Category Archives: 2011

Leaving town . . .

for a whole week.  A week.  Leaving town for a week.  Just me.  Not the whole family.  Me.  Going to go to two different conferences where I plan to use my brain to its fullest, soaking up religious studies and American church history goodies.  And I will not cook.  And I will not clean.  And . . . who are we kidding? this is the real difference:  I will not feel guilty for not cooking and cleaning.  I will also spend a weekend on my own, with no conferences to attend, simply a dear friend to lunch with and other dear friends to dine with.  And I will be staying across the street from one of the bestest theological libraries in the universe.  ::happy happy sigh::

So, this seems to be a good time to talk some about what I’m going to be doing next in my life, now that we’re over the whole colon cancer thing and Ry is fully engaged in his Army National Guard thing.

We are anticipating Ry’s going on an extended journey sometime in the near-ish future.  So, what seemed like a good way to pass the time?  I’m going to go back to school.  In September, I’ll be packing up my children and (hopefully) half of the things we currently own–having thrown out/sold/or stored the other half–and moving to my seminary alma mater.  I will be pursuing a Th.M. (master of theology), which is a one-year program, while my kids are all spending their days being tended by the state in public school.

It’s a bit of a crazy adventure.  I’m looking forward to seeing if my brain is still functional, and if I’m capable of writing in a way other than rambly and conversationally and stream-of-consciousness-ly.  I’ll be working in the Church History department, primarily, including a focus on missions, ecumenics, and history of religions.  Readin’ and writin’ and talkin’ fancy ideas by day; cooking, cleaning, feeding, bathing, tending, homeworking (my own and others’), loving by morning, night and weekends.

Crazy adventure.

My kids are mostly excited.  A little anxious, of course.  But mostly excited to go somewhere new.  Well.  Somewhere kind of new.  To be more specific, in keeping with the varied personalities of the 5.5-foot and under crowd in this house, each one feels a different sort of excited.  Isaac is super excited to be going somewhere new and different, on a whole new adventure.  Hannah is excited to be moving somewhere old and familiar–not that far from our old house, nice and near two sets of beloved friends-family, and close enough to our old church that we will be jumping right into the community of faith there.  Ruth?  Well . . . Given that Ruth still talks about anything in the past as having happened “yesterday” and anything in the future as “tomorrow,” I’m not sure what sort of grasp she has on the whole thing.  She’s sad to be leaving her bestie, though.  And I’m sad for her to have to leave her, too.  Because she really has gained her bestest and sweetest friend this year in pre-K.

I’m excited to be moving near our friends-families, too.  And I’m excited to use my brain.  And I’m praying God will use these months to help me sort out what it is I’ll be doing next.

“What’s that?” you say. You don’t know what you’ll be doing next?”

Why, no, I say.  I have no real idea.

“Well, what are you going to do with this Th.M.?”

I don’t know.

“Well, why are you getting it?”

I don’t know.

“What?!”

Well, it seems that God is once again telling Ry and Lee to pack up and move out, with no clear vision for what will come next.  We’re feeling a bit Abrahamic at the moment.  Packing up, leaving Ur, knowing we’re promised something really good “out there,” knowing that God has something specific in mind, but not knowing what exactly it will look like.  In keeping with the way God has spoken to us throughout our time together, God has us on a “need to know” status, leading us one step at a time.  And we’re following him.  One step at a time.  And, right now, the first step is move from this town we love, from 1/3 of a mile from the sister I love, from the school district and friends we love, to school for me.  And so we’re going.

Over these three years of being in the stirrings zone, of feeling an unsettling, of knowing some changes were coming, God has been kindly and gently preparing us for this next step.  He has gently, step by step, moved us from feeling content where we are, convinced we’d be staying forever, to where we are now:  standing on the edge of what comes next.  It’s not all been easy, it’s not all been completely neat and tidy.  But it has been slow and gentle.   Bit by bit over the course of the past two years, things have been broken down–like a camp being broken down, piece by piece, folded up, put away, until now I feel like I’m looking over the blank campsite.  With just our tent–our house–left to pack up and move on to the next encampment.

