The summer before my senior year of high school I went to The (former) Soviet Union.
I was a Student Ambassador and traveled with a delegation of ~30 other high school students. It was a brilliant summer. I was 17 years old.
We traveled to 5 Republics: Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Sochi, Minsk, Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow. Our trip took place in July 1989; 4 months later, The Berlin Wall came down, and the official collapse of the Soviet Union followed in 1991.
We were young enough that our emotions and experiences did not interfere with our openness to meeting new people. The purpose of the trip was for delegations of youth from our country to meet with groups from their republics with the goal of better understanding one another even though our lives were very different. The program was established by President Eisenhower in 1956. We learned so much about them, about us, about overall humanity.
As an adult looking back, I have such an appreciation for the leaders of our trip. They did a fantastic job of keeping a group of teenagers cohesive through a myriad of events that were intense and provoked deep thought and emotion.
One thing they did from the beginning was to unify us with a group song: Lean On Me.
That month, whenever we had scheduled meetings, unexpected meetings, serious or silly moments we would end our discussions with a group hug and sing Lean On Me. We used to talk about the meaning of the lyrics to that song. We talked about how important it is to be there for one another because sometimes life is too hard for one person to do alone.
I hit that place last week. I hit it hard and even though the diagnosis was pneumonia and not gratefully not pulmonary embolism, my spirit was crushed in the ER.
It is not easy to discuss serious illness(es), treatment options, possible death. It is not easy to go through painful illnesses and hospitalizations.
I have been doing this since 2001 and can usually dig deep and keep going.
However, after 4 months of isolation and illness at home, discussions of bone marrow transplant, horrific bone pain, and difficulty with new chemotherapy, last week’s ER trip followed by the news that my immune system has been wiped out was just too much for me.
God saw me crumble last week. And even more precious, He held me close to Him while I broke. I did not even have to ask, He let me lean on Him while He pulled together a series of pep talks and emails for me that stem from relationships that started decades ago between people I have never met.
One thing that has been consistent over the past 14 years and the battle for my health: He always comes through for me in magnificent ways.
I fully understand that there are a gazillion things happening right now that are much worse than my personal little crisis but He has never dropped me. He has been with me through the hills and valleys of the past 14 years and not once has He left me hurting without sending some really phenomenal rescues.
Right now, I cannot be around other people because my immune system is suppressed, but God made a way for community to rescue me when I was drowning without breaking my doctor’s isolation orders.
Over the weekend, I had email exchanges with other people who have walked such similar paths that I have been walking the past 14 years. Those people helped me to feel much less alone.
I also received phone calls from 2 people who have survived stem cell/bone marrow transplants. They were both honest with me about the brutality of the procedure but they also gave me inspiration and words that I can hold onto right now. One of them helped me understand that this is the time that I must get my support system into place. They both understand how it feels to be isolated due to suppressed immunity so they were able to appreciate where I am right now.
The woman who called offered great insight into why this has been especially tough on my emotions: in addition to leukemia and chemo and talks about bone marrow transplants, my husband and I moved here last April and bought our house in November, then I got sick…
…even though I have lived in parts of this large city off and on throughout my life, we had just moved back and I had not had the chance to get a well established routine and pattern with friends in place before the leukemia came back.
She encouraged me to start finding as much of a routine and community as I possibly can right now.
For the past 6 weeks, I have been sitting on our front porch for ~15-30 minutes every afternoon, taking in the healing sunlight. I told her that I would add walking our dog 3 doors down and back.
She was great, she did not let me get away with just telling her, she said she wanted me to text her the picture afterward.
She gave me a call to action and it worked. Our dog and I made it 7 houses down and back. It felt good to move, my heart rate was definitely up. Trying to take a selfie with our dog was like a second cardio workout.
Her challenge did so many things for me: got me moving, took my mind off of being sick, gave me a sense of accomplishment, gave me this ridiculous photo (see above).
I have some friends from different stages in my life who have been in contact with me over the weekend and we are planning forward for reunions.
I also got 3 care baskets from a women’s Bible Study in our neighborhood. Last fall, I attended the study for a short period but then got sick and have not been since November. However, these women have continued to pray for me. They put a lot of thought into the care baskets they made for me because I cannot eat very much right now due to chemo side effects. The baskets are filled with non-food gifts and even a hand-crocheted blanket.
And my heart is better.
Even though I have not been able to get out and find community, God created it and literally brought it to me. He gave me people to lean on when I could no longer keep going.