Living in the Shadow of My Dreams

I remember those hot summer days that had skies full of clouds. As I would watch them floating high, I would dream like the isolated country girl with  no one to share dreams.  I would dream about my life and think about what I would become. I can’t recall anything that I specifically dreamed, but I am sure that I never anticipated that I would be living this kind of life at this age. I never dreamed that I would be this age. Whatever I  thought that my life would hold, I never saw this. I know that my husband, the Chicago boy that he was, never dreamed of leaving this world like this. He didn’t have time to dream. In his long summer days, he would hop a train from Wakeagon, run numbers for the goombas and hop a train back to his parents and the parsonage before they even knew he wasn’t in the house. At fifteen, he didn’t have to dream because he was always finding ways to get out of the house. 

I remember one of the pecular things that my husband said when he was first diagnosed. He said that he had just begun to believe that we would grow old together. A little later when I asked him about that comment , he didn’t remember saying it. His comment revealed  a hidden doubt about our “golden years”. A thought was just outside of his consciencousness that fell out under the shock of the diagnosis. Maybe he was afraid that our marriage would not be able to with stand the pressures of the circumstances and events (too many to innumerate) of the past few years. He, like me, never saw “retirement” as an option from a finacial perspective. Or, maybe, deep within himself, something told him that he would not be here. It may have been one of those Fruedian slips full of subconscous revelation of the future. For now, it will be filed in my mind under “mystery”.

I  know that if we ever had specific dreams ( like retiring in Florida), such dreams disappeared in the light of this reality.  This journey requires the rethinking and re evaluating of  everything. Nothing that we ever knew as familiar is a reality or even a possibility. The sensible thing to do would be to re evaluate and draw a new map for our life, but the uncertainity of survival causes paralysis of  every thought or idea. We no longer have any resources to accomplish anything that we would plan. Expending energy towards planning for living has to give way to planning for an ending. Planning also implys that you have a tool or resource that can be used to accomplish whatever you plan. We don’t have that either. So, we live in the shadow of the dreams of the life that we once knew. We live presently only. But isn’t that reality? Isn’t the Lord’s Prayer about “…give us this day our daily bread…”? There is no lay away plan or future security implied. But, we still plan and we still try to plan for a future.

When my husband began treatment, a good acquaintance was in the same infusion room. We met him and his wife through our dog and we valued their friendship. His cancer was very advanced at the time of diagnosis so the oncologist gave him little hope of a long survival.  He kept saying, “Just ninty days, all I need is ninty more days”. He was trying to bring about every dream that he had for his life into fruition in those ninty days. Unfortuantely, he didn’t get ninty days. He only had sixty and he had to leave the dreams behind. Now, his widow lives in the Shadow of their dreams.

Everything in me struggles to look forward. I know  scripture says that “….without vision (dreams) my people perish” so  survival demands  the finding of new dreams, visions and new maps. I seem to have lost the energy to pursue new dreams. To do that would mean leaving him behind and my heart stops. A horrible sob comes up into my throat and the tears well up in my eyes. Leaving him out of any new dream is unthinkable. Yet, I know, I must dream again. I will have to choose to live or to hide in the Shadow of My Dreams. So instead, he and I plan next years garden, imagine the face of our new grandchild (the baby is coming in the spring) and we pray, “Give us each day…..”

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As A Shade of Sheol, A Deep Shadow

I don’t know the proper recognization when you copy and past someone else’s blog, however I wanted this to be a part of my journey. It, in it’s sad way, brought comfort. To see that this Psalm may have been penned by someone who finds the same things that I am finding on this journey thawarts the lonliness. Isn’t that what this life is about? Walking together is better than walking alone. We first walk it with ourselves. We walk it with our God, but the burden is lighter when we walk it with someone. I find that this journey is too painful for friends. They want to fix the humanly unfixable. They begin strong as if they are going into battle, but like any long and drawn out conflict, desertion seems to quickly descend and it isn’t their fault. It is uncomfortable to daily watch prayers go unanswered. It isn’t pleasant to re-affirm daily “Even though He may slay me, YET will I trust Him!!!” It is a definately a place in the shade and when the lonliness sets in, it is a deep shadow.

