Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


red-river-gorge-camping

On Lamenting and Rejoicing

I’ve been camped out in the Psalms during the last few months. The Psalms are gritty, honest, and confusing, which resonates well with my current headspace on this cancer journey. During this Psalms Campout, I keep circling back to the 34th chapter. Because I keep returning to this chapter, I decided to read it every day this month, and every few days, a line gets stuck in my head that inevitably gets me thinking.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt His name together.

Over the last few days, I’ve been turning the phrase “let the afflicted hear and rejoice” over and over in my head.

The concept of rejoicing in the midst of trials isn’t new to me cognitively. I was a Christian kid in the late 90’s who sang with a passion that I would trade my sorrows for the joy of the Lord. I’ve heard a lot of sermons throughout my decades as a Christ-follower about praising through pain. I’ve seen bumper stickers and Pinterest prints reminding me to “Choose Joy”.

But, as I’ve said before, cancer has tested all the varied theology I’ve been taught over the years, and this week, I’ve been asking myself “What does ‘rejoice’ really mean?” Which is probably getting at the deeper question: “Am I actually rejoicing in this [affliction] cancer?” Which then tugs at another question: “Can lamenting and rejoicing coexist?”

As I’ve mulled over the word ‘rejoice’ I recalled some verses I memorized as a child:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Rejoice always. His praise will always be on my lips. Always – in every moment? Always – in every situation? Always – in every season?

I’ve been very intentional over the last 4 months to be honest about the awful. From the beginning of Adam’s diagnosis, I resolved to express anger, sadness, and fear without sugarcoating my feelings, or wrapping them up with a pretty faith-bow, which is part of why I’ve loved reading the Psalms so much. David, the author of most of the Psalms, was called “a man after God’s heart”, and he wrote some really honest, angry, vengeful stuff. David curses and David praises. David laments and David rejoices.

Some days, even now, rejoicing comes easy. Some days, in spite of an awful diagnosis and terrifying unknown, I remember God’s character, promises, and goodness and my soul [rather inexplicably] rejoices.

But some days, I hardly have the energy to roll out of bed, let alone set my heart on rejoicing. Some days, I don’t have words to pray, I can’t stop crying, and I’m anxious about everything. Some days, I don’t think my soul has the capacity to rejoice.

This week, as I’ve continued to ruminate over this concept of the afflicted rejoicing, I came across a new idea from Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 34: “It is well when the soul feels its own inability adequately to glorify the LORD, and therefore, stirs up others to the gracious work.”

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.

So rejoicing is a communal effort?

As I think about this, another verse I’ve committed to memory comes to mind, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

Mourning and rejoicing are tribal efforts… I like that.

I was raised in a Christian era that taught a lot about individual faith. We were taught to have “individual quiet times” and to cultivate our “personal relationships with Jesus.” We didn’t learn a lot about communal faith. With each year that passes, I become increasingly aware of the importance of and the need for communal relationships with Jesus. These past few months have been further evidence to me of the importance of that.

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It’s probably no coincidence that often on my lowest days, I receive reminders of God’s faithfulness on the doorstep, or in the mailbox, or through a text. On those days, when I can’t seem to rejoice, community often reminds me of reasons to rejoice. And when I don’t have my own reasons to rejoice, community has reminded me that life, goodness, and growth are happening all around me. Our people are welcoming children into their lives, falling in love, finding healing, and creating beautiful things.

And some days, community just sits and cries with me, and acknowledges the general crappiness of things, and that’s ok, too. Even in the mist of our own pain, community has reminded me that death, sickness, and sadness are happening all around me. Our people are saying goodbye to loved ones, struggling in relationships, battling disease, and searching for purpose.

I’m thankful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that give me reasons to rejoice, when my own storyline is sad. And I’m grateful for the stories of others, that intersect my own, that offer perspective that my sad plot twist isn’t the only sad plot twist. I’m glad to be part of a community – a great cloud of witnesses – who remind me of the faithfulness of God in every season. Lamenting and rejoicing can coexist. Perhaps they coexist best in community.

Chemo-Sobby

Yesterday was Adam’s last day of chemotherapy.  Over the last ten weeks, Adam has had nearly 200 hours worth of chemo pumped into his body. It has been a grueling, tiring, challenging journey, and while his chapter with cancer isn’t done being written, yesterday was a turning point in the plot line.

The day seemed to creep by slower than most; for me, because of anticipation, and for Adam because of exhaustion. We watched them hook up the last bag of chemo to his IV pump and squeezed our hands together a little tighter.

I flashed back to a memory of the first day of chemo, when the first bag started dripping and the tears re-welled in my eyes. Last day tears are very different from first day tears. As the IV pump began beeping to let us know the chemo had all dripped out, an overwhelming sense of joy washed over us. We hugged the nurses who we have grown so fond of, we said goodbye to the receptionists who know us well by now, and we walked out of the chemo room.

And the sobs began.

Sobs inspired by how proud I am of my husband. Sobs of relief. Sobs because I’m tired.

We didn’t talk much on the way home. Adam is an internal processor and I wanted him to have space to take in the significance of the day. Quiet came easier for me because I was terrified that I would spill the beans about the secret waiting for him at home. I had kept this secret for a few weeks but the last few minutes felt unbearable.

Over the last few months in the chemo room, I had watched other patients announce it was their last day of treatment without much celebration or fanfare, and I decided that wouldn’t do for Adam. So I cooked up a little “Chemo Finish Line Party” at our house. I pitched the idea to a few friends and family and of course, because our people love us so well, they changed their work schedules and bus pickups to be there.

