Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pearls In The Pain

A Brief Timeline of The Past Four Years of Smith Life:

2006

1. In June, Sarah had a cancer relapse. We dealt with major grief as we were reminded of the statistics that there are no long term survivors of relapsed Neuroblastoma. Her oncologist discussed with us that she may need a second bone marrow transplant. (A bone marrow transplant is one of the most stressful things on the planet.) He ended up trying chemo instead and after several months she was miraculously back in remission.

This picture was taken the night before we told her and Nathan about her relapse. I remember looking at her carefree smile and thinking, “Tomorrow your whole world will be torn apart.” And it was. She was absolutely devastated.

007_7-1

The oral chemo she was put on made her skin and lips extremely dry.

P1010026

It was a tough time for all of us.

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P1010016

But it was a wonderful day when we got to tell her that she was back in remission.

P1010316

2007

1. Nathan left home to go to college. Since we’re a very close family, it was a really tough adjustment to have him gone.
2. I was diagnosed with COPD (lung disease) and was told my lung capacity was at 60% of normal; I was also told I was a possible candidate for a double lung transplant down the road.
3. I had a health scare concerning my heart; after a few tests (including MRI of the heart) I found out it was a false alarm.
4. I started having severe vocal problems and underwent several tests and procedures to get to the bottom of them. I had difficulty singing (one of my great loves) and even had to go on vocal rest for awhile. The source of this problem was never discovered.

Here’s a picture of one of the tests I had. The only reason I’m smiling is that I was just posing; the wire (with the small camera attached) had not yet been inserted through my nasal cavity and down the back of my throat. It was NOT a fun experience.

IMG_1196

2008

1. I had a cancer scare in February when I was told I had a 90-95% chance of cancer in one or both breasts. After many tests and biopsies, sleepless nights and tears, it turns out it wasn’t cancer after all. But for all a whole month, I truly believed I had breast cancer.

Waiting for my surgical biopsy.

surgery


2. Steve was diagnosed with skin cancer
3. We had major job (church)-related stress
4. Steve resigned from the church he pastored in November. We went largely unemployed for a year.

2009

1. In August, my dad passed away. We flew to Wisconsin for his last hours of life and his funeral.


IMG_0116

dadsfuneral021

2. Steve was voted into a new church in September; we commuted for two months before moving to Manteo in December.

2010

1. Sold house/bought house
2. In March, I was diagnosed with breast cancer; had a double mastectomy in April
3. I have more surgery pending in the fall


What do all of those experiences have in common?

Stress.

Stress wears many different faces but we all experience it in one form or another. And I know that there are a whole bunch of you who could write a list of your own stressors that would make mine look like a Sunday school picnic. I’m by no means saying that I’ve had it tougher than everyone else because I haven’t. Not by a long shot.

But still. Life is stressful. For everyone.

And lately, the stresses of life have been causing me to niggle around the edges of depression. I think that thrown into the mix of the stuff listed above is the fact that I’m 48-years old and might be in the early (but non-terminal) stages of a midlife crisis.

And maybe those of you who are near the same age (or at least the same season) in life can relate. Your kids are out of the nest, or at least old enough to not need you as much as they once did. You’re starting to realize that you’re not going to change the world, or discover the cure for cancer, or be the first person to go to Mars.

Your physical body is--shall we say—changing. And not for the better. Your knees ache. You’re having to wear reading glasses. (Which you swore you’d never do.) The sands of time in your hourglass figure are all sinking to the bottom. Shopping for clothes is not as fun as it once was. There are jiggles where there didn’t use to be jiggles. And joggles where there never were joggles. When you wave good-bye to friends, the bottom part of your arm keeps waving long after your friends are gone.

You’ve been married twenty or thirty years by now and have weathered some pretty tough storms. You’ve come to the unhappy (but realistic) realization that there are no perfect marriages and that the only time any couple ever rides happily into the sunset with all their problems resolved is at the movie theater. Or maybe you’re divorced. Which is one of the biggest stressors possible.

Your kids turned out to not be as perfect as you thought they might be. Because after all, what young parent doesn’t gaze at their tiny newborn and have delusions that this little child will be the first baby on the planet who will be raised perfectly by the world’s best parents. (Ha.)

The dreams you had as a college student concerning your goals for a fulfilling, well-paying, world-changing career didn’t quite come to fruition. You’re coming to realize that you’re not going to retire with a couple million in the bank account after all. In fact, your current hope is that you’ll be able to find a way to retire at all before you turn eighty.

And I could go on. And on and on.

Life can be stressful. And depressing. And disillusioning. And disappointing.

And to think it only took a blink of an eye to even get to this point.

Wasn’t it just last week when we were fifteen years old and our lives were ahead of us, full of golden promises and possibilities? When we thought that anyone over the age of thirty was ancient and out of touch? When we knew that we had all the answers?

Now it seems as though we know all the answers to the questions no one asks!

