Jun 12, 2014

Praises in the storm


It has been ten days since Drexel's diagnosis of B-type acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  

While Drexel was in the hospital, two songs were playing on repeat in my head.  One of them was "He's my Son" by Mark Schultz.  This was actually a song inspired by Schultz seeing a couple struggle with their son's leukemia diagnosis.  I especially relate with the lyrics about "let him grow old, live life without this fear..."  Drexel may have the most treatable form of leukemia, but I will not breathe easy until we receive word he is cancer cell free.

The other one was "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns.  Now, if you've been part of a contemporary worship service at church recently, you may have come across this song already.  The lyrics go a little something like this...
"I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away


I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

[Chorus x2]"

I prayed/cried/sang this song over Drexel as they wheeled him into the room to anesthetize him in preparation for four procedures last Thursday (spinal tap, port-a-cath installation, PICC line removal, cast removal).

As I thought and thought about this song - seriously, the darn thing would not leave my head (I actually found out later that it was also stuck in the head of a good friend of mine who was praying over Rex) - I kept thinking this: do I mean it when I say that I trust God?  Do I trust God enough to relinquish whatever imagined control I have over this entire crappy situation and fully place Drexel in His divine hands?  Do I trust what I tell other people in similar situations: God is present in the midst of the pain, God cares, God grieves, God is a big entity who can handle our anger?

Seriously, I'm angry.  I'm angry that any child has cancer.  I'm angry that my little boy has been so traumatized by the past 10 days of doctors and treatment that he will not leave the spot under my armpit where he stays firmly snuggled.  I'm angry that he has a port-a-cath installed in his torso to make chemo administration easier.  I'm angry that he has cancer.  I'm angry that although there is a 95% cure rate for the type of cancer that he has, words like cancer, chemo, treatment, hospitalization, remission, etc are a part of the vocabulary which now surrounds him.  I'm angry that my precious child is having part of his childhood essentially stolen by a vicious, cruel cancer that does not care that he is a mere child.  I'm angry that we have to allow the doctors to pump him full of chemicals that will not only kill the cancer cells, but will also kill good cells...and especially after I've spent his entire life trying to protect him from exposure to chemicals (seriously, I made his baby food from organic vegetables grown in the garden at Dahmon's parent's farm so he wouldn't be exposed to preservatives in canned baby food, I keep him as far from food dyes as I can...).  I'm angry that within a month's time he'll likely lose the hair that just grew in.  I'm angry that we face the possibility of him not being able to fully engage in preschool  because he will still be in treatment.  I'm just plain angry. 

There have been people who have told me "this is all part of God's plan."  Bull****.  Now, you have to understand that through my studies of the Bible and theological thinking since the time of Christ, I've come to an understanding of God that flies in the face of "everything is a part of God's plan for his glory" theology.  C'mon - are you really going to sit there and tell me that children are starving to death in every country in the world because God planned for them to starve to fulfill some sadistic part of his perfect master plan?  Bull****.  Are you really going to tell me that my precious boy has a cancer literally eating away the marrow of his bones because God wants to prove some sort of point?  Bull****.  

What the Bible shows time and time again is that LIFE HAPPENS.  We like to say "man makes plans, God changes them" but this is inaccurate.  This, along with the idea that everything is part of God's plan, is born from our innate discomfort at things being random.  "Time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  The sun rises and rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45).  LIFE HAPPENS.  Chaos happens.  When chaos happens, God grieves (Jesus cried at news of his friend Lazarus' death (John 11:35)).  Unfortunately, children are not spared from chaos or the storms of life.  They should be, but they are not.  

We don't like that chaos happens. Heck, I don't like that chaos happens.  Ask Dahmon (my husband).  I order things.  Constantly.  I clean, organize, and order to minimize as much chaos in my environment as possible.  Chaos makes me uncomfortable.  The idea that God allows chaos to happen makes me uncomfortable, especially since this time it touched my son in a cancerous way.  But human beings hate chaos so much that when it happens, we try to explain it by saying it is part of some divine plan, trying to find some sort of divine sense in the midst of a situation that does not make sense. 

Guess what - sometimes life does not make sense.  Sometimes chaos happens and God grieves alongside hurting families.  I don't know why one child will see a completely miraculous healing while another child dies from his or her ailment.  I don't know what caused the initial cell in Drexel's body to divide improperly in the first place.  

What I do know is "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).  

