just yet. As my wide eyes and cocked head returned his glare, two people clearly saw each other cross the line of respect.

Turns out, after getting off the phone, his interruption was indeed trivial – no blood, no flood, no roof caving in – and therefore disrespectful to me. He, on the other hand, felt sidelined like a second-rate citizen, not worthy of common respect. The chill in the air told me we weren’t done here. Not at all. Something else, something much bigger was trying to enter the arena.

Power struggle.

Again. Daily irritations, emotional distance, set up an unsteadiness inside. In the past, my fear that he’d shut down usually caused an irrational panic in me, and a greater disconnect. After the initial storm, we wouldn’t feel close, just in a truce-like lull. And inside I would die again, becoming a little more numb.

In many Autumn marriages, this rut is slowly dug through years of unresolved conflict. No wonder so many emotionally check out. We may fight less; but we engage less, too. You can’t fight if you don’t disagree out in the open. Anger throws up dust. Nothing seems clear anymore. A stale blah sets in, like the air a few hours after cooking fish. No spark of sweetness. Little joy. Accumulated resentment and relational pain pile up, and the deep friendship this time of life offers us just evades.

This time, though, on “that’” morning, something different happened. After he “gave me a piece of his mind,” I pondered what I’d been learning in the book, Wounded Heart, by Dr. Dan B. Allender. As I read about “good girl” self-protective distancing, my way of relating to conflict began to come unraveled. Keeping pain away no longer seemed the godly thing; it began to look downright unloving and very energy-sapping. I thought about how angry, fearful tears never got me where I wanted to go.

Neither did demanding a hearing.

Neither did insisting it all didn’t matter.

Instead of sinking farther from intimacy, this time I determined to keep the door open.

After work he asked me out for supper. A tense calm ruled the ride to Red Lobster. Once seated and having ordered the food, the topic came out. I told him that I felt disrespected too. I also said that disagreeing about who disrespected who can be okay. This statement had never come out before. We both seemed bent on getting the other over to our point of view. He rejected the idea of “amicable disagreement” on this issue.

And here, I made a decision. I would be sad. Sad for all the times this happened to us over the years. Sad for the way I had incrementally blocked him from my heart. Sad he had done the same. However, a kind of softness came with it.

It became my challenge to refuse to give in to those other choices – anger or numbness.  I let my point sit. In this uncluttered moment in our restaurant booth, I added, disagreeing with each other civilly makes us adults.

Sadness stayed. We missed the Spurs game we both wanted to watch. I took a walk and talked to a friend, asking her to pray. I rested in the conviction that I must not push for premature resolution or let anger build another fence. Not this time.

My decision to simply be sad changed everything. With fear held back, it couldn’t join forces with anger and get the stronghold this time. Secondly, I boiled the fight down to what we both struggled with – not feeling loved by the other.

Sadness must keep the door open. Grief just might usher in healing.

By late afternoon the next day, a strange thing happened inside me. I felt a slight new attraction to him. Why did he look handsome to me? Nothing had changed.

Next day at breakfast I smiled. He smiled back.

All because I refused to be dead.