We’ve walked through the doors marked “Pediatric Oncology” 18 times since November. It’s the place no one ever wishes to go and most people never imagine they will face. But we’ve done it over and over again. We’ve sat down in the waiting room next to babies with no hair. Teens who can barely walk with walkers. Little girls with oxygen tanks strapped into wheelchairs. Young boys with tubes dangling from too many places to count.
I won’t lie. It’s been the hardest, sweetest, and most beautiful thing I’ve yet faced in life. God has blessed us with a measure of grace that words can’t quite define and we’ve learned to prepare our hearts for the hard things with a joy I’ll always cherish.
In just a few days we will have our next MRI (Monday 3/6/17) to see if the tumor in Luke’s brain is growing. As I was praying over it this morning I was consumed with God’s tender compassions. It’s true. His compassions fail not and they are new every single morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) They wash over me like a healing balm on a cool spring morning.
But I would be foolish to ignore the possibilities. Luke’s been plagued with continual headaches that seem unrelated to the chemo and this alone raises our concern, not to mention the already aggressive nature of the tumor itself and the neurological symptoms that cause him to collapse unexpectedly. No matter what, we still have 10+ months of chemo treatments, side effects, and walking back through those doors… but there’s always a chance that the stakes are raised with this test.
Of course, God knows the results we face. They are already decided and He’s already working them for our good. The only question is… how do we prepare OUR hearts?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the last few days. I’ve thought about how people allow circumstances in their lives to drive them to alcohol, drugs, overeating, and a host of other very harmful behaviors. Those things have a temporary numbing power and clinging to them can be incredibly tempting. But sadly, the relief is short lived and the problem remains. Plus we can take this so far that we become addicted to things we think will save us from our circumstances, forgetting that we have access to something that really WILL help.
Which reminds me of something that happened a few weeks ago in chemo. Luke had just settled into his recliner at the day hospital when the nurse came over to start the infusion of medicines through his port. He had 3-4 snacks lined up on his table from the snack cart ready for the next few hours. She chuckled at the sight and said, “Those snacks really help you get through chemo, don’t they?”
He looked at her like she was a silly child and said, “No. God helps me get through chemo, but the snacks are yummy!”
I’ll be the first to admit there was a well of mama pride in my heart I had to push back in that moment. Something I had said in all those late night rocking sessions, hysterical crying tantrums, and quiet hospital moments, had gotten through to his heart and I was so grateful. God is enough. He alone is our rock and our salvation. He will get us through this. If there is anything I feel desperate for in this journey, it’s that Luke fully gets that truth.
Snacks may keep us busy in the waiting, but they will never satisfy the longings of our hearts. They will never be enough to prepare us for the hard things. Which brings me to the point of today’s post.
How do we prepare our hearts for the hard circumstances in life? Is there anything at all we can do to brace ourselves for the hard days? The bad news? The worst of possibilities? I’d love to share some of the things I’ve used not just in this journey, but in facing the many other difficult trials in my life.
How to Prepare your Heart for the Hard Things
1. Know God’s truth to begin with and hide it in your heart for the hard times.
I know we ALL know this. Without God’s truth in our hearts we can’t begin to cling to it when circumstances threaten to consume us. We need to be ready for the battle! The trouble is, we make this all legalistic and difficult. It’s not. Just start right now and spend time with God. Grab five minutes and then try to grab five more tomorrow. Keep trying. Don’t get caught up in excuses and guilt-ridden defeat. Five minutes with God is better than zero and He’ll use that to help you grow.
In your 5 minutes (which will quickly turn into 10 and then 15 and then 60), keep pressing into the Bible’s truths. Write them down. Carry them in your car. Learn them as much as possible.
When Luke was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in November, we had a lot of time alone together in the hospital room. I read the Bible to him, told him about some of my favorite verses about being strong and not being afraid. I taught him Isaiah 41:10 by just saying it over and over again in a sing-song voice. When he was hysterical or in pain, I would sing hymns to him which were full of Scripture and truth.
There were so many times when I couldn’t look up a verse or use a resource as a crutch. I was so thankful for the many hours I had poured into knowing God’s Word so I could use it when he needed me most. My friend, this is vital for you too. If you don’t know Scripture, hymns, and truth you can share with your kids or family when things are hard, learn some now. Even if you are in the thick of circumstances, it’s not too late to dive into the Word. God will meet you there.
2. Count your blessings.
It seems odd to do this, but thanking God for what He has already done is one of the easiest and most beautiful ways we can prepare our hearts for something unexpected, difficult, or even excruciating. Before we go to chemo, we often talk about the things we are thankful for like the sweet smiling nurses, time together, and little treasures that God gifts us along the way.
We almost never feel like thanking God, but that’s not a problem. He didn’t ask us to feel like it. We are only commanded to do it. It’s in the doing that we find the feeling of joy!
Below is a video I took of Luke back in December. He walked into my room on Sunday night and asked if we had chemo the next day. I said yes and he cheered. I chuckled and grabbed my phone. Then I asked him why he was excited. This was his response.
3. Talk openly and often.
You absolutely have to talk about stuff. Probably my favorite thing about our oncology team is they NEVER ever ask Luke to step out of the room. They always talk right in front of him. They take time to explain things to him, answer his questions, and treat him like he’s a part of the team. When he wants to know something, he’s not afraid to ask because the doctors haven’t made anything a secret.
This approach fits my parenting well. I don’t hide things from my kids unless it’s a fun surprise. Instead I teach them to lean on God when things are hard, disappointing, scary, or even confusing. If I don’t let them talk about it, how will they ever learn to trust God with it? And if they don’t trust God with it, the chances of depression, unbelief, anger, and many other struggles grow MUCH higher.
4. Create a routine.
I created a routine for our chemo days on accident. It just sort of happened. About halfway through I realized Luke was relying on these steps for comfort in the unknowns and fears he faced each time we walked through those doors. It was a beautiful tool in preparing his heart for the hard things.
Our routine was very simple. We laid out our stuff the night before and talked about the fun things we wanted to do while getting his infusion (like a new LEGO set to build or a game to play together). That morning as soon as we dropped the girls off at co-op, we prayed together while driving. Then we turned on our chemo playlist and sang songs about courage and God’s goodness. After chemo was over, Luke always knew he could look forward to his once a week Chick-fil-A stop.
There was nothing crazy about it all. Just a simple way to prepare. Kids thrive on this type of routine and so do we as adults. If you are facing anything that occurs on a regular basis, consider creating a routine for it to help your mind and heart get ready.
I pray you are encouraged by this post. I’d love for you to leave a comment telling us what you’ve done to prepare your heart for the hard things in life. You can mention a favorite Scripture, song, routine. Anything goes! Let’s build each other up as we journey through life here in this broken world.
And of course, we’re so thankful for the prayers you are already saying and those you’ll continue to lift up. I will do my best to update here on the blog as soon as possible. If you are in the Facebook group, there should be a quicker update there sometime this week.