Until you're where I am, you just don't know. You can see how I feel, you can read how I feel, you can even hurt in similar ways. But you simply cannot KNOW what it's like. But I will keep trying to explain and do my best to lead by example so that when your trial comes, you do not feel overwhelmed by it. So that you will be encouraged and lifted up, as I have been by so many people. This weekend was everything I could ask for, especially following the news that there is still cancer in my body. I wanted to be surrounded by everything that I love, and I was. But I get that look from everyone. The one that wonders if I'm really handling things, or if I'm just covering up so no one will worry about me. So many of you have read my blogs and followed along with my ups and downs because you really do care how I'm doing. And you really want to do whatever you can for my family and myself. And I cannot tell you what that means to me. In reality, how I'm doing changes from moment to moment. I do sorrow, I do fear. I don't want to think about going on the low iodine diet again. It wasn't horrible, but it's not something I would choose to do on my own. I don't want to think about being in isolation again. Being away from my family was rough. They are the "why" behind everything for me, and without them to take care of, I'm less "me." I really don't want to think beyond the next treatment, to the tests again and the anxiety of waiting to find out if radiation worked completely this time.
So I think about other things. And I am learning a lot. So are other people. Here is what my incredible husband had to say this weekend:
Why am I thankful that my wife still has cancer? Because I'm so prone to wander. I'm so prone to get tired. I'm so prone to get stale and callused. I'm so prone to run from relationships when it doesn't benefit me. Because by my wife still having cancer, I'm reminded that I'm utterly hopeless and shipwrecked without my Lord and Savior. I'm reminded that I'm broken and crooked inside. I'm reminded that so is everybody else, no matter how they try to dress themselves up. I'm reminded that I desperately need the Gospel. The Gospel has saved me, but it's still walking with me and holding my hand and, praise the Lord, the Gospel will one day lead me to a place where there will be no more cancer! I'm reminded this morning that I haven't communed with my Lord in a long time. Not just reading and praying; I've done those beautiful things. But I'm talking about just being quiet and thinking high thoughts of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You see, cancer brought me to this place this morning. I'm reminded of my children, who need a daddy that won't give them the world, but will give them Jesus. I'm reminded that time is precious, and we don't have time to have unresolved conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ or our family. I've come to realize that we only have this moment to reflect the Gospel, because we are not promised tomorrow. I'm reminded that I love the Lord and need him desperately! I'm reminded that though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, the for the Lord is with me. I'm reminded that the Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the the name of the Lord! Oh yes, my friends I pray that Mr. Cancer does not come for an extended stay. I hope and pray that he is just passing through. But no matter what He decides, I'm so thankful that the Lord has blessed us with his company. You see, I'm just starting to understand something this morning: That cancer has been the best pastor and teacher I've ever had.
Love Bradly Allen Swander
With such a husband to lead me, is it any surprise that I continue to learn and grow? Though we may weep together at times, we also draw from the same strength. We place our trust in the Almighty together. Not just my health, but US. Our future, how much of it we have together, what we are to do with the time we are given.
My thoughts have run close to Brad's over the past few days. Time and relationships are no longer cheap. The knowledge that we don't have forever is constantly in my mind. Whoever said, "There's always tomorrow," lied. Sometimes there's only today. So use today! Not only do you not have the promise of tomorrow, those around you don't either. It could be cancer, or a car wreck, or old age, or a freak heart attack that takes your neighbor, child, brother, parent or cousin. What regrets would you have? What have you not said or done that you should?
If you are close to me, you know that there have been several conflicts in my family over the years. I will not get into details, but I will use my family as an example for you. As I was working on Friday night, I was excited about my birthday party that was being planned for Saturday. And I was thinking about the tension that comes and goes between family members. I talked to them in my mind, and what I "said," I ask you to apply to your own life:
What if this were my last birthday? What if next year, I'm not here? What would you do June 15th, 2014 if I'm gone? I can imagine that there would be some sort of day of remembering. My sister would probably spend months gathering pictures and stories about me and putting it all together. Then she would start inviting people to come on my birthday to be together, to remember the time we spent together, to tell stories about me that my kids would remember, to watch the slide show that she had made.
So, my sister, who would you invite? Would you leave someone out because of a conflict? Because it would make someone else uncomfortable to have them there? Of course not. You would want everyone who loved me to be there. You would want to honor my memory this way.
So, those of you who are invited, would you come? Or would you wait to see who was coming before you decided? Would you skip this opportunity to laugh and cry with my friends and family just because you might have gotten upset at someone else who would be there? I would hope not. I would hope that you could set these insignificant matters to the side, at least for a time.
And if those things that you're upset about can be put aside for a moment, is it possible that maybe they're not all that important after all? That maybe the biggest thing in the way of loving relationships is pride? If you could set aside that pride for a day of peace spent together to love on my family and share the burden of loss, than do you think that maybe you could put things in perspective and do that now?
Or do I have to die first?
Because, my loved ones, I am willing to give whatever it takes to heal the hearts of those that I love. I have seen God use this illness in me to do so much, and the fact that I am not healed yet tells me that He is not done using my sickness for His purposes.
But if it takes that, then shame on you! If a loss that great is the only thing that will cut past pride and selfishness, shame on you. Not because I am not willing to be used, but because Christ has already died to show you how to love one another! And in comparison to Him, my life is worth nothing.
I know it's not as easy as just deciding to be done letting things bother you. And yet, it actually is that easy in many ways. When you are where I am, it's that easy. When you really understand in your heart that you are not promised tomorrow, it's simple to forgive completely, to love deeply and to find joy where there was pain. To allow Christ to change your heart in a way you've always been afraid to before. To become so new that even if you live through the fire, the person who comes out of it will look totally different from the one who went in.
This is why I am ok. Why, even though I mourned and cried, I am fine right now. It's why I can actually be thankful for cancer. Because I have learned so much about what love is and how it really looks. Our words are so insignificant and meaningless. But God is teaching me to hold the truly precious things close. And maybe because I am going through this, someone else will learn these lessons through my example instead of by trial. Maybe it's you, my faithful reader. Maybe I have cancer so that you will read this and your heart will be softened and you will restore a broken relationship. Maybe it's so that you will seek the One who gives the peace and incomprehensible love that He is giving me. I am humbled by the things that have happened around me this past year, and I looking forward to seeing what God will do next. It makes my trials pale in significance. He makes me ok.