Monday, December 28, 2015

Blindsided by Cancer

Each summer the Nesdahls take a vacation. This year we planned to spend a few days at a new retreat center, which we quickly discovered a generous term for “church with some Barbie sized bunk beds shoved into closets.”

It was not what we expected.

There was grumbling. I was just about ready to pack up for the nearest hotel when my mother-in-law and father-in-law called a family meeting in the sanctuary. There, Gary said that it wasn’t what we wished for but it was “fitting for our family because we’ve always been grounded in the church.” After it was determined that we’d stay and go on with life, Andrea requested that we each give each other a blessing. From the youngest to the most mature, we placed the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. “God loves you, and so do I.”

Some of you have said my last few posts have been my best writing yet. Perhaps it’s because I’m writing from the valley. My father-in-law went to the doctor for a cough and it left us with words tough to digest – lung cancer.

This is not a secret, yet I’ve enjoyed a month of quiet. Time to process as individuals and together as a family. Room to gain footing from friends who have been there and pastors who care. Opportunity, in our house, to present chemotherapy as medication to attack grandpa’s cancer like antibiotics target the kids’ infections.

Over Christmas, Andrea and Gary shared this diagnosis in their letter and this week Gary’s diagnosis will be shared in synodical news. With my mother-in-law’s years in public ministry and father-in-law always by her side, many of you know and love our family. Being able to express your care and hope will be important to you and we, very much, appreciate that.

There are two questions that everyone seems to ask.

What is the prognosis?  There is no prognosis and I LOVE THAT. Gary’s oncologist shared with us that this cancer is very responsive to chemotherapy and that gives us great hope. Gary sailed through the first round of chemo like a champ, feels good, and looks great. We are optimistic this will continue. The Lord uniquely covers each of us under His feathers (Psalm 91:4) and no two stories are exactly the same.

How are we doing? This is a much a harder question to answer because it’s a journey not a static event. We’ve all had tough moments. Speaking for myself, I’ve cried in the shower and wet my pillow with tears. I’ve pleaded with God that no one say anything stupid around my kids because I don’t want them to fear life. (In fact, I really hope that people will leave them alone unless they bring it up.)  Hurt is real.

BUT, we still have so many great “us” moments. We’re still sarcastic. We still laugh and make fools of ourselves playing family charades and take ridiculous family selfies complete with props. We share in worship and meals. We go all the places we once went. We attend events. We volunteer. We make plans and dream about the future. Who we are hasn’t changed. Please keep this in mind and treat us with your same normal, friendly interactions rather than puppy dog eyes because we’re in the business of living. :)

Obviously, where any of us emotionally sits at a given moment will vary, and, if we need to talk, we will reach out accordingly.

In some ways nothing has changed. We are all still one breath closer to our last. None of us knows how or when God will call us Home. In other ways, everything has changed because a single word entered our lives.

Life looks different than we expected, yes. This isn’t what we would choose. But, we are a family rooted in the church. The morning we left the “retreat center” God created this sunrise,

 (no filter)

Leaving us all speechless.

So too God creates beauty, hope, and possibility through this journey and in our lives. So, when you see us, if you want to say something but aren’t quite sure what it should be, go with a simple, “We’re praying with you” or perhaps you could join in the family blessing, “God loves you, and so I do.” Then let's smile and move on. :)

Thank you for your prayers.

xx Melissa

Afterthought - when I shared this post with my family to first receive their blessing Joe, my brother-in-law, noticed that you can see both Gary and Andrea in the picture. For months I've been so been so awed by the Lord's majesty in the sunrise that I didn't see them (Sorry, Gary and Andrea!). What a precious thing, after writing this post and knowing the picture's meaning, to recognize this detail. I wept. God's tender mercies shining through. How blessed we all are to be loved by this God and what gift to me to be part of this incredible family.

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