And yet…

by Rachel Hill

I spent Mother’s Day recovering from a cross-country flight by myself with a two and three year old, and then coming down with pneumonia. So that was awesome. And yet I am reminded of a valuable saying. “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.”

I haven’t written in nearly three months. It’s just been too painful. A lot has happened and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to catch up with a full update. So maybe you’ll just have to catch the pieces in drips and drabs. But that’s okay.

As I’m writing this, I’m flying back home to Atlanta. I’m flying away from my babies, one of whom is sick with ear and respiratory infections. Do you have any idea how hard it is to leave a sick baby? Even if you know that she is in wonderful, wonderful hands? Yet, I have a sick husband at home who needs me, and I know that God will sustain me and my children through this next chapter.

Next weekend, Kevin and I will fly up to Washington D.C. and spend my 34th (I think) birthday doing tests to get the final go ahead to re-start the TIL therapy trial. If they say yes, we will fly back to Atlanta on the 21st and then return 1-2 weeks later to begin treatment. This will be the hardest battle yet, and I have to bring my game face. Kevin will have been off the vemurafenib for 30 days by then, and his cancer has already come back on his face. The tumors are causing a lot of pain, but oddly, that’s what we hoped for. The cancer has to show progression in order for him to start the trial, but he still has to have normal liver enzymes. So yeah, we’re pretty much praying for more cancer but not too much. So messed up.

Three months ago, one of my best friends died. She died very suddenly in a tragic way. I was the last person to see her alive. She left behind a five year old and a husband, who is now a widower. He is living my worst nightmare.

Erica lived in my neighborhood, just two streets down, and my kids and I hung out with her and her daughter Bella almost every other day. I am mad at God that she is gone. Hell, I’m mad at Erica for being dead. I’m mad that Bella is motherless and that Pedro is widowed. I’m mad that there is so much pain and suffering in the world, and that it doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I want to throw rocks at God.

I haven’t been able to sit through the worship portion of church. I simply cannot sing songs about how great God is and “Oh how He loves us.” It just hurts too much, and I start sobbing and I step out before I create an awkward moment for everyone around me. I don’t cry quiet tears, beautifully streaming down my face. My crying is not sweet or noble. I cry ugly. And my ugly crying is loud and sobbing and snotty. But ugly cries are what I have right now.

And yet, God can take it. I throw rock after rock at Him and say “You suck God! Why does my husband have to have cancer? Why did Bella have to lose her mommy? Why did Curt have to die? Why, why, why? I hate you! I’m so mad at you I don’t know if I could ever love you again! How long will this pain go on?”

And I’m reminded that God really can take it. He gives us reminders all throughout His word that human suffering is a part of this story as much as redemption. The psalmist cries out, “How long, oh Lord, will you hide your face from me?” And Job, by the end finally breaks down and says to God the equivalent of “What the fuck God?!” Yes, I said it. And I mean it. How much more can a person take?

I’ve been to the emergency room twice this year. I currently have pneumonia. Last week my husband had to call the paramedics because I couldn’t breathe during a paralyzing panic attack. In January, I got stuck traveling with a three year old for 18 hours and then continued on to D.C., effectively traveling for 24 hours straight before I could sleep, just days after I’d been diagnosed with a respiratory infection and bruised ribs. I got two flat tires in 24 hours. I left my cell phone in D.C. and had to have it fedexed back, only the “snow” in Atlanta delayed the delivery. My husband almost died from liver failure. I will most likely miss my son’s fourth birthday, and very nearly missed my daughter’s second. I had to have an emergency root canal because I’m grinding my teeth at night and destroying all the dental work in the back of my mouth. I still have two cracked crowns and two cracked fillings to get replaced as well. And I missed the followup appointment to finish the root canal. Twice. My friend mailed me a brand new $650 lens of mine that she was trying to sell for me and the post office opened the package, stole the lens, and re-sealed and delivered the crumpled box. Alas, no insurance because who thinks the post office will steal your stuff?