I was talking to Ryan about it several weeks ago.  Saying, “Really?  This is our life?  Just crazy?  not knowing where we’re going to be in 6 months’ time?  just moving from here to there?”  And he said, “Yeah.  Haven’t you ever read Genesis?  I think that’s just how it goes.”  And it landed right for me.  It landed right.  We’re nomads.  We’re being called to go places before we even know where those places are.  To move from place to place, serving God in each new place, in each new way he’s set before us.  And that’s not without precedent.

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Filed under 2011, Family Life, Gospel living, milestones

What next? Part II.

Yesterday, I described in detail the ways God worked out the timing and details of our lives around Ry’s colon cancer in such a way that a horrifyingly scary situation was given space to be our one and only concern.  Everything else was smoothed out.  I ended by saying Ry was “easily able to step out of his work to take the convalescence his body needed.”

Of course, by “easy,” I don’t mean easy.  I mean with little complication.  Because it was anything but easy for Ry to step out of the world for 6 weeks.  It was terrible for him.  It was the most difficult challenge for him, I think.  Cancer diagnosis?  Fine.  We have a problem, we talk to the people who know how to solve it.  Surgery?  Fine.  I don’t have anything to worry about:  all I have to do is sleep during it.  Catheter?  um . . . we won’t talk about that . . . Pain post surgery?  Fine.  Pain is good.  Pain means things are getting better.  I can take pain.  I inflict pain on my body all the time in the name of health and fitness.

But.  Stop doing stuff for 6 weeks?  Stop working?  Stop producing?  Stop?!  Impossible!  Inconceivable!

Enter:  Ry v. Lee:  Battle of the Wills, Round Two!

I wanted him to stay alive.  I had handed him completely over to the care of strangers.  I had waited helplessly while they cut into his body.  I had seen him unconscious and I didn’t like it.  I had seen him nearly pass out under my care–having no idea how my weak, broken body was going to catch his strong and muscular one.  I had seen the stuff–blood?  bodily fluid somethin’-er-other–oozing from his wounds stain the bedsheets.  I had returned to the hospital at 7 AM the morning after the surgery to find his bed empty, his room seemingly empty, drips of dried blood on the floor! convinced, I was, that something horrible had happened to him in the night and they weren’t able to reach me on my phone for some reason.  All of it.  I had done.  And I never, ever, ever wanted to do any of it ever again.  I wanted him well.  I wanted him alive.  And I thought the best way to do that was for him to listen to his doctor and do everything the doctor told him to do.

But Ry thought differently.  Because Ry is not Lee, and Lee is not Ry.  Ry had handed his own body over to strangers to do with what they would.  He had lain helpless in a hospital bed, bound by medical equipment that was thrust upon him while he was unconscious.  Medical equipment he had no way of removing on his own, so he was left subject to the whim and schedule of hospital staff.  He’d had things invading his body that had no business being there.  He had done helpless and out-of-control.  And he. was. finished.  He wanted to be strong and healthy and well and alive and under his own power and volition.  And he thought the best way to do that was for him to listen to his body and to do everything his body told him to do.

So, my need to feel safe collided with his need to be well.  More screaming, slamming, weeping, rending of garments.  More stoicism, courage (stupidity?) determination (donkey stubbornness?), perseverance, and compassion with strong boundaries.

But in the end?  When it was all said and done?  What we had was a healed body, a body cancer-free.  Thirteen inches of colon were removed from Ry’s body—more than we had expected, although, apparently it’s standard—along with ten lymph nodes.  His lymph nodes were clear, his margins were clear.  He was finished.  The surgery was all that was needed to rid his body of the cancer.  If ever again I see the doctor who ordered Ry’s initial colonoscopy, I think I’m going to have to kiss him.

Ry recovered remarkably quickly from the surgery—which leaves Ry saying, “See?  I told you I could listen to my body!” and me saying, “Thanks be to God his intestines didn’t end up outside his abdominal wall in spite of his stubborn need to move a belt sander out of the garage mere days after the surgery, while he was still on a 10lb. weight limit.”

