Sunday, December 6, 2015

In Between Hope and a Hard Place

Y’all. It’s December. As of writing this we’re only a few days in and already it has shown itself to again be the season of Red Cups, food drives, merry carols in every store, and SoCal winter clothes. (Our temps have dropped to the 60’s - out come the jeans, beanies, sweaters and boots!) Elves posed on Shelves are dominating the Face Book feed while many well worn traditions that date back far before them lend comfort and joy in predictable approach to the Christmas season.  

And for four Trickeys in San Diego, the whole world is about to change.

If you're reading this, you have likely heard at some time through this last year and a half our saga as Eric has heroically battled stage four colon cancer. When last we left you, he had just entered into the recovery phase following a drastic liver resection and rewiring of the remaining organ. We were awaiting the regrowth of new liver tissue, and were anticipating multiple scans to show us exactly where the surgical gamble would leave us. Our surgeon said there was an 11% chance of seeing a “clean” scan in the months following surgery (as the surgery itself can stimulate microscopic cancer cells into new tumor growth), and we were full of hope.

Eric’s recovery went well; he's really very strong. Quickly he began to chew through magnesium, which was significant of liver regrowth as it is a building block of the organ. He was able to come home after less than a week in hospital, and that very night we took a crawling midnight walk up and around our cul de sac - first steps of many, eventually increasing in distance and pace as he continued his fight to be well. 

And as he regained health and strength a funny thing began to happen. The first phone call came while he was still in hospital - a men’s group in Texas wanted him to lead a retreat in October, did he think he might be well enough to do so? The doctors said he was doing well, and even if he eventually needed another round of chemo it would probably not start until after October. With their full blessing he said yes.

His first CT scan of the liver looked good…nothing indicated growth of disease, but they wanted to recheck and order a full body PET/CT to look beyond his liver at his entire body. As we received these incredible results, another church contacted him and wanted to maybe talk with him about interviewing as a candidate to consider a call. (In our church, a “call” is the extension of an offer from a congregation to be their pastor.) Feeling renewed purpose and potentially facing a recalculated prognosis, he said yes, simultaneously quite certain that he didn’t want to prematurely shut down something that, regardless of outcome, may be from God and that after a quick conversation in which he may encourage them in their ministry he would likely never hear from them again.

The PET/CT went smoothly enough as tests go. While I was in the waiting room I had my first glimmer of promise (I’ve been asking for one since his first moment of diagnosis!) as I felt prompted to watch another patient who came in for his imaging exams. I saw a much older man walk across the waiting room towards the water cooler with a spry step and a smile on his face. He was distinguished looking, exceptionally tall and quite muscular for his age but still slim, and very little closely cropped hair. The thought crossed my mind of how he reminded me of Eric, a MUCH older Eric. The flicker of a thought passed that I was being shown this gentleman for hope, a window into my future Eric, and a reassurance that he still has a lot of healthy time in his future balance.

The man sat down, relaxed, with his handsome, dark haired, also tall and early middle aged son - they both carried the air of ease, as if they've done these periodic scans on the regular for quite some time together, and within a moment the nurse came to call him back for his scan. I second guessed my first intuition to focus on them, dismissing the silliness of grasping for any hope for promise of healing. BUT…this is the first time in the last year and some odd time that I have felt even anything like this kind of healing-related impression. I continued to discretely watch.

Holding the door open to admit this next patient, the nurse called out clearly “Eric?” Father and son both stood up immediately in response to their shared name, exchanged a brief laugh as the son said “I guess she always means you!” and Eric the Older went back for his seemingly routine scan. Eric Jr. sat down and flipped through a magazine in wait for his father.

Giant tears slipped unchecked down my face as I lingered in the waiting room, wondering at what I had just seen. It felt so big, so significant for all of it’s simplicity. Was it a promise, a coincidence, or simply a small shot of hope?

We waited for the PET/CT results, far more anxiously than I would love to report. After what felt like forever, but was in all likelihood about 3 days, we received a call - everything looked “unremarkable”, with the tiny exception of an area in Eric’s liver which they were highly certain was residual inflammation from his recent, significant surgery. He had moved into the patient category of “surveillance,” no imminent treatment was necessary and we were to schedule another PET/CT to take another look in a couple of months. I told Eric through even more tears how happy I was at his being so very “unremarkable!” 

Within the next two hours we received another earthquake of a phone call…the church in Decatur Illinois, that we were contentedly certain we’d never hear from again, wanted to fly Eric and I out for a series of interviews; they were still interested in considering him for their senior pastor position.

I began furiously Googling anything related to Decatur Illinois, and overall the results weren’t too pretty. I read statistics and tales of racial tensions, economic decline, environmental concerns, high rates of addiction, and the infamy of The Informant. What good could possibly come from Decatur? But Eric and I have agreed and encouraged each other not to shut down possibilities where God is moving, even if we don’t want or understand it, and He seemed to be moving rather clearly in this situation. And no matter what else I uncovered online, I couldn’t escape the overwhelming sense that Holy Spirit was moving powerfully there. I decided maybe God’s purpose was that we encourage them in their process, and prayed fervently for them and the three other candidates that were coming that when they meet they find their right pastoral match.

