This is an article my mom wrote for one of her writer’s groups about a year before she died. It gives a little insight into her journey with cancer and is nothing short of inspiring. Enjoy the read and please pass on to anyone you think might benefit!
Why NOT Me?
By Becky Smith (last edited May 2016)
The gun goes off. I burst out of the starting blocks and feel the adrenalin shoot through me. At 12, I feel a sense of strength in what my body is able to do. I set a school track record and win “best athlete” in 8th grade.
I birth four daughters in an hour or more of labor each, twins included.
I run a 10K when my first daughter is 2. After my twins, I was hiking to a waterfall the next week.
My body is resilient, strong and reliable. At 57 on Mother’s Day, my four daughters and I run a half marathon.
My body has never let me down.
Last fall, I glanced out at the mountains on our 20 acres in Montana as I hopped in the shower and continued my morning prayers, praying about my internal organs. ‘Strange,’ I thought. Was this a premonition or a preparation for something? Then on December 30,, 2013, I was introduced to my softball size mass on my left ovary in an ultrasound.
I felt betrayed by my body. How could uninvited cells find a home in my body without my permission? Like an assassin, the multiplying cells didn’t give themselves away in swelling or pain and remained invisible until caught by technology.
The handsome Doctor at Mayo Clinic looked into my eyes and with the back of his hand, ran it down the side of my face almost as a romantic gesture. I felt terrified and comforted by his eyes that conveyed genuine care and concern. As our eyes engaged, I tried to understand his message. Was I going to die?
The battery of tests ruled out ovarian, uterine and other fatal cancers. The doctors were baffled, but the liver biopsy showed colon cancer cells. How could this be? My 2012 colonoscopy was negative. A repeat was ordered requiring the ingestion of a gallon of nasty liquid to empty my gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
I spent the night on the cold tile floor in our hotel room. Early the next morning, weakened and starving, I held my husband’s arm to meet with the GI oncologist. He confirmed colon cancer that had spread to my ovary, liver and peritoneum, in other words, Stage IV. We huddled together in a double bed in the 1921 Kahler Hotel at Mayo in an intimate embrace, but instead of intimacy it was a long, dark night of tears.
Heart palpitations, sweaty hands and feet, twisted knots in my stomach; light-headedness and distractedness ruled the first few months of chemo, delivered intravenously every two weeks. I became more introspective and able to face the mass of overwhelming emotions. One of the first ones to surface was anger and resentment. How could this happen to me, the one in my family of origin most committed to physical and emotional health? Hadn’t my daily prayer been for God to heal me from the inside out to create the healthiest relationships and life style as possible?
I argued with God and laid face down on the area rug of our funky guesthouse. Why me??!! I screamed. In a quiet voice, I heard, “why NOT you?” Did I really just hear that? Really, God? I climbed into my comfortable meditation chair and got still. ‘God, am I to see this as a special opportunity? You can’t be serious.’ I heard the answer, “yes” and “don’t forget to trust.”
Who were these uninvited guests? I started by naming my mass Pearl as she had attracted the largest volume of cancer cells. It seemed symbolic that she grew dramatically over my left ovary, the source of my feminine power. I asked her to explain her presence.
She answered, “Becky, I protected you by collecting as many cells as I could so that the cancer would not spread to other organs. At first cell growth was slow, but then like the conveyor belt in Lucy Ricardo’s chocolate factory episode, the cells began to multiply faster and faster. I went into overdrive to intercept as many cells as I could. Speaking for your internal organs, we are relieved to be discovered.”
Pearl began to shrink due to the chemo blasts. I began “Holy Spirit Cleanses” in meditation from head to toe. This meant visualizing powerful Spiritual cleansing of my body, stopping longer on Pearl, my liver and colon.
Hero images began to appear as I soaked up Spiritual energy and prayers from people worldwide. It felt like I had a mysterious protector, king, and warrior looking out for me as a lover who would give his life in order to preserve mine. He wanted the best for me, healed my hurts, and protected me with strong arms, love, power and cunning. Was this hero God, my husband, my body, my doctor or Pearl? This protective love was God & all of the above fuelled by prayer, overwhelming me with gratitude and a desire to love back.