As a Shade in Sheol: The Experience of Illness

Filed under: Psalms — Jeremy @ 12:48 pm

As I was reading Psalm 88 this morning a footnote in my New Oxford Annotated Bible caught my attention. The commentator suggests that this psalm may have been written by someone suffering a lifelong illness. This conjecture is based on verse 15 – “Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer thy terrors.” This puts a new twist on an already heart-wrenching psalm. Here is the text:

O Lord, my God, I call for help by day;
  I cry out in the night before thee.
Let my prayer come before thee,
  Incline thy ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
  And my life draws near to Sheol.
I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit;
  I am a man who has no strength,
Like one forsaken among the dead,
  Like the slain that lie in the grave,
Like those whom thou dost remember no more,
  For they are cut off from thy hand.
Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit,
  In the regions dark and deep.
Thy wrath lies heavy upon me,
  And thou dost overwhelm me with all thy waves. Selah

Thou hast caused my companions to shun me;
  Thou hast made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
  My eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon thee, O Lord;
  I spread out my hands to thee.
Dost thou work wonders for the dead?
  Do the shades rise up to praise thee? Selah
Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave,
  Or thy faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are thy wonders known in the darkness,
  Or thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O Lord, cry to thee;
  In the morning my prayer comes before thee.
O Lord, why dost thou cast me off?
  Why dost thou hide thy face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
  I suffer thy terrors; I am helpless.
Thy wrath has swept over me;
  Thy dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
  They close in upon me together.
Thou hast caused lover and friend to shun me;
  My companions are in darkness.

I have always been healthy; my parents, however, have not. My Mom has had serious bone and joint problems since she was a teenager. And I have watched my Dad suffer from Hepatitis C, an incurable liver disease, for the last fifteen years. He is currently awaiting a liver transplant. So I have witnessed the effects of long-term disease firsthand.

I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit

The psalmist identifies himself as a shade, the term used in the OT for those who had gone down into Sheol. Shades had an indeterminate existence, a sort of half-life, cut off from the land of the living and, more devastatingly, from God, the source of life. The psalmist, then, is experiencing “hell on earth,” though the phrase isn’t exactly appropriate since it has connotations that would have been unfamiliar to him. He is as good as dead, cut off from the experience of life, his companions, and God.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape

He is cut off from the experience of life. He has been sick for so long that he hardly remembers health, strength, or joy. He is in solitary confinement. There is no escape and no light. Even the food slid in under the door is tasteless, colorless as the walls, and joylessly eaten in silence.

Long-term illness is restrictive. Sometimes literally, as in the case of the bedridden. Taking a drive to enjoy the colors of fall, eating in a favorite restaurant, going fishing – all of these activities become burdensome if not impossible. They used to be means of escape, but when they cannot be enjoyed the effect is detrimental. A source of joy is removed. What is prison if not such a confinement?

Thou hast caused lover and friend to shun me

He is cut off from companions. He has become “a thing of horror to them.” Like the shades, people fear him. They do not understand him and, worse, they see in him their fears for themselves.

Too often we abandon the seriously ill when we are needed most. In cases of long-term illness we sometimes lose interest. We’ll occasionally ask after the person, but we are not actively engaged in supporting them. We are uncomfortable because we don’t know what to say. But simple, caring acts are more important than any words. And, uncomfortable as it may be, it can be good for our souls to face our fear of death by caring for the sick. More importantly, however, it is good for the sick.

O Lord, why dost thou cast me off?

Cut off from God, the source of life. That is the most terrifying thing about the shades. And, like them, the psalmist feels severed from God. He does not feel the vigor of health. He fears death. Why doesn’t God deliver him?

For the believer, this is the greatest torment of illness. The lawyer inside tells us that if we do good, good things will happen, and if we do bad, bad things will happen. “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The feeling is exacerbated for those who believe in divine healing as the right of every believer. For them, sickness calls into question the very existence of their faith. The sick need to hear from us that God loves them and will sustain them in their illness. Most of the time they don’t need a theodicy. They need the Gospel.

Do the shades rise up to praise thee?

The last nine verses of the psalm are bleak. He sees no rescue from the terrors of death and Sheol. But there is hope after all. In the resurrection of Jesus, God’s wonders have been made known in the darkness and his saving help in the land of forgetfulness. Christ has cast down the gates of Abaddon and broken free, leading captivity captive and giving gifts unto men.

During the Prayer of the Church in our worship services we name the sick. After a while we memorize the list. Yet we sometimes forget that every name represents a soul in turmoil. This is a violation of love, a sin against those people. Let us repent and, like “little Christs,” enter into their suffering with them.

