UPDATE: On July 14th, I will have my sixth and final cycle of chemotherapy. Like an invasion force, chemotherapy has swept across my body in order to rid it of the enemy of my life, lymphoma. Like a shock and awe offensive, it did the job! But not without cost: my immune system compromised; my gut is bloated and achy; I’m experiencing some neuropathy; I have lost muscle and aerobic strength that I’ve worked years to develop. I hate looking in the mirror. But after next week, my body can do more than just take a few week’s breaks – it can truly get to healing. Timmy: getting rid of you has cost me so much. You have robbed me and my family and friends so much; We’ll never get back the last 5 months of our lives. But if smears you into a grubby footnote, so be it; if it is useful in the hands of God … well, thanks (I guess?). But good riddance.
My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?” ~ Ps. 119:82
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” ~ Gen. George S. Patton
“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” Dale Carnagie
What’s it like right now? Now, that I’m in the home stretch, just hours away from finishing chemotherapy? My experience at the present can be summed up in one word: fatigue. Fatigue comes from the French word fatigue, which means to “tire out” or “weariness from tasks.” After my fourth cycle, it became apparent to me that each cycle was going to be harder to recover from. This makes sense: the whole point of my chemotherapy is to destroy any lymphoma cells (and as of cycle 3, it was so successful, I was staged as “in-remission”!) and to starve it of any opportunity to gain any toe-hold for a come-back. The side effect (among many – and I’m fortunate to only suffer from a few), is that fast-growing cells (like blood cells, hair, and mouth, etc.) barely reproduce – just to keep me alive. The net result? Awkward functionality, prone toward infection, and I get tired pretty quickly – even out of breath. (That last one is scarily brand new to me.)
Lately, fatigue is something we’re all used to. We’re all familiar with pandemic fatigue: we’re so tired of stay-in-shelter, social distancing, wearing masks. We’re fatigued from the constant bombardment of bad news in the economy, bad news in Washington DC, bad news from streets bleeding with blood and anger. We’re fatigued from not having any answers of when the coast is clear, of competing opinions from people we love and trust, of people forcing us to take sides.
And maybe you’ve noticed: I was posting nearly every week – but fatigue rendered even writing this blog an insurmountable chore!
Worse, the fatigue has hit closer to home. Brenda, my love and my rock, has suffered from the constant pressure of supporting a husband with cancer: doing everything she can to keep me safe and nominally “healthy”, watching me grow bald and frail, and keeping the bills straight. All that in addition to trying to keep things pleasant for our adult children (while at the same time celebrating Hudson’s college graduation) sheltering at home, getting enough hours in, and taking care of clients. She was a bruised reed ready to be snapped in-two.
I found an interesting section in the 119th Psalm, verses 81-96. Right there, in the middle of the longest chapter in the Bible is, to me, “the Psalm of the Afflicted” or “the Psalm of the fatigued.” The Psalms have a ready list of yearnings where the writers are very honest about feeling tired, frustrated, and alone. Can you identify with the Psalmist when he says:
My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?”
Of course. Everyone has – some more than others. Then he says this (83):
Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.
“My soul faints? My eyes fail?” Does that sound or feel like the victorious Christian life? “Like a wineskin in the smoke.” Imagine: a leather bladder, cracked, probably leaking, fragile, about ready to burst or tear. Lord: I am so weary of illness, hindrance, lack, powerlessness, etc … Is this how I’m supposed to be? Of what use could I possibly be? How am I supposed to make it through? Where is my comfort?
What changes things? His concentration: “I do not forget your decrees.” What does that mean? Perhaps an earlier phrase gives us a clue:
Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (v. 73-75)
Did you catch that? He acknowledges God’s sovereignty, and admits something powerful: In faithfulness, you have afflicted me. You may not like it, but the fact of the matter is that our afflictions are an allowance from heaven. You may need to re-read that. God means for us to endure a conspicuous affliction and fatigue. Why? I don’t know. But I reckon this: so that we may prove that – even in the hard times – God is faithful. And when we struggle through it, others watch. Sometimes there’s a miraculous rescue by Him. Other times there’s a “miraculous” response by us.
It is not fun to suffer, is it – to be brought to the end of your rope? But how else can we know that his yoke is easy and his burden is light until it’s placed on us? And how else can we know the joy of his presence – that he endures every painful step along with us – unless we are yoked with him?
What are you worried about, frustrated with, or resent? How has the Lord spoken to you about them? Have you asked Him what His perspective is? Do you kick against them, or embrace them? The world is burning down around us because without a Godly perspective – without a Godly example of a man or woman of God journeying through – they can’t see another alternative. Disciple of Jesus: that’s YOUR job.
The opposite of fatigue is not recovery; it is refresh. When Peter gave his message on Pentacost, what was his admonition to his listeners? “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (Acts 3:19) Remember, repent means much more than feeling sorry for sin – it means relearning and recalculating your direction. It's a choice I make. But the net effect is that refreshing does come. And best of all, it comes from The Refresher, Himself: Jesus – our yoke-fellow, our burden-bearer, our Savior, and our Lord.
On Tuesday afternoon, my cycles of chemotherapy will be FINISHED. I am so grateful for everyone who has prayed for me, cheered me on, sent me notes, sent us gifts, sent us meals ... YOU refreshed me! And dear reader, thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope that you, too, will find and be refreshed by Him!