Lynne Hybels

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Goma, Gaza, Grandkids and Chemotherapy


There’s a quirky little island in the Bahamas where goats roam the streets and rusty golf carts are the common mode of transport. Bill and I rent a friend’s house on the island for a week every year or so to have some time together with our kids and grandkids. The house is no palace, but the view is spectacular; each morning we sit on the screened-in porch and watch the sun shimmer yellow on the watery horizon.


A few days before Thanksgiving, we packed snorkels and fins and headed for our quirky but beautiful getaway. Fourteen-month-old Mac napped in my arms while we traveled; I was in Nana-heaven. Knowing we’d arrive to empty cupboards, I’d packed a duffel bag of nonperishable necessities. After we took a ferry from the airport to “our” island, we celebrated our first evening of vacation with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Fine dining, Hybels-style.

During the next couple of days, four adults shared responsibility for two wildly active little boys. While on grandson duty, I was back in Nana-heaven. Chasing Mac across the sand, swimming with Henry, tucking them into bed at night and recapping the adventures of the day. Glorious!


But each time Bill or Shauna or Aaron or Todd took responsibility for watching the boys, I entered Twitter world and slid from paradise into the hell of war. Bombs and rockets were crossing the border between Gaza and Israel. I’d just returned from a month in Israel/Palestine, and friends I’d been with only days before were suddenly fearing for their lives. But there was more. In eastern Congo, fighting was escalating to levels not seen for years. Rutshuru, where I’d been in June, had already fallen to the vicious M23 rebels. Now they were headed for Goma, where friends and World Relief staff members lived. While the rest of my family played, I followed live Tweets from Gaza and Goma. How could this be happening? How could two places and people I love be sliding into horrific violence at the same time?

I almost hadn’t gone on this family vacation. Two weeks earlier, while I was still in Israel/Palestine, my father had been diagnosed with cancer. I immediately flew home and joined my parents in Michigan to meet with doctors and plan treatments. But when Dad seemed stable and there was a break between appointments, I was free to join the family on the island. So here I was, physically on vacation, but consumed with wars in foreign lands and missing the goodness right in front of me. I owed it to my family to be present to them, and I could do nothing for my friends in Congo or Israel/Palestine. So I turned off my Twitter feed. In quiet moments, I prayed for my Middle Eastern and Congolese friends—and for my dad. But then I snuggled with Mac, played Super Heroes with Henry, took walks with Bill, and laughed with Todd and Shauna and Aaron. I vacationed.

For a day.

Then my phone rang. It was my brother with bad news from the doctor. The cancer was more advanced and required immediate intervention.

I need to book a flight. I need to get home.

Dad made it through that weekend with no emergencies, but I was glad I was there—just in case. The Monday following Thanksgiving, we had an important appointment with the oncologist. Tuesday was Mom and Dad’s sixty-fourth wedding anniversary. I am not kidding when I say that they have lived the Great American Romance. Everyone who knows them says that. At eighty-two, they are still madly in love.  A couple nights ago, I sat with them in their little television room as they held hands while they laughed at their favorite British comedy. The morning of their anniversary, I sobbed while I watched them trade anniversary cards. (And yes, I interrupted their tender moment with my camera.)


Actually, I had to rush them gently through the card ceremony because we had to get to the hospital. Dad was scheduled for a bone marrow biopsy and a chest port insertion in the morning; chemotherapy would begin in the afternoon. Happy anniversary.

Just three weeks earlier, Mom and Dad were still riding their tandem recumbent bicycle on winding, wooded trails. It’s shocking how quickly Dad’s athletic and remarkably youthful body has become thin and frail. And what will the coming days and weeks bring? It’s an aggressive cancer, the doctor says, but one that typically responds well to chemo. “Our goal is to get you back on your bicycle,” she told him. Will that happen? Next spring, when the Michigan winter melts away, will Mom and Dad help each other into their matching chartreuse jackets and hit the trails again?

