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Once, when I was a teenager, we had this huge piece of furniture. Honestly, I’m not even sure what it was anymore, only that it was massive. Several people told me I couldn’t move it and needed to wait for help. I moved it. Probably just because they told me I couldn’t. One of the most poignant stories I know is called The Chair Carrier, which is about this old man who walks from town to town carrying a massive, ornate, very heavy chair on his shoulders. Everyone sees him carrying his horrible burden but no one, not even the narrator who feels sorry for him, offers to help. But… Beyond that, the chair carrier never asks for help. He carries it alone, totally unwilling to admit that he could use help. He feels that he, and he alone, can successfully carry the burden. I deeply empathize with the chair carrier because his problem has been mine most of my life. I am afraid of asking for help. Afraid of burdening others, afraid of being seen as weak, afraid of those I might ask for help refusing. There’s also this idea that I have to constantly prove myself and how can I do that if I ask for help?

Sometimes, though, a curve ball gets thrown at me so fast I barely see it coming before it knocks my world off its axis. Sometimes I just know deep inside that there is nothing I can do by myself to correct the problem. Sometimes the burden isn’t a chair, it’s an entire mountain that I cannot physically even pick up alone, much less carry. When faced with something so overwhelming it takes my breath away, the verse from Matthew 18 comes to mind: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” Community. Friendship. Family. Relationships. They were created so that we might no need to carry heavy burdens alone. They exist for times like now, when I’m scared and uncertain, when I very much need a hand to hold. When the normal facade of strength is ripped down—when that happens, I have to lean on others, on prayer and on God’s promise.

For the last three years, I’ve experienced a myriad of progressively dehabilitating illnesses. First, 2 mini strokes that led to the discovery of holes in my heart they had to surgically repair. Diagnosis of a thyroid condition that explained mysterious weight gain of ten pounds, despite a daily diet of less than 900 calories and moderate exercise. A D&C surgery to try and stop constant bleeding–a surgery that did not work. Severe anemia. Intensifying migraines and insomnia that led to a specialist who finally told me she believed there was an underlying medical problem driving the multiple problems. She said she thought my thyroid felt enlarged and advised me to talk to my primary doctor, who, last week, ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid. Come to find out, I have a few nodules inside a large goiter on my thyroid. Most are usually “warm” and benign but they can be cancerous, so a biopsy is scheduled for tomorrow morning, which will likely precede another surgery to remove the thyroid altogether.

When I was in college, I routinely wrote out a Last Will and Testament, not because I had any serious intention of suicide but because I did not believe I would live very long. I didn’t know if I’d die by car wreck, or by a random act of terror or by anger from my father, or from a freak accident. I didn’t know. But a deeply rooted belief that I would die stayed with me. When my daughters were born, I was terrified because, though I wouldn’t admit it, I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see them into adulthood–I worried that I’d die before they were old enough to remember me as adults so I started writing regular letters to them and documenting our daily adventures through a boatload of pictures and stories, home videos and letters. My greatest motivation in life was the need to make every day count… Lest it be that night that I die. That fear, that belief, inspired me to homeschool, to play like I never have, to spend every moment I can with the girls. A constant fear… Sometimes, I’d lay awake at night, holding my stomach in and rationing my breaths because the least amount of space I occupied, the less likely something dreadful might happen. You see… I’m not afraid to die—-but I am afraid of my girls not knowing how much I adore them. It is because of them that the word “biopsy” scares me to death.

Doctors assure me that a surgery can easily remove my thyroid, and medicine can replace it. Chances are blood I’m —not— going to die. And in fact, in recent years, the fear has finally distanced itself a bit from me. Be all that as it may, though, the idea of something that could be or become cancerous inside my body is a completely frightening possibility, and the physical, spiritual and emotional exhaustion and pain is devastating. The idea of trying to recover from yet another surgery is … Overwhelming. In other words… I’m not sure I can do it alone. I make it a habit to never discuss difficult things in a conversation-driven venue, like FaceBook: 98 percent or more of my updates revolve around the joyful activities of my daughters. I know others don’t like or need negativity–we all need to be uplifted and inspired, motivated and encouraged to smile. I make a deliberate and conscious effort to be positive. But you can’t hide behind a smile if the world is crumbling because, if you do, my past has taught me, you’ll emerge even more deeply traumatized and resentful. Prayer is my refuge, my mother and sister, support. But knowing others are behind me too, and joining in prayer, strengthens and encourages.

Jesus said that there’s power in numbers. When more than one join hearts, and hands, and prayers… Mountains move and God’s miracles confounds doctors. Fear has a way of haunting us–it adds weight to our hearts, making it harder to smile, harder to laugh, harder to live. It chokes us, narrowing our vision until all we can see is the shame and doubt and confusion. Fear makes the world’s music sound like chaos, the richness of its colors blindingly bright. My heart throbs with it at night, and when I hug my children. I have a good support system with my mom and sister – but the circle is small and sometimes fear traps us all. So I write. I reach out, hold my hands out and ask for a community of friends to gather around. Asking for prayer, asking for help, fills me with humility… It is hard. But I remind myself that the chair carrier could have actually enjoyed life, could have seen the promise of the rainbow, could have felt the rush of energy and adrenaline as he raced effortlessly down the grassy meadows, could have known the feel of a belly laugh if only he’d protected his time on earth by asking for help. He didn’t prove how strong he was… Instead, others either ignored or felt sorry for him. He carried the burden… But he lost a lifetime. Intimidating and frightening as science, fancy tests and doctors can be, the idea of being so weighed down with pain and concern that I fail to notice the flower growing in concrete is far more frightening.

Hope is found through the warmth of an embrace, in the caring call of a friend, in the feel of a hand in mine, in the knowledge and faith of God’s words. Hope is found through the collective prayer, through a sense of community and friendship. Hope is being part of the forest instead of an island. I believe tomorrow’s test will be cancer-free. I believe I will be here to see my daughters into adulthood. I believe.

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