Kara’s Collection: Pills to Swallow

from an article originally posted June 30, 2014...

Yesterday I took a picture of one handful of pills I have to take in a day—one of the endless handfuls of pills. I took the picture and cried hot tears. I sent the text to my sister and dear friend waving the white surrender flag admitting to my limitations. Last week was a dream of joy with my family. But behind the scenes I was stomaching a new treatment, struggling to cover pain, and pushing through impossible limitations to live, simply live with my people. Every need was attended to—food, cleaning, children—and I was simply swallowing the new pills. I remember one sweet ride I simply told the wrangler I felt droopy and needed to sit on the back of my horse and let him quietly carry me to a new overlook. Words were too hard. Riding up hill after hill hoping the pills could destroy the cancer that is trying to destroy me.

Home again, I’m still swallowing the pills, but in my regular routine, I see my new limitations with this treatment. That feels like the hardest pill to swallow. The fading, fading, fading of my strength. My gentle man works too hard to steady me, strengthen me, shore me up in the falling places. Neither of us wants to admit what’s happening. That pill is too big to swallow.

I called my kind-faced oncologist and asked to move my appointment so I might run away for the holiday this weekend. I’m a fan of running away and capturing life with my people. I was immediately called back and accommodations were immediately made to move my appointment. As I walked into the office today, the assistant said, We want you to go enjoy each moment you have and we will do everything we can to help you do that. What I heard in her words were, Kara, we know you’re dying, we want you to go camping when you can. I have become a VIP at the oncologist...not the place I had hoped to be a VIP.

So the hardest, what I don’t want to write about. The place my heart is broken and I simply don’t want to admit is the new territory my cancer has traveled and the answer to my pleading prayers that were answered gently over the phone as the kind Angie read the results of the new corners cancer has entered. I had this prayer, this quiet desperate pleading prayer: Please, don’t let cancer go to my bones. And I weep writing. I simply weep that the prayer was not answered how I have hoped. So I traveled away last week and tried to forget, I have kept moving and fought to forget, kept going and not faced my deep grief and disappointment that cancer has entered my bones and many other places I never even imagined to pray against cancer entering.

My new treatment is two weeks on one week off. Saturday will begin my one week off. I was so looking forward to my week off these endless pills. Today the kind-faced oncologist gently looked at Jason and me and said it’s the hardest week. It’s the week the worst side effects show up. I had no words. The oxygen left the room. Then I asked, How long will I be on this treatment? He quietly said, Until it stops working. And what he didn’t say, but what I heard in the silence was, If it does work.

There is a woman at our church who is climbing a mountain of faith similar to my own battling cancer. We don’t really need to speak words about the struggles we face, the pills we swallow, the weight that we keep losing without trying. We know. We don’t need words. She left me a basket with a gift of the book Grace Grows Best in Winter by Margaret Clarkson. Margaret wrote the book in short sections because she knows people suffering can often not read large texts. That simple grace alone encouraged me beyond words. Here is what I’m thinking about tonight: If God has entrusted you with a hedge of suffering, let Him teach you how to live within it so that His holy purpose and His life-giving fruit may be fully accomplished through you!

AKKKKKKK! NOOOOO, Margaret, I don’t want to learn any more. I don’t want to be a billboard for suffering. I don’t want to be a VIP at the cancer center. I want to be a wife and mama. I don’t want cancer in my bones, in my liver, in my lymph system, all over my breathing places, I don’t. I don’t want to be brave anymore. Or maybe better, Margaret, I don’t know how. I want this broken life to have meaning, I want this suffering to bring light to this dark world, but I’m so tired. I’m so weary. I want to do a load of laundry without feeling the end of myself. How on earth can God use this feeble, broken mama that feels no strength for more than tears, cuss words, and broken pleadings between the endless taking of pills bring any life when it all feels so scary? Do I even have the strength to be taught?

I want to be strong again and care about frivolous things like hair highlights, and fall soccer, and new recipes, or the pros and cons of agave. But this is my story, and the sweet sovereignty of God is all I have. His purposes, His plans, His goodness is not dependent on me having a tantrum or not (thank you, Bill Tell). So He wipes my tears, He lifts my weary and broken face, He delights in me even when the breaking feels awful. He is doing this work—not me. He is not unaware of my broken edges that feel impossible to ever mend. Margaret is right: this awful. This terrible awful, well, it’s not mine to decide what Jesus wants to do with it. He will gently teach me along this hazy path. But it is mine to decide if I’m going to walk faithfully within it.... But guess what? I am loved. Kept. Okay, even if I’m desperately broken stumbling. I think I will wait for another post to explain more clearly why I’m okay, even when I’m not. I have some fear in writing so brutally honest—this is my now, this is the struggle in my journey, these are the hard pills we are swallowing. I know, I know, I know we will be kept, carried, loved.... but the journey is hard. We need your prayers, but we do not need you to feel a burden to fix us. That work has already been done. We are just feeling all the edges of the hard living on this side of heaven. But I bet you can already hear my words that are coming. They are constant words in this place...Suffering, pain, brokenness, loss, heartache are not, not, not, not the absence of God’s goodness.

How does it feel impossible that Jesus could bring life into the darkness of your pain? But how is he doing just that—bringing life into your sorrow?