My world has shrunk to the size of a hospital room. I speak in quiet tones with people whose DNA is in my blood and bones.  For most of today my brother, Dan, sat beside me watching the IV drip into Dad’s arm, but Dan just left to teach swimming to a bunch of grade-schoolers. (Better you than me, little brother.) Mom and I will be heading home shortly.

Something in Dad’s IV is making him a little loopy. “Stop by Papa John’s Pizza,” he says. “It’s Wacky Wednesday. You can get a large pizza with five toppings for just $10.59. But you only need four: pineapple, Canadian bacon, green peppers and extra cheese. I’ll call in the order before you leave. Then you can go home and relax with a glass of wine and pizza.” At the end of that little speech, he drifts off to sleep. Mom holds his hand as she has been doing much of the day.


I wrote the previous paragraphs several days ago, at the hospital.  Now we’re home, at Mom and Dad’s house. I’ll probably stay here much of December, heading back to Illinois now and then for necessary Nana-fixes. And Bill and the kids and grandkids will come here to visit as soon as Dad feels up to visitors.

I’m slowly moving back into Twitter world for updates from my friends in Israel/Palestine and Congo. My Mom, like any mother, hates it when her only daughter (me) travels internationally, especially since I tend to head for war zones. In October, when I left for a five-week trip to the Middle East, Mom was not thrilled. But she’s a woman of deep faith. “I know you have to do this,” she said. “I know God has called you to these places and to these people. Every day, I’ll pray for you and for the people you will meet.” When I returned early from that trip to be with her and Dad she said, “Okay, tell me all about your trip.”

For me, this is life at its best. A life of extremes. One day my world is as big and lush as the Congo. Another day it’s as small and sterile as a hospital room. One day I’m meeting people so different from me that I feel like I’m on another planet. Another day I’m in a group hug with Mom, Dad and my brother. One day I’m struggling to catch bits and pieces of a foreign language. Another day I communicate volumes without having to utter a word. One day is filled with action and activism. Another day is filled with silent prayer and waiting. One day is mundane. Another day is sublime.


Today? I need to create a chart for my dad’s meds so we can keep everything straight. Compile a list of action steps for Congo (for an upcoming blog). Meet with a visiting nurse. Draft an email to a friend who asks how he can serve Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. Help my mom put up a few Christmas decorations.

Six years ago, when grandson Henry was born, I was engaged in sub-Saharan Africa, advocating on behalf of widows, orphans, and people suffering from AIDS. As I anticipated Henry’s birth, I feared that my love for him would consume me, would pull my heart away from the children I had seen in Africa. I needn’t have worried. I discovered that when your heart expands to love one child deeply, it enhances your capacity to love all children.

So it is now. As my heart expands to embrace the increasing medical needs of my parents, I feel more deeply than ever the pain of Israeli and Palestinian women who are, even today, caring for family members wounded by weapons of war. I feel more deeply than ever the horror of Congolese women, raped and ravaged by rebels, with limited or no access to the medical care they need.

I think this is what it means to be part of the human family and part of the Kingdom of God. It means standing by the hospital bed of a loved one, weeping and praying and doing what you can to help. It means reading about a war-torn country, or refugees, or victims of human trafficking, or urban gang members, or the working poor, or the neglected elderly, or victims of racial discrimination, or whatever and whoever breaks your heart, and weeping and praying and doing what you can to help.

This is life. I am so thankful I get to live it. 

41 comments:

  1. Ginnie Piper GrantDecember 2, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    What a wonderfully written piece about life and love - of all types. I was so sorry to hear Bill describe your father's cancer at the 11:15 WC service today. I know many people, including me, are praying for you and for his healing....my father was diagnosed with cancer the Monday following Thanksgiving 16 years ago. Christmas and chemo was our "not a normal Christmas" that year. My thoughts are with you. Many thanks for sharing your beautiful story - the different emotions thread thru it like those of a well worn blanket - covering our souls as we are reminded of the importance of our time here on Earth. Blessings to you and yours this Christ filled season.

