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?

Five Ways Your Marriage Can Change the World

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Genesis 12:3b …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(God to Abraham)  ESV

Many years ago our family participated in a Pro-life rally and march in downtown Charlotte. Our ten year-old daughter, boldly marching with her sign, suddenly found a microphone from the local TV station thrust in front of her face.

“What are you doing here today?”

Without hesitation, our Johnny on the Spot leaned into the mic and said, “I’m changing the world!” Later, while watching this micro-interview on the 6:00 news, I thought her answer a little over the top. My jaded attitude said, Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think my actions matter that much?

In the years since, I’ve tried to hear my daughter’s statement through her young mind. The world needs help. The world needs changing. So if not to change the world, why go up against anything big?

My daughter’s comment on TV got me thinking…

What about marriage? When God said Abraham and Sarah would change the world, did He mean just through their offspring, Isaac? If so, why did He make them wait until they were almost one hundred years old to produce that child? I believe one possible reason for the epic wait was that something big would happen along the way to Isaac.

Their marriage.

The Abraham/Sarah marriage included decades of trusting and not trusting God, of disappointing each other, of misunderstandings and near-death decisions. Bless the world? God emphasized His statement again in I Peter 3:6. Sarah serves as the model for us wives.

“…And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

But she had issues! Yes. Most of our biblical heroes stumbled big. As with their lapses in judgement and obedience, God still uses cracked pots to hold and distribute his message. That includes us. Sarah called her husband Lord because in the Eastern nations this title served as a model for proper respect. We wouldn’t call our husband Lord, but the respect without fear part sure challenges me! Respect without fear is no small order. It will take a lifetime to learn what that kind of respect, the world changing kind, looks like.

Your marriage, too, though imperfect, is meant to change the world. Here are five ways.

1. A good, working marriage increases the productivity and creativity of each partner. Couples who resolve conflict, avoid resentment and misunderstanding, cause energy to flow into the workplace. When times of crises and desert come, both at work and in the home, the habits of kindness and forgiveness help get them through. These relational habits spill out at work, along with new ideas and fresh ways to solve problems. The world does change when energy flows from loving relationships.

2. A good, working marriage marriage makes a peaceful home. Children thrive at school and play when Mom and Dad like each other as well as love each other. They feel secure when they see their parents apologize, hug, and kiss. This sense of well-being and security changes the atmosphere wherever those happy people are. All the other kids want to be at that house. Peace, fun, and contentment change the world.

3. A good, working marriage gets noticed out in public. Everyone loves to see couples who make eye contact and laugh together. Onlookers smile. We get the message. We wish we had that- and we think we know what “that” is. Parks, tour buses, hiking trails, museums, resort lobbies, and restaurants attract more users, at the very least, and may even be transformed, when loving couples fill the spaces with their enjoyment.

4. A good, working marriage reproduces itself. True, children from happy homes sometimes divorce. Marriage is complicated at best, miserable at worst. However, many studies show that homes where kindness and passion live produce children more likely to stay married, just by their good modeling. Don’t we all pick up relational habits from the home in which we grew up? Commitment and love are caught as much as taught.

5. A good, working marriage spreads the Gospel. God designed marriage to be a reflection of His great love. He’s the One Who drew the blueprint and planned to change the world through our marriages. Since the gospel is the greatest love story ever told, we spread it knowingly or not, as we love each other in the most intimate of relationships.

Our marriage is meant to change the world. Doesn’t knowing that put all its difficulties in a different light?  For, although it can be the most hurtful, the most demanding, and the most complicated of relationships, something really, really big must be in all the hard work.

Facing Loss

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It was November of 2014. Our mouthwatering ribs on the breezy patio of Longhorn Steakhouse tasted even better being near the ocean. If the first item on our ToDo list was eating ribs, the second item was to discuss our future beach condo. This weekend getaway provided uninterrupted, relaxing time to dream. Retirement, my hubby’s reward for a lifetime of hard work, must include the romantic sound of the surf and sand between our toes.

     In an instant, my husband’s eyes flooded with tears and he buckled in excruciating pain. He grabbed his napkin and covered his mouth with another moan.

     Though we didn’t realize it yet, in that moment, life as we knew it, plus our hopes and plans for the future, vanished. We got through the night with ibuprofen, and headed home in the morning where the dentist confirmed sad news of immediate oral surgery. My husband’s wince of pain had come from a deep crack in a vital tooth. One procedure led to another issue, and in the end he lost all his teeth. I will spare you the details, but bone crushing was only part of it.

