Thursday, September 24, 2015

Swallowed up by Life

I can't take it. I can't take it anymore. I think I am officially about to break into a million pieces...and that's probably okay because Gramma always said, "I love you all to pieces!" She left this world this morning - and she did it. She loved me to pieces. Her passing this morning felt like the straw that broke the camel's back - or the last block moved that caused the Jenga tower to crumble.

And you know what? It's okay. It's okay to cry and be so broken that I can't put myself back together again. Because I know Who can - because of my Gramma Faye...and what better tribute to her than to surrender myself one more time to His loving hands. After all, she who endured more suffering and heartbreak and trials than many I've had the privilege to know witnessed His ability to put her back together again (over and over, in big and little ways).

In thinking of her 'loving me all to pieces', I was reminded of the "jars of clay" or "cracked pot" verse. In looking up that verse (2 Corinthians 4:7), I [somehow] jumped to 2 Cor 5 - a beautiful passage on our earthly bodies/life...and I just thought, "How Gramma!" of this moment. How Gramma to point me to Scripture in the moment of my breaking point.

[2 Corinthians 4]

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Awaiting the New Body [2 Corinthians 5]

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

For those who didn't know my Gramma, let me just tell you this: the items that I highlighted - those are the things that she would have pressed into me. I can hear her saying:

"I am swallowed up by Life now, Jessica! Swallowed up by LIFE! I am at home with the Lord - and oh, how I have longed for this day! LONGED for this day, Sweetie! and what will make this day so much sweeter is to know that those I have loved, to know that my family will one day be swallowed up by life just like I have been! That is my deepest prayer."

I know it because she told me. Her deepest wish was for her children and grandchildren - and great-grandchildren (and EVERYBODY) to love Jesus - and to know the love and care of Jesus like she had so personally experienced throughout her life.

Writing a 'eulogy' for her has been so hard for me because, outside of my parents, no person has impacted my life like she had. I am the Christian that I am today because of the lifelong witness of Faye Louise Witt Rohrig. She may have had no imprint on my genetic traits - but on my eternal life, her fingerprints are everywhere.

In college I wrote her a letter and asked her how to live out my faith. As a young Christ-follower, I didn't really know how I was to show others that I believed in God or to influence them to do the same. So, I asked the person who is the greatest 'soldier for Christ' that I'd known. (I have the letter she wrote to me somewhere, but I can't remember the specifics)

What was interesting in her response was that she basically said 'it's not a formula, Jessica.' Living your faith is just an extension of loving Jesus. You love Jesus the same you love a person. You pray (talk to him); you read what He has to say (in the Bible); you talk to people that love him; you serve the people he loved (everybody).

John refers to Jesus as the Word in John 1; and she loved the Word. She lived her life by the Word - and she taught me to do the same. She believed that God would be true to His Word (because how could He deny himself?) - so she prayed His Word and she clung to His promises - that they could be true in her life, as well. I walk by faith because she walked by faith. I have followed her example in life and she has led me to Life - to Jesus.

A few years ago, Gramma shared with me the "bookend" of life: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6) My heart may be in pieces, but I am confident that the same God who worked so much good in her life is working that out and carrying it to completion in the lives of all of us who love God.

I am confident that today, she was wholly swallowed up by life.

I am confident that she no longer walks by faith; today, she sees!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Let go of worry by being faithful in prayer

Today is my beautiful mom's birthday. I wrote her a little Facebook dedication today:

Happy Birthday to my mom! She's one of those people who mean so much to me that I can never really find the words to accurately say it all. She is "my person" when I need to emote - cry, vent, celebrate, worry. She tries to solve my problems (even when I don't want her to) because she cares. She wants the best for me and doesn't let me stay in a mindset that is not based on the Truth/reality of faith. She is a resting place; she is my shopping buddy; nothing makes me happier than seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. Thanks for teaching me to love life and to let go of worry by being faithful in prayer.
There are a lot of things I could expand upon, but I'm going to focus on what is probably her biggest gift to me: let go of worry by being faithful in prayer.

I am a Wednesday baby. You know what that means, right? "Wednesday's child is full of woe." ...and I live that out well. When I first read about 4 personality types (not Myers-Briggs) - the phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, melancholic - in high school, I could strongly identify with the melancholic with my "internal self' - but I so badly wanted to be the sanguine, my "outside" self. The best way to describe the melancholic is to just think of Eeyore.

My internal self would worry; not all of the time - but, enough. I couldn't sleep the night before leaving for summer camp because I was worried about all the newness + being away from home; I was sick to my stomach the first 3 days I was in Rome (in high school) because I couldn't get in touch with my parents to let them know I was okay; I didn't get a small section of my hair wrapped in embroidery floss when in Italy like all the other girls because I didn't want to come home and have my mom think I'd changed so much on our 10-day trip to Italy/Greece.

I cried several times before starting 6th grade because it was the start to something I couldn't stop - THE REST OF MY LIFE. When opening a pack of 10 pens, I realized that I could use one pen each year - and that would get me through the entirety of high school AND college! (and I cried) Then, I got going with school - and the scary part wore off.

...then I graduated high school. Once county fair was over, the emotions came again. I cried once a day for 2 weeks about starting college/saying good-bye.

All of this is to demonstrate that transitions/changes have never been my strongest, emotionally. I also write this to share how much my mother has taught me over the years that this is no longer the same struggle for me.

My mom and I are quite alike in some ways - but also very different in others. Namely, she does not worry - and I'm not sure she ever has. As the youngest of 6, she got to be the carefree youngest. The parents are too tired from raising the others to put the pressure of being the 'perfect first', so the youngest get to just skate on through life. Although, the youngest can get the 'smothering' effect and feel so doted on that they need to exert their difference, their independence from all 'help' given by parents/older siblings.

