Deep Darkness

We’re nearing the year landmark of the Heidi-cancer journey. Mid-December, she was airlifted out of Cameroon to Germany and got her first blood transfusion. Right after Christmas 2018, we got the diagnosis–cancer.

The emotional landscape of the past year, for me, has been all over the place. Deep distress. Crying out to God. Sudden hope. Strong faith that God was going to weave beauty out of every ounce of pain. A sorrow that was somehow sweet because of God’s presence. Trauma from witnessing intense times of physical suffering and being utterly powerless. Then, a nervous breakdown. And deep darkness.

Right now, if I could describe my emotional and spiritual state in an image, it’s me in darkness sitting up against a wall. The wall that divides me from God.

The thing I didn’t expect during this year? The messiness. I was determined, earlier this year, to “do it right.” To suffer well. I’m a believer–I have God and the gift of the Holy Spirit–surely I was equipped through him to take every step of this journey with sure footsteps.

I would have said, even as late as August, that I was ‘doing well’–and ‘doing it well.’ Please don’t imagine some kind of self-congratulatory pride-fest here–I genuinely just wanted to honor God in the way I suffered through my sister’s brush with death–or even eventual death. I wanted to make the right sacrifices of time and energy, have a servant’s heart, be strong, still uphold my family, be flexible, dependable, rooted in Christ, praising God in the storm, a witness to the kingdom, and a joy-bringing presence to Heidi.

Then, September happened. And I broke. I blogged about that. I was crying out, and God was gone. Simply gone. There wasn’t a glimmer of hope, and there wasn’t a way out. It was me in despair, hemmed in by shadows deeper than I knew existed, the God who was supposed to be there was gone, and I might as well die.

I’ve had a few echoes of that moment since then, and I’m desperately trying to frame it into a story. I’m a story-teller. I want meaning, and beauty, and lessons. I want a suffering that teaches and heroines who learn, and climb through the dark towards light and glory. I don’t want pain to be the last word. And yet in those profound moments of pain all I wanted was to die so that I could stop suffering. I wanted pain to finish me off–and the nightmare was, it wouldn’t. I would have to keep on living like this. In awful, profound darkness that not even God cared enough to break through.

I’m so disappointed in myself, and in God. I thought I was stronger than this. I wasn’t. I’m weak and angry and broken. I thought God was more constant than this. I thought he swooped in to rescue you when you were at your lowest. He didn’t. He didn’t with me. And I was less like Job and more like Job’s wife. Curse God and die. He’s gone, so you might as well.

I’m not who I thought I was. God isn’t who I thought he was. It’s a mess. Cancer has unraveled all my paradigms and left me holding the bits of a life and a self and a God I thought I understood.

Right now, I’m not feeling as desperate, or as panicked. Heidi’s blast cell counts miraculously dropped to a level where she’s able to get the transplant she needs, though that in itself is a long road. But the trauma of those times of what felt like abandonment by God remains. And I continue to try to fit it into a story–any story.

The two big questions I have right now are,

  1. Why was God gone when I needed him the most? Why does he let his loved ones shatter? Why can’t he be relied on to show up in those moments? And if he can’t be trusted to show up then, how can I trust him at all?
  2. The suffering I’ve seen this year has been so wasteful. So inefficient. So excessive. I don’t know how to formulate that into a question, but it burns there in my heart. Why so much of it?

I want to understand why, particularly for me that night in the yard when I yelled horrible things and wanted to self-destruct, I experienced that emotional shattering.

Was I a victim of nine months of suffering and trauma and stress and grief? Or did I somehow choose that path because I’m a weak sinner who stopped leaning on God? Did I break down because of a lack of faith? Am I at fault, or not? Does it even matter?

It feels important to understand why I broke, and what it means. And yet, I can’t seem to put it into a narrative.

I expected a neat story. I expected to be able to trace my feelings to causes, and for God to be the umbrella over it all. That has not happened.

Instead, I’m sitting here surrounded by darkness, not a story in my hands but a bunch of unraveled, tangled strings, not understanding, with a wall behind me and lacking the tools to even begin to take down the wall–or the energy to even move towards doing that.

Will God give me answers to these questions? I don’t think so. Because these have been some of the questions humans have cried out with since the dawn of time. But if I’m not getting answers to these questions, I at least want peace in the mystery. At least that. God’s presence, and a sense of peace. I used to have that. Why couldn’t I hang onto that?

I want God back. I want him to break through. I’ve asked for it.

Where are you, God? Why have you left me?

Pray for Heidi: the magic number

Dear friends,

this one’s going to be brief and to the point: Heidi’s bone marrow biopsy won’t be today as I originally heard–more likely it will be next Wednesday, with results a week later. Here’s the important bit: for the double transplant plan to move forward, Heidi’s cancer cells have to be 5% or lower in the bone marrow. Any higher, and (from what I’m hearing), it’s game over. No further treatment.

Here’s the rub–even after her super strong second chemo in March, the cancer was only down to 6%. It’s been six months since then, and while the focus has been on the kidneys, no one knows what the cancer has been doing. Please pray that God will knock the cancer down himself so that Heidi has a chance at life.

One happy thing–Heidi’s spirits are higher! I just got off the phone with Erica, who quoted Heidi as saying this morning, “The spirit of death has been lifted from me.” Last weekend I saw Heidi crushed into the dust and desperately wanting to die. She is not in that place today. Praise God!! May he plant her feet on the rock and never let her be shaken like that again.