     Anxiety and depression mixed with physical pain form a terrible force. Engulfed by sadness, we found that even normal hugging and tender kisses had to be suspended because of pain in neck, jaw, and gums. If that weren’t enough, my husband lost his appetite, and worse yet, his sense of taste. Over six months he dropped forty pounds. Also, we both faced a new face – one I saw every day for thirty-nine years, and one he once knew in the mirror whenever he shaved.

    A few months later, with the hardest procedure only a week past, time ran out for “the biopsy.” During the holiday season our doctor had noticed his PSA lab numbers rise, putting him at risk for prostate cancer. So, in spring, not able to put it off any longer, he submitted to the prostate biopsy.

    When “the call” came, my husband buckled once again.

     Notice I said he buckled. I, on the other hand, sucked in my breath, set my (intact) jaw, and moved ahead. This cancer was caught early! We are in great position for complete recovery. We can get through this. We will be fine.

    “Come on, Honey, we’ll hear the options and take the one best for us.”

     We decided to go the route of radiation. Forty-five treatments, five days a week, nine weeks. As the treatments began, he slipped farther and farther away from me emotionally and physically. Tired to the bone, he fell asleep by eight each night. I inwardly railed. A sort of panic set in. What will become of us?

      In actuality it was me. What about me? What about our relationship? What about our plans? Somehow the “us” got lost in the “me.” And the “him” got left out. As a result he felt even more pressure. He asked for space. He asked for time. Time to grieve and to heal. But I didn’t want to give it to him or take it for myself.

     Walking the house at night, I planned how to engage and encourage. I cajoled him, and (there it is) I lectured him on “trust” in the Lord. I became that “‘dripping wife” of Proverbs. My situation went on the altar, then off the altar, then back on again. But much more off than on. I didn’t help us, or me, and definitely not him. How could I help when all I could see was my own agenda going up in smoke?

      And I finally did it. I reached out. I called the American Cancer Society.

      You thought I’d say I prayed. Well, I’d been doing that. Or you thought I meant I found a certain scripture. I have dozens of them, they are all wonderful. No, I called the American Cancer Society because, well, I couldn’t carry on any more without some expert terrestrial input. I needed someone to read between my “going forth” lines, ask the right questions, and get me to face my reality. It took a while to get there, though. Extremely condensed, our conversation went a bit like this.

     “Hello, I’m calling about a support group for wives of cancer patients. Prostate cancer.”

     “Okay, tell me your situation.”

     “Well, I uh, so I like to help people, uh, and if there isn’t a group, I’d like to start one… because I want to know if other wives are experiencing the losses, uh, the problems, we are.”

     “My name is Bonnie. Maybe I can help you. What are you feeling?”

     “Well, he says he wants space, but I know he needs connectivity more than space…”

     “He’s asking for space?”

     “Uh, yes. But I just worry that if he sort of drops out of the game now, we might not be ‘us’ again when all the treatments are over.”

     “Do you think maybe he’s asking for space, but you are the one needing connectivity?”

     “Maybe.”

      “Your husband’s cancer diagnosis, as well as his mouth situation, will mean a new ‘us.’ Can you accept that whatever you thought your life was going to be no longer exists? Will you not give him the space he needs to process that? And also give yourself a time of grief?”

     At that, my wall began to crack. She went on.

    “What you do have is today. Only today. We can’t mold tomorrow. Your husband needs support. And so do you. But you need support other than his. He has all he can handle on his plate right now.”

     Saying goodbye to Bonnie, I decided to give in to grief. Just because I’m so good at denial doesn’t mean I hurt less. I work and work and fix and fix. I blame. I manipulate. I deflect the real pain of the situation. I put it off for another day – a day when it may be worse and there are hurt people to whom I must apologize. No, best face it head on. The plans, the dreams, irrevocably changed.

   Yet that is not to say our future is dashed to pieces, either. To say things will never be the same is not failing to trust God. It is just reality. When I read Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes (“a time for everything under heaven…”) I see loss in a more eternal perspective. Loss can be refining. Loss gives us empathy for others. Loss is a vital part of life.

    It seems that in Autumn losses begin to mount up. They actually mount down, because they are really holes. Holes that can swallow our joy and pull us down into their pit of sadness and depression. Yet, does anyone’s life turn out like they thought it would?

    So what do we do?

