Two weeks ago I went to back to Charlotte to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom. I always feel like I can breathe easy in Charlotte. I guess it's because it will always be "home" and I feel safe there. Plus, I don't have any doctors in Charlotte and I've never been hospitalized there, in fact the only time I was ever in a hospital in Charlotte was when I was a candy striper when I was a teen (I worked in the maternity ward with all the cute babies and was seriously pissed off that I didn't get to wear a pink and white candy striper outfit, instead it was khakis and a polo). Sometimes I feel like if I just stay in Charlotte forever, I'll be fine and never have to think about cancer again. Wishful thinking!
When I'm in Charlotte we usually attend church and this time was no different. As I was getting ready for church I thought about faith and how people rely on it during tough times because there's no other choice. "Choose faith over fear" is a popular quote but it's easier said than done. Fear is so much easier to fall into, while faith takes patience and perseverance. My faith has been tested so many times and each time I think, "ok God, how much more will I have to take?" I grew up going to church every Sunday, but when I went to college and moved to New York after graduation, my church time diminished. Sundays turned into days I would recuperate from Saturday night and go to marathon long brunches with my friends. I still went to church when I went home, but when my father would ask me if I found a church home in New York, I would change the conversation and just say, "not yet."
So when I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't want to be that hypocritical person who ran to the church only in their time of need. Of course I prayed and I spoke to God, but usually alone at night in my bed with my eyes full of tears. In those first six months of chemo, I tried to be faithful and I truly believed that everything would be fine, I would be fine and healed very soon. Then came the relapse. Then came the transplant. Then came more cancer. I started to fall apart. Suddenly I didn't feel like I had anymore faith, because every time I relied on my faith, bad things kept happening. "It's all in God's plan", "He works on His own timeline, not yours" is what people would say. But those words can only provide comfort for so long.
I started going to church regularly in Feb 2010, right after my PET scan revealed that the cancer was growing but before I had the biopsy results. I sent out emails to everyone, praying that the biopsy would be negative and the PET scan was a false positive. I started reading the bible, reading prayer books, using rosaries and holy water (and I'm not Catholic), spreading healing oil on my chest (where all the cancer is), grasping onto every bit of faith I could. Throughout my treatment and after the stem cell transplant I continued to attend church, sometimes crying during sermons and praying extra hard before my next PET scan. I started getting Ross to pray with me because one bible verse said that if two or more people pray about something on earth, than it will be done in heaven. My aunt sent me prayer CDs that I would listen to, the pastor on the DCs talked about when he was told he had cancer but his faith brought him through. It gave me strength to keep praying. I read Dodie Osteen's book (Joel Osteen's mother) where she talked about her diagnosis of cancer and how she read healing scriptures every morning and never had a drop of treatment. Her doctors say she is cancer free today. Her story sounded too good to be true, but I read the healing scriptures she recommended every night, hoping the same would happen to me.
And then one day I realized that I lost my faith. It happened slowly and I didn't even realize it until one Sunday my parents asked me if I had been to church lately and I said no. In fact I hadn't been in months. In fact I hadn't prayed in months. It was like going to church and praying was a fad and I was over it. I think I was so defeated I just stopped trying. While cleaning out my house I found some papers where I used to write healing scriptures "By his stripes you are healed" over and over again and carry them around with me. I totally felt like the hypocrite I didn't want to be. I did everything in my power to be faithful when I thought I needed it the most, but when I felt like God let me down, I stopped trying.
I'm still trying to figure out my faith today. Some days my faith is super strong -- I mean, I survived a deadly blood clot that would have killed most people. As I said to a friend who is agnostic as I laid in the ICU, "If you didn't believe in God before, you have to believe in Him now." How could I not have faith after experiencing that? And yet, because I'm still not in remission, I have days of doubt. Days of fear, days of worry. Days when my faith is almost non existent, because this journey has been so damn hard.
So I try to learn from other people's faith as I navigate my way back to my own. My parents' pastor is a perfect example. He has always been a great support system to my parents throughout this ordeal and he married Ross and I in a beautiful ceremony with an amazing sermon. But his faith really impressed me when his younger brother passed away from cancer a few weeks ago and he preached at his own brother's funeral. I was shocked when my father told me. I assumed he would want to be the one who was comforted, not doing the comforting. Wasn't he so angry at God? How could he still be faithful and preach a sermon to comfort others when his brother, who was only in his late 30s, died of a horrible disease? Shoot, I was angry for him! Here was another young person who died from cancer. But I guess that's what faith is about.
Ironically, I have two paintings in our guest bathroom that display bible quotes, one has the verse on hope and the other one is on faith (I originally chose the paintings becaue they matched the decor--not because of what they said--I'm so superficial I didn't even read the quotes!) but one day I actually read them and was shocked about how much they applied to my life.
FAITH - Hebrews 11:1 - Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
HOPE - Romans 5:3-4 - We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perservance, character; and character, hope.
I mean these words were staring at me for months and I didn't even realize it. Now I read them almost daily (while, I admit, simultaneously admiring how perfectly they fit the decor) and its like they were meant for me. So I took it as a sign that I do still have faith, even if it wavers sometimes, it's always there.