Get Real

I fear that today’s post is rather rambling. I couldn’t make it seamlessly flow.

Today I cried. 

When I was growing up, my church sort of taught that it was wrong to question God. It was taught in a spiritual-sounding way: Questions were doubt and doubting God was sin, so trust God and don’t question. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed many times over the years. It sounds good, sort of. Who wants to doubt God? However, in my teens, it occurred to me that God already intimately knows what I am thinking and feeling (Ps 139)–including my doubts, fears, and questions–so I might as well be honest with Him. How can God help me if I refuse to acknowledge when I’m scared or in pain or, yes, even mad at Him?

So I began to respond to God as if He was real (which He is) and as if I were really in a relationship with Him (which I am).  Relationships can be messy. At times I’ve utterly enjoyed God’s nearness, delighting in His creation, overwhelmed by His love, laughed at His humor. However, I’ve also cried on His shoulder when I was hurting, ran to Him when I was scared, gotten angry at Him when He’s done something that didn’t make sense to me. I’ve asked Him questions and wrestled with His answers…or silence. Sometimes I’ve stamped my foot in a bratty tantrum. I can totally relate to Tevye’s honest relationship with God in The Fiddler on the Roof, one of my very most favorite movies.

There are times I’ve tried to pretend I had more strength than I really did. Then it always seemed as if God said, “TJ, get real” as He punctured my pretense. Like when the counselor asked,”How are you doing?” when I told him about losing my baby in a miscarriage years ago. “I’m doing well. I know God has a reason for this. I am trusting Him,” I said piously. “So how does it feel to be a mother who has lost her child?” The question stunned me and broke through my facade as I began to sob and wrestle honestly with grief and questions. I came out the other side, wounded but deeper. On my last day of counseling, the counselor said: “You are the most real person I have ever met.” A real gift. I had asked God to make me real….like Pinocchio.

“Get real, TJ.”

I’ve since discovered from my studies of Hebrew that the Jewish people have always been a concrete-thinking, action-oriented, and passionate people. Their language reflects this. They don’t talk their faith, they live it. They confront God honestly, questioning  wrestling, bargaining with Him. They cling to Him even though He cripples them. I love Psalms 77, written by Asaph:

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
4 You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
6 I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders:

7 Will the Lord reject forever?
And will He never be favorable again?
8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forever?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious,
Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
10 Then I said, “It is my grief,
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

Wow. Asaph honestly questioned–what we might even call doubted. Who knows how long he struggled before he could continue:

I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

Through questions and doubt, he found a new depth of trust. He wrote several psalms. Each one a gem to me.

I also love the story about the rabbi who came to substitute teach a class at a yeshiva. As he lectured, the students were silent, not asking any questions. So he deliberately said something controversial. Still, they said nothing. Finally, in frustration, he roared, “How can I teach you if you refuse to argue with me?!” So different from the sit down, shut up, and memorize style prevalent in our society.

Years ago, in the church I grew up in, a woman’s son was convicted of a serious crime and sent to prison. I’m sure the woman must have suffered and cried, but her face was always smiling. Time passed and a new woman started attending the church. Her son also was in prison. One day the second woman learned about the first woman’s son. She went to the woman in tears, or so I heard, and lamented, “Why did you never tell me about your son? I struggled so much, and you could have been such a comfort, but you said nothing.” I’ve never, ever forgotten that.

I think we are all different. I think that God designs us for different purposes. No doubt people express their faith in different ways. I cannot say how people “ought” to express their faith. I can only say that I can’t not be real. I mean, I can for a while, but not for long. I’ve sometimes told God that I asked Him to make me “Real” and He made me to bleed all over the pages of my writing describing my fear, my tears, my strengths and weaknesses, my good days and bad days. I write about my problems that are sometimes too big and many and overwhelming for me. Sometimes I want to hide under the blankets and wish the monsters away.

This morning I saw the pots of tender plants on my window sill that I am hoping to keep alive through the winter. I thought, “This blog is turning into a different sort of blog then I intended.” I was going to just write about my garden and day-to-day life.  Now I am writing about my son’s battle with cancer. Yet, he feels to me like a tender little plant that I am trying to keep alive. I’m still writing about my garden, but now my garden is my son.