And we’re both right.  And we’re both grateful that we’re both right.  There is no reason on earth Ry should have had colon cancer.  Really.  He doesn’t fit into a single risk category.  He’s 38, with no family history, in great physical condition—he exercises regularly (crazy man!) and eats healthfully.  There was no reason for it.  I Googled till my fingers were bruised and my eyes were raw and I came up empty.  Yet it happened nonetheless.  Because, apparently, stuff just happens sometimes.  And all you can do is get through it.  And we, by God’s grace, by God’s strength, by God’s knocking some humility into both of us along the way, we did indeed make it.

And we came out the other side all the more convinced that making plans makes no sense.  And all the more convinced that God has blessed us with a wonderful marriage and that he continues to bless our marriage richly.  In spite of ourselves.

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Filed under 2011, colon cancer, marriage, my husband

What next?

So, two days after Ry was diagnosed with colon cancer, his job changed.  Well, actually, he started his new job four days later.  And we were so grateful for it!  I mean, sure it made a crazy situation even crazier, but it really proved to be the best working situation under which Ry could deal with what came next in his cancer journey.

Once we got passed his initial plan, that is . . .

When we talked to our family doctor about Ry’s diagnosis, he agreed with the GI about the best course of action:  a bowel resection.  The doctors would remove a chunk of Ry’s colon, taking out all that could have been affected by the cancer, as well as lymph nodes that would be biopsied as well, to make sure the cancer had not hit those.

Our first major decision was to find a doctor to do the surgery.  We wanted to go outside of our small town and even beyond the small city nearby.  I was in full-on freak-out mode, trying to research all of the hospitals within a reasonable distance from us; trying to determine which would be the best one.  In Ry’s favor was that all of the tests in addition to the original scope, came back with promising outcomes:  his CSA, the blood test looking for markers of cancer, came back clear;  his abdominal X-ray from his initial doc visit came back clear, so it didn’t seem the cancer had grown through to the outside of his colon;  his chest X-ray ordered by the GI was clear, which was good news, given that the lungs and the liver are the first places colon cancer generally spreads.  All of this was good news.  All of this pointed to a good outcome, to limited invasion by the cancer.

But still and all, I was in full-on freak-out mode:  “GET OUT ALL THE CANCER!!!  GET IT OUT!!!  GET IT OUT NOW!!!!”

And Ry?  Well, Ry was starting a new job.  In an unusual position.  Feeling the pressure to prove he was necessary in this unusual role as a full-time battalion chaplain in the National Guard.  So, he thought it would be best to wait a while for the surgery.  To wait until he had settled in at his new job, before he took weeks off from work to have and recover from a surgery.

::insert jaw-drop emoticon here::

So, as I said, this whole thing was a very human endeavor.  A very human endeavor in which one-flesh and two-brains came to blows.  It was not always pretty.  About that I would like to be very, very clear.  Because this whole story can turn out to be another one of those pretty pretty stories where the couple love each other so deeply and their faith is so strong and the wife gazes glowingly at her husband:  her hero . . . and the husband gives gentle pats to his wife’s knee:  his humble help-meet.  And that’s the last story I want to tell.  Because that’s not our story.

Our story involves yelling and crying and screaming and slamming of doors and banging one’s own head off of walls and more screaming and crying and sobbing and weeping.  Well.  My story involves that, anyway.  Ry’s story involves rugged stoicism; a walk along the fine, fine lines between courage and stupidity, determination and donkey stubbornness, compassion and “I feel your pain, but I don’t care.”

We are not the same people.  We are awesome, awesome friends and companions, partners, lovers, one.  But we are not the same people.  Well we’re not entirely different.  We are both very strong, very persistent, very insistent, (these are all nice words for stubborn, you realize) people.  And when we have the same goal in view?  We are magic together.  But when we are at crossed-purposes?  with some passion infused for good measure?  Ug.ly.  Human.  Ever-so human.

