“Lord, you didn’t make for this.”
That was the prayer I prayed in the early morning hours of June 5 shortly after the doctors informed us that Jeremy had either leukemia or lymphoma, the exact diagnosis not yet clear. I had gone home at 2am to try to sleep but spent the night weeping, crying out to God to save my dear husband’s life. At times I’d think of other people we knew or heard of that had experienced a similar life-threatening scenario. I kept thinking of the spouse, often the wife, whom I always saw as having some sort of stoic grace, a calming presence in the midst of a storm, a comforter, full of compassion, full of patience, full of strength. I would think of these women who had gone through hell with the ones they loved the most and would think “I’m nothing like that. I can’t do this. Lord, you didn’t make me the kind of person who can provide what my husband will likely need in the days and months to come. Lord, you didn’t make me for this.” So, selfishly, I continued pleading for my husband’s life, his quick and painless recovery, so I would be spared living in a role I wasn’t equipped to play.
That wasn’t the first time I prayed that prayer. Years before at the end of my second year teaching in mainland China I prayed the same thing. It had been a difficult period for me. Young and naïve, I had expected to go overseas to live and work, seamlessly adapting to the culture, fitting in, making friends and having a deep impact. Of course nothing was farther from reality. I really didn’t have a deep interest in Chinese culture, I wasn’t disciplined in learning the language (after all, I was there to teach English) and I just assumed all the students coming to visit me to practice English would naturally turn into friends, eager to connect with me despite the fact I had no genuine interest in truly knowing most of them. As a result, the two years I was there were quite difficult. I had grand adventures and made a handful of friends but knew I wasn’t the best teacher I could be and knew what I was doing wasn’t “working”. Furthermore, I knew that even though I wanted to be all of the ideals I had in my head, I didn’t have the skill set or the personality to be those things. I knew I wasn’t made that way.
Nearing the end of the two year commitment I had made, I recognized I was failing and was utterly confused on what this meant for my life. I had always envisioned myself doing something like that and doing it well. At that particular point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish my graduate degree or ever teach again, let alone live and work in another culture. So I lay awake during a dark night of my soul, crying out to God and wondering what to do next. I prayed, “You didn’t make me for this. And I’m OK with that. I just don’t know what You want for my life. I always thought this was it.”
I thought of the foreign teachers who had worked at that same school before me. Even though I had never met them, I knew they had made an impact. There was one teacher in particular that the students, the teachers, and even random people working in the local restaurants talked about with great respect and admiration. Students would show me pictures of this teacher and tell me over and over again how he spoke excellent Chinese, helped them practice for a particular exam or spent hours talking about Chinese culture and history with genuine enthusiasm. I knew that teacher had to have the special set of skills I was lacking: the genuine interest in language and culture, the ability to talk with people and somehow make them feel seen and cared for, and the ability to put relationship above task, going the extra mile to meet someone’s need.
So I continued my prayer that night. “Lord, you didn’t make me this way but if this is the kind of life you want for me than You are going to have to give me the skills and characteristics that I lack. You are going to have to give me a complement. You’re going to have to send someone into my life that has those skills. You’re going to have to send someone like this Jeremy Mains guy everyone is always talking about. I need that in my life if this is what You want for me.”
When I met Jeremy six months later I didn’t immediately recall that prayer nor expect to marry him. Quickly though, I saw all of those things for myself that so many others had already know about Jeremy. Quickly I saw how everything he was made everything in me better. He is my better half and I love him dearly for it. I need Jeremy and all that he is in order to be all that I was meant to be.
And that’s how the Lord answered that prayer from long ago. I’ve never forgotten it.
When I prayed that same prayer again on June 5 of this year, I remembered how God had worked it all out for me 11 years before. And I thought of how much God had blessed Jeremy and I during the past 9 years of marriage and knew He had worked this lymphoma scenario out for us long before we ever saw it coming. So this time when I prayed, instead of thinking of what I needed to complement who I was in order to get through this, I was quickly reminded of the skills I had been given that make me who I am. As strange as this sounds, I had a very keen sense that this is precisely what I was made for. The skills I possess are exactly what are needed to get through this, skills such as decisiveness, clear-headedness, taking the initiative, strategic thinking and the ability to thrive under pressure. According to the Myers-Briggs test I am an ENTJ or the “Field Marshall”. While someone with a personality like that doesn’t sound like an angelic, relationally-driven teacher working cross-culturally, or even the calm, patient, graceful image I have had of spouses of cancer patients, this personality actually works quite well for someone fighting such an intensive and difficult battle as we have experienced.
I recognize that Jeremy is at the center of this war. At the same time, I am at the command post. I’m coordinating all the other battle fronts – things at home, things with the kids, issues with insurance, Jeremy’s needs and wants versus the needs and wants of others trying to be helpful, and the more gruesome mental, emotional and spiritual battles. In many cases, Jeremy doesn’t even know some of these battles are raging as his energy is focused 100% on beating lymphoma. That’s why he needs me where I am, at the command post to be the Field Marshall I was made to be.
The Field Marshall isn’t a terribly sexy character, and often isn’t even likable. It requires a kind of cold, aloofness in order to remain steady, not get distracted, stay the course, juggling the different issues on all the different fronts. I’ll be the first person to admit there are a lot of things in life right now I am not doing well. Someday soon I’ll probably write about all of those things just to clear my conscience. Tonight I am just trying to find encouragement in claiming this role, one that I don’t like or want to be based on ideals I have always held, but one that in the deepest parts of me, I do kinda like. By recognizing how God answered my prayer in China by giving me my complement, I have the ability to recognize that He made me the way that I am so that I can do this now. In the midst of this lymphoma crisis I can either be angry and frustrated with Him for it or claim the gifts and tools He gave me to get me through this.
Sometime in June while Jeremy was undergoing the first round of chemotherapy and the stress of our situation was keenly felt, he made a sweatshirt for me with the picture of a lioness and the words: “Ntwadumela: She who greets with fire”, a reference to a National Geographic documentary Eternal Enemies Lions vs. Hyenas. Ntwadumela is actually the chief lion who sits back while the hyenas harass the pride until he eventually has enough and runs swiftly from the distance and quickly pounces on the hyena matriarch, immediately ending the battle. When I have been the most discouraged and tired, Jeremy has encouraged me by calling me this pet name, Ntwadumela and frequently tells me that’s what he needs me to be. This became even more evident to me a few weeks back when he was having those scary neurologic issues where he didn’t know where he was or how many children he had. Once during that period when I asked him if he knew my name, he looked at me and calmly said “Of course, you’re Ntwadumela”.
While I never asked to play this part and never expected it, I know now that I was made for it. And I’m incredibly grateful that Jeremy loves me for it. God knows how much I love him for all that he is. What an awesome gift.