Monday, March 1, 2010

Fear Not

Today's post is in honor of J., my sister-in-law who is courageously battling breast cancer. I joyfully report that J. receives her final round of chemo today; however, I unhappily note that while making significant strides physically, J. is struggling emotionally with all that she has endured.

And who wouldn't struggle? Six months ago, J. was a vibrant, 31-year-old mother who had no history of cancer in her family but detected a lump while doing a breast exam in the shower (an important reminder to check the girls regularly). Thankfully, J. didn't ignore the lump and called her doctor, who ordered a mammogram. The mammogram lead to a biopsy, and the subsequent pathology report resulted in a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, chemical menopause and reconstruction.

To say it hasn't been easy to endure amputations and drugs and tests and scarring and hair loss and financial difficulties and all the other rotten stuff that comes with cancer is an understatement.

To say J. has been petrified at times is an understatement.

But to say that she has fought with courage and conviction that amazes everyone who knows her (and even some who don't), is perhaps the greatest understatement of all.

So while J. is relieved to be at this juncture, this final blast of chemo, she is also sick and tired of being sick and tired. She wrote in her own journal not long ago that she has hit rock bottom. A very faithful person, J. says she wanted to stand at the altar of her church recently and just scream and scream and scream. But she didn't. Instead, after church, she took her husband's hand, walked out on her farm and quietly, tearfully, shared her fears.

Here's the thing: J. thinks she is weak because she is scared. But she is the epitome of strength. I only hope that I could endure such challenges as courageously as she has. I have met grace under pressure, and it is J.

In her fear, J. has cried out to God for a sign - something she can hold onto, a real sign that can't be denied, something that will let her know she is okay, that God hears her prayers and knows her fears.

And that's where a child's plastic bracelet comes in, friends.

A few months ago, I was cleaning out my laundry room and discovered a little bracelet strung with what looks like plastic bottle caps. It obviously was a child's craft project. I didn't recognize the bracelet but didn't pay much attention to it, either, since kiddo craft projects are bulging out of every drawer and cabinet of my house. I just set it out in the kitchen, thinking it must belong to my first-grade son. Perhaps he had made it in school or received it from a classmate.

The bracelet set on the buffet for days, and both of my children ignored it. At that point, I decided it wasn't of value to them, so I tossed it out with the trash. Or so I thought.

A few days later, I went into the laundry room and found the bracelet lying on the floor beside the trash can. Once again, I set it out in the kitchen to give my children a chance to claim it. They didn't, so I threw it away for the second time.

The next day, I sighed in exasperation when I found the bracelet beside the trash can, not in it. That blasted bracelet was mocking me! This time I didn't bother to set it out for the kids; I crammed it back into the trash.

Lo and behold, a couple of days later, I discovered that dang bracelet setting on top of my dryer. I couldn't believe it, but I assumed it had fallen out when my husband gathered the trash. I threw it away for the fourth friggin' time! This time, I took care to shove it waaaaay down into the trash bag and cover it up with muck. Ha-HA, Bracelet! Try to get out now!

It certainly appeared I had rid myself of that crafty bracelet once and for all. I didn't see it for months and didn't think anything else about it - until last week, when a rare warm, sunny day lead all of us out to the backyard to work in the garden.

We were busy undoing winter's damage, when I noticed something purple among the sticks and debris.

"It can't be," I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

Oh, yes, it was. Sure enough, the bracelet had once again reappeared. I bent down to retrieve it and told my husband about The Bracelet That Shall Not Be Tossed. I turned to my son and asked if the bracelet was his, but he shook his head.

Reaching for the bracelet, my husband said, "You know what? I think that bracelet was in the bottom of a shopping bag that came home from Mom's or J's house last fall with some other stuff. It must be R's (J's five-year-old son)."

For the first time, we both really looked at the bracelet:

Yes, those little bottle caps read, "Fear Not."

My husband and I stared at each other across the garden for a long time. I took the bracelet inside and set it in a safe place - far, far from any trash cans. I contacted J. and, without prefacing it, asked her if she remembered a little plastic bottle cap bracelet.

She did. She told me her son had made it in Vacation Bible School last summer, before J. found the lump, before her world turned upside down and inside out and right side wrong.

So I told her the story, about how the bracelet refused to be thrown away, and I reminded her of what the bottle caps said: Fear not.

J. burst into tears. She told me only then that she had been at her lowest, that she had been desperately praying every night for a sign, for something she could hold onto in the murky, scary depths of cancer.

"Fear not," it says simply. It's just a little plastic bracelet made by J.'s own son before his mother even knew of the battle ahead of her. A little plastic bracelet that could not - would not - be tossed, in spite of numerous attempts. A little plastic bracelet that J. can physically hold onto, when emotionally or spiritually, she feels she can't hold onto anything else.

A little plastic bracelet that disappeared but returned to her when she needed it most.

Fortunately, J.'s future looks sunny and bright. But if she is ever afraid of the dark, she has something to clasp, a simple reminder of her unwavering faith, of her incredible courage and of a love in this universe too big and powerful for us to fathom...or toss aside.


  1. Awesome. Thank you for sharing this powerful story in such a beautiful way. God bless you and J. x

  2. Not knowing any one in this blog, I find myself in tears this morning. My Mom has battled the dark fears of breast cancer and has endured many rounds of chemo. I'm humbled again by the strength and love of God and the power of Faith. Many thanks for a reminder that we are only here for a short while and there are many things from day to day that just don't matter. My love and thanks to you and J.

  3. Wow. What an amazing story. When I hear things like this, I find it easy to imagine those angels among us, putting things back where they're supposed to be. Not where we think they should be.
    God is great. Hold fast and tight to that, and I'll be praying for your sister-in-law's recovery. Thank you for sharing this story.

  4. Thank you all so very much for your thoughtful comments and your prayers for J.

    AJ: Very best wishes to you and your Mom. I'm sending up a prayer for you both.

  5. thank GOD for signs, for HIS love, and for "sunny and bright" futures!!! what a poignant story, jenn...
    much love,
    dani xxxx