Dear Family and Friends,
This Christmas season I find myself once again thinking a lot about the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure. And about the things that cause our hearts to overflow with happiness and break in despair.
The month began with great joy. Steve and I were able to spend a week on Kauai with my sister, Marti, and her husband, Merle. It was my pre-chemo week, so I felt great! I was able to hike a beautiful trail along a bluff overlooking the ocean and swim laps in a giant saltwater lagoon. I got to eat puka dogs (get one if you go to Hawaii!), mouthwatering fresh fish at an open-air restaurant overlooking a koi pond, and to share an enormous ice cream sundae at Lappert’s with my sweetheart.
Then, the day after my return home, my blood counts were again too low to get my chemo. That week was filled with five days of stomach injections of the drug that stimulates my bone marrow to make blood cells—and in the process, produces a truckload of bone pain! Remember those growing pains you had as a child as your bones stretched and lengthened? Well, multiply that pain by about 100! It was a tough week, followed by chemo on the 15th, which brought yet another rough five days, this time with extreme nausea, fatigue, and no appetite. On the positive side—I have unintentionally lost four pounds in five days! So much for my usual Christmas weight gain! J
In the midst of my own modest sufferings, I have encountered people this month whose sufferings are far greater than mine. People who cause my heart to break. The day before chemo I was well enough to attend my volunteer day at Children’s Hospital, where I was assigned to a 4-year-old boy with cancer. We played Legos, and he led me on a “tour” of about 10 bedpans scattered about his room that were filled with water and contained all manner of plastic sea life! He knew the names of each animal and told me that his Make-A-Wish was that he wanted to ride a dolphin. Can you think of anything sadder than a child gravely ill with cancer who will be spending Christmas in his hospital room? Or the heartbreak I saw in his father’s eyes when he returned to the room after my time spent playing with his son? Having cancer myself, after the blessing of living more than five wonderful decades without it, is so very much better than the thought of my children—or any child—having to face this dreaded disease at a young age.
And yesterday, Steve and I joined five friends for a volunteer day at Hope Place, a residential program for homeless women and children run by the Union Gospel Mission. We worked in the kitchen, chopping bags of oranges and onions, wrapping potatoes in foil, making cheese quesadillas, and Steve, master griller that he is, put perfect grill marks on 70 mammoth rib eye steaks that had been donated for their Christmas dinner party later that day. As I was serving lunch and chatting with the residents, my heart ached for these women who, through poverty, abuse, mental illness, and addictions, had arrived at this place in life with their precious children in tow. I have so much. They have so little. Plenty and want.
I read in my advent reading this week that “A broken heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can think of it as something broken apart and shattered, like glass, or as something broken open, like a crack in a seed about to sprout. Opening our hearts to pain increases our capacity for hope.” I definitely feel that the brokenness our family has experienced throughout my battle with cancer has been an opening through which we have come to experience God’s presence in a deeper way, through which we have developed greater empathy for all those who suffer, and through which we have come to feel an exponentially larger sense of gratitude for each day, and each blessing, large and small.
May the heartbreaks we experience allow us to see that through the cracks, the light of hope can emerge, and may we be a beacon of light and hope for others.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2
|Steve, Marti, and Merle at Kauai Lighthouse Park|
|Mini Golf in December...and I won!|
|Hiking on a rainy day in Kauai.|