(My blogging has been sporadic over the past few months. This post will help explain where I’ve been and why.)
I was maybe 8 or 9 when I first made contact with the Visitor. I grew up on a farm - quiet, pastoral and secluded. Not many people knew where we lived and even fewer dropped by. But the Visitor new our address precisely. My age denied me the opportunity to engrave in my heart the events of that day, the day the Visitor came. We had an English Setter/German Shorthair mix named Saul. Saul was a majestic dog, bred for hunting and far more glorious adventures than we afforded him. I was loosely attached to Saul, he being an outside dog, not very domesticated and me being so young. So when the Visitor came and took him away, I was more bewildered than sad. I had no concern I would ever encounter this Visitor again.
This is a very personal blog. The kind that’s both difficult to write and therapeutic. I type as I try to recall the lessons I’ve learned over the years, lessons from the old, unwanted Visitor.
Days turned into years and years into decades. We hadn’t heard from the Visitor in quite some time. Occasionally my Grandma would whisper his name or ever-so-softly say his first initial. I thought it peculiar and funny when she would - as if speaking too crisply would beckon him from the shadows. Could he hear our words? There were rumors of visitations with cousins and other distant relatives, but being so far removed I barely took notice.
Then, about 10 years ago, I learned that my father-in-law knew the Visitor intimately. And just like Saul, the Visitor took Jim. I was there when he came. Quiet, in the night, he stole away what we so desperately loved. That’s when the reality of his existence had to be accepted. He’s the kind of visitor you dread at parties or on holidays. He’s not welcomed. He’s careless. He’s rude. He’s intrusive.
Often arriving unexpectedly, my Mom and I would talk of the visitations made to her friends. By now I was older and well acquainted with the Visitor’s stride. My Mom was an energetic, feisty lady. Always on the go, always up for an adventure. And then one day he came to see her. And like Saul and Jim before, she went with him, also.
With relentless boldness he came knocking at my brother’s door, soon after. But my brother knew better than to go with strangers. He fought and he battled, just escaping the Visitor’s grasp. But the Visitor doesn’t care if he’s rebuffed and even if he is, he leaves behind unwanted reminders of his presence. He’s relentless and he eventually came for my father as well. And like Saul, Jim and Pearl, so went my Dad.
For years I loathed the Visitor. He had nothing to offer other than ruined lives, emotional destruction and physical harm. He’s a sociopath. And even though he steals happiness and harmony, he still remained a distant concern to me…until last summer.
You see, the Visitor is cancer and he came knocking at our door 6 months ago. He was here for my wife and there was nothing I could do. Diagnosed on August 4th - the date forever cemented in our memories - he unleashed his destruction once again, hellbent on taking my wife as he did Saul, Jim, Pearl and Vincent.
We are locked in a battle, like my brother. Not of strength, for no one can out muscle cancer, but one of determination and character. Over these months, when the tanks of our stamina and courage almost ran dry, we set our eyes on Jesus and our hearts towards each other. We focused on the love of the Father in the midst of a growling, thrashing, consuming hell and on the commitment we made 23 years earlier, “in sickness and in health, till death parts us”. We’re learning lessons. Lessons we hope burrow deep within and never leave. Here are a few:
- What one person can endure another may not. This doesn’t make them less of a person or a failure. We should never compare one person’s trials to another’s nor make light of them. Rally around them, even if it costs you something.
- Our trials don’t define us, but they can shape us. What shape we’ll be is directly determine on Whom we fix our eyes. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
- We are loved by far more people than we imagined. In times of health we often overlook the passionate love of others. It’s often in the times of testing where we see, most clearly, the trueness of friends and family.
- We’ve learned how to care for others more deeply by allowing them to care for us.
- God doesn’t give us the people we want, but those we need. Don’t get bitter. Some people aren't equipped to comfort or console, give them grace to grow.
- We’ve learned that we’re stronger than we knew. The hardships of life are best confronted with the strength God provides. This is how we can do all things through Christ who give us strength.
- And like never before, I’ve come to embrace that the most hellish visitor - when we embrace God - can be used for our good and God’s glory. Cancer has brought me to my knees innumerable times. It was there, in the broken helplessness, that I found the God of strength who is bigger than any evil.
You, too, will learn lessons when the Visitor comes to call. I pray that it would not take a face-to-face to embrace the things we have over these past months. I pray that what I share - and the blogs to following in the days to come - will afford you strength and grace in all you face. For we all have our old, unwanted Visitor.
If you have a story or lesson you've learned from your Visitor, please share it. Your journey can speak life into the lives of others.
In Memoriam February 9th is the anniversary of my Mom’s death. At 3:19 AM, with her children by her side, she did not succumb to cancer but was embraced by the loving arms of her Creator. In an instant she was present with the LORD. Her favorite month was February and she loved snow. I finish this as I watch softly falling flakes settle on the ground.