As I child, I loved collecting fall leaves. When my own children were toddlers, I remember collecting leaves with my children and then using the leaves to make leaf rubbings with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around our kitchen table.
Now that my children are school aged, they are enjoying making and jumping in leaf piles, and I am sweeping up tracked-through-my-house leaf remnants and removing the imprints fall leaves all over their clothes and hair.
It is a simple joy to watch the imprint fall leaves all over our family and a privilege to kiss my children’s rosy cheeks after they come in from fully immersing themselves in the evidence of a new season. I feel gratitude in the simpleness of watching my husband mow fall leaves and burn dead tree branches in the fire pit—tangible reminders to me of God’s faithfulness and a new season.
Last fall, our family endured a challenging season. I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy on November 5, 2018. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was seven and passed away when I was fourteen. Through genetic testing, I have learned I carry the PALB2 gene mutation—and I have now learned, my mother carried this same gene mutation—the mutation and my family history together initiating the recommendation for a preventive double mastectomy.
I remember my doctor saying to me, “Rach, this is no longer a matter of if you will get breast cancer, now this is a matter of when you will get breast cancer.”
At the time I was thirty-five with four children between the ages of four and nine, a pastor’s wife, women’s ministry leader, I had just been approved by the session of my church and CDM to serve as Regional Advisor to Women’s Ministries in Mid America, and my first book was going to the formatter—the final stage of the publishing process.
I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy last fall.
Walking through a season of suffering, weakness, and neediness was not in my long-term plan!
My plan was to come alongside others, not need others to come alongside me. I struggle when it comes to needing others. Independence and self-sufficiency are deeply woven in my story—humbling myself to need others is a new pattern I am learning as God is growing me in dependence upon Him.
As I prayed and sought council from trusted godly women, even though I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy, three things kept coming to my mind.
One: if my mother would have had this opportunity to prevent what happened to her, I think she would have taken this option no matter the cost.
Two: as a child who grew up watching my mother suffer, I still have mental images that can easily blanket my eyes with tears, I considered the opportunity to protect my children from walking through a childhood story similar to my own—and I wanted to protect them from the pain, wounds, and burdens I have carried into adulthood.
Three: my husband is a rockstar and able to care for me and compensate for my weaknesses while I recovered from surgery.
With Christ-centered courage and faith, my husband and I decided on going through with a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.
Four weeks before my surgery, I received a call from my husband at 6:00 in the morning. He had gone to the gym early to play basketball with a friend, my husband fell, and tore the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot—almost a complete tear. This required immediate surgery, two screws in his foot, a 12-week non-weight bearing prescription, and no driving for at least three months.
My main man, rockstar supporter was now unable to walk, drive, wear two shoes, carry a plate, do a load of laundry, nor rake up the imprint fall was leaving all over our yard.
At first I felt anger. My husband has never broken a bone—in all of his thirty-six years—why was this God’s timing for his first broken bone? Then I went through the stages of grief because I lost my plan for recovery which included an able-bodied husband, not needy one.
But God’s plans are not our plans—and He promises He is good.
So I humbled myself and asked for help—which is inside-out and upside-down from how I normally operate, but I was at the end of myself and I needed others to come alongside my family.
After all, I couldn’t use my arms and my husband couldn’t use his legs—and we had four children under the age of ten.
As I watched, I saw it was the church who showed up for us when we were needy. Our grass was mowed, our children were transported to ballet, soccer, and birthday parties, our leaves were raked, our garden beds were mulched, our meal schedule was filled (with fifty meals within the first day), our Thanksgiving table was set, our home was cleaned, Michael and I were driven to pre-op and post-op appointments, the church showed up to help us with childcare when we needed it, sat with Michael during my nine hour surgery, and helped me get Michael from the car to the bedroom upstairs after his.
We had neighbors, friends, and family show up too—but mostly, in the long weeks of our recovery, we saw the church be the church and it was a beautiful picture of when we are weak, Christ’s power is perfectly displayed—and He uses His people and His church.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Just like the imprinted leaf rubbings I used to make with my young children with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around my kitchen table, last fall has pressed in and left an imprint on my heart.
This imprint is a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the unknown, the Christ-like courage to humble myself to ask for help, and the beautiful picture of the church being the church to our family when we were weak and needy.
It is a simple joy to watch my family in a new season, but also a joy to look back and remember the imprint that fall leaves on my heart. I don’t remember the pain, stress, or suffering as much as I remember the selfless love we were shown by so many—and I know this is because of God’s power, His grace, His mercy, and His transforming power at work in my heart.
Breast cancer was once was a constant reminder of pain, stress, woundedness, and a powerful trigger for anxiety and fear—but after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and last fall pressing in and leaving an imprint on my heart—I see God redeeming the breast cancer thread in my story.
The imprint fall leaves is a reminder that God is working, and He has the power to redeem even the darkest, hardest, and most fractured pieces of my heart. Where I once felt broken and alone, I now feel healed, held up, and surrounded by many.
As I reflect on the last year, I am grateful for the imprint fall leaves—I am grateful God’s plans are far better than my plans.
He is faithful and good—and He is making all things new.