A year into my son’s aggressive chemo regimen, he started to look less like a college boy and more like a nursing home candidate. His hips didn’t work right. His knees didn’t work right. His feet didn’t work right. He was falling apart faster than a hundred-year-old man.
After he fell three times in a week, his physical therapist suggested better shoes. Really good shoes. The kind that require an actual fitting and come from somewhere other than Wal-Mart.
We drove to the closest specialty shoe store, hoping new shoes would be an easy fix for yet another debilitating side-effect of constant chemo.
That morning, we were the only ones in the store and the clerk came out from behind the counter before we even made it through the door. “Can I help you?” A middle-aged guy, with a little gray in his hair, he wore a friendly smile and a nametag that said Mark.
I met him in the middle of the store. “My son needs shoes with a lot of ankle support.”
“Sure.” His gaze swung over my shoulder and stuck on Kyle, who’d paused to hold onto an endcap to take a timeout to catch his breath.
“He has walking issues,” I added. Which I’m sure the guy already figured out. Hard not to when your strapping boy of twenty limps like a broken linebacker and gets winded every few feet.
The clerk’s gaze shot back to me. “Let’s start in the athletic shoe section.”
“Something sturdy.” Kyle made it to the closest seating and dropped to the bench. “I fall. A lot. My ankles are weak.”
My ankles are weak. My chest twisted tight. I could list a hundred other things to substitute for ankles in that statement—including our stamina for getting up in the morning on particularly bad days.
“I think we can help with that.” Mark measured his feet, then went to the back. He returned with three pairs of shoes and explained the strengths of each brand and design, the whole time alternating between making eye contact with Kyle and looking away. Like he wanted to say something else, but he couldn’t quite get it out.
This happened all the time. No one wanted to ask what was wrong with Kyle, but the need to know burned in their stares.
In our fishbowl world, I learned quickly that candid worked best.
“Cancer,” I told Mark. “One year of chemo down, eighteen months to go. Some of the side-effects are weird. One of the drugs messes with his feet and ankles. Sort of like a diabetic.”
“I’m so sorry.” Mark knelt in front of Kyle and pulled the first shoe out of the box. He got it on Kyle’s foot and tied the laces. “Life is rough. I lost my job. Twenty years in IT and now at fifty, I’m selling shoes on commission.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, biting back the petty part of me that wanted to add—At least you can work. And walk twenty yards without stopping. And lean over and tie your own shoes.
“Go ahead and try them out,” he told Kyle and backed up to let him stand.
Kyle limped around the perimeter of the store. And repeated the process for the remaining two pairs.
Mark watched him the entire time. “Losing my job, working here, is hard, but it’s not as bad as that.” He gestured to Kyle’s back and let out a deep breath, not meeting my eyes. “You made me feel better about my own struggles.”
Um. “Okay.” Did he want me to say you’re welcome?
Kyle came back from his test drive. “These are good.”
“Do you have enough support?” Mark asked.
“Yep.” Kyle sat down to take them off. “They feel like they’re carrying me.” He handed them to Mark and went to wait for me in the car.
After Mark rung the shoes up, he shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the cash register, his face white. “If my kid got cancer…” He shook his head like he couldn’t cast away that mental picture fast enough. “Well, God knows I can’t handle that.” His tone, his eyes, his face silently added—Better you than me. Flattening his hands on the counter, he looked at me. “God must’ve known you were strong enough.”
God must’ve known you were strong enough.
Right. Sure. Me strong enough? That was a joke.
But Mark wasn’t the first person to say it. I’d heard it from people I ran into at the grocery store, read it on my Facebook page, saw it on cards that came in the mail. Often attached to this verse:
“I can do all things through God who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 NKJV.
I’m going to be honest. At first that verse—and the people quoting it—made me mad. I felt like people took it out of context. Used it flippantly. Had no clue what that verse meant in the down and dirty of life. Had no idea what they were saying when they told me God knew I was strong enough to handle Kyle’s cancer—like I’d won some kind of spiritual lottery.
Then one day, I read the verse in context. There’s so much more in the passage that leads up to those words. That prepared me to hear those words. To believe them. Check it out.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:6-13
I have learned. Did you see that part? I didn’t. Not until I stopped being mad long enough to read more of the passage.
Mark was wrong. God didn’t look around for a mom who had the greatest faith and pick her lotto number, because she certainly wouldn’t have been me.
God didn’t pick me because I was strong.
I’ve never been enough, I never will be enough, to handle Kyle’s cancer. Not on my own. And that’s the point. He’s teaching me to let Him be strong for me. While we walk out my path as a cancer mom together.
He’s teaching me. I think that first part’s worth repeating. It’s a process, not an instant save.
Are you weak? Are you tired? Do you absolutely know you don’t have what it takes to make it through one more day? Another hour? Another minute?
Perfect. That’s exactly where God wants you and where He wants me. On our knees. Broken. Waiting for Him to fill us with His strength. Because we don’t have any. Not really.
We’re kind of like Kyle’s ankles. They refused to hold him up on their own. He needed a strong shoe, a support, something outside of himself to help him walk without falling. To carry him when he can’t take one more step. Just like we need God’s strength to keep us upright.
Lori Freeland is a freelance author from Dallas, Texas with a passion to share her experiences in hopes of connecting with other women tackling the same issues. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a full-time homeschool mom. You can find Lori at lafreeland.com.
Publication date: November 23, 2015