Welcome to real life. Real stress. Real pain. Real tough.

Although I would be the first to say that many times life is pleasant and fulfilling and wonderful, this particular post is written for all the times when it’s not. And it’s written for all the people who struggle just to get from one day to the next.

Because life isn’t really about fluffy dreams and pristine perfection. It’s about just showing up. Again. And again. And again. And realizing that in the grittiness of life, a few pearls are inevitably formed.

In fact, if I were to look back over the stressors that I listed at the beginning of this post, I could very easily add, “This experience was tough but it brought something special to my life. This crisis made me into a person I never would have become without it. This challenge brought into my life some wonderful people that I never would have otherwise met. This health crisis made me appreciate life a lot more. This trial helped me to feel God’s presence and comfort closer than ever before.”

Truly there are pearls in the pain. And it’s the pearls that make the gritty parts of life doable. And bearable.

What you’re going through today might be the toughest thing you’ve ever faced. Hang on. Keep showing up. Know you’re not alone.

And remember that one day you’ll hold in your hand the pearls formed in the pain.

____________________________

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to a song that I haven’t thought about in about ten years, but it came to mind again this morning as I was writing.

Life is Hard (God Is Good)
By Pamela Thum and Joel Lindsey



You turn the key
Then close the door behind you
Drop your bags on the floor
You reach for the light
But there's darkness deep inside
And you can't take it anymore

'Cause sometimes living takes the life out of you
And sometimes living is all you can do

Life is hard, the world is cold
We're barely young and then we're old
But every falling tear is always understood
Yes, life is hard, but God is good

You start to cry
'Cause you've been strong for so long
And that's not how you feel
You try to pray
But there's nothing left to say
So you just quietly kneel

In the silence of all that you face
God will give you His mercy and grace

Jesus never said
It was an easy road to travel
He only said that you would never be alone
So when your last thread of hope
Begins to come unraveled
Don't give up, He walks beside you
On this journey home and He knows

Life is hard, the world is cold
We're barely young and then we're old
But every falling tear is always understood
Yes, life is hard, but God is good

29 Had Something To Say (Just click here!):

Carrie B said...

Thanks for this, Becky. As far as stressers go, you for sure have had more than your "fair" share.
And weathered it with a show of amazing grace.
I am happy and humbled to "know" you. :)
Blessings,
Carrie

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite posts ever.

Kim Waggoner
Kingston, TN

Anonymous said...

Hi Becky,
I really enjoyed this entry... I have weathered many storms in the last three years (many more since before then but the last three I want to concentrate on)... lost my job in June 2007 (company moved out of state), my parents were both diagnosed with cancer in May 2008, lost my dad to cancer in October 2008, and lost my mom to cancer in December 2009, sold the home I have lived in nearly all of my 46 years (Parents built it in 1964 - we moved in when I was four and a half months old), and moving to my own apartment tomorrow. I keep telling myself that life is getting better despite all of the things that I have been thru in the last three years. Life is just beginning at 46 for me. Yes, I miss my parents but I have to go on with my life. Things are just getting started!

Kristi

Karo said...

What a beautifully written post! Thank you for the encouragement I always find when I visit your blog.

MN Mom said...

Becky, you have every right to feel more than a little depressed with all the stress you have gone through these past years. As always, you express yourself so beautifully. I hope the rest of the summer will be much less stressful, cooler, and full of enjoyment of your new home. My prayers are with you.

Lisa Abraham said...

Thank you for this post Becky. As always your honesty and your faith shine through. You truly are a remarkable person and though we have never met, your words often soothe me and let me know that as humans, we all have ties that bind us. I will keep you in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Becky,
Thank you for your heartfelt post. This one, and the one about your dad's phone number on your cell phone resonate with my soul. I lost my dad about the same time you lost yours, and his number is still on my phone. A friend told me "he is in the balcony of saints, just above the horizon" and that thought brings such comfort to me.

I have also staggered through the dark and lonely valleys of sadness, most especially when I had to bury my sweet infant daughter. I've never felt closer to God than when I was at my weakest. I could feel His love and comfort. And I know I'm a better person for my trials.

I have climbed out of those valleys to find happiness and light every single time.

And you will too, Becky. You will too. Because you already have all the tools you need to find the pearls, admire the pearls and cherish the pearls.

Many, many blessings to you,
Cindy in Walla Walla

Anonymous said...

So very, very true, so many things have have transpired over the years in the blink of an eye, many of them painful, and some of them joyful. You have done a wonderful job of posting your honest feelings, and I very much appreciate your willingness to share them with us. We are here for you - Jean C.

Lisa said...

You have really had a tough season. I am praying for a new healthy, fruitful, blessed season for you and for the family. You have shown amazing grace, I admire your tencity and your love of christ, your humor, and your love for your family. God LOVES you and it shows!

Lesley said...