And I’m pretty sure that’s not the half of what’s happened just since the beginning of this year. Oh yeah, there was that time when I ran out of gas on University Avenue, at the foot of Pittsburgh, one of the top ten most dangerous neighborhoods in America. And then after Kevin rescued me, he inadvertently drove off with the key to my car and my phone and didn’t realize I hadn’t followed him until he got home. That was awesome.

And seriously, there have been so many times that I have been just. so. mad at God. I literally have yelled at Him, “Fix it! Make it all better! Are You the creator of the universe or not? Because if You are who I believe You are, then you CAN FIX THIS! It’s not supposed to be like this! FIX IT!”

And when I wait for a reply, I hear silence. And it hurts so much. And I cry. And I cry and I cry and I cry. But then, right there at the bottom, in the midst of my pain and aching and tears, a knock comes at the door. It is a friend come to watch the kids. Or my neighbor come with a plate of meatballs. Or a girlfriend popping in to help me clean up a little and then sit and have a cup of coffee. And God shows up.

Other times, He shows up in the form of ten kisses from my daughter.

Or daffodils that show up two months early, though the ground is still frozen and barren, as if to say, “New life is coming. Trust me.”

God shows up in the form of a beautiful, perfect baby who was not planned by her mother, but was always planned by our Father in heaven. God shows up by redeeming broken families and placing this precious child in the arms of dear dear friends who had beaten down cancer and who now could not bear children of their own. Bless that baby. That sweet baby got me through the month of March.

God showed up at the baseball game that Kevin was well enough to run off to with me, even though we were three innings late, the kids were ready to leave once they’d eaten all their snacks, and it started to rain. God fed our souls that day.

God showed up in the flight attendant who is also a cancer hospice nurse on the side, and my airplane seat mate whose mother is fighting melanoma right now. He showed up in the woman who helped me get my children, three backpacks, and two car seats off the plane before I burst into tears and then out of the blue asked if she could pray for me. I feel certain I would have had a panic attack during our trip last Saturday had sweet Amanda not followed God’s leading to boldly ask, “Can I pray for you? Right now?”

God showed up in the paramedic who brought me oxygen and calmed my breathing last Thursday who was also a Christian and had grown up with missionary parents in Thailand, saving the lives of precious babies who had survived abortions. The paramedic who, despite the fact that her partner was an atheist and she might very well get in trouble with work, offered to pray for me before heading off to their next call.

God showed up in the bald woman on my flight, with the port bumping through her shirt to remind me, “I know.”

That’s the thing about God. Even in the midst of unspeakable pain, God is with us, and He knows how much it hurts. That’s really what Emmanuel is all about. God with us. Always. No matter how many rocks we throw at him or harsh words we cry out in our suffering, He is there, wrapping His arms around us saying, “I know.

I know, sweet child. I know.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. This is never the way it was supposed to be.

And yet, though it is impossible for you to make sense of right now, I work all things out for good. You will see.

No matter what, I will be with you and you will make it through.

It hurts so much, I know.

It makes no sense, I know.

You are so angry, I know.

And yet I came down and lived with you so I can say to you now, I know. I know, my child, I know.