My first opportunity was to listen to a young mom of a 3-month-old baby with breast cancer. Her beautiful blonde hair was gone the next time we met. On another infusion day, a striking young woman seated near me, told me about her aggressive, invasive breast cancer, which had spread to the chest wall. She wondered out loud whether she should cancel her upcoming wedding. I began to keep a prayer journal for all those placed in my path on this journey.
Our 48-year-old architect friend fought for his life and lost to lung cancer. His family bonded with my husband and me. His wife would send texts to my husband so we could pray more specifically. One day, he told me he wasn’t going to make it. We hugged and cried. He had the best last few months of his life with his family. A grandson would be named for him after his death.
In the 29 months of treatment, children, teens, and friends of all ages have graced my path and filled my prayer journal. Why me? Why us? The health teams share their lives and remember such detail about each of us as we come and go. They care. My oncologist and his internist brother play in a bluegrass band and invite us to the next jam…bringing us joy.
One of my regular doctors made me a soft, brightly colored blanket and left it in the cancer center for my first day. I learned about compassion of doctors and something new about the artistic talent of this female physician.
I received seven prayer shawls from friends and strangers – an 80 something retired nun in Arizona, a church on an island in Maine, and friends from New York, Michigan, Texas and Montana.
People tell me their cancer stories or stories of hope from relatives’ outcomes. Listening deeply bonds me to these people near or far. One of those survivors is 99!
Pearl has opened my eyes to a complex web of human connections in the world of cancer – and to incredible beauty, everyday miracles and joy. What comes to mind are: three puppies staring at me in early dawn waiting for my eyes to open; my grandkids (boy and girl), 7 and 3 making faces and dancing on Face Time; a two day newborn granddaughter in the Philippines and I am here; a note from my husband lingering as I dream of his touch; skiing on a beautiful day; walking along a rippling river; and calls from daughters or a package from a dear friend.
Images like good-news texts or cruciferous green contents of Nutribullet smoothies from nieces, the aroma of apple cinnamon potpourri, home made ice cream on my tongue, dancing to slow music next to a crackling fire, or crying at the end of a good book or movie are the treasures I now look for.
Pearl was described “cystic-like” by the last radiologist rather than “softball sized mass.” She’s the size of a dove egg and the cancer cells appear dead. I talked to her about the spots on my liver, much smaller too. I thank her and hope for a real pearl in her place.
Instead of ‘why not me?’ I have a new insight. God knows each of us and can use us in our weakness and strength. God has a daily purpose for us and in one of my meditations, I hear, ‘you can make a difference with My guidance and power.’ In life, we learn that we often have to get out of the way for the mysterious to happen, which is often beyond our comprehension. We are not privy to the role we play in the real life screenplay. Like the hologram, there are many angles inside and out that are perceived by each of us according to what we see. What we see visually or intuitively is a gift from God.
I don’t know why I settled on the name Pearl, but intuitively it made sense as pearls are formed due to an irritant. Twelve months later when I did some research on pearls, the significance gave me chills.
A pearl is a hard object produced in the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk. They are formed as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside a shell, or an attack from outside that injures the mantle tissue. It is strong, resilient and iridescent. They come in many colors. Scientists commonly view pearls as a by-product of an adaptive immune system-like function.
Letting go and letting God is an act of love and trust.
I’m a giver and not a great receiver – God is teaching me about receiving, humbling me. It’s not about achievement. Unconsciously, I still think I am earning God’s worthiness because of what I do – instead of sitting in the loving presence of God. My value has been established through Jesus and spending time in prayer is more worthy than any endeavor.
