I don’t usually write anything in all caps. I’ve been working hard to not be a screamer. BUT, Y’ALL!! Today marks TEN YEARS since the day I got to hear the words, “You’re cancer-free.”
The minute I got the call from my doctor I sent a message to everyone I could think of saying, “I’m cancer free! All glory to God forever!” I knew at that moment that everything in my world had shifted. I mistakenly thought it had all shifted for the good and that the rest of my life would be smooth sailing.
That phone call took more than two years to receive from the moment I received my cancer diagnosis. In those two years of waiting God exposed wounds in me that were long buried and forgotten and forced me to deal with pains that I had been shoving under a tight lid for most of my life. Okay, He didn’t force me. I had a choice. But I also knew that I wasn’t ready to die and that I no longer wanted to hold on to anything that was causing unhealth in my body. And, if I was going to die, I wanted to experience peace and freedom on this side of heaven.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the grief to come. Anyone who has ever had any kind of cancer will tell you that the four words they hate most in the English vocabulary are, “Because of your history…”. Every single time I go to the doctor for anything, I hear those words. Anything in my body that is the least bit sick has become a reason for doctors to run more tests and explore the possibilities that I have a cancer recurrence. Every time I hear those words I am reminded that cancer may have given me freedom and healing, but it also took away so much. I no longer have the confidence that a cough is just a cough, an upset stomach is just an upset stomach, a headache is just a headache, or that every ache and pain are just the price of being 48 years old. I no longer have the amazing metabolism that allowed me to eat pizza for dinner and ice cream before bed without working out for two hours the morning after. I also no longer have a tolerance for toxicity or the ability to be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.
I wrote several years ago about what cancer taught me, but I left out how I’ve come to embrace transparency and vulnerability. If you know me IRL or you’ve read my blog for any amount of time those qualities may be obvious to you. What may not be obvious is WHY I can’t be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.
There’s just no point in even trying. Those words above were spoken by Jesus. In the next verse He said, “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” I don’t know about any of you, but my perimenopausal brain simply can’t afford to lose what little I understand. I want to spend the rest of my days hearing from God and understanding more about who He is and how He loves me. Also, I firmly believe that all that I’d held on to grew in my neck in the form of cancer and that’s a battle I’d prefer not to fight again.
It would be a lie to say that I’ve accomplished all I had hoped to accomplish in these last ten years, or that I’ve achieved complete spiritual/emotional healing and freedom, or that I believe I’ve fulfilled every purposeful opportunity that God laid before me. This morning I cried and repented for not accomplishing more for Him in the days, weeks, months, and years that He’s given me. But guess what? Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.Lamentations 3:22-23
Tomorrow I will wake up to the first day of my eleventh year of living without cancer. I will try my best to not take this life for granted. I will rest in the assurance that God’s love and mercy over me aren’t through. And I will give Him glory and praise Him for His great great faithfulness.
I know that some readers still come here for updates on Sofija. So, before I dive into the title story, I want to share that tomorrow (Monday March 4th), for the first time since October 2015, Sofi Bea Brave is GOING TO SCHOOL! We’re all excited. Maybe me a little more than her, but whatever. Her two behavior aids that normally work with her at home will be at school with her and the administration of the school has been extremely accommodating and supportive of her many needs. So, if you just drop by this space because you care about our baby girl, feel free to keep her and everyone that’s working with her in your prayers. Specific requests: safety for everyone, peace for her, a few hours of freedom for me (translation: I don’t get called back to the school).
As for the title of this piece, I’m giving you a fair warning that I’m about to get spiritual AND expose my crazy.
See that handsome guy I’m leaning on? Two weeks ago we were in Jamaica celebrating our 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long flipping time to spend with the same person! We calculated that we’d been married for 1300 weeks and this was the first time in our entire marriage that we’ve taken a whole week to just enjoy each other. We’ve already booked another trip for August. We agreed that our time away was the best week of entire lives and now we realize that we’ve got some making up to do! If, like us, you’ve found every excuse under the sun to not get away with your spouse, do yourself a favor and make it happen. I started scheduling people to keep the house running more than a month out. The three weeks before we left were consumed with making sure we had 2:1 care for Sofija around the clock, groceries, and transportation for Seth every day that we were away. It was A LOT of work! But it was sooooo worth it!
