great is thy faithfulness.

Friday, April 03, 2015

I remember Sunday mornings as a small child, riding to church with my family, squeezed into the old, faded yellow truck from the shed. I sat in the middle seat, gear shifter between my legs, my Dad maneuvering the gears as we drove along, the window downs to air out the dusty vehicle, everyone wearing their best for the service that morning.

I remember sitting in the maroon pews, fourth from the front on the Pastor’s left side, next to the stained glass window of roses and blooming flowers. I remember the hardwood floor beneath my black dress shoes, squirming next to my mother, doodling on the back of bulletins waiting for the service to begin. I remember turning back to smile at my grandfather, wearing his light grey suit, who would wink at me in return.

I remember the organ, the crescendoing swells and gigantic pipes that made up the back wall of our old church building. I remember watching the choir file onto the stage, from the back room where they warmed up their vocal chords, I remember Pastor Henry greeting the congregation and inviting us to worship.

I remember so much from those Sunday mornings, but I remember most the hymns.

I grew up on the “Songs from the Family of God” as our pew hymnals read, in a time before powerpoint projectors put lyrics to contemporary worship songs on the walls of our church. It was before acoustic guitars and worship bands, when the only instrument guiding our worship was the organ, or the grand piano, and everyone stood to sing familiar songs. I remember holding the thick, brown, books in my hands, flipping to different songs, following along with the choir as our congregation joined with thousands before in singing these incredible pieces of worship. I remember learning how to read sheet music, how to follow notes, how to sing harmonies outlined in the different pages.

I find a certain sense of comfort with hymns. Picking up a hymnal now feels like coming home, it feels like taking a trip back in time to those slow Sunday mornings, sitting between my parents, holding the hymnal up like a badge of honor as I joined in singing the words I knew so well. Great is thy faithfulness, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, It is Well with my Soul. I love the words of these songs, somehow they hit deeper than any contemporary worship song I hear during service. Something about these traditional hymns builds reassurance within me when I need it most. They remind me of the Lord’s faithfulness and unending love. They bring me hope when I need it most.

And somedays, it feels like my need for hope is larger than ever.

Currently, I’m sitting in the Huntington Ambulatory Surgery Center waiting room. It’s a clear Friday morning, the view outside the window behind me showcasing the emergency and trauma center across the street, various offices littered between. This morning, Paul is having a surgical procedure to install a port in his chest which will administer his chemotherapy treatments over the course of the next few months. I’m coming to realize that waiting rooms may be a significant part of our journey through this summer and fall, as Paul travels to and from City of Hope for his cancer treatments.

I’ve mentioned to some of you, and some of you may be completely unaware of both Paul and our current situation. I’ll take some time to walk through both.

Last summer I met Paul, on a happenstance weekend in Santa Barbara (which I found out later to be much more orchestrated than I thought). We spent time with mutual friends, drank good beers, and promised to hang out more when I moved down to the San Gabriel Valley. As the months progressed, we became good friends. Spending time exploring the greater LA area, sharing life stories, meaningful conversations about social justice in the world and our passions. Him, biology and marine life, dreams of graduate school and making an impact in the medical and greater world. Mine, literature and writing, dreams of becoming a college president and leading a new generation of students. I distinctly remember having dinner together at a dumpling house early in our friendship, where I spoke passionately about feminism and women’s rights for a good hour, only to realize he was attentively listening and responding to every word I said. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed.

And as feelings began to take root, we grew closer. Sunday afternoon adventures turned into weekend trips, sharing life together, seeking God together, and ultimately beginning this relationship. Even more impactful, Paul successfully battled cancer, finishing a six month chemo regimen he had started prior to meeting me. As his cancer officially went into remission, we celebrated with friends and family, signaling the end of one season and the beginning of another. Everyday my thankfulness for him increased, and our relationship progressed. Spending time together with him was such a joy, whether that was just a beer and a burger for dinner, a casual movie night at his house with his parents, or ultimate frisbee on Sunday afternoons. Together we made plans for the future. Summer trips to Hawaii, weekend adventures to the Bay Area, his move for graduate school, and ultimately my graduation from APU. Everything was falling into place, and the first time in quite a while, my heart felt content.

And then everything changed.