Once the diagnosis was realized – I sensed that God wanted me to move on. Life is beautiful every day. If in pain, it’s hard to see, but do everything possible to enjoy the moments of peace. There are flowers, colors, babies, puppies, art, music, family, friends and romance. Stay connected with loving supporters and prayer warriors. Remember the “Golden Rule”…pray, write notes, text, call, laugh, cry, and ask for help.
One day, I was overwhelmed with to-do lists for work, travel, friends and chemo. The devotion that day was that ‘you have a tendency to make too many lists and keep adding, which never ends…focus on my My Face and you will know what to do.’
It’s easy to become self-absorbed or panicked about the future – focus on the face of God every minute and serve anywhere you can. Listen to others, play with a child, nap, read, breathe deeply, imagine being 100, color, hula hoop, try something new – I just took ground school to learn how to fly. Keep a journal and see every day with a new purpose.
My husband of 40 years, my four daughters and our families have taught me how to receive and to be vulnerable…they are my reason for joyful living, hope, faith, and love.
Our bodies are miraculous systems.
“Why NOT me?”
My mom was laying on her bed, frail and hardly able to speak. In a rare and sacred moment with just the two of us, she leaned over and whispered, “Ali, you articulate yourself so well.” I stared intently back at her, trying to see if I could get a peek into her beautiful soul and said, “Thanks mom…but you do know I get it from you don’t you?” Taking every ounce of effort she had, she smiled and then whispered again, “Don’t ever stop articulating yourself.” And then she drifted off to sleep.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these would be my mom’s last words to me just a few days before she went to be with our Lord on January 2, 2017. As we prepared for the surreal occasion of her memorial service, I realized one tangible way I could honor those last words to me was to attempt to articulate what her life meant to me and so many others that she touched during her 62 years on earth. It was a difficult task, but I pray that as you join me in reflecting upon and remembering her life, lived with such amazing and God-given zest, that you would indeed be blessed…
A tribute to my mom delivered on January 7, 2017 in Bozeman, Montana in loving remembrance of Becky Smith:
As I have reflected on my mom’s life I realize there is so much one could say. She was loving, kind, creative (some might say a bit quirky!), fun, funny, faith-filled, strong, strong-willed…and so much more. But when I think about what I admired most about her and what I will miss the most about her – what kept coming to mind was her “zest for life.” My mom was one of those people who dreamed of living until she was 100 years old – and she often spoke of this. When she found out she had cancer she even told God that it was fine…as long as she still got to live until she was 100! To say my mom was a lover of life is an understatement.
When I Googled the word “zest” some of the definitions that came up were: “great enthusiasm and energy…gusto… liveliness…passion…vitality…dynamism… exuberance… high spirits.” Let those words sink in for a moment. Becky Smith is oozing out of every single one of them….isn’t she?
This word “zest” and all it encompasses, describes almost to a tee the very essence of who Becky Smith was as my mother, but also as a wife, friend and citizen of the world. In fact, as emails and Facebook messages have been pouring in this week, most of them describe how they were touched, and blessed, by her undeniable zest. One old friend of mine bumped into her recently and described the encounter:
She was vibrant with life and energy. Her positive nature drew us in and she told us all about each of you with such pride. She was open and honest about the fight she was in but maintained faith and appreciation for her body in such an inspiring way. It was clear that she had her eyes open and was living her life to the very fullest.
Living life to the very fullest. That was my mom—even and especially as she was diagnosed with cancer. In the three years of having cancer she travelled the world over and back again—from England, Ireland, Paris and Germany, to the Philippines, Hawaii, Maine, California, Florida and Arizona. She continued taking her piano lessons with our lovely musician for today, Tim Bell (something she never quite mastered but hey, she persevered and that’s what counts). She participated in a writer’s group… took flying lessons with my dad…hiked the M…ran the Sweet Pea race…and fielded many daily FaceTime calls from her four grown daughters—a part-time job in itself. All this while she maintained her chemo treatments every other week! Who does that? My mom did and she enjoyed every minute of doing all of it.