In time, Ry decided not to put off the surgery for very long, and it was scheduled for March 29th, giving him just over a month to work at his new job.  And giving his new insurance the month it needed to kick in.  The first blessing.  We had received an estimate of the bill for surgery under our old insurance before the new insurance kicked in.  ::insert bulging eyes emoticon here.::  Oh. My.  Oh my.  I don’t know how we would have paid it off.  I mean, we would have.  Surely.  But over time.  Over some good, long time.  Under his new insurance?  It was covered.  My thanks to you and you and you and you:  all of my taxpaying friends.  Here is an example of how your tax dollars helped one family in a very profound way.  Military insurance is not perfect, but in this case?  It served us very, very well.  And for that we are grateful both to the providers and to The Provider who put Ry in his new job at just the right time for our financial needs to be provided.

Second blessing:  If Ry had to have abdominal surgery that was followed by 6-8 weeks of convalescence afterward while he was working at the church?  It would have been beyond difficult for him.  It would have been impossible.  He would have been checking in with people all the time, he would have had me driving him to visit people, he would have been going out of his mind to have to leave his beloved congregation without him for that long!  But because of the job change, his beloved congregation had a pastor serving them full-time.  And they were in good hands.  And, because his new job had just started, he didn’t have much in the way of loose ends there.  He easily was able to step out of his work to take the convalescence his body needed.

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Filed under 2011, Army stuff, colon cancer, marriage, my husband

How did we get here?

Yesterday I made a mighty big promise (though I didn’t actually promise) to finish up the Army back-story stuff in a paragraph or two so that I can return to the colon cancer story.  Yeah.  I’m sure you believed me.  And these few lines here don’t count as a paragraph.  They’re a preamble.

So, you might be finding yourself scratching your head, wondering how we went from packing up Ry’s Army uniforms for good to Ry is now serving on active duty with the National Guard.  Well.  Funny that.  Ry and I try really really hard not to make plans.  I especially eschew the practice ever since I declared unequivocally that, 1.  The only way I would live in the South was if the Army moved me there and 2.  I would never ever never ever never ever never move back to New Jersey after Ry’s seminary years there.  18 months after serving Ry’s first call as a pastor–no Army connection whatever–in Georgia, we returned to New Jersey for me to finish up seminary.  It was then that I determined never to make plans again.  But, apparently, Ry did not get the memo.

We really, truly, to the bottom of our beings, believed that Ry was done with the Army when he resigned his commission.  We moved our family to this wonderful little town where my sister lives–a dream she and I had shared for 10 years! finally coming true!–to serve a wonderful little church full of wonderful, faithful, hard-working, hard-loving people.  And Ry was content.  And I was content.  And Ry declared, “I am never moving again!  I love this church!  I’ll retire from here!  I love our house!  I’m never moving out of it!”  And I said, “I hope we never have to leave this church, this town, this house.”

But, in time it became clear that Ry was not as settled as he had been.  I’m not sure when the unsettling happened.  Perhaps it was three years in to our “permanent” home.  Beset by disturbing dreams about the Army, Ry’s contentment with resigning from the Army began to break down as shadows of regret began to overtake it.  I watched it happen, while continued on his merry way.  His dreams spoke loudly and clearly to me, and this was not the first time in our marriage God had spoken to us through dreams.  Also speaking volumes was the way he put on his uniform to speak at local veterans’ events, and, even more so, the way his uniform hung on the coat tree in our foyer for months afterward.  I knew it wasn’t just due to our usual housekeeping failures.  It was there.  Written all over him:  Ry had left the Army, but the Army had not left him.  Ry’s pride and confidence in his service began to be replaced by what appeared to be shame over having abandoned his post.  And I could watch that no longer.  My husband had been a distinguished ROTC cadet, had served the Army with excellence each and every step of the way.  And I could not bear to watch him enshroud his military service in a cloak of . . . I’m not exactly sure what . . . shame?  embarrassment?  guilt?  regret?

One final episode broke it all wide open for me.  Clarity came through:  My husband needed to return to the Army.  In some way.  In any capacity.  Those uniforms needed to come out of their boxes–well, actually, they needed to be replaced with the new ACU’s that had replaced the old BDU’s, but that’s not nearly as powerful an image–and my husband needed to once again wear the Army uniform with pride.  God had spoken.  Loudly.  Clearly:  Ry’s call as an Army chaplain was not over yet!