Awesome post Becky, and yes, depression can sneak in, so quietly that we don't even realize it until it is all around us. But acknowledging it is half the battle and then seeing if we can pull ourselves out of the grey days on our own or seeing if we need help with it.
I have struggled with the grasp of depression a couple of times and so far have managed to step out of the puddle on my own, but the next time I may not be as successful.
It's a tough one.

Michelle said...

Pearls are a wonderful thing. :)

This post is very touching. Probably one of my favorites. Thank you ... you made my day.

Kaye Joyce said...

I feel like I have weathered all of these trials with you and your family since I read your blog every single day. I don't handle stress well. My daughter and her husband of ten years have split up recently and I can't stop crying about it. I have turned it over to God but I keep taking it back. I don't want it but it just falls back in my lap. It is hard to see families split up, especially when kids are involved. I have prayed and prayed about it. I know God will take it and keep it from me one day....I hope it is soon.
I love you and your family and I pray for you to have a stress free year ahead! You deserve it!
Love and blessings.
Kaye Joyce
kayej09@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being honest enough to share your heart. Like so many others, I have had a rough last few years and was just thinking today of all we have lost. Not that there haven't been good times, not that I can't see God's hands in it all but some days it is all a little hard to bear.

I love your blog and looking forward to reading it every day. May God bless you & your family beyond measure!

Natalie

Marysienka said...

Thank you Becky... Thank you very much.

lifebythecreek said...

I left a comment here earlier, or at least I thought I did. Darn Blogger.. it steals my words. But I know that I commented on how difficult must be just to cope with Sarah's cancer; so many families break apart when a child is diagnosed. And then to add all of the other on top of it is just an overwhelming mountain of stress and pain. Yet, deep in the bowels of mountains, coal is transformed into the most precious of gems by the pressure. You have been left with a treasure of diamonds, Becky... even more valuable than pearls. And I do understand about the season in life, as I have been grappling with the darkness, the change, and what feels like loss at this stage in my life. We can encourage and lean on one another and we WILL make it to the top. I know for sure that we will have Someone with us every step of the way. Love you so much, my wonderful friend.......

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading the blog today. I actually enjoy it every day but this one hit home. You are amazing! Keep on keeping on.
Love you,
Your cousin Sandy

Sue G said...

I decided this week that the stressor in my life right now comes from constantly comparing everything I do now to how I used to be able to do it. Showering, walking, grocery shopping and so much more all become threatening because they challenge the idea of who I am today compared to who I was even a year ago.

It kinda was a great revelation because I recognize that this is a (recent) habit that I have control of...so I can change it.

I'm glad you are a reflective type of person who can find the pearls among all the grit. Because when we focus on the grit, we can lose the truth of who we are and certainly the truth of who God is in us and in our lives.

Ann Martin said...

Becky, you really hit home with this post. I know how you have been feeling because I have been in some of the same places. Jim lost his job about 10 or 12 years ago and praise God disability came through a year later. I had breast biopsy in 98 -- no cancer. My Dad passed away days before your Dad and still there are tears from that. Mama has not been doing well but I am so thankful that on my birthday Wednesday she began going better--what a great gift! You are so special and I thank God for you and your family. What an inspiration you have been and continue to be to so many of us. God is good and will help through the depression. Keep looking up and feel His loving arms. Much love to all.

Ann Martin said...

Oops--meant doing better. For some reason it didn't let me preview but published right away. I also have my Daddy's name and number still on my cell phone because Mama's is her cell and Daddy's is the house number. It keeps me close to him even after these almost 11 months of passing to the other side.

Deb Mathy said...

Oh my goodness, Becky!! While I always love your writings and aften gain insight into myself/life because of them, todays post has been your best "work" ever. You hit the nail on the head - and if we step back and look, even though our troubles may differ-we are all striving for the same thing....living life the best we know how. And the song, the lyrics, I love - LOVE. I am going to Google it after I leave this message as I'd love to hear it to music. Thank you, Becky, for todays post but mostly, for just being YOU!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post!! And just a little something funny...We call those jiggly underarms "Hi Helens"!! I'm not sure exactly how it started, I just know that someone was waving to "Helen" and so were her arms:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lord, for giving Becky the words I needed to hear. Bless her as she continues to be an example of what living with Christ truly means - we can do ALL things, with You who gives us strength.

Becky, thank you for the Best. Post. Ever. Hugs from Alaska! L.

MaryH said...

Thank you, Becky, and you know why. Have a great 4th of July - I have been out of the office for a few days - dealing with a little stress - I am better now - especially after reading your post. I will be back in step with life on July 5th and looking for my pearl.

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Oh my, what a powerful post. I wept as I read your words . . . too personal, too painful, too accurate of how difficult and painful life can sometimes be. I appreciate your honesty. I have experienced many losses throughout the past three years, situations that have brought me to my knees in despair. I could so relate to your post. I read recently that we connect at the point of our suffering. Thank you for being so honest and allowing others to connect with you in that place. God Bless You.

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