But as I was making my rational and highly unbalanced lists of pros and cons I forgot a couple of fairly important things. Firstly, the “what good can come…” line has been used before, much to the necessary correction of the asker. Also, there is much foolishness in MY deciding God’s purpose, every. single. time. And finally, a huge one - the trend in our life thus far has been that every new significant move in ministry has followed traumatic yet miraculous birthing of new life. 

Eric took his first call as a pastor almost 15 years ago while our impossibly tiny preemie girl was still in the NICU…and we were on an airplane flying cross country to our new church in SoCal when she was only nine days out from her four month start in the hospital. A couple years after that, following six months of bed rest and and this time only about a week in hospital, we found ourselves again at a new congregation in San Diego with our newborn son by the time he was less than a month old. Do I dare hope that the new life that has been birthed through this year long fight using poison-filled needles and on prayer-ful knees carries the same fullness of promise as that of a nascent babe? And as much as I want that to be the story that I am being given to write, one of God sized movement and full and complete miraculous healing, is it possible that the deeper story is in His beautiful and loving prompting to continue to trust Him each and every day no matter what?

Eric and I went to the interview, met many incredible people, and on our return flight I added an item to the scant plus column of my Decatur lists…I think I love them. Whatever the future may hold, I felt knit to the hearts of many of the individuals we had met, as well as their church as a whole, and I prayed fervently that God would make it clear to them the man whom to invite into their ministry.

Once home in San Diego we went to Eric’s new oncologist for a post surgical follow up, and were told that he was to schedule a second PET scan in mid December, but other than that was not in need of treatment - there wasn’t anything they saw to treat. Later that happy afternoon the phone rang…St. Paul’s leadership had unanimously chosen Eric and wanted to solely present his name to the congregation in voting to extend the call of Senior Pastor.  

The following two weeks were a dizzy blur of wonder, dreaming, terror, bittersweet remembrances, and a solid dose (for me, at least) of denial. For a time I was able to remain happily ensconced in glitter and hairspray through tech week for our school’s production of Cinderella, but as soon as the curtain fell on final bows it was time to address reality. That very same morning, Eric had announced to St. Mark that he was accepting the call to St. Paul’s. My strong-in-any-locale (but truly hates being cold) Man, this city-loving (because, seriously, the best shopping) Calirado girl and our beach-soaked SoCal kids were moving to Illinois…to the not-Chicago part of Illinois. 

So that brings us to today. These days are packed with boxing up our every possession so we can truck it thoroughly across America. Filled with moments and events to hold tender hearts overflowing with love, shared memories, and sadness at our imminent parting. As we practice loving well in goodbyes it is excruciating to tear away from the very people and places that have been sewn into our shared existence which shapes the fabric of this life. How can we possibly express how much everyone means to us, how they’ve carried us, loved and shaped us in the life we’ve shared? So we press in to the even more Firm Foundation, the One who has adventures beyond our wildest imagination in store for those who closely follow Him, and encourage everyone we must leave soon to do so as well.  

And we do it all with hope. I know that while there is every evidence of God’s plan in our California exodus, and He has flung doors wide open in places we’d never dreamed, that there is no guarantee that cancer is forever behind us. We move in between the very real hope of clean scans, renewed energies, and new life altering callings and the hard place of the painful releasing of a life and people we’ve LOVED and the future unknown. I bask in the exquisite privilege of facing these things side by side with Eric, however hard they may be, and am overwhelmingly thankful for the health that he, today, has.

And I wonder at the hindsight we might one day gain in considering this in-between-the-unknown time. It is my hope that with daily, hourly, minute to minute practicing of trust in our Great and Always Good God we can look at what felt like the hard place and ask “Where else do I brace myself for blessing?”  And hope-fully laugh at what we find.

5 comments:

Ed McShane said...

just beautiful...

Maggie Herron said...

Absolutely love reading your blogs! You're a wonderful writer!

Molly Schaffenacker said...

Oh Sara, I can only hope and pray that when you arrive to us that you will find and feel the love of our congregation waiting for you! It seems like its been a long time coming. Pastor Wray would keep telling us after each call was declined that we shouldn't lose hope as God has someone greater in store for our church family. Pastor Wray was right! We are all anxiously awaiting your arrival with open arms! See you soon. Molly Schaffenacker

Beth Foreman said...

Sara - Beautiful faith, beautiful words, beautiful trust. I had heard about your upcoming move to Illinois and stumbled upon this story that tells of the journey. You, Eric and your family have been in my prayers for a long time, and it's so good to hear about this non-medical adventure. Your father-in-law was our pastor at St. Paul for most of the time we lived in Ogden. We now live in Michigan and often pass through Decatur en route to see family in Missouri. I'll pray for you every time we see the Decatur sign. Maybe one time we can stop and take you all to lunch. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Gretchen Walters said...

Sara- thank you for sharing your testimony of Trusting God and never losing sight of HOPE. Just as Molly said (above) God had bigger plans for the future of St. Paul's. At age 44, I still consider myself a novice of the Bible's teachings however I'm Blessed to see how the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit can lead us. And no matter what...God is good in all things. I look forward to welcoming your beautiful family to St.Pauls this Sunday.
Gretchen Walters