It Is Finished

I just finished my last chemo therapy last week.  Of all the things I’ve had to go through with cancer, chemo was probably the hardest–even harder than weaning, though that was emotionally draining in different ways.  Once they told me that chemo was a necessary treatment in my case, the 9 weeks of treatments loomed ahead like the Forbidden Forest full of fire swamps, giant rodents, and quicksand.  It was going to be awful, but there was no way around it.  I had to do it.  I had to just suck it up and bear whatever difficulties it would entail, and march through the foreboding depths of it.  And I’d have to do it four times.

My husband and I steeled ourselves both mentally and physically as best as we could for the journey, not really knowing what it would be like but trusting from the testimonies of others that it wasn’t exactly fun.  We went into the first six hour infusion session with a positive, lighthearted attitude, trying to meet the trail with as much joy as possible, and then finding that the days that followed were dark and difficult as my body ceased to cooperate with me and the nausea made it difficult to function.  Subsequent infusion sessions were more difficult to take with joy because we now had full knowledge of the horrible thing we were willingly enduring, but we still had to do it.   If I could have found another way through cancer, I would have.  I asked my oncologist if there were gentler more natural options and he didn’t feel, from his experience, that those routes would give me my best chance.

Maybe if I didn’t have children, maybe I would have tried those natural, more holistic routes anyway, but for the love of my babies and because I want to be around for graduations, dances, weddings, and even grandbabies, I did the chemo.  I went through the Forbidden Forest.  I waded through the mire of one of my most difficult trials here on earth, knowing it would be difficult, knowing it would hurt, knowing there would be days when I didn’t think I could do it, and I did it mostly because I love my babies and my husband and I didn’t want them to bear the pain of being without me. IMG_3860

At the end of my last infusion, I was the last person left in the large blue room full of IV carts.  The lights were turning off, even nurses were leaving, and then, I was finally disconnected and able to leave, hand in hand with my husband who had sat with me through every hour of every infusion.  We got to the car and I lay back my head against the headrest and he said, “We’re done. It’s finished. We don’t have to do this ever again.”  I heaved a sigh of relief.  Even knowing that I still had three days of the after effects awaiting me, there was still relief.  I wouldn’t have to knowingly march into this place anymore to receive infusions that would poison my body.  When my body started to recover from this last chemo, it could keep on recovering.  I wouldn’t have to hack it down again with more poison.  I was done.  It was finished.  It is finished.

I didn’t want to draw parallels between my chemo journey and Jesus’ sacrifice because I’m not worthy of that.  I’m not worthy to compare my path to that of my Savior, but as Good Friday has drawn near and I’ve dwelt on the price He paid, I’ve been recovering from my own now completed trial.  As I read the account of his death in the gospels and watch it reenacted in film, the significance of what he did seems so much more meaningful in the light of my recent sacrifice.  Chemo is but a bee sting compared to crucifixion, but as it is all I know, the Lord has graciously spoken to me of his sacrifice because of it.  When I read about how he completed the deed he came to accomplish, there was a knowing that I experienced that I’d never felt before.

“It is finished.”

When Jesus said those words, it didn’t just mean his life was done or that his sacrifice was done, it also meant that He could finally lay down the weight He’d carried throughout all of his humanity.  I knew my chemo was coming a week or two before it came, and I had all that time to look forward to knowing that I had to do this awful thing.  For thirty three years, and probably for all of eternity before that, Jesus had this pivotal point in history to endure–this finite moment of agony that divided infinity with a weight only He could bear.  As the only perfect human being ever to exist, He was the only one who could be the sacrifice.  He was the only perfect substitute to receive the just punishment for sin.  The only one. There was no other way.  He had to be the one to do it, or it wouldn’t be done.  As I have read the passages of Gethsemane over and over in the gospels and even in different languages, I keep seeing those words, he prayed, “If there is any other way…but Your will be done.”  He didn’t want to die on the cross.  Being omniscient, He knew the agony of it like I knew the minor agony of chemo after having endured my first infusion.  He knew about every lash of the whip and what it would feel like and what it would do to his body.  He knew how the weight of the splintered wood would feel against his tattered skin.  He knew how hard it would be to breathe with all of his organs failing as he tried to hold himself up through the nails in his feet.  He knew what the vinegar would do to him when he drank it.  He knew that the minutes of his dying would drag on like horrible hours.  He knew that the ultimate pain would be the endless moments where His Father would hide his face and He would lose fellowship with Him.  He knew.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” He said. 

