This is probably the most difficult blog post I’ve attempted to write. I struggled with a title; I settled on this one but it doesn’t quite capture the intent. I want this to be a love letter and a note of encouragement to some people dear to me, as well as to anyone else reading it who may find themselves in the same situation.
There are days when I dread opening up Facebook. I have it to keep up with the lives of friends and family, and maybe find something worthwhile to share with them. The animal videos are generally cute, the political stuff irritating, but there’s always something to inspire and brighten the day. Today, not so much. Last night there was a post by the wife of my oldest friend saying his dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer, on top of several other existing health problems. This morning, the daughter of folks who are like second parents to us posted. Her dad has some health problems that have seriously impacted his life. Now, they found out her mom has Alzheimer’s. And she takes care of them both. Then there was a post by the mom of a courageous young woman who’s a distant relative, who has overcome some big challenges (she’s my hero, but doesn’t know it, at least until now, maybe), and just had surgery for a benign tumor a couple of months ago. The tumor has returned, and she’s scared and angry, upset with God that this is happening.
I read these and it breaks my heart. It makes me want to weep for them, because I understand how much it hurts. I want to offer more than just platitudes and promises to keep them in prayer, which I most certainly will. I understand because these posts might as well be describing my life. I know the frustrations and challenges of caring for an aging parent, one who is almost an invalid and has dementia. I know what it’s like to deal with cancer, and the loss of hope that comes with having to once again address something you thought was gone. I don’t mention these seeking praise or sympathy. Instead, I want to humbly share the best gift I can think to give you: I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this, in the hope that it will encourage you.
I get it. I was crushed when I found out my cancer had returned. Rita and I were already struggling with taking care of my mother and her needs. It was exhausting, and I was about to have most of my energy sapped by cancer treatments and daily travel to have radiation therapy. My mother’s dementia was worsening, and so was her ability to walk or do anything for herself. Well-meaning friends kept reminding us to “care for ourselves”, and maybe even consider nursing home placement to preserve our sanity and well-being. We found ourselves becoming frequently frustrated with each other as well as with Mom (Thankfully, this has gotten much better; we attribute it to having lost our minds). There were days, and still are, when we seriously questioned whether we had reached that point where we could no longer provide what she needed, or if we even wanted to try. I was facing the possibility of continued treatment for up to a couple of years (I still have several more months). More than once the thought, “What have we done?” or “What are we doing?’ crossed our minds.
I’ve said for some time now that God only asks us one question, “Do you trust me?”. The reward for answering yes is to face even more difficult circumstances (at least that’s what I’ve found). But those are the only times I’ve ever grown, and the times when I’ve received the greatest blessings. Because they’re the times when God was able to reveal Himself to me. The times when he could teach me that when I think I’ve reached the end of my strength I’ve only begun to tap into his. The times when I’ve learned to show love even though I may not “feel” like it. The times when I’m reminded it’s not about me but about His glory, and what a privilege it is to be an instrument to show that off.
One of my ‘bulwark verses’ I found during the first go-round with my cancer was 1 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison“. It used to be a nice, encouraging scripture verse; it’s become a rock-solid foundation when I want to quit. It reminds me this isn’t going to last forever, but the good stuff hidden in the struggles goes with us. That even in what seem to be the worst circumstances there is joy to be found. That the care we give each other is only a poor reflection of the care that God has for us. That no matter how much we think we’re being called on to do, we have a Savior who did a whole lot more. That God never asks us to do anything without giving us the tools to do it.
My friends, know that my heart is with you, as are my prayers. My wish for you is that God will bless you richly as you deal with these circumstances. May you be strengthened to honor and glorify Him.