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My Secret Fear

Two weeks ago, I had a dream that an old family friend and his wife from Costa Rica, now living in Missouri, came all the way to Corpus Christi to pay me a surprise visit.  The dream was so vivid and  I awoke with tears running down my face from the joy Willy and Zully brought me by their visit.  I was young when they moved away and I haven’t seen them for years.  They’re very special to my family and I but that wasn’t the reason their visit made me so happy in my dream.  You see, a few years after they moved away, Willy himself had battled lymphoma (mantle cell), was close to death, and WON.  He’d come to visit me in my dream to reassure me that I’d be ok and to be strong.  After waking up, I figured I’d had this dream because I’d spoken to him and his wife on the phone a couple of days before and I very much value their spiritual advice.  During that phone conversation, Willy gave me this bible verse in Chapter 1 of Joshua which had given him much solace during his battle:

9 Mira que te mando que te esfuerces y seas valiente; no temas ni desmayes porque Jehová tu Dios estará contigo en dondequiera que vayas.

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

He didn’t know it, but that was one of the verses my mother had always repeated to me in Spanish growing up.  I love that verse.  That conversation with them had really gotten to me since Willy knew exactly what I’m going through and Zully knew what our marriage was going through.  After my parents, Willy and Zully are the most faithful and spiritually-connected people to God that I know.

I’m about to Quentin Tarantino this story.  I started from the middle and now I’m gonna rewind to the beginning.

I’m about to reveal the fear I’ve been keeping a secret since I first received my diagnosis.  I’d been harboring this fear for almost nine months.  You could even say I was incubating it which is very ironic considering the fear.  It had grabbed a hold of me and started growing like a weed; ugly and unwanted, and hard to get rid of.  I’d kept this fear a secret from everyone, including my husband.  I think I didn’t even want to admit it for fear of it coming true.  Praying about it was done in silence, in my head.  When my doctor in Houston reiterated to me that infertility after the high-dose chemo I was now facing was a very possible outcome, I became numb.  I’d almost started to accept the fact that I would not be able to conceive.  Almost.

Fast forward to two days ago, my parents informed me that Willy and Zully were driving to Corpus to visit me and spend Spring Break here in town.  I’d already told my parents and my husband about my dream.  I didn’t bother to ask my parents if they’d told Willy and Zully about my dream but I figured they had and that’s why they had decided to pay me a visit.  In the meantime, my baby fever was growing by the day and so was my pain at the thought of possibly not being able to bear one.  The Sunday morning of Willy and Zully’s impending arrival was baby dedication day at my church.  Instead of baptizing our babies as in the Catholic church, we Protestants dedicate our children’s lives to the Lord and promise to raise them according to His word.

My cousin decided to dedicate her 3-month-old baby boy that morning and brought him dressed up in the cutest tuxedo suit with tails.  Dressed to impress.  I watched from the stage at my usual spot among the band as our pastor began to pray for him.  Baby B smiled at him in a way I’ve never seen a baby that young smile at anybody.  His gaze was fixated on Pastor Mike as if he knew what was happening and royally approved of it.  My heart melted.  A couple of hours later, we went out to lunch to celebrate as a family and Baby B was being passed around among all the women, doted on and hugged and kissed.  It was soon my turn and although I was ecstatic to have this baby in my arms, it was bittersweet.  He smiled at me with his double-dimples and I made him laugh when I nuzzled his little face over and over.  As he cooed, I kept thinking, “I hope I can have one of you someday.”

Willy and Zully arrived at my house later that night with my parents along with their four teenage kids, only one of which I knew since they’d moved so long ago.  After the standard hugs, how are you’s, and how have you been’s, we settled into our small living room.  Zully began to tell us how she and Willy had been led by God to come see me and pray for me and they were merely being obedient to His will.  They said that they felt an innate need to do this and that they made the decision to come about two weeks ago after our phone conversation.  “Oh wow,” I said.  “So my parents told you about my dream?”  They looked at me like I was crazy and I looked at my parents, “You didn’t tell them?”  My parents shook their heads no, “We haven’t spoken to them about anything; your aunt is the one who told us they were coming.”  After my initial surprise, I proceeded to tell Willy and Zully how they’d visited me by surprise in my dream.

“That’s confirmation from God that we were supposed to come here,” Zully said.  Of course, I was floored.  I think we all were.  But God does things BIG and He wasn’t done with the surprises.  There was still that pesky secret fear I’d been dealing with and I had no idea I was about to be discovered.  After giving me the words of wisdom and support I needed to hear and relate to, they asked to pray for my husband and I.  Willy, Zully, their kids, and my parents encircled us and Willy began to pray aloud.  Instead of praying for the usual like healing and strength, he began to prophesize that we would hear the laughter of children filling our home, not one child but ‘children’.  He said that God wanted me to know that I would be a mother and for me not to be afraid.  I was a broken heap at the sound of those words.  I had not uttered a word of my fear to anybody, not even to God but He’d heard me anyway.

