I made a to-do list for the first time in over four months this week. This small task provided an enormous sense of reclaimed normalcy after so much upheaval. Other little shoots of life have begun to return too, even as we continue to walk this assigned path. Our days and weeks have taken on a new rhythm and we’ve felt the relief of a more settled existence. At times the painful realities of our current story squeeze and dig and take our breath away, and there are tears and the need to pause to express emotions and to pray.
One of those moments came yesterday as I was cleaning up lunch dishes and overheard Chris on the phone with a guy on our work team in Longmont. They’re gearing up for the fall semester and things are going well…which is why I felt the sting of unexpected tears. I wish we were there; I wish I was making plans to have students over for dinner and trying to work out how Pippa and I could join the team on some trips (maybe unrealistically). If I let myself continue making an I wish list, it could go on a long time. In that very mundane moment of washing dishes and picking up bits of carrot Pippa had so delicately dropped to the floor earlier, I had a choice: continue diving headlong into the hole of I wish despair or heeding the quiet call of the Good Shepherd, “Just trust me; trust my steadfast love.”
I’m still, daily, learning what it means to trust this Shepherd. It’s so easy for the theoretical to remain just that–theoretical. But when the tears are literal and those tears and emotions and fears literally paralyze my ability to get daily tasks done or absorb the normal inconveniences a baby brings, or cause me to become irritable with my husband, I desperately need that trust to become literal too, releasing me from the power fear and despair have to pollute and sour my day and relationships.
One practical way I’ve learned to trust God’s steadfast love is to simply look for it and acknowledge it as often as possible. The more I see it, the easier it is to recognize, and the easier it becomes to count on–to count on Him. Since this chapter began in March, we’ve experienced his love countless ways. So I want to share another list–a He Loves Me List.
But before I do, let me clarify that God’s love was most profoundly expressed when Jesus took on human flesh to walk in our shoes, then later died in our place and defeated death by coming back to life. The Cross is where I begin when I consider how to encourage my heart to trust him. I also believe that he continues to demonstrate his love in smaller, personal ways–often tangible gifts that remind me that he sees me, knows me and delights in me and in loving me. Remembering them is so very life-giving!
So here it is, part of my He Loves Me List:
- When we first came to Sioux Falls, Pippa was still recovering from eating issues related to a tongue tie. For months she’d been waking up a lot at night as a result. Soon she’d put on weight and was back to normal; she didn’t need those nighttime feedings anymore. Chris was about to begin treatment and, as my mom pointed out, uninterrupted sleep would be more essential than ever. I dreaded letting her cry, but knew it was time. The night we decided to let her cry, I sent a “please pray” text to my mom and sisters, and that very night Pippa slept through the night without a tear. And the next night. And the next. We’ve had some setbacks of course as sickness and disrupted schedules have come up, but overall, she’s a great night sleeper now. What a tangible, sweet answer to prayer and reminder that God cares about these “little” things!
- Early on, nights were the hardest for me. I was often awake with Pippa or just unable to sleep, and my thoughts and emotions would easily go to dark places. Seven times different people texted me within 30 minutes or less of my waking to let me know they were praying or thinking of me or had a verse for me. The first time or two it happened I chalked it up to coincidence. But over the span of a few months, it kept happening–at all hours of the night and with different people. Once when it was late at night and I was feeling especially low I began texting a friend I hadn’t talked to in a few weeks, and before I’d even finished writing the text and hit send, I got an unsolicited, super-encouraging text from her addressing some of the very things I was texting her to pray about. Each time I got a middle-of-the-night text I felt God saying, I see you; I care about you.
- The first 3.5 months we were in Sioux Falls we lived with Chris’s parents. They are generous, easy to live with and kind. Their home is spacious, and frankly we were so decimated we needed their company, care and support. As we’ve regained our footing, though, we felt like we would benefit from being independent adults again in our own space. Just a few weeks after we got here, Chris’s grandparents moved from their home of over 50 years into assisted living, and his grandpa offered us the use of their home, rent-free (an incredible gift since we still have our house in Longmont!). So here we are, living in their home, which “happens” to be just a few blocks away from the hospital and was already furnished and mostly stocked.
- Just before we moved to Chris’s grandparents’ house, I was on Amazon looking at highchairs for Pippa. I’d started looking at them before we left Longmont, but now it was finally time to pull the trigger. After choosing one, I was about to buy it when Chris walked in the room and showed me a text from a family friend offering to loan us a highchair they weren’t using. Oh, and a crib. And a baby pool. And some toys. God’s timing and provision through these generous friends left me stunned!
