My wife, Laura, and I shared breakfast at "our" Starbucks this past Friday just before I headed for the airport. As I kissed her goodbye, I looked into her stunning eyes and reminded her: "I'm so thankful you're here...that you are alive." She responded with the same heart-felt expression of gratitude about me.
And we both knew exactly the journey that led to this depth of thankfulness we share. Laura literally saw me through the dark night of my soul when the tsunami of depression nearly took me all the way under. And I'll never forget the day she walked into my office to give me the devastating news: she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
That was three years ago this past July. I'll never forget what that initial awareness felt like. The immediate spinning of a myriad of emotions settled on regret: why wasn't I with her to hear this news? Granted, it'd been a not-so-unusual, here-we-go-again redo of her annual mammogram. But that day was unusual and there was no do-over: she heard the C-word...alone. Of course anything I was experiencing in that moment paled in comparison to the cacophony of emotions crashing in on Laura. Aware of my own confusion and ripped with pain for her, I had no idea what the journey ahead would look like. Neither of us did. But I knew that day, I would be with her - at her side - every step of the way.
As this month of Breast Cancer Awareness is wrapping up, I'm reflecting on my personal awareness - both new and heightened - since July 2013.
- God doesn't give anyone cancer. He is present though. Through the harrowing darkness, the maddening questions, the God-doubting worry and the crappy chemo crud. He does want to us to experience that the mystery and wonder of Emmanuel - God with us - is deeper than any mutated cells or even death.
- Cancer has no bias. Anyone is susceptible. Anyone. Until three years ago, it was always "somebody else" who had the dreaded disease. Anyone. It rains on the just and the unjust. The perceived good and the bad. Anyone.
- Shared experiences embolden courage. Celebrating my mother's 30-year triumph over breast cancer; watching my sister's onerous journey a few months ahead of Laura; meeting others who shared their all-too-personal stories - all brought much-needed hope for an unmarked road ahead. We really do need each other.
- Cancer can end human life. One of the more difficult things on this three-year journey, for me and my wife, has been watching friends and dear people we've known fight hard...and still lose the battle. There's just no way to understand. There's simply no theological or philosophical answer that satisfactorily makes sense of death. Trite answers, misused biblical references and attempts to explain "purpose" of suffering and death fall short of legitimate help. Being there. That's the least and the most we can do.
- Cancer impacts every family member. Watching our only daughter, Liv, fight through personal fear for her Mamma to a resolve of unprecedented strength and support for her inspired me. Each of us wrestled with questions, faced our angst and discovered a bond together that was (and is) tighter than we'd imagined possible. God was with us, teaching us that embracing his presence is more important than getting what we think we need.
- My wife is a champ. She is a fierce warrior. The day she told me she had cancer, she added, "God's got this." She has repeated that statement of confidence throughout her journey. She has inspired thousands of people, encouraged other warriors - many of them strangers, and taught me what trust in God looks like. She is my hero.
By the way, it doesn't have to be Breast Cancer Awareness month to...
- write a friend to celebrate his/her life.
- sit with someone who's deep in the darkness of the disease.
- get the medical tests and evaluations to monitor your personal health.
I'm writing this from the Toronto Pearson Airport, waiting to board a couple quick flights home. If all goes as planned I'll hold Laura in my arms later this afternoon. And I'll look into her eyes and remind her again: "I'm so thankful you're alive." Fully aware of God's love, we'll thank him for his amazing faithfulness to walk with us on this unexpected journey.
Embrace the present moment. Act now. Love and live like today is the last...and the first of many to come.