(This is me ringing the bell at the end of my chemo. I was joined by my sweet daughter and husband, and several of the amazing nurses who cared for me)
It was one of the strangest things I had ever heard anyone say, especially a mother. I was attending a women’s retreat through my church. I don’t remember her name, I don’t remember the topic of her workshop, I don’t specifically remember anything else from that weekend, but I will never forget this one small but mighty, and somewhat disturbing sentence uttered by our keynote speaker, “I pray for suffering for my children.”
Now at the time, I was not yet a mother, but still, doesn’t this go against every maternal instinct? What kind of monster, I mean mom, would pray for her children to suffer? I wanted to stand up in indignant protest and march out of the room. I wanted to challenge her and tell her that was an awful prayer. How could any parent want their children to suffer?
This journey of chemo has been one of deep and quiet suffering. And with each chemo as I entered the infusion center, the dread became darker and heavier, because with each treatment I better understood the suffering ahead. It began as they pierced my chest and accessed my port. Each time I would hold my husbands hand and cling to a little wooden cross, and breathe, breathe, breathe. For hours I would lay in the recliner, drip after drip, the medicine that would kill my cancer slowly entering my body, but causing so much collateral damage. And after four bags of chemo meds I would leave the infusion center, crawl into my bed and prepare to suffer.
It’s a strange thing when you know suffering is coming. Suffering is one of those things that usually comes as a surprise. It’s the car accident on your way to work, it’s the sudden loss of a loved one, it’s the conflict with a close friend. But for the last 18 weeks I could plot out my suffering on a calendar and stare at it, and wait for it, and prepare for it. It’s an eery thing to know when suffering is coming. And it’s even harder to know that there is nothing you can do to stop it or delay it or make it easier. So over the course of these last 18 weeks I slowly learned to accept it. To accept suffering. To crawl into bed and invite suffering to join me. And for weeks I lay in a dark room, too sick to move, too sad to talk, left alone with my suffering.
Oh how sacred and intimate were those hours and days and weeks spent with suffering. As I sat captive to it’s teachings I realized that indeed I had much to learn. Because more than anything, suffering teaches you perspective and purpose and gratitude. When everything is right in that world it’s easy to lose perspective. We mindlessly move from one thing to another. The hands on the clock begin to rotate so quickly and we become a slave to busyness, and complacency and the next best thing. And we wake tired and go to bed restless, and spend the in between hours on auto pilot just trying to keep our heads above water. There’s no room for reflection, no time for clarity, no energy for intentionality and purpose. Even gratitude goes to the wayside. Life just seems to happen TO us. But suffering puts a halt to all of the busyness and complacency and mundane. Suffering painfully strips you bear and leaves you under a soul seeing magnifying glass, and invites you to look closely at what you are made of. Suffering gives you time to reflect on who and what are most important to you. Suffering gives you clarity into your desires and needs and purpose. Suffering forces you to see your rough and sharp edges, and the way you move through this life unaware of the damage you are causing. Suffering gives you compassion and empathy for others in a new and profound way. Suffering invites you to dig deeper and grow and change. Suffering slows the ticking clock and forces you to sit face to face with yourself, in the present, completely alone, no pretense. And ultimately suffering demands a response because you can’t sit under it’s teaching for that long and remain unchanged.
So now back to the crazy lady who prays for her children to suffer. I must conclude that she is indeed one of the most crazy and wise women I have ever met. I think I prefer the term radical to crazy. I find her radical because her prayer goes against everything we are taught in this world. As parents we want our children to be happy. We want to give them material things and comforts and freedoms. We want to protect them from the evils of the world and keep them safe from harm. We steer them from conflict and put up roadblocks and detours to help them avoid the tiniest bit of suffering. But deep down in our souls we pray for them to have a deep sense of purpose. We want them to have compassion for others. We want them to have an internal contentment not based on circumstances or the changing winds. We want them to have a faith that endures. We want them to walk in gratitude and thankfulness for all they have been given. And we know that these deep traits and truths are cultivated on the rich soil of suffering and adversity. I’m certain that this wise and radical woman has spent a great deal of time with suffering. She knew that for her children to humbly and purposefully walk this earth they would need to meet suffering. And while I’m sure, like any mother, she would want to spare her children the pain involved with suffering, she knew that to spare them the pain would also rob them of a glimpse into the magnificent soul seeing magnifying glass.
BATTLE UPDATE: Chemo is over! Well, I still have one chemo medicine that I will take via my port every three weeks until October, but the side affects are minimal and my hair will start growing back! YAY! My surgery is scheduled for February 10th. I will have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. I’m preparing to meet suffering yet again as I am told it is a difficult surgery and recovery, but as my dad always said growing up, adversity sure does build character, and I think I have more than enough at this point. I will recover from surgery the rest of February and into March. We will have final pathology back one week after surgery which will help inform next steps in terms of radiation. Since I will most likely have radiation, I will have my final reconstruction surgery once radiation is complete. It’s still a long road ahead but I am thankful for what is already behind me. Thank you all for continuing on this journey with me and being the constant light that leads my way. I am forever grateful for your prayers and support. I could not do this without you. And I am forever grateful for a God who hears your prayers and for a Jesus who understands and comforts me in my suffering.