In the midst of this storm, in the midst of my anger, I intentionally sought reasons to praise God.  I had to be intentional - praise was not coming as easily as it normally does (I was once accused of being too optimistic because I said brown is a fine color since it is the color of dirt that helps plants grow).  Anger was, and is, coming easily....not praise.  Yet in the midst of this storm, Dahmon and I have found many reasons to praise:

  • Drexel has B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Now, I'm not saying that his cancer is a reason to praise.  I'm saying that the type of cancer he has is a reason to praise because it is one of the most treatable childhood cancers out there.  It is the most common childhood cancer, and as such researchers know tons and tons about it.  It has a 95% cure rate....praise God, hallelujah!  I recognize that means there is a 5% non-cure rate, but I choose to focus on the 95%.  
  • The support we have had from family and friends has been incredible.  People from every network in our lives have come out of the woodwork to offer words of encouragement, hope, healing, and prayer.  Past professors, classmates, co-workers, parishioners, friends, etc have offered tons of help with cleaning, providing food, providing things for Drexel, financial help, etc.  People brought us food in the hospital, gave us things to keep Drexel occupied during his long days of hospitalization, sent cards with encouraging words, etc.  It has been amazing to see how people have drawn around our precious boy to support him, and us, through this process.
  • So far he has been responding well to treatment.  He has not experienced negative reactions to the chemo (minus the expected constipation, drowsiness, and absolute complete irritated attitude that results from the steroid he is on) that threaten his life.  
  • Some of his leukemia symptoms are already decreasing even after only a few treatments.  His petechia is going away, as are his excessive sheet-and-pajama-soaking sweats.  His color is also a bit better, and he has been able to maintain a stable red blood cell count for at least a few days without needing a transfusion. 
  • We live in a place where he has access to the best medical care available for his condition.
  • His medical care is being 100% covered by insurance. 
  • We have an employment situation that completely understood our sudden absence from work last week, and is flexible enough to allow us to work and care for our son in a way that is best for every member of our family without fear of losing our jobs.  
  • Drexel is so young right now that the trauma from these past few weeks will not be consciously remembered.  Sure, he'll remember later treatments...but not this past week of hell (though remnants may linger in his subconscious memory).
  • He'll be done with treatment before entering kindergarten.
  • I have a background working with port-a-caths and medication administration from working in a group home for a year and a half, so many of Drexel's new medical cares are not completely foreign to me.  For example, I surprised a nurse by being able to talk about the process of applying EMLA numbing cream to Drexel's port site before they have to access it.

This list could be longer, and I'm sure that I'll talk more about various things as his treatment progresses.  I'm angry, furious, at and with God right now, yet I know that He is grieving over Drexel just as much as Dahmon and I am.  I know the God of the universe is holding my precious son in His hands.  I am not lying by saying there were times when I was lying beside Drexel in that hospital bed when I could feel the cloud of prayer and presence of God surrounding him and our little family.  God was present in that hospital, He will be present throughout treatment, and He will be present when Drexel beats this thing.

I will praise God in this storm despite my anger at the unfairness of it all.  God is a big God - He can take it.  In fact, there was one time last week when I was begging God not to be angry at me for being so angry at him and about this situation.  I could almost hear a divine chuckle and the response, "Oh dear one, I'm not angry at you for a natural response to a crappy situation.  What matters is how you deal with that anger and what you let it do to you."  

Honesty.  I choose to deal with this anger honestly.  I will not lie to myself about what I'm feeling, nor will I ever lie to you.  Nor will I lie to God.  I can't exactly hide my anger at him from him in sugary words that don't mean much.  He knows I'm upset.  He also knows that I refuse to let this anger consume me.  It will run its course and may linger for awhile.  Whenever I see my precious son cry in fear when someone wearing scrubs enter the room, my anger will rile.  It will rile with every ounce of chemical injected into his tiny veins.  It will rile with each reminder of the innocence Drexel is prematurely losing through this process.  It will rile, but it will not rule.  


Anonymous said...

Solid theology ... solid faith. Anger, doubt, conviction, love ... and the company of others. These are some of the best things we have in the face of ... life. Blessings. ~David

Carol said...

"Anger is a short madness" Dutch proverb
😉 rest well my friend!

JD said...

Older mom to younger mom advice: Just live in the moment. Don't kick yourself about the past. Just focus on everything you did right...you fed him wonderful organic vegetables served with lots of family love. Because of that, will be stronger for it. Don't worry about the storms that may or may not happen tomorrow. He may not be able to participate in preschool. So what. How many friends does anyone still have from preschool. Think instead, of what he may able to do. No one knows what tomorrow brings...tomorrow may bring a less invasive treatment.. or tomorrow may find a scientist who has discovered a cure. Trust in the Lord, for He is good. Allow God to guide you through all this through His love.