Moments In The Story

Taking time to appreciate the journey….


What Mom Taught Me About Cancer

I had a knot in my stomach as I walked into the hospital, and looked around for the room where my mom was having her chemotherapy treatments. I was planning to sit with her for the last two hours, just a portion of the time she had to sit there being injected with drugs that would hopefully ensure that no more cancer would spread through her body.

I remember the day in 2009 when my dad called me to tell me that they had discovered my mom had breast cancer…again. I remember the music playing in the background as my son was watching his Baby Einstein video. Even today, when I hear that music I develop a slight lump in my throat. I have to admit – the news that she was facing breast cancer for a second time was devastating and scary. She was only 32 when she received her first diagnosis of breast cancer, and endured several surgeries to ensure it was gone. Her mother (my grandmother) died of breast cancer when my mom was 24 and pregnant with my younger brother; I was almost 2. Her father (my grandfather) died of brain cancer when I was 16.

Haven’t we already had enough cancer in this family? And why would my mom have it again 28 years later? I was angry and scared. I was only 8 years old when my mom had her first bout with cancer. That is a very terrifying word for a child. And it was scary to watch the adults around me fall apart at the news…. my dad, my grandfather, and my parents’ friends. But back then, it truly was alarming as breast cancer was not as easily detected or treated, like it is today.

The day I went to sit with my mom for one of her last chemo treatments, I came in feeling sad, but I left feeling proud of my mom. I had already been proud of her for being so positive and encouraging to us. I had been proud of her for memorizing Psalm 91, and quoting it when she felt uneasy. But I was most proud of her for an act of love that is embedded in my memory. After her treatment was completed for that day, she, my dad, and I started walking down a hallway leading to the parking garage. There was a lady standing in the hallway, quietly crying as she faced the wall. She wore a red wig. I remembered seeing her earlier as she talked with a nurse and filled out paperwork. She had been disappointed when the nurse told her how long she needed to be there that day. “How am I supposed to handle my job too? I have to get back to work today”. And so a bit later we saw her out in the hall crying. As we walked past her, my dad and I both looked at my mom. “Maybe you should talk to her”, my dad said. So my mom did. From a distance my dad and I waited, but saw them talking, and my mom hugged her and told her, “it gets easier”.

My mother literally stepped out of her own pain and difficult circumstances to encourage someone else. And because she chose to do that, I believe the woman found a much-needed glimpse of hope that day.

If my mom had not displayed such trust in God, and had not reached out to so many people during her own trial, I think I would have remained scared during the whole ordeal. She endured surgery, radiation, and chemo….and she somehow found the strength to laugh, love, and encourage other people. And so she gave me the gift of hope in the face of the unknown.

I think it’s safe to say that how we handle a difficult journey and the attitude we choose while going through it will have an impact on how those around us will handle it. I pray I can be that same example to my boys when we face future heartbreaks, which are just inevitable in life.

Thank you mom! I love you.

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Mom –  just after finding about her cancer recurrence, and then a few months after her treatment (cancer-free!)



Don’t Just “Get Over It”

I have heard many people describe experiencing God the most when they went through a significant trial or trauma. In that place of grief, God met them there…and they sought Him fervently. It reminds me of September 11, 2001…when people were brought to their knees in prayer. Even our nation’s leaders were praying and singing, in an effort to experience the kind of comfort only He can give.

When I was 16, I lost my grandfather. Usually when I tell people about him, I try my best to describe the history of my relationship with him and the reasons why he was more like a parent than a grandparent. I almost find myself “justifying” why he meant so much to me, and why my grief over losing him rocked my world. Even now, tears fill my eyes when I look at his picture…the one of him laughing. It’s still in a frame on display in my house. I’m 38…how can this still affect me? How can the raw emotions of a 16-year-old still rise up in that “place” in my throat? Perhaps it’s because at 16, I had no idea how to navigate through grief. Perhaps if something like that happened now, I would be stronger….

Yet all of my feelings of grief could never compare to the grief of someone who lost their father or mother, right? Or their child, right? Of course you cannot compare those types of losses. And that is my point. We have this tendency to compare our pain to the pain of others. We may feel like our hurt is so small when held up next to someone else’s tragedy….so we minimize our pain and tell ourselves to move on. And often others do the same. They also secretly wonder why we can’t just “get over it”.

