Monday, October 14, 2013

Days Like These (book review) by Kristian & Rachel Anderson

"Finding the unshakable in the 
midst of the midst of the unthinkable"
(inside book cover, Days Like These, Zondervan)

I received a complimentary copy of Days Like These: Even in the Darkest Moments Light Can Shine Through from Zondervan Publishers through their BookSneeze Blogger Review Program. Unfortunately, it has taken me far too long to write my review as I've had (more) unexpected, difficult, life challenges come my way. That said, I finished this book shortly after reading it, and while the topic is difficult for many of us to face, the book and its authors, are amazing. This book is well-worth the read.

On the inside of the book cover, the publisher shares, "When Kristian wanted to show his wife, Rachel, how much he loved her after learning he was terminally ill, he ended up winning a million hearts around the world thanks to the now-famous YouTube video he made for her 35th birthday. The heartfelt and moving tribute by this young Australian father of two who battled cancer and drew attention to a much larger story--terminal illness is an ordeal many families face alone..."

(grab a box of tissues and watch the sweet video I posted below, or click here. You may have to be patient as it loaded very s.l.o.w.l.y. for me on Panera's free WiFi. Hopefully, it will load quicker for you. But, I promise you, it is most definitely worth the wait!):

Still with me? Gotta love Hugh Jackman, eh? Alright. Wipe your tears and read on...or, better yet, first go order your own copy of Kristian and Rachel's book from Amazon, and then keep reading...

"...Kristian touched lives, passed on hope, and left behind a precious legacy that will mean a better quality of life for thousands of cancer suffers. His story, told in his own words from his blog entries, with additions from his beloved Rachel, will inspire you to embrace the love and light surrounding you." ( Zondervan)

When I first read this book, it touched me deeply. The painful reality of cancer affects so many of us, whether personally, or through those we know. For myself, I'm on the" two-year watch for breast cancer." A suspicious (and very tiny) lump found during my first mammogram has me returning every 6 months for a recheck. Just in case.

I have one more(!) recheck until I receive the "all clear." I wish I could say that it's 'no big deal.' The doctors have seen nothing to cause them concern. For this I am extremely grateful. And yet, every time I go for an appointment, fear and concern start to cloud out my faith and trust in God's will for my life.

I hold my breath until they release me to get dressed and leave the hospital. While I know and believe God's will is perfect for my life and He alone holds my life in my hands, I can't help but get swept up in the nightmarish-tidal wave that the word 'cancer' stirs up. It always feels like I'm standing on a precipice and could fall either way. I will either be deemed fine (for now, as my medical report generically alludes to); or, I will receive the dreaded diagnosis of cancer. In the moment, it feels like such a fine line separating one blessed reality from one (possibly) deadly reality.

(Please know as I write this, I am writing from my own, limited perspective. I know we all have our own stories, experiences, and perspectives. In no way do I mean to make light of another's painful journey through cancer or any other life-threatening disease or diagnosis.)

One would expect to feel relieved to know "all is well." The reality, however, is that the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach sticks with me for days. I am usually completely exhausted by the end of my short visit to the St. Vincent Cancer & Wellness Center. (By the way, the team there is beyond incredible.) While I have received good news thus far, I know many, many other women (and men) aren't so fortunate. I carry a heavy burden in my heart for them and their families after my ever-so-small brush with cancer.

We all walk through the same doors, change in the same dressing rooms, nervously leaf through the same outdated magazines, pose in the same awkward mammography positions, lie on the same tables while the same sweet technicians gently re-check our suspicious lumps with their ultrasound wands, and lie under the same heated blankets waiting for our technicians to return with any number of results and news. We have so much in common, and yet our situations are all so unique. One can feel incredibly alone and vulnerable as we walk through the well-calibrated, necessary steps to rule out-or diagnose-breast cancer.

Months have passed since I first "met" the Anderson family. I have an even greater appreciation for everything they have endured. A former co-worker has walked through (and survived) a breast cancer diagnosis. A dear friend has recently lost her brother to cancer. And, another close friend is supporting several friends through their battles with cancer, while grieving the loss of several other friends. After awhile, cancer begins to feel like an epidemic.

While my situation is vastly different, I understand what it's like to make repeated trips to the hospital to have labs drawn (unrelated to cancer.) Watching the clock and waiting for the doctor's call can be excruciating. Hoping and praying the new numbers will bring positive news, but preparing yourself for bad news (just in case), is beyond wearisome.

At this point, I feel I have earned a Master's Degree in patience and waiting. Unfortunately, I have a feeling God isn't convinced my education is complete yet. (Sigh and a quick side conversation..."I love you, LORD, but do You REALLY think I can endure much more of this 'stuff'?" Grin. "OK, I trust You. Always. I know You have always brought me through. And, I choose to trust You will never fail or abandon me. And, for that, and so much more, I am humbly and eternally grateful.") OK...moving on...

Although I don't personally know Kristian, I thought of him every time I had blood drawn over the past few months. (I promise, I'll share my own story soon...) Like Kristian, my final lab results brought the news I had been dreading. Again, I cannot even begin to compare my situation to the Andersons, but there is that familiarity of struggle and hope that resonates with me as I try to imagine all they endured.