Adam and I turned onto our street and were met with an insanely joyous 15 minute party with dear ones lining our walkway to the streamer finish line. They had a medal, signs, sweatbands, and unlimited high fives. We toasted with gatorade and we hugged and then we broke up the party because chemo is exhausting.

A and E signs

Nat and Sarah Cheering

Gregg and Debbie Sign

Debbie and AdamGroup GivesHigh Fives

Crossing the Finish Line

To Adam

Brad and AdamCorey Robertson Hug

Today I’m less chemo-sobby and more thankful for our kemosabes – for the amazing people that have been our faithful sidekicks; especially during this chapter. We are incredibly blessed by the people who are cheering us on, caring for us, and continuing to trek this with us all over the world, all over the US, and all over Nashville. We’re raising our leftover gatorade shot glasses to you this morning.

Thanks to Karen McGee and Brad Harris for the gift of pictures so we can remember this day for a long, long time.

Gratitude and Grace (A Thanksgiving Post)

photo (1) 2I think sometimes it’s easier to be thankful in the midst of hard seasons than it is during the good ones. Maybe that’s just me.  No, it’s not just me.  At the very least, it’s me and the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

Regardless, I find myself so very thankful this Thanksgiving.

Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of everything; cancer has a way of rubbing you raw and making you sensitive in both good and bad ways. Maybe it’s because I’m more attuned to the fragility of life; cancer has a way of snapping you into savoring every moment. Maybe it’s because I’m more needy than I’ve ever been; cancer has a way of making you feel unorganized, weak, and totally off.

But in the midst of this raw, fragile, off state, I have seen so much beauty. Over the last few months, I have been in awe at the love, generosity, creativity, and grace of the people in our lives. Had it not been for the love of others, I feel I might have fallen apart. I might have fallen apart beneath the crushing weight of a terrible diagnosis, the pressure of working in the midst of caring, and the heaviness of the unknown.

And yet…  (Oh how I’m grateful for an “and yet”) God’s grace has shown up over and over in so many ways; mostly through the love and sacrifice of His people. I feel held together by our community – our community of friends past and present, near and far.

Our people have taken over so that we can just be.

Our people have cleaned our house (or hired people to clean our house), gone shopping for us, cooked for us, taken care of our yard, covered our garden with blankets to protect from frost, and scaled our house to clean our gutters.

Our people have given us treats so that our “just being” can be fun.

Our people have given us sweet treats (literally all the chocolate and candy), date nights, tv shows to binge watch, wine drop offs (let’s be honest, that one’s just for me), books to read, and video games to play.

Our people have been incredibly generous so we can be present without worry.

Our people have treated us to gift cards, amazon wish list items, warm blankets, No-Shave-November fundraisers, and donations to medical bills.

Our people have been present with us so we don’t feel alone.

Our people have come to visit at the hospital and our house (some have driven long distances to do that), they have played games with us, they have texted us and sent us an overwhelming number of cards and post cards and messages.

Our people have prayed for us faithfully.

Our people have formed an army that spans time zones and continents; filling God’s ears with words we don’t have and asking prayers we aren’t brave enough to pray.

We’ve had to start a grace journal to document all of the blessings because we never want to forget God’s goodness to us during this season. And really, in the midst of hard, God has been so good to us. I’m thankful that during this time, God’s love for us has been incredibly evident.

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I read this line in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts this week, and it resonated with this season for us. “Thanksgiving – giving thanks in everything prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ. The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God – even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion – this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.”

I can’t think of a better preparation for celebrating advent; for preparing for Christ’s coming, than to be thankful and to understand how Christ saves us daily. Praying that whether you find yourself in a season of hard, or a season of relative ease, that you are in a season of thankfulness.

For Those Who Have Asked “How Can I Help?”

The past two weeks have been a blur of emotions, appointments, medication management, and side effects. Everything has felt very new and very hard, and our normal has been incredibly interrupted.

Had it not been for other people holding us, I think we might have just fallen apart.

So many people have asked, “What can I do to help?” and have genuinely meant it – which is so humbling and appreciated. It has taken us a few days to begin to figure out what we need. We still don’t completely know, but we’re beginning to get a sense of that now that we are learning our temporary new normal.

A dear friend set up a website that will allow us to share how we need help. This site will be a way for us to update our people about prayer needs, praises, and practical needs. Feel free to check it out once in awhile or subscribe for updates. Some wonderful friends have taken the lead in coordinating our care: Meals, House/Yard management, and Fun. Feel free to look around the site and contact them if you want to sign on.

I don’t know about your dreams, but in my nightmares, nothing is good. The only reason the last two weeks haven’t been a full-blown nightmare is because of people loving us, caring for us, and checking on us. Our sweet people have brought glimmers of light into the darkest days and nights we have known.

Thank you for the emails, facebook comments & messages, cards, texts, gluten-free cupcake deliveries, videos of your kiddos cheering Adam on, yard-mowing, lunch deliveries, messages, Scriptures, puns, house cleaning, weird gifs, care packages, handmade love, Gatorade, chocolate, and sour patch kids. (Adam’s glucose test came back a little high today, I wonder why?)

Your love is a tangible reminder of God’s love for us. And as the days get harder, we will continue to appreciate you, our sweet people. We’ve started a Grace Journal to document all the ways we have been shown grace in these days. It is such an encouragement to us.

There are few things more intimidating than this diagnosis, but making sure that we are not having to walk this alone means the world to us. If you want to check out the site, go here. We love you. Thanks for continuing to hold us together.