This was how my mom lived her life to the fullest; she seized opportunities that came her way, she took on adventures that would enhance her connection with loved ones and the world, and she met challenges with a sense of optimism and positivity that was contagious to all who crossed her path.
But as much as her zest for life expressed itself in the externals—from watching her grandchildren bounce around on FaceTime and travelling around the world to learning new hobbies and reading the latest books—her zest for life on the outside was actually fuelled by her zest for life on the inside. I am referring to her relationship with and devotion to God.
My mom would begin each morning with her journal, her Bible and her coffee in hand—and don’t forget her three little “Shnoodle” dogs surrounding her on every side. Her inner life with God was the soil upon which everything else bloomed. She would begin her conversations with God each morning and ask HIM what was the most important thing for that day. It was from this quiet place that she would gain insight and perspective on whatever she was facing. This was evident in an article she wrote for her write’s group entitled “Why Not Me?” Instead of harboring anger and bitterness towards God for having cancer, though this was part of her journey as well, what she focused on was what He was teaching her through it. She wrote,
I’m a giver and not a great receiver – God is teaching me about receiving, humbling me. It’s not about achievement. Unconsciously, I still think I am earning God’s worthiness because of what I do – instead of sitting in the loving presence of God. My value has been established through Jesus and [I am learning that] spending time [with God] in prayer is more worthy than any endeavor.
Sitting in the presence of God each day was what filled and fuelled my mom to live fully and fully present each day, knowing and trusting that what she was doing that day was the most important thing. I’ll never forget a time when we were working together on forming Blue Ocean Innovation Center, my mom’s dream of creating one of Bozeman’s first co-working spaces. We had a ton of work to do and we were under the gun for some deadlines. It was a particularly full day and we both felt stressed when an old friend of my parents walked into the office. She had driven from another town to drop something off at my dad’s office and decided to pop in to visit my mom. Well, it turned into more than a pop in and this sweet woman was sharing her entire life update with my mom. It got to the point where I started clearing my throat and (embarrassingly) was even temped to receive a fake “urgent phone call” so my mom could finally cut loose from the conversation. My mom on the other hand seemed totally unphased by this interruption and was completely present and engaged, polite, respectful…and was even laughing intermittently. Meanwhile, I was fuming inside wondering how my mom could possibly be so patient with this intruder of a person while we had so much work to do! But then it hit me: that is who she was. Someone with the uncanny (and some might say supernatural) ability to be completely present to each moment—whatever and whoever it brought.
Whether it was lending a listening ear to others even when inconvenient, talking to her grandchildren on FaceTime, taking a nap, reading, sitting by the river with dad, hula hooping (yes, she liked to do this in our living room), trying something new … Her focus on God each day helped her to keep focused on the most important things around her. And for my mom it was all about relationships. Relating deeply and authentically with the people around her moment by moment. I so admired that about her.
As I think of my mom I am reminded of something Abraham Lincoln once said,
“In the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
My mom may not have made it to 100 years—an issue which I know she is taking up with God as we speak!—but in the nearly 63 years of life she was given on this earth, there is no doubt that she lived each day to the fullest with such gusto and such zest that it couldn’t help but touch other souls in a deep and positive way. Indeed that is one of the most powerful aspects of the legacy she left behind, and the legacy that will live on in us, her four daughters.
Today we mourn a great loss. The loss of a beautiful wife, mother, sister in Christ and friend, whose natural joy, vivacious personality, selfless presence, and boisterous laugh will be deeply missed. But today, we also rejoice in Heaven’s gain, for the great zest my mom had for this life will surely carry over into the next, blessing God Himself and all those who have gone before us. Though it is tempting to be greedy and want to keep her all to ourselves, maybe, just maybe, it is someone else’s turn to enjoy our beloved and oh so zesty Becky now.