Kristian's faith in Christ and fight for his life further inspired me just five short weeks ago when I literally found myself fighting for my life. While I know God holds the number of my days in His hand and His will always prevails, I felt this deep need within myself to do all I could to stay alive. I wasn't ready to leave my precious family. They have already been through so much devastation. I hated seeing them so stressed and worried about me. But honestly, I wasn't quite sure how things were going to end. As God would have it, we arrived at the ER in time and an unexpected surgery saved my life. (Thank You, LORD!)

But, there were moments during those frightening hours where I honestly felt, "This could be it. Is God calling me home? Am I ready? Is this His will?" I felt myself slipping away into darkness as Geoff raced us to the hospital. He held tightly to my hand and tried to focus on getting us safely to the hospital. The fear he was fighting was impossible to to ignore. For my beloved husband and and my precious children, I felt the desperate need to fight and hold on to this fragile shell I am dwelling in. And my temporary life in this world.

Please forgive me if I sound overly dramatic. Perhaps I am, but my recent experience was such a poignant moment in my life. I haven't viewed life and my purpose the same since. This life, or the next.

I truly felt like things could go either way. But, for what it was worth, I chose to fight against the darkness I could feel closing in on me. I chose life. I chose faith. As time wore on, the reality of my fragile humanity won out. I let go of my own wants and desires. I surrendered, not to death, but to life. To the Creator and Giver of Life.

I clung desperately to my Savior and entrusted myself fully to Him. (At least as much as I possibly could.) And, as it always does, God's will prevailed for me. As it did for Kristian. The outcomes, of course, are polar-opposite. And yet, we are both equally blessed because God has granted each of us what His perfect will is for both of us. And for our families-at this point in time.

Kristian chose to fight. He chose life. He chose faith. He chose to fully surrender himself to his Heavenly Father's will. And God, I believe, has granted him eternal life and has allowed Kristian's life to bless and encourage all who knew him, and all who will hopefully come to know him.

God used Kristian's life and legacy to bless me. I'm forever grateful for the humbly honest and real example Kristian left behind. He wasn't a saint in the sense of being perfect, but he clearly was one of God's precious children. God used him to make a huge splash in this crazy place we currently call "home." And, He used Kristian to stir up a desire within each of us for our true home, Heaven.

My heart's desire is to glean as much as I possibly can from the painful journeys others have walked through. I believe it honors the pain and loss they have experienced and allows good to be birthed out of heartache and suffering.

The same is true for all of the trauma, loss, grief, and pain I have endured. I humbly share my life and stories with you, my Friend, in hopes of pointing you to Christ. I share my stories to encourage you and give you hope. While I would never choose the painful paths I have walked, I feel so blessed that God has allowed me to share in a minuscule piece of His Son's suffering. I find true joy in knowing my journey and ever-being-refined-faith may bless you and inspire you to press on and press in to the One who loves and created you.

We have so much to learn from each other-both in our strengths and our weaknesses. Kristian and his beautiful wife, Rachel, have greatly inspired me. And yet, I know I have only had a tiny glimpse into the painfully-rewarding road they have walked. I am so thankful Kristian left a legacy of faith for his precious sons. His family continues to work through the tremendous loss they have experienced. And, as Rachel shares periodically on Kristian's blog, There is a Crack in Everything...That's How the Light Gets in , they are also living life to the fullest. They continue to trust God with the days they have been given to live on this crazy and ever-deteriorating planet we live on.

I finished reading Days Like These late one night in May. Geoff woke up to the bed shaking and found me sobbing while I watched Kristian's beautiful life celebration on video. It's an hour-and-half long, but incredibly touching. (Click here if you are unable to view the video I have posted below:)

Days Like These, more-so, Kristian's testimony, has blessed me immensely. This book is a definite "must read." It's full of both joy and grief. Laughter and tears. Courage and fear. Faith and doubt. Through all of his pain, struggles, and raw, messy humanity, Kristian does an amazing job of pointing us to the Giver of Life. If you haven't met this precious soul yet, I feel honored to introduce you to Kristian Paul Anderson, and his beautiful, grace-filled wife, Rachel. I pray you are not only blessed, but changed, as I have been through Kristian's life and legacy.

~ Taken to his eternal home, January 2, 2012 ~

I know this is a very l-o-n-g post, but I hope you have stayed with me, Friends. Life can be so painstakingly hard. It's so easy to take our eyes off our goal and get stuck in all the negative things this world offers. I pray that whatever you are walking (crawling?) through today, you will know that

He.Loves.You. Friend. GOD.Loves.YOU!!!

It may come across as incredibly corny, but I'm borrowing Hugh Jackman's enthusiasm and tone, for impact. I encourage you to watch the video again, and imagine his words being spoken to you about the One who loves you. 

GOD, the Creator of the Universe, LOVES YOU

He loves you with a sacrificial and everlasting love. May you rest and flourish in that glorious truth. No matter where you've been, or what you've done, YOU ARE LOVED.

I pray you will keep pressing into Him, and KEEP LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

With love and hope,

Note: As I said at the beginning of my post, I received a complimentary copy of Days Like These: Even in the Darkest Moments Light Can Shine Through from Zondervan Publishers through their BookSneeze Blogger Review Program. I have received no compensation for posting a positive review (aside from a great read and a forever changed life). All views expressed are my own.