Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My Unfinished Story

Our family in May, 2018

Last winter, I was asked to write an article titled, "My Unfinished Story" for the spring issue of Daughters of Promise magazine. When I reread this article now, I see how the ensuing months have brought more chapters of hard things (cancer recurrence, a second surgery, seizures). But our story has many pages of laughter, grace, and answered prayer in the midst of the pain.

For those of you who have followed our story in the last year, none of this will be news, but I thought I'd share it here on the blog. 

My Unfinished Story

May 10, 2017 began the worse chapter of my life. On that day, my husband Ed had several tests to find the cause of his intense headaches and mental confusion. That night the doctor called, apologizing that the emergency forced him to give the MRI results by phone. I jotted down "Brain tumor. Probably cancer.”

I sat on the bed and tried to tell Ed the doctor's report. His head was buried in the pillow, and he didn't verbally respond, leaving me alone to tell our six children that their dad has a brain tumor. I struggled to answer my eight-year-old when she asked, “Is cancer something that makes you sick or makes you die?” I put my one-year-old to bed, knowing she might never remember her dad. I didn't know the script, but neither did I have time to figure out how to do it right. Within days Ed was recovering from brain surgery; and by the next week, we had the pathology report that confirmed the doctor's fears. Ed had glioblastoma (GBM), an aggressive brain cancer with a median life expectancy of fifteen months.

If life was a book, then our first fifteen years of marriage had been a quiet romance. We had a few challenging pages—fussy babies, a miscarriage, and Ed's minister ordination. But on May 10 our idyllic story turned dark and brooding. If this diagnosis had been a book, I would have hurled it across the room. How dare the author pull such a mean trick? I like when a writer weaves a tale that makes me fall in love with the characters. I don't mind a surprise twist if it is right for the story, but I refuse to read the dark, hopeless tales where the author kills off my favorite character.

With this sudden twist of plot, could I trust the Author of my story? God crafted a saga set in a perfect garden, but sin ravished the earth and creation groaned. (Romans 8:22) Pain, grief, and cancer splashed across the page. Jesus stepped out of heaven to write a new chapter of hope and restoration, but he didn't ban the effects of sin on earth. Weeds sprout in my garden, my children succumb to the stomach bug, and microscopic cancer cells multiply to a tennis-ball sized tumor in my husband's head.

I had expected to grow old with Ed, imagining he would follow his grandfather's legacy of pruning grapes when he was ninety. Dreams vanished of taking our children on a canoe trip or watching our daughters walk down the aisle on their wedding day. But if our time together was short, I didn't want to waste a minute in bitterness or worry. But every time I thought of a chapter titled “Widowhood,” I shuddered. I couldn't imagine mothering six children alone—not when I barely kept my sanity each afternoon until Ed came home from work.

Ed began a rigorous treatment program of chemo, radiation, and a strict diet. He lost his hair, his forehead sported a radiation burn, and he daily swallowed anti-nausea medicine. But hundreds of people were praying for us, some even fasted, and God answered. Ed regained strength and was able to return to work. After an anointing service, I learned there were miracles besides healing. I felt peace as tangible as warm socks; instead of seeing every hour on the clock, I enjoyed restful sleep.

For weeks after Ed's surgery and diagnosis, I couldn't concentrate on reading the Bible. Tears lurked on the surface, and my brain (though I couldn't blame it on surgery trauma) plodded through simple tasks. I was grateful for friends who shared Scripture verses and hymns, along with casseroles and cookies. 

A few words trickled in, and I began to recall stories from Scripture. Joseph. Job. Mary Magdalene. John the Baptist—these men and women of faith had faced deep suffering. They too felt fear, confusion, and doubt. But in the middle of their unfinished story they journeyed in faith and raised their hands in worship. Joseph rejected bitterness while serving in prison. Mary Magdalene visited the tomb to show honor to her Lord even after His disciples had fled. Job refused to curse God and proclaimed that his “Redeemer liveth” despite no evidence of God's presence. John the Baptist took his doubting questions to Jesus, the only one who could give reassurance.

In November our family vacationed in the Virginia mountains. On a cold, windy afternoon, I hiked alone to the top of the mountain. I worried that Ed's next MRI would find his tumor growing, a monster on the march. Gazing out over the mountain ranges, I reviewed what I knew of God—that He is good, He is big, He is wise. I knew I had a choice—either grasp and fight for Ed's healing and my happiness, or relinquish the pen to God. On that mountain I held out my empty hands like Abraham, yielding Ed and my future to God. I would confront the mountain of surrender again, but for now, peace had returned.