“Yet not as I will, but as you will,” He said.

And then, the soldiers came and in a whirlwind of a day that began in the wee, dark hours of the morning, he was dragged through trials, sentencing, beating, torture, agony, and death.  He took the footsteps He needed to take.  He received the nails that needed to pierce.  He spilled the blood that we so desperately needed to survive.  And then…it was over.  He had done what he came to do.  He had finished that which had been his destiny from the moment he took his first tiny breath and nuzzled his face into his mother’s breast. It was finished.  He had done it.  Not only the act of dying in agony was complete, but the weight of knowing that He had to die in agony was now lifted.

It was finished.

For you and me, those words mean the world.  He could have decided not to die.  He could have decided that we deserved the fate we’ve chosen.  He could have left us to our own brokenness.  But He loved us too much.  Our brokenness was His.  The death our sin required would have left Him bereft because he loves us.  He loves us.  So, He did what He had to do to keep us.  He took the punishment we deserved. He knowingly went through Calvary for us.

This year, that is what gets me the most.  That He not only did the difficult thing, but He spent his whole life knowing that He had to do it and then he went through it anyway, and all because of me.

IMG_3759.jpgWhen my chemo was done and I laid my head back in the seat of my car with relief knowing that I had done what I set out to do and I didn’t have to keep doing it anymore, I released a burden I hadn’t fully realize I’d been holding and those three words hit home for me in a new way.

It is finished.  Not only the act of the sacrifice itself, but the burden of it.

It is finished.  My debt is paid.  I may have had to endure chemo, but I will never have to endure life without my Jesus because he paid my punishment for me.

It is finished.

 

Broken

How many times, Lord?  How many times have I stood before you with hands held high as I confidently pledged that you could have all of me?  Countless times.  How many times have I said, “Do what you must, but use me, Lord.  Take what you have to take, even my life. Do what you have to do to me so your name will be glorified for my family.  My friends.”  Oh, so many times.  I meant it as I knelt there with a peaceful smile on my face and none of the experience of loss that I now have.  I meant it as I thought I was counting the cost, without really comprehending what that cost could feel like.

Today, as we tossed around words like lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstruction, weaning, and chemotherapy I thought, “You can’t take that part, Lord! Really? Cause that’s mine! Why would you touch it?  Please, Jesus.  Please don’t.  I would no longer be me…”

And then, bent over the dryer as I basketed clean diapers, I cried again. “Why are you taking this from me, Lord? Please, please let me keep it. I’ll be broken, Lord.  I don’t want to be broken. Please don’t break me…”

“He was broken for you.”

The words reverberated through my head like my pleading voice as it bounced off the inside of the dryer drum.

“…broken for you.”

I saw him for a minute with my mind’s eye as He willingly let himself be placed on the cross.  I saw the blood.  The bruises. I saw His face wrenched up in pain as he looked to the Father and found Himself forsaken.  Because of sin.  My sin. The broken world that I create, broke my perfect Savior and He let it.

Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice for me.  Because of me.  Now cancer is breaking me, and He is allowing it to do so.  I know that God sees a plan I cannot in all this.  I know God will work things together for my good.  Even through cancer.  I know my God and He is good and I cling to that.  Can I not willingly be broken for Him?  Body and soul?  Can I not sacrifice myself for His use?  Can I not trust that He will make all things beautiful in time? That I will be more beautiful because of this and not in spite of it?

There is peace as my shoulders slump down in surrender and the tears come fresh and willing now.  I nod. Yes.  I can do that.   Not on my own, but He is with me.  He is closer than my own heartbeat.  I feel him palpably, still whispering in my ear as I cry over the laundry.  “You may break me, Lord,” I say,  “You may take thatimg_4482 part of me too if you want to.”