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Though I have not had any panic attacks for the past few days, for the week and a half prior, I’d been suffering panic attacks of increasing duration, intensity, and frequency that culminated in the 911 call. It has been incredibly exhausting, scary, and frankly, embarrassing. But I know that there are many people who struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, and my heart breaks for them now. I have never struggled with anxiety before, at least nothing like this. In my reading about what panic attacks are and what they do to your body, I found peace in explanation of the extreme fatigue that they cause to a person. The fatigue I was experiencing after the first few were frankly feeding into my increasing anxiety because I was getting to a point where I couldn’t function and was even more fearful of that fact. Once I understood that the fatigue came from the attacks, I could rest and receive the peace and sleep that my body so desperately needed. Another thing that I came across again and again as a way to treat panic attacks and anxiety is to write. To write about anything and everything that comes into my head. And perhaps, since I took such a long break from sharing on this blog, that may be one of the reasons things have gotten so bottled up to this point. So I will try to write more though it may often be for no one but myself. I like writing on a blog though instead of just a private journal for whatever reason. So that’s what I will continue to do. Please don’t be offended if I use a word that is troubling or suggest an idea that might challenge theology. I am so often comforted by the stories of great theologians who went through intense periods of darkness, doubts and questioning. Again, I am reminded that God, who is ever unchanging, can take whatever crap I throw out at him. And so dear friends, thank you for having me back. Please do keep in touch as I will try to do as well. I have missed sharing with you all and will need each and every one of you for the next chapter in our journey.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christy May 14, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Oh, Rachel. What can I say, except that I am tears for you. Not big ugly ones, but silent falling off my face ones. Keep your chin up.

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2 Ellen Lagasse May 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Oh Rachel. I know panic attacks well and I am so, so, sorry. I will add peace in you body and spirit to the Hill family prayers. Our family is sending you all our light and love. <3 <3

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3 Vanessa May 15, 2013 at 12:58 am

I love you, Rachel! Keep writing! We will keep praying.

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4 Chrisie Lim May 15, 2013 at 2:18 am

Rachel, Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly. I can’t even imagine everything you are going through, but I know our Heavenly Father knows. Hebrews 4:15 — For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Those are such powerful, but confusing, words. Because I think, “Well, does Jesus really understand? Has HE really been through everything Rachel has gone through?” Well, He might not have endured panic attacks, horrible respiratory infections, and missing children’s birthdays BUT he understands those emotions. And He does know loss. He lost Lazarus, his best friend, and He even lost His own life when He gave it up for us; rotten, ungrateful sinners that we are. Please know that you are loved, Rachel. You are loved by your husband, your family and friends and most importantly your Heavenly Father who willingly gave up His life for yours. I will pray for you and your endurance. You are running a nearly impossible race but it is a race you can run and win, when you are running in HIS strength.

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5 Jessica, RN May 15, 2013 at 10:02 am

Dear Rachel,
You have been handed things on your plate that no one would wish upon their worst enemy. I grieve for your pain and burdens.

Challenge theology and trouble the waters while you dump your thoughts into cyberspace. Those who judge you most likely haven’t walked miles in the type shoes you’ve had to wear these past couple years.

I am praying for you and your family Rom 8:26-39. (((((HUGS)))))

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6 Albert Baroody May 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Dear Rachel
I think you’re one of the most genuine Christians I’ve ever met. Your words teach us more about the gospel and suffering then anything I’ve read in my theology books. Your kindness and willingness to help has been a blessing to our ministry (Theocentrix). You and your family have had to walk a very difficult path since our meeting in january. The “why God” questions never go away. Rachel, as we stood and prayed together in Burbank, please know that we are still standing and praying with you.

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7 sue stovall May 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Rachel: I don’t know the right words to say except we can only trust God through the hard times. You have definitely had the hard times. We are with you and your family. I would love to come downtown and help in any way I can when school is out.

Praying for you through the hard times.

Sue Stovall

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8 Andra Burns May 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Thank you for reminding me how God shows up. There is such beauty in the ways he does. I love you guys and pray and think about you both often.

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9 Aniko May 15, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Rachel,
I while ago, we had a tragedy in our distant family and someone in my family suggested this verses from the Bible:
“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” says the LORD your Redeemer.”
ISAIAH 54: 7-8
We have no choice: trust and obey.

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10 Dana May 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Rachel,
Bare, white-knuckled fingernail-hanging on, but still hanging on. I continue to be amazed by you and your family’s fight, and we continue to pray for you, waiting on the Lord with you as we bang on heaven’s door and ask for mercy and healing. Continue to take comfort in the little ways he is trying to remind you that he loves you. We love you, too!

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