It took several months to get the details worked out–although, not as long as it might have.  In fact, a couple months prior to the Final Episode, at a family wedding, Ry had run into a soldier who had passed through Ry’s purview when Ry was mobilized with the Reserves.  Both had left an impression on the other.  And it turns out, this soldier was now serving as a serving as an “officer strength manager” with the National Guard.  His job was to recruit officers for the Guard.  So, when Ry and I finally concluded that he had to get back in uniform, Ry knew exactly whom to call to get the ball rolling.  In fact, Ry had the soldier’s business card in his wallet from when he’d shared it at the wedding.

God.  God’s fingerprints.  All over all of it.

In December of 2009, Ry was once again commissioned.  This time as a chaplain in the Army National Guard.  And our intention, our expectation, our plan was for him to serve out his career doing the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” thing, while continue to serve full-time as the pastor of this church we loved dearly.  Obviously, it was still the new Reserves/National Guard, but things had settled down considerably since Ry had resigned his commission in the spring of 2005.  And because we were confident that God was calling us to this new adventure, we were confident he would provide all that was needed for the journey–for both us and for our church.

Then came last January, 2011.  Word had already been out that Ry’s unit could expect to be deployed the following January/February.  For a year, then, Ry had been serving his National Guard unit on the standard “one weekend/2-week” schedule.  And then some.  And then a lot more some.  But on January 17th last year, Ry attended a meeting for brainstorming the best ways to provide help and support for his unit, which had recently suffered a tragic loss due to suicide.  Sadly, this was not the first success of several attempts and multiple ideations within his unit in the previous three years.  Out of that brainstorming session came the possibility that Ry would serve full-time for the year leading up to the deployment, providing counsel and support to soldiers who were preparing for ye another deployment. His unit was in need of the full-time care of a chaplain, yet it is highly unusual for a National Guard or Reserves battalion to have a full-time chaplain serving them.  While we thought it would be the best thing for his unit, we knew it was very unlikely to happen.  However, on February 19th, just two days after he was diagnosed with colon cancer, Ry’s orders came through, and, as of February 22nd, 2011, Ry began serving full-time in the Army National Guard.

Because he was serving in the Guard full-time now, he could not serve our church anymore.  Someone was brought in quickly, and this pastor has been able to serve our beloved church in Ry’s absence.  When he first left the church, he did so with the understanding that he would return in two years’ time, after his deployment.  That was the plan.

However.  (and perhaps you’ve caught on to the pattern by now)  Several months in, it grew abundantly clear that there was no way Ry could hang up his uniform to keep it in a closet for all but two days a month and two weeks a year.  He had donned the uniform, and found the exact place to which God has called him for this next phase of our lives.

It was devastatingly sad to leave our old church.  We truly had not expected to leave them, and certainly not after 5 1/2 years.  But our confidence in God’s providence wins out once again, and we look forward to seeing what all God has planned for that congregation.  We remain confident that Ry was called there for those 5 1/2 years.  Ry remains confident that it was indeed God’s call on him to hang up his uniform for those four years.  And now, we rest in God’s provision for the phase of Ry’s military career that will follow his upcoming deployment.

I realize I’ve just written 1188 words and never actually returned to the colon cancer story.  I can’t be trusted.  That much is true.  But Ry’s National Guard thing plays a big role in the colon cancer story, so it seemed a necessary interruption.

The thing with our lives, though–and I’m sure it applies to everyone’s–is that all of the events of our lives all so intertwined and convoluted.  It’s like looking at a tapestry.  You can’t just pull one thread out to follow the whole picture.  Each individual thread is connected to a web of threads that together make up the whole picture.  So, yes.  To tell the story of Ry’s colon cancer, I had to return to the early 1990’s and Ry’s ROTC career.  God has been weaving a breathtakingly beautiful tapestry of our lives.  He has.   I love to take the opportunity to stand back, and look at the whole picture, and then, take a closer look with a magnifying glass to discover how that red thread there is connected and enmeshed with that blue one over there.  How there are no straight lines, even if it appears so, that even the straight lines are intersected and redirected for a time.  God has woven a beautiful story for us.  And I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve and progress each step of the way.