“So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.  But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

 Then the word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

-Jeremiah 18: 3-6

My daughter’s plans

IMG_3057My sweet, firstborn daughter.  Oh, dear girl. Back when she first learned how to speak–only a couple of words mind you–we realized that she likes to know what our plans for her are.  At two or three years of age, when her vocabulary really blossomed, asking our plans was something that took up a major part of her day.  She wanted not just to know what was happening now, and next, but she wanted an entire itinerary for the day.  And, if we told her all our plans for the day, she’d continue to ask for them over and over again, wanting to make sure she knew exactly how things would happen and what to expect.  Her worrisome little spirit clung to those plans.  If, heaven forbid, we should deviate from this set schedule, she had a really hard time handling it.

There were, of course, days when we either chose not to give her our plans for one reason or another, or we didn’t actually have plans so to speak.  My husband and I like to fly by the seat of our pants when we can.  Days that aren’t taken over by work and other commitments, are days we like to just go with the wind and see where it takes us.  Our sweet girl (I often call her my Huggle Buggle so I’ll refer to her as Buggle here), our Buggle just hated that.

“What are we doing next,” she’d ask from the backseat of the car.

“We don’t know, sweetie.  We’ll see.”

“But what are we doing?” She’d ask, her voice rising in panic.

“We’ll see.  We aren’t sure yet.”

“But Mom…where are we going next?”

“Didn’t you hear us?  We don’t know.  We can’t tell you if we don’t know.”

“But…but…”

It was a constant battle with her.  At nearly seven years of age, it still is, though not always as much anymore.

We have our reasons for not revealing our plans to her and they’re not selfish (well, not usually anyway).  Sometimes we don’t tell her because we have a terrific surprise planned.  Sometimes we don’t tell her because we know she won’t fully understand.  Sometimes we don’t tell her because we know she won’t be able to emotionally handle it.  Sometimes we don’t tell her because it will cause her unnecessary stress and we don’t want her entire day to be ruined simply because she knows we plan on having her fold laundry after dinner.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why my Buggle needs to know the plans for the day, but I could guess that it probably has to do with control.  She’ll ask us things like, “Am I going to have a nap?  Do I have to do my chores?  Do I have to do school today?”  Her little mind, I am sure, is full of “What ifs.”  and if we give her the answer to her questions and give her our plans–be they good or boring–she will try to control the situation.  If she doesn’t like our plans, the worry they bring her  ruins her day, or she tries to manipulate them with tantrums or an attempt to wheedle out of it with her words and whining.  If they are plans she likes, she asks more questions in an attempt to fully understand the situation and take control of what is going to happen. She wants to know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

One day, not long ago, we were having a similar conversation–the same type I typed out up above, the same one we used to have multiple times a day and that we now have at least a couple of times a week.  Finally, either me or my husband–I don’t remember which–responded.

“Buggle, do you trust us?”

“Well…yes.”

“Do you think we have your best in mind?”

“…yeah”

“And that we love you completely.”

“Uh huh…”

“Do you think we’re going to do anything that will hurt you?”

“(Harumph!) No… (big sigh).”

“So how about you trust that we know what is best for you and we have good plans for you today and that you don’t need to know them.  You can just relax knowing that we love you and we have your best in mind, okay?”

As we were talking to her, my husband and I were going through a similar situation in our lives with God and we sort of looked at each other and laughed because we knew that the words spoken by us were words God wanted us to hear and to apply to our lives as well.  It’s not that God doesn’t want us to ask “why,” but how often is God’s reply “Wait,” or “Just trust”?  How often do we get frustrated because things seem to be going awry and we don’t know what on earth He is doing.  We rage at the heavens demanding an answer, demanding to know His plans, or better yet demanding that He follow ours only to be humbled by the King of the universe when he says, “Do you trust me?  Well…then you don’t need to know right now.”

He loves us.  He knows our needs.  He knows our wants.  He knows them better than we do.  He designed our hearts so of course He knows.  We know we can trust Him but we still say,  “Okay, but what next, Lord,” when His answer is clearly just to wait and to trust.

