Normal Yet?

We have been enjoying an extremely busy, but thoroughly fun summer. I believe everyone in our clan feels an overwhelming sense that life is precious. Couple that with the wonderful opportunities that have been placed in our path lately...and we are finding it difficult to say, "No." Probably a bad long-term plan, but for now, we are cramming too much into each week and it has been exhaustively wonderful. While after our year of cancer we are vastly different in many ways, life is feeling a bit familiar again. Routine. Comfortable. But a few weeks ago, a dear friend asked me if it felt like we were back to "normal," and I found myself struggling for the right words. Attempting to find a way to respond that fully encompassed life now. The answer seemed to escape me. There was simply too much complexity to wrap into a neat once sentence response. Since that day, I have been giving significant thought to her question, wondering why it was so difficult for me to form an answer and trying to determine how, exactly, I would even define the word normal at this point.

You hear it so often. After a tragedy strikes...the term "new normal." I understand this. It is the classification to show the difference between life before versus life after. The old what was is gone and it has been replaced by the new what is. The question implies that eventually, although you will likely never forget the old, the new becomes more familiar and less terrifying. It makes sense. Before having a child with cancer, I subscribed to this theory. But lately, after my friend's inquiry, I have been totally stuck on this word normal. What is it and why are we so attached to using it so frequently in this broken and fallen world. Why has "normal" because our expectation? And could the word possibly expose sin?  I even consulted a dictionary to be sure of the true definition. 

  • Normal - Conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected; The usual, average or typical state or condition. 

So this concept of normal, of life being status quo...is that an American creation? Possibly even post-modern? Or maybe it is something just for wealthier, healthier nations? I have tried to imagine a pioneer family, after losing a year's crops to drought and burying over half of their children before the age of five, wondering if they ever asked each other if life felt normal yet? Or what about in Africa, in a town ravaged by HIV where death and orphans overwhelm, do they sit around talking about normal? In so much of the world, sadness and suffering are part of the daily fabric. Here in suburban America, we are able to numb insulate ourselves somewhat through wealth, health and education. I believe we may have lost sight of what normal is and this skewed view is also what is causing us to lose sight of God. Because life is easier, healthier, safer...we have less need to lean on Him for each day. This is why when many travel to Africa for mission trips, they find Africans feeling sorry for us...rather than the other way around. They know their need. We don't. In this country, myself included, I suspect our definition of normal is vastly inaccurate. Maybe something more like this:

  • Normal - meeting expectations, free of pain, fear, risk and suffering; events unfolding relatively close to our own personal plan based on our wants and desires

Knowing in my soul this a completely ridiculous expectation, yet it is my unspoken hope...a life that is easy, happy, struggle-free and with plenty of time for leisure. I have no reason to expect this. If this were our world, a perfect and happy one, would there be any compelling need for a savior or reason to desire Heaven? A life without suffering isn't Biblical and it isn't promised. So why have we arrived at the point where we expect it? Fully loving God when we are happy, yet jumping immediately to doubt and wrestling when the suffering comes. I'm guilty of this. So incredibly guilty. Why do we assume He cannot possibly be loving if we hurt? I make my own children suffer quite a bit and it is usually out of love. I know in the long run it is what their little hearts need to grow into the people they should be. Why do I expect different treatment? Where is the disconnect? God forgive my lack of faith.

What is normal really? If we are always to be living in the day, with no expectations except that God will keep his promises...than normal should be whatever is happening that day. Done. Nothing else. He doesn't promise happy or pain free. He promises to give us what we need. Oh my. When I type those words, my sinful soul feels fear and not peace. Why is this so difficult to accept? I have reflected much on our year spent in the battle of childhood cancer, and in recent months, on learning to live in the "after." My version of normal still feels like a moving target. God's? It hasn't changed. But the authentic snapshot of my heart is that fear remains a daily battle in my soul. Thankfulness comes easily, but I am still fighting fiercely for joy to reign over anxiety. Some days I lean on God and peace is champion, other days I try to do it on my own strength and Satan usually wins...dragging me into the pit and stealing that day's joy. But even in this perpetual back and forth, God is moving. We are keenly aware that this is far larger than us. I am amazed by what He has provided. There have been so many blessings as we pray simply that he places opportunities in front of us. And He has...in ways beyond my wildest imagination. Many times in response to what He has done, I feel humbled that I was not praying big enough in the first place. And we continue to hope that we can use these opportunities to love and serve others. Both the relationships and experiences that have come because of cancer have been amazing and they keep flowing. The more overwhelming realization is that what we have been privileged to see is simply a glimpse...merely a peak behind the curtain.

So does life feel normal? 

I don't know. I'm rethinking this concept entirely. I am attempting to change my selfish wiring for a more God-centered approach. Exchanging lies for Truth. It is a slow process. If I were wise, I would just let my normal go. Live in what He brings that day. But sinful me finds this excruciatingly difficult. It is much easier said than done when comfortable is one of my favorite words and planning for the future is the way I am wired. If I assess my soul though, I know that I have grown more spiritually in the last 18 months than during any other time in my life. And NOTHING in that time period has gone according to my version of "normal." Other than heartache and challenges, the periods in my life when I have seen visible growth have occurred when I was willing to step out in faith...making a choice, prompted by God whispers. It usually made life more challenging. That isn't my idea of "normal" either. However, I grew then too. When life is easy and predictable, I am definitely happy. But am I stimulated? Not so much. Do I grow? Rarely. 

I suppose it all comes down to how I define normal. By the world's standards, we have absolutely not arrived. We are immersed in the cancer world and I learn of children in our circle dying almost daily. I hear the sounds of Velcro every morning as my warrior princess straps on her prosthesis for the day. We live life in three month increments, from scan to scan...praying the beast does not return. There is so much that isn't normal to us. Life will never again be what it was before cancer because there is no way to un-know what we have learned. But if I try to think in terms of God's standard...the picture is much different. We are mostly joyful, incredibly thankful, and fighting to live in the day and trust His plan. We have grown much already, yet we are being forced to lean on Him because the after of childhood cancer is extremely scary and challenging. We are not strong enough on our own. The world's version of normal is gone, never to return. However, we are truly learning to live in a "new normal" and I believe it is growing closer to the one that He intended for us all along.

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