The week before we left, a surprise package was delivered. My hot husband had ordered us the Fierce Marriage 31-day pursuit books and the 30-day couple’s devotional. I may have swooned a little when I opened the box. Reading is not my husband’s favorite activity and suggestions of doing a study together are usually met with little enthusiasm. But things around here have been changing. At the beginning of the year we started seeing a marriage counselor. When I did a get-to-know-you call with our counselor of choice, he asked what our number one goal was in counseling. I replied, “We want to learn how to fight.”
We started a list on our 18th anniversary of things we’d learned about marriage and we’ve added to it a few times. #15 on the list is: Remember that your spouse IS NOT your enemy. Here’s the disclaimer about that little tidbit… you’re still going to fight. My Mama used to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.” It’s true. It’s boring to spend time with someone who agrees with you on everything. The question is, “How do you deal with conflict and disagreements?” In our case, the answer has always been, “Not no nicely.” We both came from homes where our parents were divorced when we were five years old. Our earliest examples of conflict resolution were not so great. Between our parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, siblings, and extended families; we observed the following methods of resolving conflict:
1) Just don’t speak to the person ever again, or don’t speak to them for years and when you do act like nothing ever happened and only discuss the weather and sports.
2) Never address something painful in the moment and after bottling up wounds EXPLODE because the forks weren’t loaded right in the dishwasher and then precede to destroy each other with your words in front of everyone within earshot.
3) EXPLODE over every little thing and leave everyone around you walking on eggshells.
4) Physically fight it out.
5) NEVER speak up when you’re hurt or disagree and just talk bad about the person who’s hurt you to everyone who will listen, OR passively-aggressively get revenge.
So, for the first twenty-five years of our marriage we tried our damndest to do better, but all too often found ourselves repeating the cycles of what had been modeled for us. On January 2nd, 2019, we decided that it was time to actually do better. Once we made that decision we immediately knew that we needed a mediator to walk us through healing the damage we’d done and filling our tool chest with tools that we couldn’t seem to find ourselves.
Which led to the surprise package of books and our trip to Jamaica.
This picture was taken on Sunday February 17th, 24 years and 364 days into our marriage. My husband had posted a really sweet picture from the breakfast we’d had on our balcony that morning on Facebook and had been reading the comments to me all day. In order to make sure we weren’t distracted on our trip, we left our laptops at home and most nights I didn’t even charge my phone. That day was one of the days where my phone was dead. I took this picture while my husband was snoring on the lounger next to me. We had only been there for 24hrs and I was still struggling to just sit and be so I picked up his phone to look at Facebook. I couldn’t get the app to load so I opened his settings to shut down the apps using cellular data with the hopes of getting it to load. After shutting down a gazillion sports and news apps I see an app called “Telegram” that’s using cellular data and shut it off too. As soon as I shut it down I looked to see what folder he had it in on his phone. For those wondering, it was in a folder with tv and news apps. I made a mental note to ask him about it and went back to Facebook.
So… a little later, as we were getting ready to go to dinner, I asked in a completely accusatory tone totally loving and trusting tone, “What is that Telegram app on your phone?” He got uncomfortable and said that he didn’t know what it was or when he’d put it on his phone. By the time I asked, our room phone was ringing to announce that we needed to get to our dinner reservation. At that moment I made a decision that is completely unnatural and out of character for me, I would put my questions and crazy thoughts on a shelf and approach it later. Shelving the questions and crazy thoughts was a success! We danced in our anniversary and had the most fun that we’ve have together in ages.
Well, the “later” came at 3am when I woke up obsessively thinking about that stupid app. I looked it up on my phone (which I’d remembered to plug in before bed) and found that it’s a messenger app where the messages disappear like snapchat photos and has an option for secret chats that never appear on either user’s phone. And then I found myself, at three something in the morning on our twenty-fifth anniversary, crawling on the floor to his side of the bed and hoping that his cpap would drown out the sound of me taking his phone off the nightstand and sneaking it into the living room of our suite. I opened the app and found no history of messages or chats. I spent half an hour learning how to pull deleted messages and chats from the telegram cloud and felt confident that I’d find the answers to all my questions even if he wouldn’t answer them. I added the app on my phone with his account info and set it so that I would receive notifications of any messages sent or received. I then crawled back to his side of the bed, plugged his phone back in, crawled back around to my side, and climbed in bed with a million worst case scenario possibilities running through my mind.