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    1. Thanks Ginnie. I appreciate your thoughts, prayers and kind words--especially for your metaphor of a well worn blanket. I like that! Blessings to you...Lynne

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  2. speechless ...

    inspired ...

    mom 80

    dad 84

    still snowbirding in Florida

    for such a

    time

    as this!

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    1. So glad my words inspired you! How lovely that your parents are still snowbirding in Florida. That's worth celebrating!

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  3. Prayers and love for your own heart and your family. Xoxo

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    1. Thanks Brittany. My heart is full...

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  4. Lynn: My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage four, in August, the week after my first grandchild was born. She was given two months. She's still with us. Hanging in there, but it has been a journey I never expected. I am struck that we walk this path familiar to so many: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/karenspearszacharias/2012/08/12/a-biscuit-black-coffee-run/

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    1. Karen, what similar stories we have. I look forward to reading your blog this evening. This era, when we move back and forth between grandchildren and aging parents, is so profound. Next week Shauna will bring grandsons Henry and Mac to visit "Mimi and Bobby"--their names for my parents. I know it will be a tender time.

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  5. my heart sinks and soars with yours as i read this. thank you for modeling what it means to be human and inviting us to do the same. thank you for the ways you give of yourself and inspiring us to do the same. thank you for what you offer the world and to those around you.

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    1. Really, it is in the sinking and soaring of our hearts that life becomes so rich, and that we become more deeply human. Thanks for capturing that thought: hearts "sinking and soaring."

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  6. Lynne, this was so beautiful, heartbreaking, profound. Thank you. Praying for your dad, your mum and all your family. We were in the same place with my dad exactly 5 years ago this December. Thinking of you with love, all the way from Australia. xo

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  7. Lynn, I needed to read this today. It pushes so many of the limits I am struggling here in Ghana with. Outside my window is election battle cries as we elect a president on Friday. The possibility of war is always present. As part of West Africa the Congo is in the news and on my heart. There is a very different perspective of Israel here. And my mom is 90 and is struggling with everyday remembering. At James Town, where I work with Street Children, I realize Christmas doesn't mean a lot to these children. Not only do they not know Jesus, there is no money to buy any gift, however small. To most the gift of paying school fees for next term would be the greatest gift in their world.
    Your blog so helped me remember I can do it. There is enough room in my heart for all.

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    1. Oh, Elaine, it brings me to tears to realize all that you are carrying--to be reminded of all that your heart has to embrace. As I write this, I hold you in silence before God. May God's spirit touch yours.

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  8. I just found you on Don Millers blog and so thankful! First, you are an amazing woman.... Thank you for followingnGods lead in your life. I am a woman after your heart... Though my mission field is much smaller. God is in all of it.
    And then... Second thought, I have lived where you are a short year ago with my parents. Dad diagnosed.... Same story, different couple, even to me taking pictures of hands clasped. So precious, and thankful I did that.
    We know life is fragile... But we know He plans our steps. Perhaps, through my losses , which have been devastating along life's way, have made me able to see clearer, when someone else is in pain. I pray I am, though I fail many days.
    I had an airport moment recently, that blessed me tremendously. I could have missed it, so glad I did not. www.majorinthegraceofgod.blogspot.com is where I wrote about it. Blessings to you dear sister in Christ. God will tether you to Him through these unstable days.

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    1. Ah, Dale, I'm so glad that we are kindred spirits. I look forward to reading your blog this evening. Yes, life is fragile, but that's what makes it so profound.

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  9. Wow! Your post leaves me speechless. Thank you for your words. I found your post from Ken Davis and he's right. You are living fully alive.

    May God bless your missions, your family, and may His healing hand touch your dad.

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  10. Gosh, I'm amazed that Ken Davis was aware of my blog. But it is true: I feel more fully alive than I have ever been--and I'm very grateful for that.

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  11. Breathtaking...YES. THis is IT!

