This Thursday I will have my final dose of chemo. Yipee! This whole ordeal, which started almost exactly eight months ago, will then enter a new phase. In terms of my physical body, I will, in effect, be returning to my pre-cancer state of health. And for that I will be very glad. No more side effects of drugs and radiation treatments. No more fatigue. No more compromised immune system.
It's that last effect – manifested by a very low white blood cell count - that has necessitated nightly shots of Neupogen administered by my nurse Jacquelyn. The Neupogen, which stimulates my bone marrow to make more white blood cells, also causes me to feel very achy – like when you have a debilitating flu. Thankfully, acetaminophen takes care of that. One thing just leads to another once you enter the world of pharmaceuticals, it seems.
A couple of months ago, one of our pastors asked me to consider doing a testimonial at church. The spirit was willing but I was having trouble putting the words around it. I found myself all over the place with so many different things to say about the impact that the fantastic Reformed Church of Highland Park (RCHP) has had in my life over the last nearly three years.
In the meantime, a few folks have done their testimonials expressing what the Church has meant to them. It has been both very moving and a window into the role of religion and this particular church community in their lives. In reflecting on what my Church has meant to me recently, it has made me consider how religion can work in our lives and the spiritual power of this blog community too.
For us, finding RCHP was a bonus benefit of our move to Highland Park in July, 2006. We choose this town very deliberately and were thrilled by the house we landed. As far as a church…that was something that we'd work out. Little did we know what awaited us when the strong recommendation came in from our Jewish friends, no less! It just goes to show that you can plan and consider very carefully and yet God's grace is something bestowed upon us.
This Church has challenged us since the first time we walked in. We were embraced from the get-go, and challenged. It has felt completely comfortable and yet a little uncomfortable the whole time. It's the discomfort that comes from stretching and growing. I firmly believe that if you are very comfortable with where you are (Church-wise and life-wise), then you aren't challenging yourself enough.
And then most recently – this Church has meant more than I ever thought that a church could mean to me. Besides growth, it's meant love and family for me…for us.
The idea of a family has always meant a lot to me. It's been a very well-defined word, not used lightly. My birth and extended families have been my first consideration -almost to a fault some might say. Just ask any of my old girlfriends. J And, of course, there is nothing more important to me than Jacquelyn and my babies. But, my last few months have helped me to appreciate in the depths of my heart a wonderful broadening of the word family. My RCHP church family has been right next to me throughout my illness - with all of the presence and support that the word implies. They've been like the cloak of Jesus that I clutch for healing - embodying His teaching. I trust that they aren't going anywhere.
Further, my church family has loved me. After using my sleeves for too long, I've taken to bringing a handkerchief to church with me because of the many tears of sadness, warmth and joy that I find myself shedding nearly every week in those pews. The little Church on 2nd Ave offers me an incredible emotional haven, wrapping me in the safe and loving arms of God.
There are many parallels between the remarkable RCHP congregation that has been physically present for me and this online community. I acted somewhat out of character back in November in opening myself and my health challenges up to the world. Though this blog would certainly make you think differently, I was never one to broadcast my troubles or struggles. But, the return on that risk-taking has been the most tangible presence of God's love that I have ever felt pouring forth from all of you. I have felt an army of supporters travelling my road w/me - something that has literally saved my life.
It has been absolutely amazing for me to discover how much faith there is out there amongst the people that I know. Since taking my faith public, I have received strong responses from all corners of my life. In a Church community, you would expect that. But, I learned so much about the faith and doubts of friends and acquaintances. There is so much intentionality and praying going on – who knew?! To mix religious metaphors – it has been, for me, a validation of the law of spiritual karma. Namely, the more you put out there, the more you get back. It is a beautiful thing. (I've found that it works the same for love too.)
After all of these years, I just may have learned to let myself be loved. That may be one of the best outcomes for me from all of this. And for that, I thank God for the blessing of opening myself up to a bigger circle.
When I needed a boost of love and faith, my Church family and online community have come through beyond my every prayer, and for that I can never thank you enough.