Another Sleepless Night

Like for so many, the night has become something to endure. He is sleeping. It is special when he is able to sleep for hours. The night is usually full of motion and up’s and down’s. I am awake and he sleeps. It is comfort to hear the gentle rise and fall of his breathing. No snoring or striations, just breath in and breath out. Precious breath of life. How thankful I am to be awake to hear it.

Tonight, the moon is full. You literally are bathed in moonshine. It is a good night to walk and watch the shadows. Again, the shadows. You are able to see some distance in front of you when you walk the familiar, but you can’t see things in focus. Or, at least I can’t. I just know the territory. I know the familiar feel of the grass under my feet. I know when to watch for the tree roots. That is part of walking in the shadow. You have to know where to put your feet because you do not have the light to show you the way.  Yet, these shadows are a comfort. I am so very familiar with these surroundings. That is my pain. I am so familiar with him. I know his words before he speaks. I finish his thoughts. When he tries to hide, I tell him that, in his silence, the sound is deafening because his thought are so noisy. He worries. He worries about me. He worries about the children. He worries about the grandchildren and the one that is coming. Worries with how we will cope without him. Worries with how his life will be remembered. But most of all, worried about what to do with himself while he is waiting. I don’t have the ability to comfort him. He knows that we won’t be alright without him. That isn’t a shadow. It is a reality.

At least, tonight he sleeps and I keep watch. Tonight, the moonlight helps in the Walk of the Valley of the Shadow. And the shadows are a comfort.

Today is his birthday

This day is his birthday. We weren’t sure how many he would see but this one is for sure. He is such a handsome man. I am not saying that because he is mine. He is handsome and most women notice. He has changed because we are not young. We are in the awkward age when you are too old to be young and too young to be old. It is like being in the middle school years again. You aren’t old enough for AARP, but you remember the 70’s like it was yesterday. We can’t do much to celebrate. I will bake his favorite cake. We may be able to go out to eat a meal because the benefit check is coming in early because of Labor Day. There will be calls from the kids if they remember and if they don’t, he won’t be too upset. As you get older, birthdays loose their zing, yet when you face not having them anymore, they become precious. Happy Birthday, Lover!!!

Walking in the Valley of the Shadow

The other day, I came across the site troublewith.com. I was looking for something regarding the path that I am walking. There were several subjects and the one that came the closest was transitions. That is definitely a description of my location.

My husband has stage 4/terminal cancer and he may be leaving soon, yet there are days to live. These are days that are still active and we are together and yet we seem to find ourselves waiting. Waiting and not walking, waiting and not talking. In his eyes, I see that he desparately doesn’t want to leave me and I can’t imagine him not being with me, but we are waiting. We should be walking, right? Why are we waiting?

Getting back to the site. On this site from Focus on the Family there was a category called transitions. Under transitions they listed death, dealing with elderly parents, empty nest syndrome and the usual troubles but I didn’t find any transition or category for walking and grieving, hoping and believing in miracles or talking and saying nothing. Of course, there are no transitions or categories for these dual, unspoken situations. Nothing about the fact that cancer not only kills the one whose body betrays it, but it kills the finances of the one left behind. Cancer steals the years that were to be walked hand in hand.

I guess that is why I started this blog. Is there anyone else who is walking this twilight? I know that there are because I see you in the cancer infusion center when he goes for treatment. I know that you are thinking the same things that crowd into my consciensousness. I also know that there are support groups, but I can’t leave and go. I don’t want to wait for grief and berevement after the fact. Can’t someone walk with me now?

Before you say, “You never walk alone, the Lord is always with you.” I would say, I know and He is, but I need someone with skin on sometimes. Not always, not for every thought that comes into my head. Just someone, once in a while that truly knows, not intellectually, but experiencially what it is to walk in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.

A Path of Discovery

After all these years of writing and hiding what I wrote, I am going “PUBLIC” in a way that I would have never considered before. However, I have found a joy in reading other people’s posts. Sharing thoughts, news commentaries, book reviews and whatever it is that is on your mind for the day, has become a daily joy, so why not me??

What is the intrique of writing and posting your thought on the web? I don’t know, but it seems to be the thing to do right now.

I am walking a path that I is not a solitary one, but I am not finding many people who are sharing their experience, so I thought that I could just “step out” and see if any will join me.

So here is to the Path of Discovery and my first internet posting.