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  12. thank you. i'm doing some reflection on 'adversity and crisis' during this season and so much of what you are experiencing resonates...especially the part about feeling your heart expand. i shared this with Laura this week:
    "This challenge [catastrophic loss] involves facing the harms of the loss on the one hand, and learning to live with renewed vitality and gratitude on the other. This challenge is met when we learn to take the loss into ourselves and to be enlarged by it, so that our capacity to live life well and to know God intimately increases…Loss can diminish us, but it can also expand us. It depends once again on the choices we make and the grace we receive." -Sittser
    thanks for sharing of yourself and your experience.
    your friend,
    chelsie

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  13. Beautiful post. Thank you Lynne...

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  14. An amazing post. Such courage. Such honesty. Such hope. Such love. My (our) friend, Tim Gilman suggested I follow you. He told me you were a brave Woman of God. He was soooo right.Thank your for sharing this.

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  15. Lynne,
    I am so sorry to hear about your Dad and so grateful for the heart of commitment you bring to answering God's challenging call as a peace maker for His Kingdom. I lost my Dad this summer and recall those moments in hospital rooms when the world seems so small. I'll never forget seeing Dad's eyes light up when Mom came into his room. He'd reach for her hand and in a weak voice, he'd manage to say, "I was lonesome for you." He died one week before their anniversary. My brother died a few weeks later--unexpectedly. Our lives will never be the same and this is certainly not a normal Christmas. But it's the beginning of a new normal and I'm grateful for your words of inspiration. (Although I had to reach for tissues when I saw the pictures of your Dad holding hands.)

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    1. Oh Susan, I know you had a rough summer and fall. I'm sure I will think of your words regarding the "new normal" many times in the weeks and months ahead.

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  16. Keep strong Lynne. You are a remarkable world changer.

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  17. Wow.
    I am seeing things differently in my own life because of your words and the size of your spiritual heart and I am inspired by you and your Faith.
    I am praying for the entire family.
    Blessings as always...

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  18. Dear Lynne,
    We have never met before, but we attend Willow every Sunday. Each week, I look forward to reading Bill's email. It is such a personal update on the walk we all share in Christ. Today, after reading your blog, I feel even closer and want to share something with you. I've been where you are. I've been where you'll be. God called by parents home several years ago. As you walk forward towards this undeniable reality, God will carry you through everything that you will need. And when you are on the other side of this life experience, He will bless you with an immense peace and a clearness of His love. And this is what is true. God is holding you in His arms and will not drop you. You don't need to practice worrying. Try to keep it simple....love what God is doing in your life and know that it is really okay.
    I'm praying for your family and hope to one day meet you personally.
    God Bless you, Jan Froslan

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  19. Hi Lynn, first time I read your blog. Glad that Bill posted the link in his weekly email. I too am experiencing a "not a normal Christmas" My cancer came back and has attacked my liver and hip. I will start chemo next week. Although I'm at peace it is hard to experience the sorrow of the people close to me....especially my wife. Thankfully we have the Lord's touch and strength at times like these.

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  20. Dear Lynne, Time really slows down in the confines of a hospital room. It amazes me how exhausted one gets just watching in prayer over a loved one. Praying for you and your family for the encouraging words of his doctor to come to pass (he'll be on that bike path next spring).

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  21. Don't want to overwhelm you with words--I've experienced similar things with my family and it's a hard thing to experience. I just wanted to say my prayers are with you. I think these things are harder when your family is very close and the affected family member is wonderful.

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  22. Thanks to all of you who have left such kind words. My dad is feeling good and in great spirits. He went back in the hospital for a few days this week to treat an infection, but he's doing well now. Life continues to be so sweet.

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  23. Your parents are so lucky to be surrounded by your family's prayers and love. May God be with the doctors and with your family on this difficult journey and may He bring healing and peace to you all.