My daughter didn’t necessarily like not knowing the plans, but when reminded of who we are to her and how we love her, she was able to rest and wait and eventually let the question go.  She only asks because she likes to have control, and when she doesn’t have control she can either freak out about it or just rest in the fact that someone wiser does.  I like control too.  A lot! And I am not in control of my life or the plans God has for it.  Long ago I surrendered myself to Him…my plans, my hopes, my dreams.  I still surrender them to him regularly because I often take them back. Repeatedly.  Because they are His, he has taken them and he has removed the burden of them.  Often I try to take them back. My eyes are closed tight and my fists are closed tighter around the thing I think I should have or the way I think things should go and I forget to look up.  When I remember who God is and that He loves me and has my best in mind; when I let go of the worry and the panic that I harbor without knowing the future,  I am refreshed as I remember who controls my plans and who is guiding my steps.

God is my Father.  He loves me and He cares for me passionately.  He has plans far greater than what I can imagine or even comprehend.  If he told them to me right now, I imagine they wouldn’t make sense to me.  Or, I wouldn’t be ready to hear them.  Either way, He hasn’t told me the next step and I can either whine and complain about it, asking over and over again, “But what next, God?” or I can let go and trust Him.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” -Psalm 27:14

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding -Proverbs 3:5

I’ll end with this famous promise God gave to his people while they were still in exile in Babylon and God told them to settle down in the foreign land because their exile would last a total of seventy years:  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29: 11-13

 

Eyes on the Father

IMG_0170During their infant stage, all my children are very attached to me.  They love their Daddy, don’t get me wrong, but he is a poor substitute for Mommy.  I was not only their home for nine months, but I’m their source of food.  It’s more than just a warm body and food, though.  I seem to be able to comfort them with my touch and my voice in a way that no one else can.  My youngest is currently in this “Mommy only” stage.  She is only truly happy when she is in my arms and/or I am completely available and within reach.  If she can’t be in my arms, she is somewhat content as long as she can maintain eye contact with me.  I’ll do the dishes, and walk to the counter to wipe it and then to the stove to prepare eggs for breakfast and all the while her eyes are fixed on me, moving with me, stalking me.  She doesn’t just look at me, she looks at me with expectation.  She knows that I have everything she needs.  As long as she can see me, she isn’t worried about how her needs will be met.

When she’s in Daddy’s arms, or heaven forbid the arms of one of my friends, this eye contact is even more fierce and steady and is often accompanied by little whimpers, roars (no, seriously), and squeaks just to make sure I see her and I’m not leaving her.  As long as she is looking to me, at me, her heart seems to be at peace.  If I leave the room, say, to use the bathroom, then her world falls apart–either slowly crumbling, or rushing down with the force of a tornado.  Either way, breaking that eye contact sets her on a nasty, downward spiral.

I teach Spanish class once a week and my friend takes care of her during the time I’m on the floor with all my little kiddos.  If she gets fussy, she’ll take her outside.  If her diaper needs to be changed, she takes care of it.  Mostly, though, my daughter can’t stand to be away from me so I keep her in my lap while I teach, or sitting on the floor next to me.  When it’s craft time, I wear her on my back.  When I’m doing housework, she’s often on my hip or in the baby carrier.  She doesn’t care what I’m doing–the laundry, sweeping, playing my guitar–she has to be able to see me and feel that I am available to her if she is going to stay calm.

Then when things do get difficult–she’s tired, bored, wet, hungry–she knows I’ll see her need and come running.  She doesn’t realize that I’ll still meet her needs even if she can’t see me.  She doesn’t understand that I’m acutely aware of her needs no matter how far away from her I am.  If she can’t see me, then her solace is gone.  The ability to maintain that eye contact gives her peace like little else can.