- God’s love has also been so sweetly, beautifully and abundantly expressed through the love and kindness of friends who’ve prayed intentionally, brought meals, loaned us a stroller, sent thoughtful cards, emails and texts, gift cards, financial gifts, care packages, tea, cute new t-shirts because most of my summer clothes were still in CO, clothes and toys for Pippa, essential oils, books, coloring books, bought us a Vitamix to help with our new diet and Chris’s protein/veggie shakes, and offered and/or took family photos for us. A neighbor in Longmont–a professional quilter–is making us the quilt I’ve wanted since we got married but never actually had made; strangers we’ve never met heard our story and are taking care of our lawn in Longmont for free. So much thought, love and care. You all humble us, keep us afloat and are a balm for our souls. Thank you.
- A few weeks ago, Pippa got hand, foot and mouth disease. Typically a childhood illness, this particular strain was nasty and contagious, infecting Chris’s cousin, the cousin’s fiancee, myself, my sister Emily, and her two boys (she and Jeremy, my brother-in-law, had come out to visit). Pippa and I were down for the count with fevers, horrible sore throats, and hot spots and blisters all over our hands and feet. Obviously we were very concerned about Chris coming down with it too and having to delay treatment while he recovered. His weekly labs have shown that his immune system, while okay enough to continue chemo, is definitely diminished. We tried to prevent Chris from further exposure by obsessive hand-washing and having him sleep at his parents’ house…and we prayed. And you know what? Chris got it. But what did he get? No fever. No sore throat. Only 3-4 small blisters (by comparison I probably had 30-40!). Perhaps it’s evidence of the immunotherapy at work. Perhaps it was God’s miraculous intervention. Either way, we are grateful!
- The night before Chris’s ninth round of chemo, Chris and I discovered we’d been praying essentially the same thing for several days–that we would experience God’s love and delight in deeper, more personal ways (despite the above list, it’s been easy to doubt God’s heart for us!). The next morning, Chris decided we should order cruiser bikes. We knew he had pro deals that would give him a great price on a bike, but we were certain that my application for a particular pro deal would be denied because I don’t have the certifications it seemed I needed. However, within hours we heard I had been approved, which meant we could both get bikes for half the retail price. As I type this, I can feel the tears welling up again because of God’s kind mercy to and delight in us through this purchase. Doctors assured us early on that Chris would experience some terrible side effects that would no doubt keep him couch-bound. But other than fatigue, he simply hasn’t had them! So here we were, getting to recapture a part of our lives that we’ve missed desperately. Cruising on a level bike path may not be summiting a 14,000 foot peak or guiding a raft through class-four rapids, but it’s active and fun and gets our muscles moving. My heart felt so loved this past Tuesday as we rode our bikes downtown and sipped our drinks on the patio of a coffee shop.
- I can’t help but remember God’s provision of the immunotherapy drug (Keytruda) and genomic-targeted drug (Cabozantinib). The doctor told us Chris only had a 50/50 chance of getting them. We are so grateful, and we feel for so many others who are doing whatever they can to have access to them.
At times my skeptical mind looks at a list like this and thinks, “I know people who aren’t Christians who experience little miracles and gifts like this too…but rather than attributing it to God, they chalk it up to The Universe, or karma, or fate, or some rational explanation. What if they’re right?” Somehow others’ similar experiences, apart from God, has caused me to question my confidence that my experiences are gifts from a who God sees and is lovingly involved. But then I had a cringeworthy “duh” moment. This God that I know and love IS love, the very essence of it; his delight in loving and giving has never been dependent on acknowledgement or reciprocation. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. So why do I question when anyone and everyone experiences these beautiful gifts? My view of God and his love has been far too small.
Today Chris has his 11th round of chemo and 4th round of immunotherapy. In three weeks, on August 25th, he’ll have his first CT scan since beginning treatment. Obviously we’d love good medical news. But today, and until then, our prayer is from Psalm 21:6b-7:
“…You make him glad with the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.”
Our desire is to experience unshakable joy that does not depend on healthy scans or getting to live the life we planned. As we’ve seen, these things can disappear in a moment. God, help us to learn to trust you–to stand unmoved in your steadfast love. God’s gifts are sweet, as evidenced by the list above. But it’s Him we want most. As Chris said to me earlier today, “What good is physical life without spiritual life?”
Please pray that he’ll fill us to overflowing with the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”