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    I plan to grieve. I must grieve the loss of what I thought my marriage would be like. Mind you, I give God room to do “above and way beyond anything I could ask or think” for our final years. He’s definitely not through with us yet! But it won’t be like I thought it would. It will be His kind of good, His kind of wonderful, because He is good. Our future may involve ribs by the ocean.

     But it may not.

    

Is Marriage a Matter of Completion or Trouble?

Genesis 2:18. Then the Lord God said, It is “not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (ESV)

People through the ages have debated the meaning of this passage. Many have said that a woman, essentially a wife, actually “completes” the man (as some texts translate), and that the celibate or single man is incomplete because his aloneness is “not good.” It follows then that “helper” means a whole lot more than “helper,” but becomes “completer.”

However, Paul teaches in I Corinthians 7 that the anxieties of marriage actually distract a man from the spiritual life, because now he has responsibility – or “trouble.” He implies that singleness is a legitimate and reasonable permanent state, for the purpose of pursuing a life work that would be best accomplished without a woman. He wishes that all men were like him, having no wife.

Some think this passage refers to a compensatory “gift” or ability to be complete without a wife, and that this “gifting” may be lifted at some point, freeing him to marry when a task or ministry changes. Interestingly, we must assume Paul did have a wife earlier in his life, for he was a Pharisee, and Pharisees were required to be married.

So how do we reconcile these two perspectives of scripture? In one perspective, marriage equals completeness; in the other, marriage equals trouble. Can both be right at the same time?

Well, since we are discussing God’s Holy Word, they must both be right. To say the single man, as incomplete, lives a frustrated existence until his “completer” comes along, says much of one’s belief about God. We might even justify this man’s engaging in brief, unfulfilling sexual exploits while he waits. But this flies in the face of God’s express laws regarding purity of heart, mind, and body. Would God either require or sanction such a sad temporary state, much less a perpetual one? We must assume that a celibate person can be psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually complete.

The irony in all this is that single people think all their problems will be solved if they find a great mate, while married folk often look longingly at the freedoms of the single person!

We are told that God, in Christ, provides everything we need to be happy and fulfilled whether married or not. (“And my God shall supply all your needs…”) Not only does God bring a mate for His glory and the procreation of the world, but also for the molding of our character through suffering. Marriage then is neither a right, nor a distraction, but a dynamic role we play in a covenant earthly relationship patterned after Christ and His Bride, the Church. Paul warns us to enter it seriously, knowing it will demand more of us than we thought it would.

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It is essentially a sacrificial relationship which God Himself can fill and make beautiful.

Marriage then is a desire awakened (our Genesis passage), kept on the altar of love to Christ until it is fulfilled; over a lifetime it is God’s furnace of refinement (our Corinthian passage). So, whether going through a difficult time in marriage, or wrestling with unmet needs as a single person, the arduous (practically impossible) work of the believer is to trust Him to give us just what we need each day.

This is our trouble and our completion: To know Him. For only in Him are we complete.

Six Helps for the Autumn Mom With Kids at Home

In the refreshment line at a wedding recently, I saw my friend’s face from a distance, smiling her polite public smile. Attractive children of various heights stood close by. Seeming only half present, maybe she was remembering her oldest daughter’s wedding a year before. I stopped to chat. After a few minutes, I leaned in a bit. “We need to get caught up.”

“Yes, sounds great,” she said. “How about coffee next week?”

I often say, “The fifties are the best!” And I believe it with all my heart, even more since I’ve passed that decade. But I knew the stress on my friend’s face. The never-ending drives all over the county to sporting events, big meals to prepare in exhaustion, in the middle of menopause. I remembered wondering how the “prime of life” could so miserably fail to deliver. I remembered the anxiety surrounding my heavy responsibilities.

We’d both made the same decision– to continue bearing children past the forty-year milestone. Why did we do it when the most challenging job of our lives might have been done by the arrival of autumn?

The question has varied and logical answers. For one, motherhood gives most women a profound sense of purpose. The job itself can become a fulfilling identity, one of gargantuan, generational proportion. The sense of its significance can trump all thoughts of “How old will I be when this last one turns 18?”

Also, The Empty Nest (or the idea of it) seems to carry a fear of “oldness” or “doneness.” It leaves a slight sense of being set aside, of having to reinvent oneself. The sole role of grandmother, though a wonderful experience for the “older” woman, doesn’t fit me “just yet.”