IMG_0699We’re going through a very difficult time in our family, a time where I wonder if God is actually capable of meeting our needs because we’ve never had so many of them before.  I’ve never really experienced anxiety in a physical way until this past year.  Our needs are so big to me.  So impossible.  I wonder if God wants to meet them or if He is capable of doing so.  I wonder if He cares and if He even loves me sometimes.  I sometimes tend to focus on the problems and not on my Father in times like these–the mortgage, how full the fridge is, my teeth that always cause expensive problems–these seem bigger than He is when I’m focusing on them.  I’m not looking at him so I forget that He sees me and he is capable of meeting my needs.  I forget how big He is.  I forget that He has a perfect plan through the madness.  I forget that he provides even for the sparrows.

The other day I posted a drawing of myself clinging to the end of my rope with God’s hand underneath while he told me to let go.  My eyes were closed tight in the drawing as I grasped onto the little I have left.  Because my eyes were closed, I couldn’t see how close He was.  In that metaphorical drawing, I would have easily felt comfortable enough to let go if I could have seen that His hand was right there.  The drawing may be metaphorical, but the feeling behind it was so, horribly real.  As I cried out to the Lord that day, he gave me this scripture:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” -Habakkuk 3: 17-19

…but still, my heart pounded, I worried, and I was sick to my stomach all day long.  God was calling me to be joyful despite my circumstances and I found that impossible as long as I continued to look at the problem.  What I wanted was an immediate fix, and He was telling me to choose joy through the difficulties we are facing.  The scripture didn’t comfort me.  It didn’t promise that the fig tree would bud and the fields would produce food, which is what I wanted.  It just said that I should be joyful despite my circumstances.  My anxiety continued like the waves in a stormy ocean and I felt guilty because God tells us not to be anxious about anything and I yet couldn’t turn it off.

The next morning I woke up to have my quiet time and do my normal before-the-kids-wake-up stuff and it suddenly occurred to me: This life here on earth doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.  I mean it does, because this is where eternal decisions are made, but it doesn’t in the sense of car payments or credit scores or savings accounts.  What matters is Heaven.  Our time on earth is but a breath in the timeline of eternity.  A breath! Having my house and my things and even my family here with me right now won’t even matter from Heaven’s perspective.  All that will matter is God’s plan, and I am in the center of God’s plan.  I know that.  In these difficult times and this trying storm my husband and I have never been so sure that we are exactly where God wants us to be.  We have never been so sure that he is molding us and preparing us for something in this, our most difficult trial to date.

IMG_8754In that moment of realization, I looked to Him.  I looked to my Father.  You can guess what happened then.  My heart rate slowed, my stomach no longer felt queasy, and I felt at peace.  My emotional burdens were very physically lifted off of my shoulder as I turned my face toward heaven.  All day, when I felt like my circumstances were overwhelming me I just thought, “I need to look to Jesus.  I need to think of Heaven,” and I didn’t feel the need to pick up the burdens again.  There was peace and it was beautiful.

See, Jesus knows my needs.  He knows them even when I am not looking at Him, just like I know what my baby girl needs even when I’m in the other room.  His plans are to meet my needs.  They always have been and they always will.  When I’m not looking to Him, I forget that and think I have to handle it on my own.  When my children are babies, they can’t do anything for themselves.  They are dependent upon me for everything!  And when my little girl tries to do things without my help she ends up with her chubby thighs stuck through the crib bars or her butt shoved up under the couch.  When she looks to me, she remembers that I will meet her needs and she is calmed. She also doesn’t end up in such sticky situations.   I can enter a room and say a word to her and she smiles and relaxes.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant;  their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;  he saved him out of all his troubles.” -Psalm 34: 4-6

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” -Hebrews 12: 1b-2a (emphasis mine)

IMG_0715I just have to give a little testimony before ending: The other morning, I told my husband somewhat jokingly that I was out of meal plans for the month so God was going to have to do something.  Two days in a row, friends showed up at my door with dinner.  We have had a year full of trials, but also a year full of small miracles just like that one.  Don’t, for one minute, think that God doesn’t see you and that He isn’t capable of meeting your needs.

I don’t know what troubles you are facing, but I  know nothing is to hard for God.  Nothing.  Look to Him and let your heart be calmed.  Fix your eyes on Him and remember where the real prize lies.

At the end of the rope

 

end of the rope

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10