Leukemia Reflections – Year 4

Four years ago this week, our son Joshua was diagnosed with leukemia, and our lives were dramatically changed. Each year on this week I’ve posted some reflections about pain, cancer, and parenting from the previous year. You click on the links to read the previous year’s reflections:

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

This year is a little different because Joshua took his last chemo treatment, after 3 and a half years of doing so, last December. So this year is the first one which includes post-chemo thoughts. To set the context, the doctors have told us that the first year a child goes off chemotherapy (from last December until a couple of months from now) is “the danger zone.” That means that most children who relapse do so during the first year they go off of chemotherapy. So even though the past 10 months have been chemotherapy free, we’ve gone to have check-ups every four weeks, and each time I’ve had a little pit in my stomach as we wait for the results from his blood test. Despite my misgivings, we are 10 months into the danger zone, and still cancer free. So onto the reflections:

1. It falls to us, as parents, to determine how much or how little of painful and difficult circumstances our children remember. Because Joshua was diagnosed and treated from age 2-5, he’s already forgotten so much of what happened. We have the responsibility in moving forward to decide what we help him recall. This is a task we pray often about, because the temptation is to let him forget it all like it didn’t happen. We don’t think that’s the right thing to do, which leads to reflection 2.

2. In all things, we are stewards. Not just money. Not just talent. We are stewards of our stories. And part of that means retelling Joshua’s story to him and to others so that we can remember the faithfulness of God.

3. Pain can either make you tender hearted or hard hearted. Make the choice, or it will always be the latter. I’ve found myself often secretly thinking, “You think you’ve got it bad…” and then dismissing the real struggles of real people off hand. That’s not how it should be in the kingdom of God. But sin is present at our most tender spots, which can take a heart that should be softened and turn it into a prideful, arrogant mess.

4. We don’t come by hope naturally. We must choose to fight for it. And it is indeed a choice.

5. I struggle with relinquishing control, and this is heightened in my relationship with my children. So many times I’ve wanted to charge onto the baseball field or the playground or the classroom and “protect” my son. Wisdom knows the appropriate time for parental protection. Faith allows a child to fail.

6. I continue to believe that our experience with cancer has marked us, and we will spend the rest of our lives viewing events through the lenses it has formed on our eyes. That might not even be a bad thing.

7. Though time brings perspective, it also makes you acutely aware of how hard things once were.

8. We have had much turnover in our relationships over the last four years. Our family have an inexpressible appreciation and admiration for those people in our lives who refused to be pushed out by constant trips to the hospital, teary conversations, and unanswered questions.

9. One of the greatest experiences I’ve had over the past year was picking up the tab for lunch for a family we saw that had wrist bands on from the children’s hospital. Generosity is an incredible remedy for personal pain.

10. Seeing children in pain, yet nonetheless able to laugh and play, is a very vivid reminder to me of both the greatness of God’s grace and the pervasive nature of sin.

11. There is never an inappropriate moment to ask the question, “What would the gospel say to this?” It’s not just about death and dying. Not just about heaven and hell. The gospel is meant to be brought to bear on all of life, from what you’re having for dinner tonight to the eulogy at funerals.

12. We don’t know why Joshua had cancer. I suspect we never will. I rarely ask the question any more. In moments of pain, I’m finding that though we might think we need to know “why,” we really need to know “who.”

13. There are some places spiritually a person cannot go without being aided by pain. That’s not to say I’ve been to those places. But I do sense that the people I would consider to have walked deeply with God all have some element of suffering in common.

14. Faith is not a once-for-all-time choice. It is, rather, a choice in the everyday moments of life. In this way, believing is work.

15. Too often we assume our vision for our lives is the right one. We then ask God to come alongside of us and bless the plans we’ve already predetermined for ourselves. But God doesn’t care too much for boxes like that.

16. Jesus is not safe. Oh, He’s good, but He’s not safe.

17. Likewise, He’s not arbitrary. He maybe maddening, confusing, disturbing – but He’s never arbitrary.

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