Monday, November 13, 2017

My Life: The Grace in My Fight Song

The heart my 4-year-old daughter gave me after trying to make my bed.

I wake up each day to a new reality. Get the kids ready, get myself ready, and see if Jacob needs help getting ready. I flush picc-lines, sit with my husband through chemo, blood transfusions, and ER visits. Most mornings, I put on makeup even though I rarely wore it before the cancer. My war paint, I think. It's like a mask, but it isn't artificial. It's a real part of me, a part of me I'm getting to know better.

In the car, Rachel Platten sings a fight song. I sing with her in my loudest voice. This is me strong. This is what I want to write about. Invincible me. Making it work out me. I like that me. I like being stronger than I thought I was.

But it's so small. A tiny bit of the truth.

The truth is this:

When they come to put the picc line in my husband the first time, I want to stay. Why would I leave him to face something like that alone? I am shuffled into a corner and told to stand near the window of the tiny, closet-like room. They hook up their computer and tell him "See, that's the vein we are looking for. It will go right up your arm and almost to your heart. Instant access to everything we need without having to put in an IV every time."

My knees tremble. The spotted linoleum wavering below my feet might soon become my seat. I sag against the wall. This isn't the strong me. This is the me that passed out during a college class on dialysis.

"I actually need to leave." I say.

My husband agrees. "Don't stay. I'm worried about you more if you stay."

I walk into the hallway and the door closes behind me. I've been down this hall every day for a week and I haven't cried once here. I've been holding on with two hands to the strength I've found inside me.

Now, I break down. I sit the waiting area in front of the elevators and hide my face as I lean over my lap. I cry. I'm too weak to stay while he gets his picc line.

My phone beeps. A text.

It's Aunt Marcy whose husband passed away from cancer this summer. "I'm close by the hospital today. Can I come see you and Jacob?"

Yes. A thousand times yes.

Today is the picc line. Today is the first chemo. Today is cancer being reality. I'm not strong enough today.

Aunt Marcy comes in like sunshine. Nothing is too big for her optimism. She takes me and she takes my husband and she sits right in the middle of that tiny room and talks to us. And makes us laugh. And tells us about Uncle Roy. And reminds us that we are going to be okay.

Until we are through the first round of chemo and we don't even know what happened.

When she leaves, my husband and I look at each other. "I needed her today." I tell Jacob.

"So did I." He says.

This is the truth, then: I can't do this alone.

As time passes, we are flooded by offers of help. Things left on the doorstep, neighbors mowing our lawns, child care, dinners, and even an offer to make my daughter's birthday cake.

Birthdays? I can hardly think about tomorrow, let alone birthdays.

I feel guilty. I can buy a cake from the store. No one needs to make us a cake. No one needs to drop off apple cider and cookies. It's too much and more than I deserve. I see it then, how I've been keeping a tally. I used to think service was like a cycle. If I did something for someone, it would come back to us eventually. Sooner or later, it would all work out.

This time, there is no balance. No matter what I do for the rest of my life, I can't make this even again.

But when I think about telling people "No thanks", the Holy Spirit whispers "Say yes."

Every time, it turns out that I need them.

I need the prayers, the kind words, the baskets left on our porch, the reminders that we aren't alone. They come right at the edge of the cliff, just when I think I can't do it anymore. It's God's love in all of these people, and I need them even though I feel like a burden.

I tell Jacob one night.

"I understand. I feel like that too," he admits.

"There will never be a balance." I say. "I can't pay all this back. Ever."

He's silent for a moment and then, "It's like our Savior," he tells me.

Like Jesus.

The words hit me in the chest. I've never quite felt it like this, so real, so stark. No matter what I do, I'll never be able to repay my Savior for what He's done for me.

My friend brings my daughter a birthday cake and leaves before I can tell her how much it means to us. I'm too stunned to do anything but weep. My daughter loves her puppy cake.


Fast forward to two weeks ago. Jacob is back in the hospital. I've got a writer's conference to present at that I've been planning since March. I can cancel. I don't have to go.

Jacob doesn't even blink. He's laying in the ICU, but he tells me. "No. You are going. I want you to have this opportunity."

It's a flurry of chaos. I need help. Help cleaning the house, doing the laundry, packing my bags, tagging my books. I need God's help with my power point. And I need help for Jacob. I need his mother and my niece and my sister-in-law to be with Jacob while I can't. I need my parents to help me get to the conference and watch my children. I present at my first writer's conference. There are million things I can't do, but somehow, there are people everywhere picking up the slack.

Not long after that, I sit with my husband on our bed and pull up a version of Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" that has been on my mind. We listen to it together. This is what I'm am learning from cancer. We fight, we are strong, but in the end, we will always need the Grace of God to get through.

We can't do this alone. We can't do everything ourselves. But we don't have to. There are angels standing by with amazing grace, each one employed in the service of God.