Today marks the day two years ago that the sun set on Jesse’s old self, and he awakened in the wee hours of the 4th knowing everything was different.
Lots of things are still being rebuilt, restructured, reorganized in our home. Two years is a long while, I guess, though if you asked my heart, the space between what was and what is is less than a breath long. We’ve been quarantined into our home by a combination of floods and illness for several days, so I’ve been using the opportunity to sort through a lot of spaces that have been shoved aside in the aftermath of brain cancer. As I pulled objects out of a miniature warehouse of a closet yesterday, I saw a stack of hydrangea printed fabric folded neatly into the farthermost corner. Remnants stacked on a high shelf in a near-forgotten corner of a seldom accessed closet. September is a significant month in our lives. Encompassed in these 30 days is the beginning of life with brain cancer, Jesse’s first brain surgery, our happy Abram’s birthday. It’s the month which holds the day Hurricane Rita blew through our city in Louisiana and left us homeless, too. The fabric currently stacked in the corner of the closet, a few pieces of furniture, the important photos and papers we managed to remove from the house before the hurricane, and a handful of other belongings are all we were able to salvage from the wreckage. Years of life were shattered in a few horrifying hours of wind and rain. I can still smell the damp mustiness in the air when I look at photographs of the huge oak tree laying in our bed and dangling menacingly over the beds of our then infant and toddler boys.
Currently, we live in the greater Houston area. As we watched Hurricane Harvey make landfall and then hover and linger over Texas, then spent days alternating between seeking shelter from tornadoes in a closet under the stairs and making plans to evacuate to the upper floor should the waters in our street continue to rise, I couldn’t help but think about the past; our past. You can read more about what Hurricane Rita did in our lives here, but for this moment, I just wanted to tell you all what I know about life after a natural disaster, after any traumatic event. I think the best way to express this is to go back to two years ago when I found myself sitting in a large, empty room full of tables beside a doctor I had never met, who was pulling up Jesse’s scans we had brought to him on a disc in the early morning from the hospital, where I had been told Jesse lay on what was most likely his death bed. I sat in silence as the doctor pulled up the images of my husband’s messy brain and studied them. He scribbled two words onto a piece of paper, tore the fragment off of the top, and pushed the scrap across the table toward me. I glanced at the words-not quite understanding what they meant-folded the paper, and tucked it away. He turned to me, gently rested his hand upon mine, pressed flat against the table beneath it as if bearing down hard enough would bring stability to my wavering soul. He looked right into my eyes, liquid understanding pooling into the bottoms of his own, and then he spoke to me in the middle of my desperate hopelessness. The words left his lips a firm but gentle whisper: “This is not the end.” Then the corner of his lip turned briefly, subtly upward. I thanked him for meeting with me so quickly and early, and returned to the hospital to be beside Jesse. It was a brief encounter after a life-altering diagnosis, but every facet of it rushes into my memory with the freshness of two minutes ago.
Our home was spared the damage of a hurricane this time. We are the few, not the many, in our area. How my heart breaks at our surroundings. So much brokenness of home and of spirit. Shells of people-who-used-to-be wander the aisles at stores, picking up objects, staring blankly at them, then returning them to shelves. Stores are full of things they need, but they haven’t anywhere to take the things they buy. I see so much of myself in their lost demeanors. When we left Louisiana to come to Houston, we brought the handful of belongings that survived, and all of the fear and confusion we could shoulder. We were homeless, nearly possession-less, and hopeless. We were refugees in our own home country. It was months before any sense of normalcy returned. Months more, still, before we understood the end of our lives in Louisiana was not a dead end, but a shift in path. In the same way, two years ago today, the night Jesse went to bed one person and woke up as someone entirely new, we had a shift in perspective and in path. Five days later, I was in the empty large room with the kind doctor who walked with a limp and wore a slight smile, saying: “This is not the end.” And it wasn’t. It wasn’t the end, friends. It was different. It was hard; it still is. But it was not the end of anything. Old things passed away, yes. Old normals, old perspectives, old grievances, old hopes. All of it washed away with the raging wind and rain of a hurricane and a cancer diagnosis. But it was not the end. Oh, how much it was not the end of anything we truly needed! Hurricanes, with all of their wrath and destruction, pave the way for such beautiful restoration. Cancer, too.
If I could be in the physical presence of each of you reading this right now and could do one thing for you, it would be to take your hand in mine, look you in your eyes, and whisper the same words of hope into your souls that were whispered into mine in a moment when life felt it would never be anything more than a pile of rubble:
“This is not the end.”
It is different. It is hard. But it is anything but “the end”.
*If you are looking for a place to help, I am attaching some links to people and places I know personally. (I will add more as I find and verify them) I encourage you to give whatever you can to as many as you can. The destruction is vast and the need great, but it is nothing in comparison to the love of Jesus we can offer so tangibly in the months of restoration to come!
Our former home church (Bay Area Church) in an area heavily flooded. They are doing amazing work for so many: www.bayarea.church/harvey
The photo in this post is from the front of the home of these sweet souls: http://www.gofundme.com/sapaugh-family
Another church in the Bay Area (Clear Creek Community Church) in the same heavily flooded area. Doing the same incredible work that so many are doing: http://www.clearcreekrelief.org.
You are such a beautiful soul. Grateful to hear your home was spared this time around. God is so very good.
Wish you would make this public on Facebook Ashley. I think a lot of people need to hear this and in your own words.
Thank you for your kind words. 🙂
I just checked my settings to be sure, but the link I shared on Facebook is set to public. You should be able to share it from there. You can also share it to Facebook on your own page by clicking the “Facebook” button at the bottom of this post on the website, or by using copy and paste to grab the URL to be shared in a status update that way. Hope this helps!
I had my own “this is not the end” moment 26 years ago this month. I gave birth to a baby boy with down syndrome. In an instant my world forever changed. We all pray for a healthy baby, but it was not to be. But for his Down Syndrome diagnosis, he appeared otherwise healthy, and mother and child left the hospital within two days. I remember my husband driving us up to the front of the house. I looked at the nicely manicured green lawn and thought to myself, “I always wanted a little boy to play baseball with my husband, as my husband loves baseball.” But my next immediate thought was, “They’ll play baseball together, they’ll just play it a little differently?” And that is how our life as been since his birth. No one said life is fair, and it sure isn’t. Like yourself, my husband and I have a deep faith in God and Jesus Christ. We have had many challenges the last 26 years, but we faced them as a family through prayer and love. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Thank you for your story. You must write professionally, as you are a gifted writer. I have wanted to make a donation since the hurricane. I will check out the information you provided.
Rosemary, thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your story here. Your words are a gift to me today. I was born disabled myself, and have a deep yearning for people to look past the shells we live in and see the souls in the bodies around them, instead. I’m grateful for people like you, who embrace the life the Lord has graced them with, choosing faith over fear and hope over despair!
Hello, I came across your Instagram this morning and ended up looking through your posts. God is so good. My 32 yr old husband is going in to get his final diagnosis after his biopsy. We have three small kids and I have been drowning in fear and hopelessness. I needed to hear this message. Thank you.