Mom, we miss you so much already it hurts. Jenny, Kelli, Courtney and I will miss you in our own unique ways reflecting the special and unique mother-daughter relationship we each had with you. I cannot speak for them, but I in particular will miss our deep talks about our faith in God…tasting “a little of everything” at dessert buffet tables… waking up every morning to your chipper smile on FaceTime…your wild hair in the morning…making jokes and sending weird selfies to each other on What’s App… planning our next travelling adventure…swapping back rubs…sipping coffee together…eating late night bowls of cereal…seeing you play with Kendal, Zoe and Abe…and sitting closely by your side at the peaceful oasis you and dad have created at 208 Farm View Lane.
But thankfully, we are left with much to cherish—memories, unique personality traits and strengths, so much wisdom from a life well-lived and an example that can inspire us all for years and even generations to come. And we are also left with the eternal hope of seeing each other again. I love how the Apostle Paul said it,
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Though we can no longer see you, we know you are resting peacefully (and probably throwing a party) in our eternal home with our loving Father. Though it doesn’t make this road without you easier, it does bring an eager sense of expectation and excitement at the thought of seeing your smiling face again.
As I myself have become a mother now, I realize that a mother’s love can never be replaced. But it can be shared. So, may all of us here today—who had the privilege of knowing my mom —pledge to do our very best… to carry on her amazing zest.
Read: Jeremiah 31:7-14
What comes to mind when you hear the word “promise?” Perhaps, like me, you think of promises you’ve kept…promises you’ve broken…promises others have kept…or promises they said they would keep and didn’t.
Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote an article entitled “Controlling the Unpredictable—the Power of Promising.” He argues that we are largely who we become through making promises – and keeping them. Promise keeping is the means to freedom, he says, that when you make a promise with someone,
“…you have created a small sanctuary of trust within the jungle of unpredictability.”
I love that. And it seems like God is doing a similar thing in Jeremiah 31 when he makes fresh promises to his people. See, they come during a very dark and unpredictable time for Judah and for Israel, a time when they refused to listen to Jeremiah’s desperate and repetitive pleas to turn back to God (see chapters 1-29 of Jeremiah!). This eventually led to them being overtaken by their enemies and literally banished from living in their own land. They became exiles. Captives. Held as prisoners against their will in service to another enemy.
And it is at this point – when God’s people are living in captivity (of their own making) – where we get this fascinating interlude from God through the prophet Jeremiah speaking words of promise and hope to his people in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Let’s spend a few moments taking a look at what these vivid promises are:
- God promises… to gather them and bring them back from captivity (v8).
This word “gather” is often associated with a shepherd gathering up his lost sheep. And he makes it clear that it is not the strong and capable he will be gathering, but the blind…the lame…expectant mothers…women in labor. These are pictures of those are weak, vulnerable and helpless. God himself, like a great shepherd, promises to gather them up one by one and bring them back from captivity – not because they deserve it but because he loves them.
How often do we need to hear this promise – that it is nothing we do or deserve, but it is God’s love and initiative that compels him to save us and rescue us from our own places of captivity?
2. God promises…to turn them back to himself (v9).
Verse 9 says, “They will come weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.” There’s a timing to this. Not before, not after but as the Lord gathers them they will turn and pray. This is a beautiful picture of repentance.
It is interesting because for decades, Judah refused to turn back to their God despite all of the prophetic words of warning of the impending wrath and punishment that would come if they didn’t. It was only when God himself gathered them that they finally turn.
How often to we need to hear this promise – that even in our darkest times of feeling so far from God, even unable or unwilling to repent of our own sin – he already has a plan to rescue and restore us back to himself.
3. God promises…they will rejoice in and be filled once again with his bounty (vv 12, 14).
This promise of bounty is one of abundant provision. They will have all they need and all they have lost will be restored to them – grain, new wine, olive oil, flocks and herds. And not only that but they will be “like a well watered garden.” These are promises of both material and spiritual provision from a God whose sources never run dry.
How often do we need to hear this promise – that God knows our every need and has every intention of meeting it. Nothing is impossible for him.
For God’s people at the time Jeremiah was delivering this word, these were great promises of being rescued and restored to God’s bounty. But because it came while they were still captives living in sin, still exiled from their land and still far from God in their hearts, I can’t help but wonder how impossible it must have seemed to them and to Jeremiah even, that these things could actually come to pass one day.