The morning of our twenty-fifth anniversary was not pretty. My husband woke to me sobbing and I immediately told him all about my 3am exploits. He was frustrated, and I was scared and hurting. He continued to emphatically state that he had never used the app and he wasn’t sure when or why he’d put it on his phone. After talking in circles for about an hour he asked me to sit on the balcony and do our devotion. The day before we had gone over how the strength of our marriage was far more dependent on our beliefs about God than about our feelings for each other. The devotion had included Romans 12:2 Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.
John 10:10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” ~ Jesus
On our anniversary, the devotion was all about oneness in marriage. Matthew 19:6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” The first question that day asked if there are areas of our hearts that have hardened towards one another. The devotion led to an emotional, loving discussion that allowed me to put my 3am concerns in a little box that I knew we’d have to deal with later. I DID NOT want to be miserable on this trip! We were quickly about to identify that “the thief”, aka Satan, was CLEARLY trying to steal our joy and peace and destroy all that we’ve been working hard on in and out of counseling. We were also quickly able to see that Jesus had put the ad for Fierce Marriage in front of my husband’s eyes just in time for him to order it and have it delivered before this trip. God knew. He knew that we would be attacked and He knew what it would take for us to get back to enjoying each other.
I honestly didn’t think about the app again until we’d been home for a couple of days and I spotted it on my phone. Seeing it led me to look at the app store and see when it was downloaded. The day he downloaded it happened to be the same day that I left for England last November. Knowing that he added it on the same day that I was leaving the country did nothing for the thoughts of betrayal having a party in my head. So, after we did our devotion for the day I brought it up again. Chad quickly asked what I needed to make my doubts and insecurities go away. I replied that I needed to know the whole truth because I couldn’t think of a single harmless reason for a married man to have a disappearing messaging app hidden on his phone. He said that he understood, but he was growing concerned about how long this was going to keep us from living a “satisfying life”. I then told him that I had no peace about pulling the history of the app from the cloud because I needed to hear “the truth” from him. We’ve had a few discussions during and after counseling about the fact that offenses and betrayals are not what hurt the most. What hurts the most is learning about offenses and betrayals via channels other than looking each other in the eyes and confessing. Just be truthful. Period.
Everything in me wanted to believe that he had no idea why he had the app. But, all the voices of women in my life who’ve been played for fools were running through my mind. You know what was NOT running through my mind? God’s voice. Or the Holy Spirit’s voice. There was zero God-truth transformation happening in what I was thinking.
The same night that the app came back to the forefront of our conversation, our Serbian princess awoke at 3am. After battling her for nearly an hour to get back to sleep I started praying. First I prayed over her, and then I prayed over our marriage, and then I prayed over my mind. I asked Holy Spirit for the same thing I asked on the day that we received divine confirmation that we were supposed to adopt Sofija. “God, please change my heart and give me wisdom.” Almost immediately I heard, “Check email from the day the app was downloaded.” I scrolled down to that date in November and the first thing I opened was from a streaming service that we use. I returned from that trip last fall to find that we had finally cut the cord with cable. On the day that I left, my hot husband started watching tutorials and downloading streaming apps to all tv’s in the house. The first email I opened from that day gave instructions on how to get help with a particular streaming app. It said this, “Our support desk ONLY works with the Telegram app. Please download the app and add us as a contact if you have any questions.” There it was. A completely harmless and absolutely clear explanation for the app. I humbly ate crow apologized. He a little self-righteously lovingly gave grace.
“The thief came to steal, kill, and destroy.” It makes me sad when I think how close he came to destroying the best week of our lives. “But I have come to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Jesus!
Ephesians 6:12 Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage.
Additions to the marriage rules list…
Go to counseling if you need to learn to fight.
Remember that your battle is NOT against flesh and blood. If you’re in a battle, there’s something spiritual going on.
Look for all the ways God wants to equip you for the spiritual war we’re fighting.
Go to Jamaica with your spouse.
Share your crazy. Somebody out there (like me) needs to know they’re not alone.