"Don't you understand, now? Don't you see why you had to walk this road alone?"
And finally - finally - I did.
* * *
I feel confident in saying that cancer is hell for anyone who finds themselves having to endure it. I also feel confident in saying that cancer is a special kind of hell for anyone who has to endure it without a partner or a family.
I am so fortunate. I have some remarkable friends who have stepped way up to journey down this road with me over the last several months. They have driven tons of miles, brewed gallons of tea, watched dozens of movies, delivered pounds of french fries (don't judge - they totally help the nausea!), sent innumerable text messages, and devoted countless hours to sitting with me on good and bad days. I am so fortunate. But as one of those dear ones pointed out to me a few days ago, no matter how many times she comes by or how long she stays, at some point she goes home. At some point she leaves cancer world.
And I live in it. Every day.
So of course my mind has wandered to how different it is for those who have a family. For better or worse, they would have to live in cancer world too. If I had a husband or a boyfriend or children, for better or for worse, they would be living in cancer world with me. There would be someone else sitting in this space constantly with me.
But instead, much of the time, I've had to sit here alone.
And that has been remarkably painful.
* * *
The last time around, when Hodgkin's flipped over my life, I was living with Evan. My baby brother was in RVA full time too. They lived in cancer world with me. My best friends lived a short drive away and we were too young to have things like careers or kids or spouses to require their attention. So they lived in cancer world too. The last time around, my world stopped, but so did the lives of many of my dear ones. They were almost always here.
Time time around, things are different. There was no boyfriend when this all began. My sweet brother lives in Oregon now and is smack in the middle of finishing his Ph.D. My very best friend is now in California. My dearest friend in Richmond wasn't able to sit in this space, and the other people that I had always expected would carry me through this nightmare if it happened again had babies and cross-country moves and family to tend to. This time, my life stopped, and everyone else's moved on.
So I've had to sit here alone.
And that has been remarkably painful.
* * *
As I sat by the shore for hours on end, my conversation with God kept coming back to this aloneness. To how He didn't just make me face cancer again, but He took away every person I had assumed would live in this space with me. Everyone who had ever promised to do so. He took every last one away and I couldn't understand why.
Until I understood.
As I slowly made my way through the sand back toward the house on the evening of day three, my legs burning from both the effort and the sun, I realized that if even one of those people had entered this space with me in the way I had imagined they would, the magic of this journey would have been lost. I never would have been healed in many of the ways I have begun to heal. God could never have pulled me as close to Him as He has if they came along too.
This had to be my journey.
* * *
We have a sort of agreement now, me and God. He tells me everything twice, just so I'm sure I heard Him right.
Sunday morning I made my way to the very early service at the very far away church. I went even though my church buddy couldn't make it, and even though I never go to this church alone. But I felt like it was the service I needed to be at that morning. Even though it was even too early for me to stop for tea on the way.
As I settled into my seat, coffee in hand, I flipped through the worship booklet and was slapped in the face by this passage:
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.
1 Corinthians 7:17. While this verse could be interpreted in a number of ways to apply to my life today, its actually a small part of a larger passage on marriage. Fitting, given that the sermon topic for the day would be intimacy.
I'll be honest. I was not excited about yet another sermon on how to have a fantastic marriage.
But that wasn't where we went. Instead, God reiterated what He told me on the beach.
That I needed to be alone in this space to grow more intimate with Him.
It says as much if you continue to read through 1 Corinthians:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. . . . An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.
1 Corinthians 7:8, 34.
If anyone else had been here with me constantly - if anyone else had truly resided in this space - God and I wouldn't have been able to grow more intimately together. He provided what I needed - a strong group of friends who could give me what I really needed to survive. But when it came to what I needed to really heal - that was up to me and God.
The pastor went on to describe what marriage was intended to be, and while I won't bore you with the details everything he said slipped right into my heart and resonated there. He spoke of what I want when I think about my future partner, and about what it will take to get there. And right now - it will take me doing this hard work alone with God.
One of these day's I'll learn to trust that He knows what He's doing without fifteen reminders.
* * *
The last afternoon at the beach, as I took a final walk back up toward the road I noticed something I hadn't before. The long wooden walkway tying the road to the sand is surrounded by a patch of thick, green trees. They cast a shadow over a sizeable portion of the walkway's midsection. Its dark in that middle part - even in the peak of the afternoon. Its even a little hard to see. And there is no easing into it - from the bright sunshine you are plunged directly into thick shade. But on the other side - if you just keep moving to the end of the walkway - shines bright sun.
I couldn't help but notice the analogy God was gifting me with. He had taken me from one of the happiest, brightest times of my life and plunged me directly into the darkest without any warning. But - as with the walkway - on the other side of that darkness lies even more light.
So as I stepped onto that walkway one last time, I took a deep breath, gripped God's hand, and started to move through the dark in the direction of the light.