Bilbo Baggins
Bilbo Baggins

Today I cried because I felt overcome by the hugeness of this Unexpected Journey my family is on.  I feel like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, dragged off on an Adventure that he didn’t expect, didn’t want, and wasn’t at all prepared for. 

I feel clueless about and overwhelmed by having to decide on a cancer treatment. Some people choose to have chemotherapy and some say that natural methods are the only way to go. I don’t know who is right. I don’t want to gamble, either way, with my son’s life. It just seems like a confusing maze to me. I just want Jared to be well. I don’t want to lose my son. I don’t know what is best for him.

The nurse called today. She said, “The pathology report is positive.” “Oh, good!” I exclaimed in huge relief. Positive means good. The nurse replied, “No…It’s positive for cancer.” Oh. I just got educated. Of course. Positive means good….unless it’s cancer. I felt so stupid. She must think I’m an imbecile. I told EJ about it, and we laughed a shaky laugh.

Be a Mama Bear.
Be a Mama Bear.

My friend called me soon afterwards. She let me cry for a bit, and she gave me a gift of comfort and laughter. She also mentioned her sister’s friend who works in a cancer center in California. She wanted to know if I would like her to ask her sister if her friend would call me and prepare me for what to expect. “YES!” A bit later, the woman called. She was so nice. She explained what was happening and told me what to expect in the days ahead. She also said, “Keep a pen and paper near you at all times. Write down all the questions that come to mind so you can ask the doctor.” She also said, “It’s important to understand that you are your son’s advocate. You are fighting for his  life. Be a Mama Bear and fight for your cub. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you aren’t comfortable with something, confront it. Be a Mama Bear.” I told EJ that maybe I will have to start practicing my Mama Bear growl. Meanwhile, he can practice his Papa Bear growl. The truth is, I think I’m a pathetic bear. I’m not a confrontational person. I need a Bigger Bear to roar for me.

I must say this: I am not a stranger to suffering.  I’ve lost a baby to miscarriage. I’ve had a difficult second pregnancy and almost lost my son and myself when he was born. I’ve struggled with the sorrow of infertility. I’ve struggled through years of painful rejection from a dysfunctional family who refused to forgive me for not being able to live up to their demands–and I finally have had to say a heartbreaking “no more” to their presence in my life. I’ve suffered from chronic illness. I have a husband who suffers debilitating back pain–and several other health problems. There have been many times when we’ve had to live on little. And there have been many other sorrows and struggles. Now here is my son afflicted with cancer. And even my dog is sick.

Through all the struggles, I often been scared, and heartbroken, and overwhelmed. Each new journey is different and challenges my faith in a different way. However, I also experience my God in a different way. I see His love in a different way. He reveals His faithfulness in a different way. I experience His provision in a different way. I think sometimes He weeps with me. Already, God is showing us in awesome ways that HE IS HERE. We aren’t alone.

JJ
JJ

I’ve discovered an interesting thing along the way: When I share my journey, there are probably people who think I am a total mess, which I am. However, there are also people who say, “I came to me because I knew you struggled with… infertility.. miscarriage.. rejection… and I knew you’d understand because you’ve been there.” I’ve also been comforted by others who understood my struggle because they have “been there.” Today I cried at Facebook, and found people around the world who hugged me with love and prayers. Many are praying for JJ. I think we all need each other, and we can’t help each other if we don’t share.

So, I will share my journey with you, if you want to come along, as honestly as I can. Because, who knows? Maybe my journey will help you. Or maybe your journey will help me.  But be forewarned: My faith isn’t always pretty. I will be honest about the joys and sorrows, the strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes I will cry.

Sometimes I won’t.

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12 Comments on “Get Real

  1. And we will cry along with you. We are all a mess. We put one foot in front of the other and move the best we can – sometimes with a walker and sometimes on Aladdin’s magic rug. We will struggle up the mountains and fly over the tops.

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  2. Teri, based on my own experience, I would recommend resisting any urge to surf the internet and do research about Jared’s situation until after you’ve seen the doctor. In the past I’ve made the mistake of reading up when I’ve been faced with scary health issues for me or my family, and all I’ve done is managed to terrorize myself with tons of scary information that didn’t even apply. If I had only waited until I had FACTS from the doctor I could have saved myself so much fear and anguish. Its wonderful to have so much information available on the internet, but taken out of the proper context it can cause you needless fear and anxiety. Its awesome your friend’s sister was able to talk to you!

