[As I write, Eli has been at home this week, confined due to his lack of an immune system at this given time. It is the first time in a while this has occurred. Thank you for any and all prayers for him. His birthday is Monday, March 10]
I remember sitting in Eli’s room at UNC about a week after we learned of his diagnosis (February 2012). It had been an exhausting week or so that originated in Greenville with an appointment at Vidant with a pediatric surgeon. All to try and figure out what was going on with Eli’s jaw and shoulder. He was in the most pain that I had ever seen, in any of our kids, at any point. We knew something was wrong beyond the ordinary and observable. No one locally could tell us what was going on ~ hence the referral to Greenville.
Once there, it wasn’t too long until we were recommended to UNC-Chapel Hill, made the decision to go there, and Eli was transported overnight. A few days later, when the official diagnosis came in, we were told Eli had “B-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma,” a cancer of the lymph-node system. Up until that time, a whole host of things start to enter into my mind. I call it a floodgate of thoughts and emotions. Of course, it would be no different with any other parent. Things you never prepare yourself for or discuss with your spouse when you talk about starting a family, raising kids, and dreaming of what they will be and become. No school, no class, no program prepares you for those moments because you really don’t want to consider it or think of it being a possibility. But there you are swallowed by intense discussions that you start to think about (and face) with a disease and a diagnosis like this.
So there I am, there we are, at Chapel Hill surrounded by dozens of sick (and very sick) children. Some infants. Some just into their teens. And there we are, with our son who at the time is nearly 6. I remember it like it was yesterday. Looking out the window at the A/C units on the roof of the 7th Floor, as that was all you could see from that vantage point. Gazing. Talking to God. Frustrated. Uncertain. Hundreds of questions and so few answers. Your mind, your heart, your soul is racing. And here is what seemed to consume me as I could only cry out: “I wonder just how many more birthdays Eli will celebrate?” That occupied me for several hours. That’s what I was thinking about. Looking at him hurt me deeply – he hurt and therefore, I hurt for him. He had been poked, prodded, scanned, cut, tested, and sedated over and over again during that week or ten days. Angela was simply exhausted – like I had never seen her before. Yet, she is trying to be the steady-hand in it all, for Eli, for me, for our boys. The left side of his jaw looked like he was sucking on a tennis ball – the cancer had massed there and dislocated a segment of his jaw. A biopsy had been taken from that area, which made it swell even more so. It seemed like we waited forever. There was waiting and more waiting: test results, pathology, the oncology staff, a treatment plan, etc. etc. etc. So much time to think. So much time to wonder and ask God, “Why?” and “How?”
There are events we will never forget in life. Our wedding. A child being born. The first day of school. An incredible achievement. It is amazing what the mind can hold onto when it wants to. That 7-10 day period has been permanently embedded within me, I am sure. I remember first hearing. I remember first telling our other sons. I remember who came in to see Eli. I remember family congregating in the room and outside the room. I remember the Team of Doctors who appeared. I remember the clowns (from UNC-Chapel Hill) who stopped by to encourage Eli. Time stands still (or at least seems to) in that moment.
It has been “One Wild Journey” – to say the least.
But God is seeing Eli through. God has been present. In the good days and in the bad, God has shown Himself to be the friend “who sticks closer than a brother.” Even on days when things have felt cold and distant, God was near. And in all of it, I really did come to terms with the fact that even in the pits and in the deep, heart-wrenching challenges: He is ever close. So many prayers going up for Eli ~ so many praying and loving on him. God is active in many people who have been such a tremendous blessing. In ways they might not even see this side of heaven. Thank you all, for everything!
On Monday, we do celebrate Eli’s 8th birthday. He was about 3 weeks from turning 6 when he was first diagnosed, and I want to tell you – I have been grateful for every single day that God has allowed him to remain with us, since then. I don’t write or talk about this much ~ but as we draw closer to March 10 and his birthday, I felt compelled to. I really can’t imagine going through this, in any capacity, without a living faith. I really prefer not to think about God being distant or unwelcomed when something like this occurs or happens in anyone’s life. He has been very close and active through it all. Yet it goes further than that: I can’t imagine going through life, in general, without His presence, guidance, and peace. So grateful for the One Who is faithful. Yet, as I am reminded, there are many people out there who are going through horrific life and death situations and devastation, every day, without His presence and peace. Our hearts ought to break and then be motivated to reach them. To give Jesus to them and to lift His banner high.
Perhaps this is the word of wisdom here: Draw closer to God today and every day. No matter “what” it is, no matter how close it hits home, and no matter how much you resent going through it ~ give God access and yield to Him. It will take a sincere commitment. It will take effort. It will require persistence in times when your heart feels like its about to break. You will still face the issues, decisions, and heartache, but you will face them so differently (with Him). We have found this out and we have lived it, in real time. Still learning, of course – but exceptionally grateful for the peace that does surpass understanding. Many a prayer lifted up in that passage.
The One Who is able to do “exceedingly more” than anything we can think or dream of is near and desires to remain very near. No matter what “it” is! He shows Himself faithful, tried, and true. So let me leave you with this promise, recorded in His Word, as I close out: “Do not be afraid, because I have reclaimed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you go through the sea, I am with you. When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you. I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43, vv.1b-2).
Thank You Lord, for Your amazing grace! Thank You for Eli, for allowing me to be his “daddy,” and for all you have taught me through him, his life, and this journey. Thank you for another birthday that we can celebrate with him – for this we are indeed grateful and thankful, that You have brought him this far. We realize things could turn quickly, so help us (help me) to be thankful for each day – one day at a time. May You be praised in the calm and in storm. In Jesus Name! Amen!