I was relieved, elated, and completely surprised of course.  There it was.  That was the surprise God had shown me in my dream.  It wasn’t the visit that was going to be the surprise; it was the message He had sent them to give me that was the surprise.  I’ve never once feared for my life since this ordeal began.  I feared the process of getting to that point.  I feared not being able to experience a baby in my womb and giving birth to the miracle that is new life.  Now that the Lord was so merciful to tell me that the desire of my heart will come to fruition, the process doesn’t matter anymore.  Chemo, needles, nausea, hair loss, stem cell transplant:  its a small price to pay for the love of a child and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

When he was done praying, I confessed through sobs that I’d been keeping this fear a secret, telling not a soul, tucked away deep inside my heart.  I told them that I hadn’t even expressed it to my husband whom I tell everything, even things we call TMI (too much information).  Willy said he knew in his heart that that was what was instilling fear in me.  I didn’t need to be afraid anymore.  Us women tend to keep such things to ourselves sometimes in order to not upset our loved ones or “worry” them if we feel it unnecessary.  We feel it’s our cross to bear and no one else’s all in an effort to save the people we love most from any grief.

Its no accident that Willy battled lymphoma before me and went through the same treatment I’m facing now.  Its no accident that the people I regard so highly were precisely the ones to bring me the message God needed me to hear.  To think that the Maker of the universe and the stars took the time to orchestrate all of this just for me, a mere speck in His universe, simply mystifies me.  But I don’t need to understand it.  Most of all, it lets me know just how much He loves me and that all this is to serve a greater purpose I’ve yet to see or understand.  I am no longer afraid of what’s to come because I know who’s in charge and I’m so glad its not me.  The Maker of the universe has got this.

Willy & Zully

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Darkness.

March 2011 - Hiding the pain as I sat on an ice pack.

(cont. from ‘Listen to the little voice…’)

People will sweetly ask me, “How are you doing, really?”  Its unimaginable to some that living with the word cancer could be anything but ok.  “Are you sure?” they ask.  Honestly, my darkest days were the ones that came before my diagnosis.  Not knowing what was wrong with my body, at least for me, was the hardest part of it all.  Dealing with the fact that I have non-Hodgkins lymphoma was gravy compared to the period beforehand I refer to simply as ‘darkness.’

In the book of Matthew, ‘darkness’ is referred to as the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Between the months of March 2011 and June 2011, all of my memories can best be summed up with that description.  I spent my days in pajamas, juggling my time between excruciating pain in my left hip and lower back and shuffling around on my God-forsaken crutches.  I spent my nights screaming into my pillow with endless tears soaking it to no avail.  I spent those months in complete and utter darkness.  No position on the couch or on my bed could ease the pain and no amount of the strongest narcotic painkillers prescribed by my doctor could help me.  It pains me even now to admit that I was popping narcotic pills like they were Sweet-Tarts only to discover to my complete and utter disappointment that they didn’t do a thing.  I might as well have been popping candy in my mouth for all the good they did me.  I never understood how anybody could become addicted to painkillers until I went through my own ordeal.  This in itself was a hard lesson to learn.  I was so desperate for even a moment’s relief, that it didn’t matter to me how many I had taken as long as I wasn’t in that horrible pain.  Fortunately for me (I guess), since the medication didn’t even numb the pain, I gave up on them and avoided becoming addicted to them.  I will never again judge anybody for their addictions; darkness is a formidable opponent that I myself almost fell victim to.

My husband would sit next to me night after night and stroke my hair or rub my back as I cried out in pain, helpless and unable to ease it as hard as he tried.  We even used an entire tube of Biofreeze in one week on my back in an attempt to make me feel better.  Massage therapists, heat pads, ice packs; absolutely nothing worked.  My days kept growing darker and darker and my nights were sleepless.  I was going to my six-week follow-ups with my doctor only to be told that my “fractured hip” was getting better very slowly and to come back in six weeks.  It was hard to understand why if my hip was getting better,  the pain was only getting worse.

Though my days were dark and my nights darker, I prayed.  I prayed with my face on the floor every day and cried out to God over and over to show me His face.  I was persistent; I’d go to church and would trudge up the steps on my crutches every Sunday to sing with the praise team.  The pain I was in must have been obvious on my face because people would stop me to pray for me.  I cried every time.  The church elders and my pastor came to my home and prayed over me.  I was determined to make the Lord move and listen to me and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.  Although I was persistent, I felt forsaken and forgotten.  I knew He could hear me but I couldn’t tell if He cared.  In my darkest hour, when I least expected it, He showed me His face.  Just in time, I experienced the most life-changing, hand-of-God, lightning bolt moment I could ever imagine.

Warning:  If you doubt the existence of spiritual beings, good or bad, in this world other than ourselves, then I suggest you stop reading here.  Doubting Thomas’s need not leave comments.  My blog, my soapbox.