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    • It’s really quite difficult. I don’t want to go to the doctor totally unaware and unable to ask questions, Actually my brain has freezed up today so not much sunk in.

      The compassionate woman from the cancer center who called me today said that I can call her at any time if I have questions or need encouragement. My friend said this woman is very compassion and really means that I can call her at any time, day or night. They aren’t just empty words. My friend told me that people from all over the country try to get into this cancer center so the fact that the woman took me under her wings like this is totally remarkable. That is just one of the ways that God is taking care of us.

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    • TJ, as an oncology nurse myself and a cancer survivor, I can’t emphasize enough that Susan Howell is right. Stay away from the internet right now. You are already terrorizing yourself with fears about what decisions to make or not make. Don’t do that to yourself. Please be patient. Wait until Friday — that’s only two days away — and hear out the doctor. Your best advisor about the next step is the oncology doctor. Then, if he or she gives you a choice, telling you that there are one or more options that will be equally effective, realize you don’t have to make your decision immediately. You have TIME to research your options, ask questions of me or other oncology nurses, and ask questions of those of us who have gone through it.

      Just because everyone was in a huge hurry to get JJ into surgery and get the tumor removed, it doesn’t mean there’s that hurry anymore. The tumor is gone. Treatment, if any, requires getting information, weighing the risks versus the benefits and spending time in prayer. Remember the old saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” At this point, you have no idea what options the doctors are going to present to you. They will probably be much less than what you are imagining. And please remember the other advice you received: Jared is taking his cues from you. If you are winding yourself up into a big anxiety ball, he’s going to be unnecessarily anxious too. He’s already scared, I suspect. One of your jobs as Mama Bear is to protect your son from additional unreasonable fears.

      Yes, be real. To God and to JJ. But remember, the urgency is over. The tumor has been removed from his body. There’s no more cancer. Now, you have TIME to make decisions about what’s next.

      One thing I can tell you and I hope you take this to heart. If JJ is required to go through chemotherapy or biotherapy, the young men I’ve seen go through treatment for this cancer have breezed through with FEW side effects. Let me repeat that, FEW side effects. And that was back in the mid-1990s when I gave them their drugs. Because of the massive amounts of efforts constantly poured into cancer research, the drugs nowadays are better than twenty years ago, with even fewer side effects and adverse reactions.

      So take a deep breath and relax as much as you can.

      Rabbi Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with THANKSGIVING. Then God’s shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Messiah Yeshua. [Phil. 4:6-7, CJB]

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      • Anne, I know that the Internet can cause needless fear. We actually have not looked at the Internet about this all that much. However, we do feel a need to have some idea of what to expect and what questions to ask and what treatments we want to ask about. Our time to research our options begins NOW, as we become aware that there are different treatment options available. I find total ignorance more scary than a bit of information. If we know NOTHING, we go into the appointment confused, unbalanced, overwhelmed, with no comprehension that there are options or of even what we want to discuss with the doctor. I found the cancer center woman’s advice to write down all the questions that come to us that we want to discuss with the doctor extremely helpful.

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  3. Teri ~ I agree with you wholeheartedly on being honest with God through whatever range of emotions I’m dealing with. He does know what I’m thinking, how I’m struggling, etc. I once told a friend nearly verbatim what you wrote. Back in Ohio when I was really struggling with my faith, I would stay home because God knew I didn’t want to be in church due to feeling like He’d abandoned me. Who was I trying to fool?

    At any rate… I’m continuing to pray for all of you as you’re walking this road that I wish with all my heart you didn’t have to travel. Thank you for opening up your life to us. May God bring you to mind when people need someone who’s been there and done that. Thank you for being willing to be used that way. I know God will use it for His glory.

    With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat… Praying James 1:5-6 for you.

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  4. Kim, another way that God is saying HE IS HERE is through all the people around the world who are supporting and loving us. I’ve never before experienced anything quite like it. Thank you so much for being one of those who are journeying with us.

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart. I just want to sit beside you on the sofa and wrap my arms around you to let you cry as much as you need. Get all of those tears out then practice that Mama bear voice. I pray not just for your son now, but for you to have the strength that you will need to face this. My husband’s youngest brother has a six-year-old niece who lost an eye to cancer. She was born with the cancer, but she survived. God be with you through this time.

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  6. Lucindalines, thank you so much for wrapping your arms around me with your words. I’m so glad you are here!

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