I want to write my heart to you. Right now, my heart is broken and also very full. I need to write it all so hang with me for a bit.
So I turned 37 on Sunday and was flooded with Facebook birthday wishes. What I noticed, though, was that many made mention to my role as Tillery's mom and the journey we have been on. I realize that most of what people know of me these days is that my child has cancer and if you will give me a few minutes, I'll rattle off statistics that will hurt to hear and then I'll ask you to donate. There have been times in my life that having a label on me has made me unhappy and I've wanted to rebel against it, but this one I wear with pride. I'm glad that when you see my face or my name, you remember my child. I'm glad you remember the little faces I've shared over the years. I'm glad I've said it so much that you haven't had a choice but to hear it.
We are on the survivor side now. In many ways, this side is harder. My anxiety and worry is heavier than when we were on treatment. My fears are harder to keep at bay. There is also guilt...oh so much guilt. There's the guilt that my child survived and some of my closest friends' children did not. I've got guilt that my child doesn't have the same side effects from treatment that many other kids around us are experiencing. And the daily mom guilt, ugh! If I don't soak up and enjoy every minute with my child, I'm not doing my job as a survivor's mom. If I don't listen to every crazy story and play every game, I feel like I'm letting down all the parents who don't have their children to do these things.
I want to tell you about 3 experiences I've had during the past 2 days that stirred up emotions that put me on this crazy rollercoaster I'm currently on.
It started with a baptism. The sweetness of a baptism. Two parents bringing their darling baby to the front of a church and making a covenant with God to trust Him with their child. The baby was sleeping in his mama's arms as the pastor and parents put handfuls of water on his head. We've seen this so often in churches and you probably have the mental picture, perhaps even thinking back on baptisms for your own children. These parents are just like you, loving their baby and filled with hopes for his life and walk with God. The child is just like your child, sweet and small and cuddly. When you left the church with your child, you probably went home that night and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift God had given you, just like these parents. But these parents had another plea to God. "Save our son."
See, this child has a terminal brain tumor and this family has returned home with hospice care to keep their baby comfortable despite the tumors that have infiltrated his brain and spine. Their faith is strong and they cling to a hope for a miracle, while the medical chance of survival for their child is 0%.
As Joe and I sat in the back of the church with our two children, we did all we could to stifle the tears. Baptisms are a joyous occasion. The focus should be on the covenant with God that this child is His and He will be with the child. But I'll be honest, as I sat in the back pew of that church, I was asking God "why". I don't do that often because I know God isn't causing the evils of this world. I tend to rest my focus on Jesus, who delivered us from this broken world and made a way that we can all enjoy an eternity in glory. I believe that with my whole being and in every trial we face, I remind myself of this. But watching this sweet and innocent baby being presented before God and the congregation, I had to ask God, "Why this family? Why this child? Why now?"
As I listened to the music that was played during the service, God worked.
We sang Big Daddy Weave's "The Lion and The Lamb" that repeats the line: "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" I began to remind myself that the Lord is still in this fight. He's fighting for and through this child.
As the song ended and the next began, tears started to flow. It was the song I sing so often through the halls of Cincinnati Children's Hospital. The song that my heart sings so often for my child and many others. "Holy Spirit, You are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by your presence, Lord."
As I was walking to the front of the church to receive communion, the song "Here's My Heart" by Lauren Daigle began. I walked toward communion with these words, "Here's my heart, Lord. Speak what is true."
God can work a miracle in this child. I don't know if He will but regardless, He is our hope. I've been wearing out the song "Even If" by Mercy Me lately. The chorus says, "I know You're able and I know You can, save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don't, my hope is You alone." The full lyrics are such a plea to God in a low time and I have felt and said them so often for my child and others. I desperately want us all to be on the other side of our illnesses but even if we aren't, we will all be on the other side of this world soon enough.
Sunday night was emotional. I was sad and hopeful all together. I questioned and I was answered. It's not about our wants, it's about His will. I give Him my heart and ask Him in return that He will speak to me and through me. I ended the evening hopeful.
Monday morning, I got a prayer request from a friend who's daughter recently had surgery. Recovery was rocky and they were still in the hospital and things were hard. When I mentioned it to Joe, he encouraged me to go. So many friends have dropped everything and come to be by our side and we know what that has meant. To see a friendly face in the hospital on a hard day can give you the strength to push through. Joe and I see it as our ministry to help families with children with medical issues. Part of that ministry is showing up.
So I drove to see my friend and her family in the hospital. Her daughter wasn't in the hospital here, but in her local hospital, the same one we believe caused unnecessary suffering for our daughter. The last time I was in that hospital with my child, we left in an airplane heading to Cincinnati Children's. The experience we had in that hospital caused us to have to move for the safety of our child. And now, I was walking in again, to visit friends who were having a hard time there with their child. Now, my friend's doctor is wonderful and much of the struggles of her child would happen anywhere but it was all magnified for me by being back within those walls. As I navigated the halls, my anger rose. As I remembered all of the hurt I had felt there and all the unnecessary hardships that came as a result of that hospital, my heart broke again for not just my child, but for a region of children who only have this as their option. I wanted to make calls and set meetings and tell our story but I remembered, I had, and I had been let down by the administration on top of the let down of the medical staff.
My drive is so focused on finding a cure, that I often forget that even if there was a cure or safer drugs, so many children don't even have access to decent medical care. So many local hospitals are underfunded and understaffed that mistakes are made. The problem that children with medical conditions face is an uphill battle that takes strong willed parents to fight the fight and find the right medical team to save their child. It's exhausting to think of all we have been through and then to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of families just like ours fighting for the health and safety of their children, it's heartbreaking.
I drove home sad and tired. I wanted to just put on some comfy pants and lay on my couch for the rest of the day. Instead, when I got home, I hugged my husband and children and then headed out again for a dinner with a special group of ladies.
The world of cancer and illnesses is full of secret Facebook communities. Many of my closest friends are strangers or people who live far away. I speak with them in forums and Facebook groups and we share and celebrate and cry and laugh and love together. One of these groups is a group of women cancer fighters. (They allow me an exception because of Tillery.) They are from all over the country but there is a small group of them living right here in Knoxville. Last night, the Knoxville group went to dinner.
I sat at a table with cancer survivors and listened to them just talk of life. They live in the same world we all live in. They dine in the same restaurants and shop in the same shops. But they have differences like numbness in their hands and changes in their tastes from treatments they went through. This group is from a variety of age and social backgrounds but the common bond makes them all the best of friends.
At dinner last night, God sent me a beautiful sign of hope, again through a baby. The woman who sat across from me, a cancer survivor, was holding her 4 week old baby. She spoke of the struggles of pregnancy after chemo but here she was, a survivor, bringing new life into this world.
Friends, life is hard. We all have struggles that get us down. But if you open your eyes wide enough, you can see God's work all around you. If you sit still enough, you can feel His comfort. And if you look away from your pain, you can feel His peace.
Here's my playlist:
The Lion and The Lamb by Big Daddy Weave
Holy Spirit by Francesca Battistelli
Here's My Heart by Lauren Daigle
Even If by Mercy Me