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  24. Dear Lynne,
    Thank you for your post and sharing your journey. For some reason I am missing my parents and friends who have passed on more than usual. Possibly the uncertainty of the times is rearing it's ugly head.
    For those of us who have lost our loved ones I want to share a website that has a poem that I keep in front on me all year long. It was written by a son who lost his mom and his parent's anniversay was Christmas eve. It's copy righted so I can't share it here but you can read it at www.MerryChristmasFromHeaven.com Everyone I have shared this with loves it. I have it framed, a bookmark and a tree ornament I keep on my kitchen tree year round.
    I am a hospice nurse and going through the valleys of life seem a bit lower during the holidays. I want you to know I am sorry for your pain and the challenging journey your parents are facing.
    I wish you all God's peace and healing.

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  25. Dear Lynne,

    I have attended Willow for about 18 years. Today my brother-in-law received a stem cell transplant in hope of a cure for Lukemia. His pastor held the bag of 7.3 million cells and it was a truly amazing day. Our family will be spending Christmas in the hospital. I said a prayer for you and your family today. My father died at the age of 64 and my parents were married for 46 years. Madly in love! I pray for strength for you today.. I have so enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks to Bill for sharing and thanks to Bill for such great sermons the past 2 weeks. It is amazing how god speaks through him just at the right time. Please keep writing

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  26. Dear Lynne,
    We have never met but you and Bill have meant so much to me over the years. I was in Bethlehem during the recent conflict and saw your shadow there. I sat praying with a 32 year old friend Yesterday as she entered God's eternal kingdom, and then the horrors of the slaughter of the innocents. Your thoughtful, peaceful perspective brings me hope and comfort. I thank God for your faith, hope and love. You and yours are in my prayers today.

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  27. Hi Lynne, you continue to inspire me since the first time we met in the UK advocating for those living with HIV and AIDS. Now we share our passion and love for the people of DRC and the MIddle East. I go to Israel in February to do an evaluation of Musalaha at salim's request and also to see Sami. In the past few weeks I have been glued to the email trying to find out of my friends in Goma and Beni in DRC are safe. At the same time my father's health has deteriorated and my mom is struggling to be a 24-7 caregiver. I'm torn between going and staying between friends and family...so I get what you are saying. I'll be praying for you and value yours... Gary

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    1. Hi Gary. It's uncanny how similar the current stories of our lives are. I don't know how 2013 will unfold, especially regarding travel; like you, I do feel torn. Interestingly, I am meeting more and more people with particular interest in both DRC and Israel/Palestine. One young women, Chelsie Noel Frank, worked at the college in Beni for several years. She just traveled to I/P with me in October, and has become a great advocate for peace there, but she's also going to be working with our Ten for Congo initiative through World Relief. I'm so glad you'll be following up with Salim and Sami--two of my heroes. I'll be praying for you...and looking forward to when our paths cross again. Lynne

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  28. Words flow so beautifully expressing the inexpressible feelings from your heart straight to readers innermost being.
    Duality (happiness/sadness) in our lives coexists, till we reach beyond both, NOT in an afterlife but here still in this life. Often Wars brewing within us lead to the wars outside. Your efforts to humanize the distant news stories is beyond belief, I am so Thankful that we met...
    Arun

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    1. Arun, thank you so much for your kind and insightful response. I am so grateful for the privilege I have to put a human face on distant stories. The people I've met have so enriched me, and I know their stories can enrich others. I love this quote from Mother Teresa: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

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  29. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comMay 6, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    Hi Lynne,

    Healthline just designed a virtual guide of the effects of chemotherapy on the body. You can see the infographic here: http://www.healthline.com/health/cancer/effects-on-body

    This is valuable med-reviewed information that can help a person understand the side effects they are experiencing from their chemo treatment. I thought this would be of interest to your audience, and I’m writing to see if you would include this as a resource on your page: http://lynnehybels.blogspot.com/2012/12/goma-gaza-grandkids-and-chemotherapy.html

    If you do not believe this would be a good fit for a resource on your site, even sharing this on your social communities would be a great alternative to help get the word out.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to review. Please let me know your thoughts and if I can answer any questions for you.

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    ReplyDelete