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Filed under 2011, Army stuff, Gospel living, my husband

Major Life Change, part 2

When I started writing yesterday, my intention was to interject the change in jobs that took place in the midst of sorting out Ry’s colon cancer diagnosis.  I thought I could be quick about it.  Clearly I’ve never met me.  It seemed impossible to explain the major life change without going back to the very beginning of Ry’s Army career.  When, in telling the tale, I went well past the 1,000 word point, I thought it would be better to split the post.  This is the rest of the story.

We left off yesterday with Ry finally being commissioned as a chaplain in the Army Reserves.  In August of 2002.  You may or may not recall that some major world events took place shortly thereafter.

The whole world had changed from when Ry first went into ROTC in 1991, and even since he had decided to pursue chaplaincy in the Army Reserves.  Back then, one could expect to have a career as a Reservist, serving out one’s time solely in the standard, “one weekend a month, two weeks a year time commitment.”  Not so in the post 9/11 world.  And we knew that going in.  I have a photographic memory of the day Ry was commissioned, a vivid image of the office where I sat with an infant Isaac in my arms, in front of a desk, at which sat  an Army officer.  I can see his shelves and shelves of books behind him.  He asked me very deliberately, and rather intensely, if I was sure I knew what we were signing up for.  Was I prepared for a mobilization?  Did I know that it was not only a possibility, but a very real likelihood.  “He will be mobilized.”  Was I sure?  Did I know?  Was I ready?  Yes.  Yes.  And yes.  I had seen the news, I knew we were at war in Afghanistan.  And my dad was a Marine Reservist through my entire childhood, and he had been mobilized and deployed to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War.  Yes.  I knew that being a Reservist meant the possibility of mobilization and deployment.

What I did not know, what I did not fully grasp, was that a mere seven months later, we would be involved in yet another war.  Ry spent 4 months doing the “one weekend a month” thing before he was mobilized to active duty and was serving full-time as an Army chaplain.  He would spend a total of 18 months on active duty, ministering to Army Reservists and National Guard soldiers who had been plucked out of their civilian lives and were on their way to a war in Iraq.  Ry saw them on their way out and then, after a year had gone by, on their way back in.

Ry worked 30 minutes from our home, but for at least the first six months of his time there, he was gone 14 to 16 hours a day, 28-29 days per month.  It was intense.  It was good, good work, but it was a very stressful time for our family.  Isaac was 8 months old when Ry’s mobilization began.  We were grateful that Isaac was a born an early riser, because practically the only time Ry spent with Isaac during those months was before dawn, as they bonded over their daily bananas at breakfast.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am grateful that my husband was able to see his son at all during his mobilization.  I am beyond grateful that he could see him nearly every day.  And please don’t enter me in a contest with the families whose soldiers were sent to far off lands to risk their lives.  I’m not telling their story.  I’m telling my own.  And it’s really no contest anyone wants to win.  Every soldier, every soldier’s family has been put to the test over these last ten-plus years.

And that’s a post for another day.  Today, I’m telling our story.  Of the very real stress we underwent as our lives flipped upside down.  Prior to his mobilization,  Ry and I worked together on the same church staff, sharing the daily care of Isaac who was always with one of us.  Mobilization turned our home into a hotel where Ry hung his hat and Isaac and I were on our own, serving together as concierge and breakfast entertainment.  The intensity of the first 6-8 months lessened, and we fell into a new normal, with Ry gone only 10 hours a day, 25 days per month.

By the time Ry came off his mobilization orders 18 months later, it became abundantly clear that the new Army Reserves looked nothing like the old.  Reservists could now expect to be mobilized for twenty-four months out of five years.  Ry’s job prior to mobilization was primarily in youth ministry.  Upon his return, he found it difficult to transition from serving soldiers who’d just been through war to serving teenagers and their needs.  We loved that church where he was serving–I had resigned my position as Director of Christian Education after a year, in order to be a full-time SAHM.