It started out as typical evening.  My husband came home after a long day at work only to find me on the couch writhing in pain as usual.  At this point, the pain was coming and going like contractions might during labor.  Except these “contractions” would last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours at a time.  I never knew when they would hit me and how long they would torment me.  After about an hour, the pain went away long enough to decide that we would order in pizza for dinner.  I hadn’t been able to cook a meal in my own kitchen for months because of the crutches and I didn’t feel like eating an omelet or cereal, my husband’s specialty.  I got a call from my dad checking up on me and I invited him over for dinner which he gladly accepted considering my mom was working and he was hungry.  Not long after he arrived, our dinner arrived and we all sat down around the TV to eat.  I hadn’t even gotten through the first slice when the pain came back with a vengeance.

Now, my dad had never seen what kind of pain I’d been experiencing at that point.  He knew about it but hadn’t seen it firsthand.  After I pushed my plate away, I lay down on the couch face down with the usual tears running down my face.  My poor dad watched in horror as the pain grew and my cries got louder and louder and I began to pace the house on my crutches in an effort to alleviate the pain.  In that moment, I remember thinking that I hated for my father to see me this way, crushed and broken.  I could only imagine how he felt in that moment to see his little girl in such agony but I couldn’t keep the tears from coming.  My husband explained to him that this was our daily ritual; I paced the house as he got the ice pack and would beg me to lay down to place it on my back.  After finally giving up on pacing for about 30 minutes, I obeyed and lay on the couch with the ice burning into my back; the burning the only real distraction I had from the pain.  With my hands trembling and my loud sobs shaking my body, my father laid his hands on my back and with tear-filled eyes began to pray aloud.

I need to explain something about my parents, and my father in particular.  My parents, since I can remember, had always emphasized the power of prayer against any kind of problems in our lives.  They always told my sister and I that just as we believe in God, there are also negative forces in this world just as real as God that are determined to destroy our lives and that we needed to be prepared.  “The Word of the Lord is your sword,” she would say, “and the enemy has to flee at the sound of His name.  You have to say it out loud because the enemy can’t hear you.  God can hear our silent prayers, not the enemy.”  My mother is literally a walking, breathing Bible and a pillar of faith.  Growing up, I watched my parents counsel and pray over countless people to help them with addiction, sickness, marriage problems and all the like.  My father would visit a local children’s hospital to pray over the smallest of patients only to receive requests from parents for him to return to pray or to receive news that their child been released in full health.  Now his child was in need.

When I talked to my dad about that night afterward, he said that when he saw my face, he felt angry; angry at himself for not knowing that I’d been going through that and angry at what was causing it.  He’d laid his warm hands on my back and began to pray very loudly.  He got louder and louder and by the time I knew it, he was shouting.  In my pain and in my sobbing, I hardly noticed his shouting but that’s when it happened.  While my father ordered the spirit of pain that had been plaguing me for months to leave me alone, I felt a surge of electricity and my cries turned into something unrecognizable.  I, being fully aware of what was happening and in my full senses, was no longer crying yet the sound coming from my mouth was a blood-curdling scream that I was helpless in stopping.  It felt like something was being eradicated from my body through my mouth and those screams were screams of resistance.  In spite of this and because of it, my father was relentless and kept praying aloud demanding that I be liberated from this prison in His name.  Upon conferring with my mother about it the next day and telling her what time this had all happened, she said that she’d been led to drop what she was doing at work and started praying furiously for my father.  Little did she know that my father was in the throes of a full-on spiritual battle over my body.  My husband, unbeknownst  to me, had stepped outside being led to pray over our house in that very moment.  Almost as soon as the screaming had started, it suddenly stopped.  I’d felt like Atlas for so long with the weight of the world on my shoulders and suddenly I felt free and I realized the pain was completely gone in that instant.  I was exhausted and barely whispered a thank you to my father as I fell into the deepest, most satisfying sleep I’d had in months.  God had planned for my father to be there to witness the worst bout of pain I’d had to date; He’d planned for the most spiritually-equipped person in my life to be there, a warrior prepared to fight for me when I needed it the most.

As I awoke the next morning, I was surprised that I’d slept the whole night through.  Even after experiencing the hand of God over my body the night before, I was a doubting Thomas, careful in my hope that the pain hadn’t just left for one night waiting to come back to plague me as usual.  Yet a full day passed with no pain.  Then another day, and another.  The weeks passed and I was pain-free.  I’d been freed from my prison of darkness and pain and even though I was still on crutches, I rejoiced.  I’d experience soreness sometimes in my hip thereafter, but nothing like I’d experienced before.  This was an ant bite compared to what it was before and nothing a pair of Advil couldn’t fix.  This was the normal type of pain associated with a fractured bone that I should have been having from the beginning.

Sure, my cancer diagnosis would follow soon after, but I’d already been freed from my prison.  I’d already experienced the healing hand of God and I knew that even cancer would not be able to consume me.  If even all-consuming darkness hadn’t done me in, stupid cancer stood absolutely no chance.  Darkness is the worst cancer of them all and God had already given me victory over it.

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