In this world certain losses and tragedies are greater than others…and they have greater long-term effects. But I don’t think our hearts always know the difference. And instead of taking our “little pains” to God, we ignore them and turn to our own coping mechanisms. I believe God cares about the small stories, which include the small pains in our lives. I believe these are just as important as the big tragedies in our faith-journey with him.

When Job asked God about the tragedies he had faced, God responded with four chapters describing the “big” things about Himself.…as well as the “little” things. Obviously we have noticed the big things about God (Job 38-41): His creation of the earth, stars, and sea; His control of the wind, snow, rain, ice, lightning and hail; His power; His glory; His knowledge; the amazing animals He created and His attentiveness to their every need.

What are the “small things” God cares about? (Job 38-41): He provides a path of rain to water a land where no man lives, and a desert with no one in it…to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass (38:25-27). He hears and provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God (38:41). He counts the months until each mountain goat and doe give birth, and then He takes the time to watch the birthing process (39:1-2). God describes the intricacies with which He created many of His animals – how their wings flap, how they lay their eggs, and whether He endowed them with fear, pride, or wisdom (throughout chapter 39).

I would remain speechless if I weren’t still writing a blog post. Why on earth would we not think God cares about the small stuff in our lives? What would our lives be like if we chose to take the little things to Him and ask for help with the same fervency as in the case of tragedy? What if we saw the “little pains” in others and walked alongside them?  I believe grasping this aspect of God’s love could change our lives, our relationships, and ultimately our relationship with Him.

An important piece of redemption in our lives is found in the hidden and unseen places….and thankfully we have the powerful love of God to meet us there. May we boldly bring to Him what we have withheld the most!

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, November 2012.

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Walking with a Limp

Though an experienced rock climber for many years, my dear friend Vanessa’s life changed dramatically almost three years ago after she fell 40 feet, landing on her back – her head just below a large rock. She remembers several people looking down at her, but she suffered brief memory loss and could not figure out why she was unable to get up. She had no pain at first, but her injuries were significant – she broke her back and her arm, and her femur was pushed up into her pelvic bone. Vanessa had several surgeries and stayed in the hospital for two months.

When I was eight years old Vanessa’s family moved into the house next to ours. We became fast playmates and although I don’t remember much about what we would do every afternoon…I remember laughing a lot around her. She moved away a couple years later, but she always kept in contact with me. We exchanged letters through the years and she sent me a hand-made birthday card every June. I even received one from her my freshman year of college! She has an amazing ability to keep in touch with so many people, and she genuinely wants to be your friend. We reconnected again in our mid-twenties and shared a lot of fun memories, most of which include a tremendous amount of laughter. There’s something about being in her presence. She came to visit from the east coast two weeks ago and again I spent a lot of the evening laughing.

I remember talking to Vanessa on the phone one day when she was in the hospital almost three years ago – it was a few weeks before Thanksgiving. She was hoping to be able to go visit her brother for the holiday and was unsure if she would be out of the hospital before then. She cried on the phone.  I know Vanessa must cry, but honestly I’ve never heard a negative word come out of her mouth, nor have I ever heard her cry. It made me cry. And a few minutes later she resumed back to her positive self, and asked me about how I was doing.

Vanessa was able to make it out of the hospital before Thanksgiving (and was able to go to her brother’s house), but she continued to endure a long road of recovery. Three years later, she still struggles with a numb foot due to nerve damage in one leg. She also struggles with blood clots that cause extreme pain in her lungs and rob her of her normal energy. However, she still rock climbs. She runs races. She rides her bike. And she is still the joyful, fun-loving friend with the contagious laugh.

Oh, and she walks with a subtle limp….

Due to the shattering of her pelvic bone, one hip sits slightly higher than the other. Each step is a reminder of her past, but a demonstration of her courage.

Most of us do not walk with a physical limp, but we may walk with an emotional limp. I dare say we all do. The limp can either remind us of what we have lost or it can be a testimony to what we have gained. In Vanessa’s case, her limp inspires me – mostly because she is still in the “process” of healing. She went back to the rock where she fell in hopes of climbing it and tackling her demon. She wasn’t ready. But she went and I don’t know that I could have done that. She faced her pain. And she continues to live out her loving personality despite that pain. I think the limp gives her a special flair. I’ve been thinking about my limps…boy there are a few. I haven’t always let them make the story of my life better. But I’m learning…and I’m grateful for examples like Vanessa, who have chosen to limp well.

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, July 2012.