I've often wondered and commented at the amazing support we've received over the past year-- from family, friends, complete strangers. The most astonishing support-- what surprised me the most, which we did not expect to carry us as strongly as it has-- is that of the Church... Not just our little congregation, but The Body of believers. This greater Community.
Indeed, there've been moments where we've physically felt the prayers of "brothers and sisters" going before God, interceding on our behalf. It's a strange feeling-- when the cold of emptiness and hopelessness suddenly, and for no other apparent reason, melts and warms into hope and strength. I know that there is NO WAY Leslie could have fought with the "Will and Peace" that she had to the end-- and no way I'd be here as I am today-- if not for the prayers and support of our "family"-- this beautiful (though often broken) community.
And I could write chapters on all the gestures, gifts, meals, notes, "good deeds", etc... that got us through so many tough times during the battle.
Simply put, this has been a battle that one person or even one core family is not able or otherwise supposed to fight alone. It takes an army to defeat the enemy.
And the battle wages on, in these new chapters... Herein lies my humbling struggle.
I have a very dear friend whose own journey in many ways puts my own to shame, in terms of the depth and span of suffering a single human being is able to endure over time, and still look to God and give Him glory. So when he has a word of encouragement or a "pearl of wisdom" for me, I'm all ears, with an open heart and open mind. He pulled me aside, last October, and had a very important conversation with me. Leslie's tumor had just been diagnosed as cancer, and we were preparing ourselves "for battle", as we say. This friend and is wife (and their own 3-year-old) took us out to dinner. He pulled me aside and-- not being extremely experienced with "the gift of prophecy"-- very carefully and compassionately (and confidently) unloaded this nugget onto me:
He had this dream-- this vision, maybe... that seemed to be recurring. In it, I was standing at the top of a hill, armed and ready for battle. All the gear-- the shield, the sword. Something out of Braveheart, or something like that. I was just staring down into the hoards of the enemy armies that awaited me at the bottom of the hill. I prayed for strength. My nostrils flared, my heart rate and adrenaline got pumping... and with a scream I rushed down the hill, flashing my sword, to do my battle with the enemy.
If only I'd waited just a few more minutes... Coming up the back side of the hill behind me was God's army-- of which my friend who was sharing this was a member. They were coming to my aid... to be led by me, support me in my battle. They got to the top of the hill where I had been standing just in time to see the ugliness and brutality of my demise. A slaughter. Sure, I did more than my share of damage-- I'd like to proudly suggest I had the strength and ferocity of 10 men. 100 men. But the enemy's numbers were in the thousands. It was truly no match. A slaughter. And the army that was sent to be my support could only stand back at the top of the hill and watch. I didn't let them share in the battle with me. And the damage it did was not only my own, but also theirs-- having to watch me be overcome by the enemy.
This was poignant, at the time. And certainly, the imagery and my friend's words echoed through my mind DAILY, throughout the months that have brought us to now. God knows me, and knows I'm just thick-headed and strong-willed enough, (indeed, both Leslie and I had that in common, going into this), that I needed some extra encouragement to simply ALLOW those around me to LOVE me. To support us. To help. It is with this image in my head that, every time someone makes a generous offer or gesture, I humbly accept. First, it is good for the heart of the giver... But also, I've learned, I DO need it.
And as I started to mention earlier... I'm going to need the support even more in these coming chapters... and it will be even more of a struggle to learn to accept it.
When a family is fighting cancer, everyone knows it can't go on forever. You live day-to-day life kind of in "crisis mode". You're doing what you need to do in order to survive the day. It's easier accepting help, sympathy, support, and prayers of others when there is the mutual understanding that the need is not indefinite. There IS a foreseeable end to the fight in the near future-- as scary as it is. However, in these months and years that lie before TJ and me, I will need to learn to allow this beautiful Community "IN" to my LIFE... not just my crisis. I simply cannot be the father I want to be, the employee I want to be, the manager I want to be, the contributing member to church and society, the child of God, yada-yada-yada... I can't do these things without Leslie. I can't do these things without help. I so want to. But my ego (praise God) has been beaten down to size over the year, and now I recognize that I need the support of the "Hands" of God (His Body, His Church, His Community) to just get me and TJ through day-to-day. Maybe that means I need to let someone else mow my lawn when I'm away. (NO! NOT MY LAWN!!) (--sorry, that's been one of my "outlets" and "projects" since we moved into our new house, exactly 1 month before Leslie was first diagnosed). Maybe I need to keep accepting a meal from a friend when it's offered. Maybe I have to let somebody other than Leslie or me "parent" TJ. Maybe I kindly accept the spiritual and emotional support and comfort of a friend, when my masculinity (or Western understanding thereof) urges me to make a joke and pretend everything's alright.
Leslie won her battle. But as I mentioned... this is a "war" of many battles. And I'm realizing that mine is just beginning. And as much as I hate to admit it, as much as our culture preaches individuality and doing it "my own way"... I can't do it alone. That's what this blog is about, really. Sharing it. Not just "venting", but allowing this community to participate.
(Have I thanked you all for your shields, swords, and strength lately? Hmmm... well... I will.)