Paul called me, in the mid afternoon on a Wednesday in March. I sat outside our office at APU, suddenly aware of the gravity of this phone call. Paul had just had his 6 month follow-up scan after finishing chemotherapy, and news from his oncologist did not bode well. I took a seat on the patio furniture, as he said the words no one ever wants to hear. “They found something on the scans.” Never have I ever felt my heart so quickly drop. Although we would wait another few days for the confirmation to come, there was not much hope for an alternate outcome. The confirmation was, and is today, relapsed Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, there have been moments of fierce joy, as when we celebrated Paul’s acceptance into Ph.D. programs, and my future job search coming to an end (with a great position accepted!). There have also been moments of indescribable pain. I remember driving around in Santa Barbara with Paul during Spring Sing weekend, after having lunch with my parents, when suddenly the waves of emotion began to crash. As my body gave way to tears and my shoulders heaved with weight of everything that had happened, I remember Paul holding me as I weakly apologized, over and over again, for not being strong enough. And even in the midst of it all, he assured me it would be okay.

“It’ll be okay.”

Many friends and family have told me this since we shared the news of Paul’s relapse. I will be honest, more often than not, I have struggled to truly accept that things will be okay. I have struggled to trust God with this, with Paul, with our relationship. I have cried out to the Lord, demanding to know why, searching for answers, trying to make sense of what looks like a senseless situation. There are nights I have been so overwhelmed, closing my eyes and searching for rest, when everything within me is so restless.

We are navigating what the next few months and rest of the year will look like. Friday night dates and Sunday adventures may be replaced with hospitalizations and chemo infusions. Beer tasting and brewery explorations will be traded for casual movie nights and restful evenings at home. And I know that both of us are facing something we never imagined we would walk though in the first year of our relationship. More than once, Paul has lamented over what I am going through, in choosing to walk with him through his second battle with cancer. “You didn’t sign up for this.” It seems so selfish of me, when he is the one who will fight this cancer in his body, taking on chemo drugs and facing nasty side effects. My struggles seem to shrink in comparison to what he will go through, and yet he cares for me just the same. I have experienced true weakness, and had to face vulnerability like never before. I have had to accept that I am not aways strong, I am not always assured, and often times, my faith struggles to comprehend situations like this.

When my faith is weakest, I turn back to the truths that I know so well.
Strangely, I have found myself turning back to hymns, and I think this is the reason why.

It has been so hard for me to pray words of trust, to convey my commitment to the Lord when I feel as though he has forsaken Paul, or our relationship. I struggle to say the words “You are good,” or “I trust in you,” or even “I love you,” when everything within me is fighting to find a way to blame, to find a way to understand, to find a way to make meaning.

These hymns, familiar verses and words, do the speaking for me. As I sing these tunes, I find myself praying the words I cannot pray on my own, conveying the things I need to say so badly, providing a way to understand and make meaning, even when I cannot bring myself to it. I find myself back in those maroon pews on Sunday mornings, a child unaware of the evils of this world, simply praising God with the words I knew so well.

Great is thy faithfulness, oh God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not.
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness.
Great is thy faithfulness.
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.


Stanzas of truth I have leaned on when I need it most, and God knows I need them more than ever right now. Reminders of the Lord’s faithfulness, which overpower any fear or anxiety that lies within my soul, reassuring me that we can do this. Paul is the strongest person I know, and choosing to ask “why” doesn’t solve anything. Instead, I look to the Lord’s faithfulness, understanding as much as my human mind can comprehend that God has a plan for this incredible young man. I cannot convey the way the familiar melodies and words allow my soul to rest, as I find myself in the bliss of worship amidst the hardest of times.

This is what I find myself coming back to, when the world has felt like it crashed down around me. Somehow, Paul and I continue to worship our Creator, our Sustainer, the God who is journeying through this season with us. How great is He, who blesses us with so much, and commits to navigating the highs and lows of life till He calls us home.

Great is thy faithfulness, God.

I will be occasionally posting updates regarding Paul and his journey here, but I encourage you to read his writing, not only because he is an incredible writer, but because he frames this season of life better than I ever will be able to. Even though my struggles seem large at times, I know he is facing much larger giants in the next few months of chemotherapy and medical procedures.

As always, prayers for Paul, his family, friends, and myself are deeply appreciated.


Respectfully submitted,
Leah

2 comments

  1. Leah, GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS, was a song we often sang at Greenville College - I hear Westmont has adopted it as well. It was my dad's favorite song. He sang it all the time. I pray those words and the prayers of many will bring strength and peace to you and Paul. I am praying for you. May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Giving you a blog comment hug.

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  2. I'm not religious, but this def strikes a chord. There's something about the sense of community in voices raised together in faith that's hard to describe or explain.

    I can't imagine the weight and the struggle that you and Paul are going through right now. If there's anything I can do to help, just lmk.

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