On a whim, Ry submitted his resume to a church that was a mere ten minutes from my beloved sister’s home.  In time, it became clear that God was calling us to this church, Ry as their solo pastor.  The state of the new Army Reserves, along with the youth of our family–Hannah had joined us now, several months after Ry’s mobilization ended–made it impossible for Ry to remain in the Reserves.  How could he be the sole pastor of a church when he could expect to be gone for two out of every five years?!

So, it was with mixed feelings and heavy hearts that we discerned it was time for Ry to resign his commission, and to get out of the Army all together.  We concluded that Ry’s call to chaplaincy was more in service of getting him into congregational ministry.  That his Army career would be limited to less than three years, including the good, good work he had done stateside for soldiers who were sent to war.

We packed up his uniforms, along with our house, our 3-year-old, and our Baby girl, and moved back to the land whence we’d come ten years, and six moves, earlier.  We were off to live out our lives in Small Town, with Small Church, and beautiful Small Mountains, and family nearby . . .

This should bring me back to last February very, very quickly tomorrow.  Really.  A paragraph, maybe two, and then I’ll be right back to telling the rest of Ry’s colon cancer story.  But let me assure you, so you don’t worry in the meantime, that story has a happy, healthy ending.

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Filed under 2011, Army stuff

We interrupt this near-tragedy with a major life change . . .

The colon cancer saga continues, but I thought now would be a good time to remind you of what was going on concurrently with the colon cancer saga:  Ry’s major, whirlwind change in occupation.  To properly address the change, it seems best to go back to the very beginning.

Prior to last February, Ry had been happily serving as a solo pastor of a church we loved, while also serving in the National Guard as a chaplain.  His passion and gifting for the military goes back to his ROTC days in college.  It was a long road from his initial commissioning upon graduation, to his commissioning as an Army chaplain seven years later.  That whole separation of church and state thing complicates the path from ROTC to Chaplaincy.  Throw in four moves, a job change, and a baby, and you have quite the complicated mess.

But it finally happened:  Ry was finally a chaplain.  It was a call to Army chaplaincy that first turned Ry away from his mechanical engineering studies and aspirations and toward seminary and ministry.  During airborne school after his sophomore year of college, Ry saw Army chaplains in action and had an overwhelming sense of, “YES!  That’s what I want to do!”  We spent our junior year of college prayerfully considering and discerning if that was indeed where God was calling him.  And it was a tough thing to figure out.  He was then in his third year of studying mechanical engineering and there would be no changing majors at that stage of the game without adding years to his undergraduate education.  Not to mention:  Um.  Hello??!!  He was an engineering major for pete’s sake??!!  And now he was supposed to go to seminary??!!

Turns out that, yes, he that is precisely what he was supposed to do.  A tragic event that took place during the fall of our senior year thoroughly clarified and cemented his call to be a chaplain.  We were on our way . . .

Seminary shopping was fun.  I highly recommend it as a past-time . . . Not really.  Ultimately, the choice felt very clear and very right, even if it was not quite the location we’d been hoping for.

While Ry was in seminary, as part of his requirements, he had to serve in two congregations, participating in leading worship and pastoral care and leading youth programs.  And he fell in love with the local congregation, with being a pastor.  This came as a bit of a shock to us, because to this point we fully expected him to go straight from seminary to the Army.  That was our plan.  Seminary was just a stop along the way, a bit of a pause in the Army thing–aside from 12 weeks of Officer Basic Course one summer–while he received the education he needed to be an Army chaplain.  But something happened.  He realized he wasn’t just called and equipped for the more limited ministry as a chaplain, but also for service in a congregation.  The Army Reserves seemed to be the place for him to serve, so that’s the direction we started moving.

The way was not smooth, however.  I’m not even sure what all happened to slow the process down, but Ry was not commissioned as a chaplain until a full four years after he graduated from seminary.  In August 2002.  When we look back at it through the lens of history, we now know that was very interesting timing . . .