It was always remarkable to me that she didn't worry, especially given that my grandmother is such a worrier. So, one day after graduating, I asked her, "Mom - why didn't you worry about me? Even when you knew that I was partying?" She said, "I just prayed for you, and knew that God would take care of you."

This lesson has guided me through my adult life by approaching new situations or life changes with prayer. Though, I am not perfect...and I often pray after the fact instead of first...but still, I do it. The last two months have been one of the most turbulent circumstantially, but also one of the blessed. Rather than worry first, I pray. ...and I pray often...through those prayers, peace stills my soul even though the waves still rage.

Proverbs 31:25 says "She is clothed with strength and dignity - and she can laugh at the days to come." To me, this is my mother. She can laugh at the days to come because she has covered them in prayer, and she trusts that God is true to His word - that all things can work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28 - one of the first verses she taught me)

So, happy birthday, Mom! Many more to come!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hold On Loosely

Remember that song from 38 Special? 'Hold on loosely, but don't let go; if you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control?'

As I've thought about adjusting to life post-diagnosis, this has been the phrase that replays. On the big drive, the verses from James 4 about saying, "You should say, 'If the Lord wills, we will go here & do this' - for what is your life? Do you know what will happen today or tomorrow?'" [my paraphrase] 

I don't know about you, but since getting married, I've become quite the planner. I like having a general idea about where we're headed and how we'll make it happen to get there. I have become a strategizer. I have become a bit of a control freak. ...and, honestly, I have become very self-reliant, independent - I haven't needed God to make my life happen. It's like operating on auto-pilot. Deep down, I knew I wasn't living life the way I needed to...while things were just didn't feel...fulfilled? I don't know; perhaps it was empty, in spite of being so full.

Seven weeks into our new life, I feel very much like a different person. Even in spite of living through this trial, I feel more alive. My relationship with Jesus - and with Dan - is so much deeper, and more full of purpose, love, light, than it has been. 

Life after our first chemo treatment was almost normal. The first two weeks were great. The side effects were minimal; Dan was able to carry on his work - and judging practices - just like 'normal'. There was one day with a low fever, but we were able to manage it with Tylenol and it was gone within a day. It was going so well that I made a trip back to Iowa for a few days. 

...and then the shoe dropped. Tuesday morning, we got ready for work. Dan came in and said he felt a little nauseous, a little achey, and couldn't stop shaking. He just wanted to sleep, but didn't have a fever. I got home from work that night and it was 103.4. After consulting the oncologist on call at UM, we came to the ER in Lansing.

The nice thing about having cancer is that you don't spend any time waiting with the rest of the sick people and you get in pretty fast. By the time, we checked in, the temp was 100.3, and 3 hours later, it was normal. However, being an 'at risk' patient, they wanted to keep an eye on Dan. 

...and now, five days looks as though we will get to check out today. The official diagnosis is sinusitis. The symptoms look a lot like every time Dan gets sick - but, the docs have worked really hard to get this under control - and have done a great job. Our team has been great - and we now have a primary care provider for Dan here in Lansing (and right on campus!). 

It's pretty easy to find the silver linings. Dan is getting an idea about his boundaries, but now the challenge for him is figuring out how to make sure his team gets the guidance he wants them to have - without putting himself at too much risk. What he really needs is an assistant coach (for those on our prayer team who want specific things to ask for - ask for this!). 

We work in a wonderful, supportive department. We're close to family and friends who have stopped in. 

But, I will admit. Day 3 was HARD. HARD. Coming in that morning, I felt so frustrated, abandoned, lonely. It seemed, at that point, like more of the same - like being in Houston, again. So, early in the morning, feeling so sad/dejected, I said to Dan, "let's pray." On Fridays, the mysteries of the Rosary are the Sorrowful - Jesus in the Garden, Jesus being flogged, Jesus crowned with thorns, Jesus carrying the cross, Jesus' death. 

Last weekend, my sister-in-law and I were talking about suffering; she had mentioned something about the cross, and I joked, "yeah; just offer it up?" And she said, "No, sometimes, the point is to just sit with him in the sorrow." 

On Friday, as we poured out our frustrations, our requests, and the things were thankful for before beginning, my mother-in-law called. As Dan talked to her, I just sat there, and entered into each mystery. Imagining myself there with Jesus, I sat with him in the Garden as he struggled with his sorrow, hugged his cross...and just remained. When we did finish praying the rosary, His peace had entered into my emptiness. [and the meeting with the doctors that day was far more promising!]

About prayer, C.S. Lewis said something to the point that it doesn't change God, it changes us. It very much does that. We are transformed by the presence of Christ - and when we are transformed, it can transform every part of our lives. Your prayer may not change God's will - but, your will can be changed to be more in line with His - and isn't that better? 

To attempt to bring this post to a close, here's my point: it's only through prayer that I am able to 'hold on loosely.' Our plans this week got totally up-ended. This was 'supposed to be' Chemo Round 2 week. Here's what I am quickly learning: let go of the 'supposed to'. Hold on loosely to the schedule. 
And also: wash your hands. 

And another thing: when you see people wearing a mask - it's because YOU are the walking germ-bomb not them. We all give those people a wide berth and usually think we don't want what they've got; it's the other way around - they don't want what you've got. So, if you see Dan wearing a mask in the next few months, it's for his protection - so he can carry on with business. 
[also, he shaved his head, and is looking quite handsome, if I do say so myself]

[the other plus side - I've figured out how to get to the hospital; 'discovered' a lovely little restaurant close to the hospital (okay, my bro & sis-in-law highly recommended it first), AND a local chocolatier right next to it - with killer sugar-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups and milk chocolate peanut clusters (for Dan)]