Murphys, CA…I have reached a season that brings back a lot of memories. Almost daily I hear myself saying, “Last year on this day I was…” and the sentence is finished with a frightening or sad experience, like being in the hospital or missing out on some event with my son. This week, I find myself vacationing in the same location I enjoyed last fall. It has been extremely emotional and I feel literally overwhelmed by one question.
I am writing this from the Oregon Coast. Last October, my son and I came here by ourselves for a week. We stayed in the very same house we are staying in this week. Last time, I had been fighting cancer for 9 months. We had not yet discovered a treatment that would work so I was deep into the battle. I had suffered through major surgery, then I waited a month to heal. I had suffered through a month of chemotherapy in the hospital, then I waited a month to determine if it had worked. (It hadn’t.) Then I waited for more than three months to receive any treatment at all. It was about a month after I started taking the newly-approved vemurafenib that we traveled to Oregon.
When I started on that new drug, the side effects were relentless and often debilitating. I remember having trouble making it up one flight of stairs. I doubted that I could make it through 12 hours of driving on my own, though of course I was willing to try. People literally called each day to make sure I was still alive. The joint pain made me feel virtually frozen. The fatigue was at times insurmountable. I was having trouble adjusting to the upset stomach as I attempted to handle the maximum allowed dosage of the drug. Of course, all this time, I was a mom trying to create a lifetime of memories for my son in one week. So, somehow, I couldn’t let the pain stop me.
In addition to the physical problems, I had some serious emotional struggles to overcome, to put it lightly. I celebrated my 37th birthday that week, and had to accept that it would most likely be my last. I was dealing with intense guilt over “abandoning” my son (yes, by dying). I had just left a failed marriage. I was trying to figure out how I would support myself financially when I could barely get out of bed, let alone work. My doctors had warned me that we were running out of time. Without a treatment that worked, I would not survive more than a few months. That meant, in Oregon, I was possibly enjoying a few of my last hundred days.
Try putting that in perspective.
So I find myself back here in Oregon, on vacation. As I was lying in the bathtub the other night, I felt one of the jets hitting my side in the same place I once had a palpable tumor. It started a spiral of thoughts and memories and questions. That tumor and all the others are gone. I am handling the side effects of my treatment much better, and remain able to take the maximum dosage. There is still some doubt about my future since the longevity of this treatment is unknown. But I think the biggest question I contemplate is “What does God expect in return?”
I have tried to appreciate Him and to appreciate each day that I didn’t really expect to receive. I don’t live like anyone else I know. It is almost ridiculous how thrilled I am by every moment. It is impossible to complain about traffic, or a grumpy waitress, or the weather. Traffic is an opportunity to spend a few more moments in the car with my family. A grumpy waitress is an opportunity to bring a little Light into her life. The weather may lead to cuddling on the couch listening to rain hitting the roof and amazing skyscapes.
I have also tried to help others. I encounter many families within my job as the owner of a Christian preschool. I have the opportunity to teach young children about God’s Word. I also have the chance to perhaps affect through my example how parents interact with their children. I see parents rushing in and out and hurrying through their day. They barely have time to throw their child’s belongings into their cubby or shove their child into the car before they go racing back down my driveway. Often, art projects are left sitting somewhere unappreciated and forgotten. Worksheets or literature I send home go unnoticed and are most likely discarded. Parents are frenzied and often complain about the hurry they are in. I wish I could slow them down. I wish I could explain that THIS IS LIFE. It is happening right now. We are not preparing for a future journey on this earth. We are not doing things now for a special set of imminent circumstances. This is it. Every second you are too busy for something, you are missing something.
Additionally I try to help others see how my relationship with God has helped me through this difficult time. I see so many people struggling through seemingly simple sets of circumstances. I have an incurable disease and I am not struggling. There is a reason for that. God is the reason for that. I have complete confidence that this disease is not a mistake and is in fact a gift. So I am grateful for it.
But as I consider these missions for my life, I have trouble being convinced that this is all He expects in return. He brought me right to the face of death and then saved me. My journey and my healing were so intense and at times more dramatic than most movies. Though I’m stubborn and as stiff-necked as any human, it seems unlikely that those set of circumstances were really necessary to bring about these effects.
So I’ve come to the conclusion, with a little help, that God expects nothing in return. That is the very definition of His grace and His mercy. I think that concept is almost unfathomable. It is perhaps impossible to fully comprehend the Love that He gives to us. It is not the human love with which we are all familiar. Human love is often tainted by expectations or demands. God’s Love is pure and perfect. He wipes away all the debt I accumulate because of sin, with the blood of His own sinless Son. He continues to forgive and to love. Beyond that, He even creates miracle upon miracle in my life.
So I may choose to try to help others through my gained perspective on suffering. I may successfully appreciate and show gratitude for each day God gives me. I may be witness to the effect of His presence in my life. But in reality, the best thing I can do is to glorify Him. I can do this with my testimony. I can do this by the way I live my life. I can do this through my writing. Most importantly, I will do this by loving Him with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength. Hopefully, that will allow me to hear all of His answers to all of my questions. Or perhaps, here on earth, I will never fully understand why God would choose to work on my life in such a way. I have to be comfortable with that. That is faith.
Editors Note…Catherine’s fight with cancer and the manner in which she has fought it publicly has been an inspiration to many. If you would like some context and a more personal look at her battle you can find it on the Caring Bridge Website Here! We would like to welcome Catherine as one of our contributors and we hope her story can help you along your journey in life.