Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buckets of cold water

Sitting around with a pillow on my lap. I've been down this road before. The surgeon told me the other day that with my gallbladder removal, I've completed the trifecta: my appendix, uterus (and ovaries) and gallbladder are all gone.  There's a whole lot of empty space inside my abdomen now, though, thankfully none of these organs are the life-or-death ones.

And that 54 year old gall bladder was due to be removed, it turns out. Well past its prime. Scarred and ugly from a marble-sized stone causing havoc all over the inside.  My fine surgeon and the recovery-room nurse were both quite certain that my life will be a whole lot better without that mess inside of me.  Looking back on the last several months, even before it really began to cause this final month of rather harrowing pain, I realize that what I thought was stress and anxiety about many things--the elders, my son, even smaller things--was physiological.  I kept saying, "My stomach hurts thinking about x!" When really, that dang marble was making my gallbladder actually hurt. For real.

The other side of it, though, is that I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking that something far more deadly was wrong with me. Yep, I'm big on diagnosing myself. Always have been. Frankly, it's one of my biggest weaknesses. So I had just about convinced myself that it wasn't my gallbladder but pancreatic cancer.  In my defense, my pain never settled in the right upper quadrant beneath my ribs where the gallbladder resides but was across the top of my abdomen--exactly where the online sites say pancreas pain is.  Beyond this, however, I have an aunt who  died the day after her first surgery and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer when she was JUST MY AGE!  So of course I would be following in Aunt Aureli's footsteps. Right?

This has been the ongoing fear I've been living with for the last few weeks.  The haunting that has made me imagine heaven, think of leaving my children before they even marry, leaving Beve before we've ever had the freedom to do anything by ourselves.  There's been pain and joy in it all, I have to admit. Half excitement about seeing Jesus, but a whole lot of sadness too.

Then yesterday at the hospital, we talked to our friend the surgeon about my propensity to self-diagnose.  Not only did he not tell me I was ridiculous, he said, "I do the same thing. But I see people with serious problems all day every day. So every little twinge I get, I think is some dreadful disease. And I know too much about it." We all laughed then.  Most of the time our fears are groundless.

That's the point. Most of the things that trouble our sleep and stir our darkest imaginations are made up of nothing more than sticks and stones and rubber bands. They don't hold up in a stiff wind.  That's why God tells us that perfect love casts out fear.  It's the places where we don't consider Him first that we fear most.  That's the reality, isn't it?  Now I don't want to pretend that I will never fear anything again.  I know better.  I'm not at the 'perfect' place in my life with Him.  Nor do I expect to be while this mortal body is my home.

But here's the other part of what fear does. Like a disease it's contagious.  I've seen this repeatedly.  Beve, who is not naturally a worrier, can become worried by my convincing fears.  I'm good at these things.  I've infected him more than once.  I remember years ago when we were trying to sell our first home.  I was panicked because, in my mind, the floor plan was absurdly off-putting to would-be buyers. The one full bath was in an alcove off the living room. Beve had never thought about the floor plan until I began to fixate on it. But once I pointed it out to him, he became completely convinced that we'd never sell that house and couldn't believe we'd even bought a house so badly designed.  What had we been thinking?

God sold that house, of course.  As He does.  But that's how fear works.  The germs pass from one person to another and soon it's an epidemic. Playing into the enemy's hands. Scripture tells us to take every thought captive to Christ so that we don't give the enemy an opportunity, or foothold, into our lives. That's what fear does.  It gives satan access to us he would not otherwise have.  Being reminded of this is an antidote in the post-midnight hours.  And we must remind each other as well. Call each other when we slip and allow our minds to run away with us, and fear to creep in.

Two different friends did exactly this for me in the last couple of weeks, throwing buckets of cold water to wake me up to myself.  One, a nurse who used to work in oncology, matter-of-factly told me pancreatic cancer does not cause pain. She went to the heart of my fear and pulled the rug out from under it. Thank God for that. The other, face-to-face while we sat at tea, told me to STOP trying to do the doctor's job for him. Told me to stay offline. The end.  Later she worried that she'd been too harsh but it was exactly right. Each friend was right. The right words and the right tone--doing the work of the Holy Spirit. And that, my friends, is what we need when we give in to our fears.

Fear will rise again. I know this. But God will also provide ways out. He will win.

What are you afraid of? Ask Him for someone to step in and speak His truth in the face of the enemy's lies. It might be exactly the bucket of cold water you most need.

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