Saturday, April 14, 2007

Keeping Memories Alive

Reading Jonah and thinking about his expressed elation over God's saving mercy in Chapter 2, I'm hurled back to 2004 when I underwent treatments for colorectal cancer. I wouldn't have been as eloquent as Jonah and my own story isn't as dramatic, but I surely could have penned my own psalm of praise.

  • God seemed to throw up a "firewall" the day of the diagnosis protecting me emotionally from crippling fears about death and motherless children. Ironically, one of my greatest fears before the cancer diagnosis was getting cancer. Sitting in that doctor's office hearing the news I'd always dreaded, I felt infused with a strange sense of calm. It was as if God mercifully blunted the fear.
  • We had many doctors to choose from, but felt a strong leaning toward one. He was booked out many weeks and time was our enemy. We started to look for another doctor, then got the call that someone had just canceled and there was now an opening first thing the next morning. We would find out only after the surgery that this doctor was one of only two in the area performing a highly specialized noninvasive endoscopic procedure that not only saved my life but let me walk away without so much as a scar.
  • Psalm 91 was in front of us... just when we needed it.
  • People lovingly flooded into our lives. We were never lacking for babysitters or meals or hugs or, most importantly, prayers. Old friends, new friends and total strangers astounded us. Needs we didn't even know we had were anticipated and met.
  • I sustained 6 1/2 weeks of daily radiation which I'd been warned would be excruciating. At three weeks, the radiation oncologist said "This is a threshold period. You will most likely begin to experience discomfort soon." A former patient had described the therapy in graphic terms I cannot even write about here. I tried to be brave but worried about how I would endure such pain. I prayed for functionality and a spirit of grace. Week three came and went with little discomfort. Week four came and went with little discomfort. Weeks five and six came and went with little discomfort. Then it was over. The threshold never came. Three weeks later, I went to the surgeon for an exam and he said: "If there were a bell curve for this, you would be off the charts. I see little evidence you were even radiated."
  • The surgeon said there was an 80% chance that surgery alone removed the cancer. It had begun to spread, but not invasively. Still, the doctors agreed that radiation and chemotherapy were essential. But there was another path that was up to me. I could also submit to a more aggresive chemotherapy that would further enhance my odds of beating the disease. The downside was... I might be submitting to something with harmful side effects that I didn't even need. I was really on the fence about this, but chose to go with it so I'd know I tried everything I could for the sake of my children in the event that it recurred. My first drip resulted in an uncommon life-threatening allergic reaction. "I guess we know we won't be doing that," my oncologist said. To this day, I believe that was God's way of making that decision for us, giving me the peace that I'd done all that I could while sparing me potentially irreversible long-term damage.

So, I wasn't gobbled up by a fish and spit out on dry land. But I do have a window (among many) into God's intervention and mercy. I felt tucked under God's wing and protected at every crucial step along the cancer journey.

I can remember sitting in a traffic jam at one point looking around me at a pile up of stressed out motorists. I could see the frustration and agitation on their faces. There I was sitting behind the wheel smiling... because it didn't matter where I was. At that moment, I was alive. I was still a wife and a mother and a traffic jam had never felt so good.

That's what I kind of imagine Jonah was feeling when he captured his song of praise to God in Chapter 2. He is joyful and grateful and closer to God, perhaps, than ever. Yet it all falls apart for him when he loses the focus on God and shifts the thinking to himself.

I asked my Monday morning group to think about a time that they felt rescued by God. I want them to think about it and I want them to write about it. Because, like Jonah, our humanity has a way of getting in the way of our divine reflections. I'm years removed from my own crisis and, if I'm not vigilent about keeping those memories of God's intervention alive, I'm bound to slip into a state of negativity or entitlement as I approach some aspects of the daily "grind." Being some distance away from a significant God event in our lives doesn't change the event. If it was huge then, it's still huge. But time has a way of stealing the significance of the moment.

Think about it: Has God ever bailed you out? Think about it today and give yourself an assignment to write about it. Summarize it if you'd like and put it in your Bible or tape it to your mirror. Be creative and "design" it if you want. Frame it and hang it by the door you exit every morning as a reminder of what God has done in your life. Keep the memories alive!

(Pic of a grateful mommy taken by Terri Judd.)

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