And those tiny eyes, so full of adoration, intoxicate! As utterly exhausting the prospect, a baby’s perfect innocence softens the hard crust around our hearts. Infants’ care and nurture produces oxytocin in our brains, and this euphoric hormone makes us feel relevant and alive, even young! Today’s moms can design the day’s agenda, look great with makeup, exercise to boost energy, and choose clothes to make pregnancy and “infant wearing” quite sexy.

Together, Boomers and Gen Xers have pulled off the sleight-of-hand trick of the century- shaving at least decade from the stereotypes of age. Thirty became the new twenty. Forty the new thirty, and fifty the new forty. Those who chose the miracle-working fields of dermatology and plastic surgery led the charge toward the “Fountain of Youth.”

Slick sleight-of-hand? Well, our children don’t think of sixty as old as we did when we were young. They do think of it as old, just not AS old. (Hollywood certainly helped in this area! So the empty nest comes later. Way later. Many women who, at fifty, might have embarked on a new career and enjoyed grandchildren, instead find themselves up to their neck in plans for one child’s wedding as well as the promised birthday party of a seven-year-old.

Sound familiar? It does to me. My daughters came thirteen years apart. To feel young enough to make the older one proud, (who am I kidding?… to feel good) I primped more for an event. My skincare routine made what once took minutes now take almost an hour- an hour I couldn’t quite find in my day. I had to be Super everything…friend, mom, and wife, all in virtual perpetuity.

That’s what I saw in my friend. Heard in her voice. The weight of perpetuity.

Stress. And guilt. Because we often feel required to choose between the younger ones and the older ones. With only so much energy, one set would sometimes have to manage without me. How would we not feel guilty? And what does guilt do? It quickens the fade of the younger woman.

She’s standing there in the reception hall in a designer outfit. Her eyes say, “How do I hang in to see the littlest one married – or off to her own life? And isn’t that a terrible question?”

What does she want now? Or Need? (She actually told me. I was grateful for her honesty.)

In two words, More Husband. In one word, Romance.

And I can relate. It has been reported over and over again, that of the many themes of the fifties, a return of interest in romance tops the list for women. In the forties romance often takes a dive due to the raising of kids and teens, plus wide hormonal swings. Afterward, the windfall of extra time in the fifties causes couples to once again notice each other across a crowded room.

Husbands have been patiently waiting for that spark. They want quality time again, like the pre-children era, eons ago. And well they should. For we are all designed for lasting romance. Our hearts long for it, even as hormones settle down. We instinctively welcome a new dawn of enjoying all the hard work of the decades behind us. With or without kids at home, however, this takes intentionality, work.

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The following list of helps for the Autumn woman with children still at home comes from the lady who’s been there. Me. These rules of engagement helped my husband and me keep both alive and sane..

1. Take more time for yourself. With older kids to watch the little ones, get the mani-pedi. (Looking back, I wish I’d just spent the money.) Read more books. Delegate all the work around the house you possibly can. Take long baths and long walks. Go to the gym. You need it all, now more than ever.

2. Guard a once-a-week date night with a vengeance. Now you have built-in babysitters. And for goodness sake, don’t come home until all are in bed. (Getting back while the kids are up doesn’t end the date, shall we say, nicely.)

3. Make a household quiet curfew several nights a week. This will allow time for peace and quiet. All will benefit from it!  Get the young ones to bed earlier, and older ones to their rooms by nine or ten. The curfew might well extend to mornings on Saturday. (We tried to take one Saturday morning a month for hanging out alone- either in our room or out for breakfast.)

4. Make your bedroom an off-limit zone to all, unless invited. Make it a romantic haven, complete with sofa or soft chairs. Have candles and music easy to set up. Make it a place for you to recharge – alone – at any time. (A lock on the door? Yes.)

5. Reward the older kids, date the wee ones. With more responsibility teens should get some perks, as well as special outings with adults. The young ones love special dates individually. Ours “littles” felt sidelined with all the schedule demands of the older ones, as well as the needs of the married ones! (I wish I had given our “second set” more special time.)

6. Take a Weekend Getaway per quarter (3 or 4 times a year) to set aside time for romance. This means away from home. (An “in town” overnight trip qualifies.) Guard these times to recharge your romance.

    Are you raising a second set of kiddos? Don’t let your marriage suffer. If you work hard to set aside time for your husband and you, you will be recharged for the next social event. When someone with all their kids gone (like grown up gone) comes up to you, you’ll smile, knowing that in practically days, it will be you.