Sometimes, in the middle of a novel, I begin to doubt if the book is worth reading. I'm tempted to flip to the end of the book and read the last chapter to decide if the book is worth the time investment. Reading the end of a novel might ruin the plot, but our Author invites us to discover the end of His story. In Revelation, we find white-robed saints, who have experienced the worst of earth's misery, worshiping their Savior. We read of an eternal home, an incorruptible inheritance, a place with glory that cannot be compared to any of earth's suffering. (1 Peter 1:4, Romans 8:18)

I write this in January 2018, eight months after Ed's diagnosis. His hair has grown back to cover the long surgery scar; I wish I could as easily forget that GBM lurks in his brain. His December MRI showed a stable tumor. Though Ed is currently feeling well, we are reminded of GBM's aggressiveness when we attended the funeral of a friend, only 25 years old, who had the same disease. I ache for her family—and my own—while trying to grasp the truth that for the redeemed, “to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Our next chapter may contain a worse day than May 10, but I can't focus on future fears. Grace can and will carry us through the unfamiliar pages. I have hope that these hard chapters will showcase the fingerprint of the Author and foreshadow a glorious climax. 

God's past faithfulness gives me courage to live my unfinished story.

Slightly edited from an article published in Daughters of Promise magazine in spring, 2018.

22 comments :

  1. Gina you and your family I pray for everyday I look for new blogs daily no matter what they are especially ones of Ed and his journey. I talk to God and ask why bad things happen to good people why some women get to have there mom's for 70 years and I had mine for 26...and four days before my birthday she was called home. But I pray for peace I'll understand someday. Always here for you. Love and hugs dear friend. God bless you and your wonderful family.

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  2. Beautifully written, Gina. Thank you for sharing your heart. Will continue to pray for you and your dear family.

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  3. Beautifully written...although I've followed along with you on this journey, this is deeply moving.

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  4. Gina you are a beautiful picture of God's grace. I'm always eager for an update and rejoice when all is going well. Praying for you and your family.

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  5. Wonderfully written from your heart. God has continued to bless your family and your faithfulness is so heart-warming. God bless you all richly!

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  6. Praying for your family, especially for you Gina. I have never faced a cancer journey such as you are facing but I do know the peace that comes from surrender. I can relate to being alone in the woods just talking to God, surrendering a difficult situation. Praying for strength for each moment for your family! Blessings!

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  7. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, God calls a butterfly. What we see as "the worse thing that could possibly happen" could be His way of making our life more beautiful. From Keeping a Quiet Heart be Elisabeth Elliot
    Wishing you strength to hold on till the day you can see the beauty in your storm!

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  8. Beautiful. I can't imagine what you and your family are going through. Praying for peace and strength.

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  9. I'd like to share a catchy yet poignant song written and performed by medical missions nuns in the '60s.

    It's a Long Road to Freedom
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txK5ZazkJBU

    Joy is Like the Rain is a sweet, slower song
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCIXVPYJuSg

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  10. It gives me courage to hear your testimony in the midst of the unknown. May God continue to give you strength for the future.

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  11. A beautiful story and so well written. I stand amazed at your endurance during this time and am encouraged by your faith that whatever happens you are in God's hand.

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  12. Here is an interesting article that was on Fox News today:

    http://www.foxnews.com/health/2018/06/18/dad-battling-brain-cancer-shows-no-sign-tumor-regrowth-after-clinical-trial.html?cmpid=app_pulse

    You all are in my prayers~
    Carolyn

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  13. Dear Gina,
    Praying for you all, God Bless you all as you walk this journey as a family.
    shelley p
    from over the pond

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  14. the warmfireplaceJune 21, 2018 at 2:41 PM

    keeping you all in prayer.
    God bless you all Sue x

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  15. The thought occurs to me, Gina, that perhaps one of the reasons God chose this path for you is because He knew He gave you the ability to be an inspiration to others. Thank You for allowing Him to use you in this way and keep up the good work !!

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  16. Quel courage . Que dieu vous bénisse tous

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  17. Hi Gina,
    I want to say thank you for sharing your heart with us. I know we are all concerned and we all appreciate the updates on Ed. Keeping your every need in prayer. Love y’all.

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  18. God has you and yours in the palm of his hand.
    He will continue to carry you, each step of the way.
    Diane

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  19. Praying to saint Matrona and asking her to intervene and pray to the Lord about a miracle for your husband... So that you could enjoy full,family for many years to come. She is a Russian saint and answers and prays to the Lord for us. "Saint Matrona, pray to our Lord for us".

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  20. Wow...May 10th, 2017 began the darkest chapter in my life as well, but for different reasons. My 19 year old daughter tried to end her life on that day and the year that followed saw my 15 year old son almost die in a car accident then descend into drug addiction. Through it all, God has been faithful and his mercies new every morning. It is awesome to read of God's sufficient and unending grace towards his children. I will be remembering your family in prayer.

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    Replies
    1. Oh Theresa, I'm so sorry. Glad that you have God to trust in through this difficult year.
      Gina

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I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

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