we're on our way.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

It was the first day of October, just last week, when Paul sent these words to me in a text message.

"We're on our way."

It was a sleepy Thursday morning, I was about to get out of bed to start another day when I read his message, detailing the steep increase in his white blood cell counts and the first piece of good news we've had in a long time. I remember reading the message once, twice, three times, and taking a deep breath. Indeed, we were on our way.

It has been 197 days since Paul received confirmation of his cancer relapse. I was driving with him to Santa Barbara for Spring Sing weekend, when his oncologist called to relay the latest findings from his scan and biopsy. I remember us driving in silence as the weight of what had just happened settled into each of our own minds. I remember crying into his shoulder the next day, feeling overwhelmed at what the next six months would hold for him and our relationship. I remember feeling very overwhelmed, very angry, and very fearful of the upcoming summer and fall.

It has been a long, long, road.

Tomorrow, Paul is being discharged from City of Hope, and finally returning home. He has been at the hospital for the last three weeks receiving the final piece of his cancer treatment. After seven long days of high dosage chemotherapy, he was administered a stem cell transplant on September 22nd, and has been recovering since. 

I have spent a lot of time with Paul at City of Hope since he was admitted. During the week, I would drive out after class to beat traffic on the 210, with enough time to pop in and say goodnight, or watch sportscenter highlights before Paul went to bed. On the weekends, I'd bring homework and we'd watch college football, I'd share about the sermon at church and we'd look at the schedule for the days to come, silently counting down the days until he could go home. Paul was constantly hooked up to an infusion stand, either administering fluids, chemo, medication, or a combination of the three. We'd walk laps around his hospital floor, wheeling his IV with him, surgical gloves and masks on our faces. Instead of Sunday adventures, we played Jenga, and backgammon, and lots of video games. We made life as normal as possible. And I'm thankful for that.

Life has felt anything other than normal over this past month. Between settling into a new job with new people and new students, beginning year two of graduate school with new classes and coursework, and walking with Paul through this valley and beyond, September has not been a normal month. But in the midst of the unfamiliar and the hard, I have been okay. There have been hard days, and there have been great days, but life is okay. I find myself waking up each morning, and going to bed each night, knowing that in the end, things are okay. 

I am thankful. 

The Lord has been so near to me in this time. When Paul and I started this journey together, we framed his relapse as "a chapter of faithfulness." The opportunity to see the great faithfulness of God at work in our lives, and though hard, that has been so true. I almost feel as though my life has suddenly become that "thin space," where earth and heaven seem a little more closer, and when I close my eyes, I feel the peace and reassurance of God telling me where I am is where I am supposed to be, and where I'm headed is where He is leading me. In the book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes on the idea of obedience from the point of view of a senior temper (Screwtape) to an apprentice temper (Wormwood). This quote has stuck with me over the past month.

Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

There have been moments when I have believed that God had vanished from my universe, when I saw nothing but fear and anxiety about the months to come, when I felt forsaken, when I believed God had forsaken Paul. But I know, beyond all the surface level emotions and thoughts, above it all, God is still good. And the situation is terrible, and chemo was miserable, and the days were long and the nights were short, and I cried into too many shoulders – but God is still good. I heard a worship song a while back, which has resurfaced in church and chapel, that speaks to the goodness of God.

You're a good, good, Father.
It's who you are.
It's who you are.
It's who you are.

And I'm loved by you.
It's who I am.
It's who I am.
It's who I am.

I well up with tears when I hear this song, because the goodness of God has never been more immediate in my life than as I've walked with Paul through this valley. To be able to pray those words when nothing else in me agrees, knowing that at the root of it all God is good and I am loved by him, everything else begins to fall away. It is the single truth of reassurance I've held onto so tightly, crumpled into my fist, when the weight of the world felt too heavy. Out of that I've found hope. And peace. And strength to continue fighting with Paul, for each new day.

And so we obeyed. Paul, with a strength I will never be capable of understanding, remained obedient to what was before him. I, with a peace that only stems from the Father, supported him, and found myself obeying God's call to me in this time as well.

Just as much as Paul's journey with and through cancer has been his own, I believe we've found ourselves traveling this path together. He has fought things different than I, but collectively, our relationship has grown and changed over the last six months. Each of us have wrestled through different emotional turmoils, anger and doubt at God, frustrations and disappointments about setbacks. And through everything, I believe we've grown closer. This thing, cancer, sickness, whatever you want to define it as, should have made a deep wound in our relationship. Something that seems unfixable, something deep, and wide, and too large to ignore, and yet here we are, on the other side. Tomorrow, Paul goes home, and although the road to recovery will last for a few more months...things will return to normal.

To friends, family, and support near and far: Thank you. Those of who you reached out to me in this season have carried me on the hardest days and provided encouragement when I needed it most. You provided strength to remain obedient when I could not see the trace of God in my universe, and I will never be able to thank you enough. Whether it was a check-in, prayer, a chance to drink a beer and just talk, the community of God is strong, and powerful, and evident.

I'm not sure how long it will take me to process this journey and season of life. I anticipate writing more about this experience in the future, as I continue to learn and understand why the Lord asked us to be obedient through this. I am not fearful about the years to come, or Paul's future health. God is good. At the end of the day, at the root of everything, at the finish line of my tiny meager human life, God is still good. And I choose to see hope in that.

There is a still a long road ahead, but it is a new start.

And we're on our way.

Respectfully submitted,