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Rollercoasters

by Christi Estes

"I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  
Joshua 1:9  
 
My son Robert loves roller coasters. Ironically, I remember being in labor with Robert and feeling like I was on a roller coaster that I couldn't wait to get off of. Unlike many first time mothers, my labor came hard and fast. I didn't even have the opportunity to get the coveted epidural before it was time to push. The roller coaster of labor pains left me bouncing between moments of relief and waves of screaming in pain. Fortunately, I knew that the end of the roller coaster would bring the joy of new life and celebration. And it was truly a moment of joy like no other my husband Rob and I had ever experienced when our son was born fourteen years ago. Two and half years later, I was a seasoned mom and got to the hospital quickly in order to avoid another roller coaster experience with the birth of our daughter. I wanted to stay in "control" of the situation and, from my previous experience; I thought I knew how to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of inching up to the crest of a hill and then being plummeted down in a rush of fear. However, despite my best efforts, there were still some roller coaster moments with Sara Ashley's birth too. But again, I knew there was an end coming to the journey and the joy of Sara Ashley's birth was just as dramatic. Our children are both such blessings to us!  
 
A couple of years ago, Robert finally got me on his favorite roller coaster at Six Flags, appropriately named the "Goliath". He absolutely loves this speed machine that sits high above all of the other rides in the park, taking it's riders up to breathtaking views and then dropping them down in a rush of wind and stomach dropping fear- or, as Robert experiences it, exhilaration. I remember standing in line for the Goliath, my stomach being in an anxious knot, fearing the unknown valleys and mountains that the ride was surely going to take me on; anticipating the unequalled heights of the coaster and the uncomfortable feeling of my stomach dropping to my knees. I like roller coasters, but I don't love them. And, unlike the Mind Bender which I've ridden dozens of times and now feel comfortable enough to raise my hands on and scream with delight, this one was completely unknown to me. I boarded the ride with both fear and excitement. 
 
I'd like to say that I ended up loving the Goliath and have ridden it many times again, but that would be a lie. That coaster was just a bit too much for me. Maybe it's my age, or maybe just my need to feel in control, but I have had no desire to ride it again. However, I did ride it for Robert and was proud of myself for doing so. I conquered my fear. 
 
Eight short weeks ago my husband and I began our own personal roller coaster ride. Only forty two years old and with an otherwise clean bill of health, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

I’ll never forget the words of the ER doctor who delivered the news of his tumor: 

“There is a mass in your husband’s brain. It’s approximately 2 inches in diameter. We’ll need to send you by ambulance to another hospital that can better handle this.”

From the moment I learned of Rob’s cancer, I have felt an overwhelming sense of shock and the surreal. How could this be happening to my young family? What caused this insidious disease to begin growing in my husband’s brain? My knees knocked with fear and the roller coaster ride of emotions began.

Throughout this time I have also been reminded by several friends of roller coasters. First by a sweet friend and cancer survivor who described the emotions of dealing with cancer as a roller coaster- so true. Then I read in my book "Passages in Caregiving," given to me by another friend, of the roller coaster of facts, opinions, and contradictions that caregivers are faced with in this journey. Finally, this morning Rob read to me an email from one of his gifted employees. This email was sent to the landscape design team about the work that looms before them. Here is his roller coaster analogy: 

"If this was a rollercoaster then I would say we have left the pickup station and are headed up the main incline to the top of the first drop, so hold on or put your hands up. I like to have my hands up.  : ) Just be sure to have fun and enjoy the ride."

God's message to me in all of this roller coaster talk has been a loud reminder. We are not in control and, in fact, never have been. The white knuckle grip as we rise up the inclines is fear. The drop down the hills of life can leave us gasping and clinging to the sides of our seats. On the other hand, if we give our fear to Him, we can choose to let go, look around at the glorious view from the heights of the coaster, and lift our hands in the air, heads back basking in the wind. If we relax enough, we can even laugh, like our son Robert, in exhilaration. Despite the fear and unknowns of this cancer roller coaster, with Christ, we can still live a life of joy. 

Today Rob and I choose this joy-filled life. We throw our heads back, let the sun warm our skin, and we laugh (sometimes through tears) in the face of this Goliath. We try to see things with fresh eyes, to experience things with new wonder. And even though we still find ourselves heading up inevitable and unknown inclines, we strive not to hang on with white knuckles, but to relax with hands open and cautiously lifted in praise. We are not always successful. My stomach is often in knots at the crest of each hill. Experiences that used to be old hat bring a new fear, and new experiences are even more anxiety ridden, but our eyes are on this goal. We will NOT live in fear! God does not ask us to live in strength and courage- He COMMANDS it! We are trying our best to be obedient and, with His love, we are succeeding!

This is His command for all of us, each and every day. Unfortunately, it often takes a cancer diagnosis or some other type of personal crisis for us to be reminded that God alone is our hope and security. This world offers no promise except one- His love for us. We must try to live each day secure in His faithfulness rather than riding the twists and turns of worry and fear.

The fair is coming to our hometown in a few short weeks. It's a family tradition for us to attend- Rob and I have been going to the county fair together for twenty five years! We'll eat the Boy Scout hamburgers, look at the livestock, and walk down the aisles of carnival games. Maybe we'll even ride the ferris wheel and view our beautiful city of homes from the heights of the ride. No rollercoasters for Rob just yet, but maybe I'll venture on one with our son Robert. If I do, I promise I'll let my hands fly high.

Christi Estes guest posts at AbingdonWomen.com and can also be found sharing her reflections on God’s blessings for and through children who face life challenges at www.journeyofunexpectedgifts.blogspot.com.