I’m going to talk with you this evening about my wife, Sasha; about the journey she began in August last year, and about the lessons that this journey has provided about God, our relationship to God, and about the Grace that accompanies Blessing. We have much to be thankful for.
First, some background for context:
We began our married life right here, Dec. 27, 1970. Like any young fella in his early 20’s who marries a lovely, vigorous and adventurous girl, my heart was full of love . BUT, 15 months later, our son Seth was born and my heart filled with more love. BUT, 9 years later, our daughter Paige was born and my heart was filled with more love. Fast forward to almost 6 years ago when Mikaila, our first grand-daughter was born—open the door to the heart, there’s lots of room! Fast forward again to 3 years ago when Savannah was born—plenty of room in my heart.
It occurred to me on the flight back to Hong Kong from the hospital where Paige and Savannah were still resting, that our lives might be a huge and gorgeous metaphor God uses to illustrate His love. After all, Jesus taught by parables, and what are parables if not extended metaphors? What is a human heart’s capacity for love? It’s boundless, ever expanding. It’s all encompassing, open and unconditional.
That, to me, is what God’s love is like.
So, Sasha and I lived with the blessing of this love.
Fast forward again to summer of 2014: We moved back from 27 years living overseas and made all the adjustments this implies as best we could. One of the real blessings of our move back was being able to participate in the life of this meeting…
… including, one Sunday in August 2015, joining Ron and Pam and others at the parsonage for lunch. It was then that Sasha choked on some food for the first time, an otherwise tasty tabouli that Pam had prepared.
Then the next week, there was another choking episode…and later another. Until, finally in September, Sasha was sent for a barium swallow exam, followed by an endoscopy sometime later that showed that there was a tumor blocking the esophagus. Results from further tests, given to us while visiting Paige’s family in NY, revealed that the tumor was malignant. We drove back to Indiana the next day.
And that’s how a very long year for a very brave woman began.
After further tests revealed the size, density and stage of the tumor, we had meetings with oncologists who described her cancer as “treatable and curable” because it had been caught in time. Shortly after that diagnosis, Sasha said that she guessed choking on the tabouli was a blessing in disguise, since it caused us to get it checked out while it still could be conquered. She was the one who first mentioned a “blessing in disguise”, a concept that became a controlling model and goal for understanding how to deal with this horrible diagnosis.
In later months, btw, Ron would refer to the lunch incident by saying, “I guess we can’t call it Pam’s killer tabouli anymore, can we?”
Sasha was first prescribed 33 radiation treatments and 6 chemo treatments, taken at the same time. This was later changed to 25 radiation and 5 chemos—a real blessing, because those treatments were really beating her up. They weakened her, and because she was on a fluid diet, she had little physical reserve. Her mental, emotional and spiritual reserves, though, were astonishing.
Sasha, as most of you know, has run most of her adult life, and she continued running even after treatments began. Finally the combination of treatments, the inability to swallow nutrition, exhaustion from sleep deprivation all combined to make her realize she needed to stop running until after she’s recovered—that will come one day, we know, by God’s grace.
We believe we live under the Blessing (with a capital /B/). It’s not always easy to see, but it’s there. Here’s an example of finding the Blessing:
My mom told the story of watching her mother and her eldest sister, my Aunt Esther, hang the laundry on a line over the chicken yard. When the line broke, and the laundry fell in the chicken dirt, my grandmother exclaimed, “Well, praise the Lord!” My aunt said, “What are you praising the Lord for, he’s not going to wash these clothes.” My grandmother said, “I’m praising the Lord because I didn’t get angry.”
I praise the Lord because Sasha didn’t give up.
Through the long period of Sasha’s treatments, we continued to see those Blessings in Disguise. Here’s a list of some of them:
We had retired to IN just the summer before, so one viewpoint would be that this was a lousy way to spend retirement. But another view—ours—is that relocating put us in the exact spot for receiving the best medical treatment for this type of cancer at a time in our lives when we didn’t have to get to a job. Had this illness occurred two years earlier, there’s no way Sasha could have focused on full time on healing.
We bought a car, our first since 1991 in June of 2015, so we had reliable transportation. The winter was so much milder than the year before and only twice was our county road drifted over as we went for treatments. So, that was a blessing. Chemo and radiation treatments were at Ball MH. The oncology nurses simply could not have been better. They were professional and cheerful and supportive and so very kind and we were struck by their genuine loving attitudes. The surgery was scheduled for IU Health in Indianapolis. We were told Dr. Kenneth Kesler would be the surgeon.