I don’t know about you, but this resonates with me as I reflect on my own spiritual life. How easy it is to focus on the circumstances of our lives, especially our difficulties and troubles, our places of “captivity” and wonder: How could God EVER rescue, redeem and turn things around? It just doesn’t seem possible.
This week marks 2 years of my mom’s diagnosis of cancer. She is still undergoing treatment and we are all still enduring this trial along with her. If I am honest, I’ve had to wrestle with God’s promises in this season. Though I know in my heart and mind that God’s promises of healing and restoration are real and true, in reality it’s just…plain hard to trust sometimes. Isn’t it?
Maybe you can relate in some way in your own life. Where is it difficult for you to trust in God’s promises right now?
Just like the exiled Israelites, we are often called to wait—sometimes excruciatingly—in that period between when the promise is proclaimed…and when it is fulfilled. But the good news is that unlike the Israelites under the Old Covenant, we have something they didn’t have: Christ! I love it when Paul says to the Corinthians,
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”
It is in this this place of waiting…IN Christ…where we can cling to that “yes” to all the promises of God. And when we do, we are somehow given the grace to believe that they really will indeed come to pass… in his way and in his perfect timing.
So I ask: How might God want to awaken our hearts anew to his promises entering into this New Year?
- Perhaps he is promising anew….to gather you (or or a loved one) up from that place of “captivity” – delivering you from that fear, worry, sin or sickness?
- Perhaps he is promising anew… to help you (or a loved one) turn back to him from the far-off places of complacency, carelessness and distraction?
- Perhaps he is promising you anew…abundant provision in that place of real need right now—relationally, spiritually or financially?
Whatever it is, let us be re-awakened this day to the awesome promises of God and let us rejoice that they never fade or fail but are ALL a big hearty “yes”…IN Christ! I pray that this New Year will indeed – perhaps in the most unexpected of ways – be a year, as the psalmist proclaims (65:11),
“…crowned with the bounty of the Lord.”
Around Christmas time, I always find myself reflecting on the season. Amidst all the festivities and the flurry I wonder: What is all this for? I guess the more accurate question is: Who is all this for? In the Christian tradition we know this long-awaited day is for and about Jesus. We recognize and remember his momentous, yet humble entry into the world. It is the day God entered onto the scene of our human story and brought salvation to all who believe in him.
The expression and celebration of this Christ event over the centuries has taken on many forms: the lights, the parties, the music, the gift-giving and more. It is all lovely and magical isn’t it? And yet, if you’re anything like me, there is always that temptation to get “caught up” in making Christmas about those things: what gifts to buy and for whom, what outfits to wear, what food to serve etc. How do we strike the balance between Christ and chaos? Between the reason and the romance of the season?
Though it is easy to neglect God’s Word in this busy time, I am convinced that it it is often through the meditation of Scripture that can snap us back if we’ve gotten off track. This passage in Isaiah did that very thing for me today and perhaps it can for you too:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while he is near. -Isaiah 55: 1-3a, 6
Food and gifts cost money, only last a short time and meet only physical and material needs. But God offers us free nourishment that feeds our soul. When we come (55:1), listen (55:2), seek and call on God (55:6), he promises to delight us with the “richest of fare.” God’s salvation is freely offered but to continue nourishing our souls (as we do our bodies), we must choose to go to God and receive from him.
This message hits particularly close to home for me this year as my husband and I live and serve in a country where many are poor and without physical food and gifts this Christmas. What good news it is that true nourishment and satisfaction comes only from the Lord and it costs nothing but our time and our hearts to go to him.
Our schedules may be full, but how about our souls? May we pay attention to our deeper spiritual thirst this holiday season and take time to be still in between the festivities and the flurry to come, listen, seek and call on the Lord our God, the Savior and Provider of our precious souls. Only then will we delight in the richest of fare.