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Filed under 2011, Army stuff, my husband

You’re not kidding me . . .

After Ry’s colonoscopy, we knew we had to wait “a week to ten days” for the results of the biopsy.  The doctor didn’t use that word, but that’s how it functioned.  They had to test the polyp for cancer cells.

A week after the scope, on February 17th, I arrived home from picking up Ruth from pre-school to find a voice-mail message from the doctor.  Of course he didn’t give any information over the phone; he simply asked Ry to return his call.  Well.  That was the explicit message anyway.  But I could hear in his voice far more information.

I called Ry on his cell phone to make sure he had received the message.  It turns out our doctor friend had also called Ry’s cell phone and told him the news:  the polyp was indeed cancerous, and the margins were not clear.  He recommended a bowel resection.  If he could, he’d have it done in two weeks’ time.  He tried to impress upon Ry the urgency of the situation.  I felt the urgency immediately.  Ry . . . not so much.

And here begins the very, very human component of our journey.  The thing with marriage is it involves two people.  Two people.  Marriage would be much easier if it involved only one person.  Or two automatrons whose electronic doohickeys could be linked so that the two were always on the same page, always responding to things in the exact same way.  But the reality is, marriage is made up of two people.  Two different people.  Who’ve been raised in two different families where different philosophies are developed, different habits formed, different attitudes fostered.  And, well, that makes marriage difficult.  Beautiful, sure.  But difficult.

And we have a good marriage.  A really, really good marriage.  We’ve known each other since we were eleven, we’ve been friends since we were fourteen, best friends since the early nineties for pete’s sake!  We have it good.  Really good.  But when we stared down cancer together, our differences took center stage and fought for the spotlight.

And maybe, because it wasn’t my body, maybe my Different should have bowed out and left the stage and deferred entirely to his Different.  Maybe.  But there’s this thing about marriage where the two are made one flesh and my body is no longer entirely just my body, and his body is not entirely his own.  Now people do some freaky stuff with 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.  They do.  I know they do.  Freaky, freaky, need-to-be-smacked-upside-the-head stuff with it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to just throw it out.  Between the “one flesh” that Jesus talks about and this passage here in 1 Corinthians, there’s something about marriage that goes beyond just two separate individuals living together in the same house.  Something happens.  Something is there.  Paul calls it a profound mystery, and he is applying to Christ and his Church.  There is a unity in marriage that goes beyond any other human endeavor.  It’s some crazy stuff.

So, when one of your bodies is under attack by the Enemy, the other body freaks out a bit.  And I like to think it’s understandable, Biblically speaking.

We had to wend our way through the early weeks after the diagnosis negotiating need for need, priority for priority, body for body.  And it was not always good.  And it was not always pretty.

But what remained steadfast?  Our faith.  Really and truly, believing God had his hands all over it.  From the wife who had the out-of-body freakout at the mention of blood; to the initial visit being with the doctor who insisted on the scope, rather than with the one who wasn’t terribly concerned; to the sudden job change–announced three days after the diagnosis–that resulted in better insurance coverage and in preventing Oh-my-word-how-are-we-going-to-eat??!! panic . . . and more . . . we saw God’s hand all over it.  Providing for us every step of the way.

Did that ensure a good outcome?  Heck no.  Crappy, tragic stuff happens to God’s people every single day.  But it assured us that whatever the outcome, we would be carried through.  Our daily bread would be provided.  What we needed to get through each day of the journey would be provided.  Of that we were certain.  So in that we could rest.  The differences that caused all sorts of friction between the two very, very very different people were outshone, outdone–though not overcome–by the unity of our faith in our Faithful God who would take us–as a unit–through to the other side.  Without that assurance, it’s very possible one of us would have died.  And it would not have been because of the cancer. . . .  🙂 **

**Ry insisted I add the smiley face so you all know I’m only kidding.  So you know that no one is killed in this story.  And so you know that there are no murderers, attempted murders, or contemplating-murder murderers in this story.  I’d say it was overkill, but then there seems to be some sort of pun created there . . .

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Filed under 2011, colon cancer, marriage, theologizing