‘You are a tortured soul!’ my girlfriend tells me, throwing her head back in raucous laughter, her long blonde curls extending down her back. She knows I don’t mind the comment, that she has ventured far enough on the journey with me to permit it being said. ‘It’s true,’ I agree and her words stay with me as I grapple with the meaning of life and disease and what comes next.
Frustration and disappointment stick to the walls of my heart in the same way the frothy milk of my morning smoothie clings to the glass. Its still remains after the drink is finished and a quick rinse in the classroom sink does not remove its stain. I open the doors to greet my little companions and quickly become distracted by the busyness of Kindergarten. At the end of the week I notice the glass, upturned and growing mouldy. ‘New life,’ I guess but not the one I’d planned. I hide it in the cupboard with all my paints and make a mental note to take it home for a proper scrub with detergent and a brush at the end of the day.
If only it were that easy to remove the stain of regret and the agony that burrows a hole in the depth of our soul. The visions of all we were going to become and the illusions of what we once dreamed life would be hang on little nails like fairy lights, out of reach, as we wait for health to return. ‘It’s not all bad,” I remind myself looking for all that I can be grateful for. I am thankful for what I have discovered about me; the strength I never knew I had, the ability to function on nights with no sleep and my ability to smile while my heart is breaking.
We don’t always get to choose what happens to us or sometimes the choices are narrowed, presented like options but really each option is the same, involving risk and pain. After 7 months of chemotherapy, when a donor match was found we were told that Sam could choose to have a transplant or to keep going with the chemotherapy. Both options presented long term risk. We were told that the transplant could cause death if her body rejected the donor and a list of potential threats to all major organs of her body, perhaps even secondary cancer. We were told that if she continued with chemotherapy the risk of the Leukaemia relapsing would be high and she could die as a result. It didn’t really feel like a choice but we opted for the transplant and we continue to battle the effects of her immune suppressed state.
The thing that people don’t know however is that Sam was in remission when we decided to go ahead with the transplant. Her counts were recovering, her hair growing back and under the microscope it did not look as thought she had leukaemia at all. Twenty years ago they would have sent her home and she would have continued with ‘maintenance’ but the molecular residual disease test (a test they didn’t do years ago) indicated that the cancer could easily return.
Life involves risk for all of us and fear of failure can paralyse us. Instead of taking chances, or making a fool of ourselves, or upsetting the status quo we do nothing at all. We stay in jobs that we don’t enjoy, we conform and we don’t share the deepest convictions of our heart. We just exist. We just try to stay alive. We sit with friends making polite conversation, following all the rules and hiding the things we feel strongly about. We so desperately want to be accepted that we compromise or maybe we recall the last time we spoke our mind and how everything became misconstrued. Sometimes the pain of rejection or the fear of criticism or being misunderstood silences us. We forget that God visited us in our lounge room, that He marked our life, that He anointed us for His divine purpose, instead we accept the opinion of man. We do nothing and the world stays the same.
I recently visited my local vintage store and on the shelf out the back was a beautiful stack of Liberty fabric. I ran my fingers down the folded edges and remembered my Year 11 formal. My memory escorted me to The Fabric Shop in Chatswood were I went with my mum to chose material for my dress. I knew exactly what I wanted, a long dress to the floor, scooped up at intervals with petite bows, exposing a frill underneath. I wanted a tight waist and soft puffed sleeves and Liberty fabric. We thumbed through the pages of Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s until we could find a pattern to adapt to the image in my mind. “Are you sure, Clare?” my mother asked me as I selected a floral bolt covered in red poppies and dainty mauve flowers.
The excitement rose within me as the sales assistant cut the necessary quantity with her heavy silver scissors and then threw the fabric in the air like sail cloth and folded it neatly into the black and white bag with the silhouette of the woman sewing. I was going to be the ‘bell of the ball’ I though to myself, I could see it as if it were already made.
For Caleb and Joshua, ‘The land through which they passed as scouts was an exceedingly good land.’ Though it was full of giants, God was planning to give it to them. Their peers couldn’t see what they saw, instead the Bible tells us ‘they grumbled and deplored their situation.’ (Numbers 14:2). As a result Joshua and Caleb were limited.
My visions of grandeur were limited too when I entered the common room to find girls pouring over Vogue and discussing taffeta, Diana bows, hot pink and cobalt blue. I was silent about my Liberty floral dream. “Mum,” I’ve made a big mistake; I repented over an afternoon cup of Earl Grey tea and without words we returned to The Fabric Shop for taffeta from the remnant table. I’m still a friend of the boy who took me to that formal and we laugh over his tacky blue frilled shirt that he borrowed from his dad. I’m not sure which one of us looked worse but one thing is sure, I fit in.
Why is it so important to fit in? Why do we settle for what everyone else thinks is the right thing? Why do we continually seek advice and the opinion of others when inside our minds we already know what we should do?
Betsy Lerner (author of ‘The Forest for the Trees’) writes ‘Asking for advice about what you should write is a little like asking for help to get dressed. I can tell you what I think looks good, but you have to wear it. And as every fashion victim knows, very few people look good in everything…a writer gravitates towards a certain form or genre because, like a well-made jacket, it suits him.’
I think this statement goes for more than just writing, I think we all have our own style and gift but some of us are too busy waiting for approval, too intimidated by fear to take the risk to go with that gravitational pull that tells us to be as amazing as we can be. It’s so easy to slip into ordinary but I challenge myself not to settle.
Not everyone likes Liberty Fabric but it’s stood the test of time. The new fabric costs as much today as it did 26 years ago and the vintage stock holds its price as well. The fabric intended for that formal dress became many things over the next few years (my mother had spent the entire housekeeping, I think). It became a little smocked dress for Sam; it became a skirt and a top for my first teaching job at PLC in Melbourne. It didn’t go to waste.
I often think about Caleb and Joshua, who spoke what they saw when they returned from the land of the giants. I often feel that pain they must have felt as they ‘rent their clothes.’ (Numbers 14:6) Sometimes the situation in front of us presents real life and death choices as it did with my precious daughter, Sam. At other times the choice is whether or not to follow the dreams that God has placed in our hearts, the things He has gifted us for, the things we have seen before the reality was made manifest and it is then we must decide to take courage for the journey.
Caleb continued to believe for that breakthrough for another 45 years. Joshua 14:7-12 records “Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to scout out the land. And I brought him a report as it was in my heart. But my brethren who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, Surely the land on which your feet have walked shall be an inheritance to you and your children always, because you wholly followed the Lord my God. And now behold the Lord has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years since the Lord spoke This word to Moses, while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; and behold, I am this day eighty five years old. Yet I am as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now for war and to go out and to come in. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke that day.”
What about you?
“The vision is yet for an appointed time, though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.”
Have you the courage to rise again?