I researched Dr. Kesler, and asked our daughter who works in hospital administration in NY to do a background check. The result showed we’d been assigned to a surgical star: He teaches surgery at IU Medical school, is the head of thoracic surgery, and as we learned later, he had assembled a team of doctors for this precise surgery and they had worked together for 20 years, and performed this difficult and frightening surgery daily.
She was blessed by being in very good hands.
Another blessing occurred right here, Oct. 25, when her illness was announced in our meeting bulletin. She was surrounded by so many in the meeting with Christian love. The author of HEBREWS describes a long list of people who lived by faith, and one verse especially speaks to that moment in our meeting: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight…that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…
Here’s some visual proof of that cloud of witnesses to the faith that sustains [SHOW CARDS]
I can’t show you all the visits, the phone calls of concern and support, and all the food that were brought to our house—I ate the food--I can only say “thanks”.
This meeting is a community of the faithful, a cloud of witnesses to what God can do. Thank you.
I twice attended meeting without Sasha, with reluctance that turned to gratitude. The first was the only time I’d attended worship w/o her in over 45 years, but there was a blessing in hymn #47 that we’ll sing later. After the meeting, Ellene Kritsch—demonstrating the Quaker principle that each of us is a minister--came to me with an open hymnal, and said, “I want you to know this is my prayer for Sasha. You tell her that.”
There were stretches of time leading up to the surgery and after that I won’t go in to now. They were just hard. I pray that others may be spared what Sasha experienced, but if it happens, I pray they’ll see the blessings.
Our kids were with us for the surgery and days immediately following. They are perfect ICU visitors—vigilant, caring, and very funny. And, Ron came to be with us on Jan. 29th, the day of Sasha’s esophagectomy. He arrived when we were in the pre-op room, and stayed till the surgery was finished. As you all know, Ron and Pam are enormous blessings to us all.
Joyce Wagoner had given us a book titled God Calling, a sort of daily meditation written from the perspective of Jesus speaking to two anonymous worshipers, seeking to do His will. There are entries for each day of the year, and I had read ahead to Jan. 29, and wanted to read it to Sasha. Ron came in to the pre op room just as I began to read, and when I choked up and couldn’t carry on, he did it for me—another blessing.
This is the selection from God Calling that Sasha heard shortly before an anticipated 6 hour surgery:
Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord.
I am thy shield. Have no fear. You must know that “all is well.” I will never let anyone do to you both, other than My Will for you.
I can see the future. I can read men’s hearts. I know better than you what you need. Trust Me absolutely. You are not at the mercy of Fate, or buffeted about by others. You are being led in a very definite way, and others, who do not serve your purpose, are being moved out of your Path by Me.
Never fear, whatever may happen. You are both being led. Do not try to plan. I have planned. You are the builder, not the Architect.
Go very quietly, very gently. All is for the very best for you.
Trust Me for all. Your very extremity will ensure My activity for you. And having your foundation on the Rock -- Christ, Faith in Him, and “being rooted and grounded in Him,” and having belief in My Divinity as your Corner Stone, it is yours to build, knowing all is well.
Literally, you have to depend on Me for everything -- everything. It was out of the depths that David cried unto Me, and I heard his voice. All is well.
--by Two Listeners, edited by A.J. Russell
This section of God Calling echoes Philippians 4: 4-7:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. The Lord is at Hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
After six days in the ICU and several more in Progressive Care, Sasha was discharged Feb. 12. Our son Seth flew in that morning to help us with the transition home. When we got home, Ron and Pam pulled up while the suitcases were still in the kitchen. Two weeks later, Paige arrived. We were so blessed!
In the weeks that followed, Sasha worked on healing and recovery. It’s hard work
We were both finally able to attend Sunday worship and I noted in my journal that night: “Sasha seemed gratified by the outpouring of love. We have much to be grateful for through this hard time: kids who still want to spend time with us, family, friends, cards and calls from church, a continued sense of humor…. There is joy around and abounding if I can only see it.”
I’ll end with two Bible references that speak to me about this time and about what I’ve learned. I won’t presume to speak for a person of such extraordinary strength and character as Sasha, but I hope she agrees with these verse selections.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you….
And, finally, Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord.
In the custom of Quakers and of this meeting, would you wait with me?