Why Hope is a Choice

As I type this, in the early morning hours, the sun hasn’t dared to climb over the horizon yet. Darkness pervades out every window. To prevent eye strain, I have a bronze lamp which illuminates my office, casting shadows across my desk. When I step into the hallway, I realize that I am once again visiting the darkness. With each step, I am carried away from the safety of that single bulb, which burns confidently under a tempered-glass hood.

Things are obscure in the darkness. It is not about tripping over a pile of laundry or hearing the shrill squeak of the dog toy when my foot finds it (and it always seems to find it in the quiet hours of morning). Really, it is about the uncertainty. I cannot see things well. The path in front of me, the steps I take, are tenuous and unsure. In those moments, I swallow panic and combat increasing anxiety. I don’t know nor do I have control over the threats I encounter in the darkness. There are moments where I place hands on the hallway walls to cautiously guide my steps. I grapple in the inky blackness for the light switch. I know it is there within arm’s reach. When my hand finally locates it, the frowning switch is quickly thrown Heavenward.  A simple yet profound motion – pushing up, conquering gravity. And in a solitary moment, clarity prevails. Lights blaze and all that was hidden is finally revealed. There is great comfort in that truth.

About three and a half years ago, my mother was contacted about an unusual spot on her annual mammogram. With knees on the carpet, I pleaded with God. Please don’t let her have cancer. After a biopsy, the doctor confirmed that carcinoma cells were present (although they were not spreading). Shocked and scared, I came to God a second time, fingers nervously tracing the carpet as I talked to Him. Please can we avoid a mastectomy?  A couple of weeks later, her oncologist reported that the cells, although sitting still within the quiet ductal walls like sentries awaiting a signal, could mobilize at any moment. “It is best if we just remove it,” she said. A third time, I approached God. This time I was tired, emotionally drained, and, quite frankly, irritated. I asked and I didn’t receive. The floor’s harsh fabric was beginning to aggravate my knees. My cheeks were flush with anger, with disappointment. In the span of just a few weeks, my life had completely changed. “We’ll start looking at you in a few years,” her oncologist said to me. I cowered under the shadow, the pervading silhouette of fear. I prayed and cried. Every day presented an opportunity to be strong. Can I survive this day without dwelling on it? Should I feel guilty if I choose distraction? Some nights, I collapsed into bed at night victorious, and others I stiffly crawled to the covers discouraged and conquered. But the next morning, I had another chance.

And then, after about a month, I decided that I would not allow her diagnosis to impact the rest of our lives. I had to believe that she would come through this and that this time of terrible uncertainty would one day be in my rear-view mirror. I could continue to limp, back sloped in defeat and head hanging, through the rest of my life cringing over words such as mammogram. Or I could carry on with optimism. I had to make a conscious choice. I had to choose hope. I had to believe all of those truths from Sunday School, that all of the colorful cut-outs prancing on flannel boards – David fighting Goliath, Jonah praying inside the whale’s dark belly, Noah constructing an incredible boat for impending floods, even Jesus conquering death on a cross – were plagued with doubt and uncertainty at times. They all made a choice. They all faced what seemed to be an unassailable enemy. They could have easily predicted the odds and found them slim, but hope was a fire not too easily extinguished. I had to believe that my Mom would conquer this. I knew she was strong enough. I had to remind myself that God is bigger than cancer, God is stronger than fear, and that light will always overcome darkness.

The doctor explained that once in the lymph nodes, the cancer can travel throughout the body. It is like the interstate in the voluminous network of our bodies. Once there, it can be carried to infect other areas. I hit my knees one more time in earnest pleading. Please God please, keep the cancer out of the lymph nodes. Just a couple of weeks later, when the mastectomy was performed, the lymph nodes were clear. God be praised!

But now for my family, the ominous clouds of uncertainty gather above our heads once again. Just recently, my uncle Johnny was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. He has always been a kind, gentle soul. An unusual mole appeared on his thigh about six years ago. Recently, after his family insisted, he had it checked out. Just yesterday, after a complete PET and CT scan, it was discovered that the cancer has spread to the immediate area. He will begin aggressive treatment soon. He needs our support and prayers during this difficult time. He has a loving wife, a daughter and son who dote on him, and family and friends who are willing to do whatever is necessary to give him the medical attention he needs. Friends, I ask that you join us in prayer. It is hard to articulate the fear we are experiencing right now, but we huddle on the carpet together and remain vigilant that our prayers will be heard and answered. We KNOW he can defeat this. We ask that you pray for strength and endurance and peace of mind as he fights. We will keep pushing up, remaining optimistic, and praying for healing.

The sun awaits to meet the horizon outside my office window, but birds are beginning to sing. They serenade the arrival of light, the presence of hope. The morning is upon us.