Jenell and Andy Pluim with an Ecuadorian friend

Musings from Jenell

Transitions

As a coach, I have the opportunity to talk with people as they experience life transitions during different seasons in their lives. We all know from experience that change is a part of life and that it’s inevitable, but somehow, we still find it difficult to deal with change because it takes us into the unknown and we’re not very comfortable with that.

We like to know our routine and we feel much more secure and in control when we can predict our daily schedule and habits. Sometimes that’s not all that exciting, but it’s predictable and so we feel comfortable and less threatened. Quite often that desire for comfort makes transitions very challenging, even when they were anticipated and inevitable.

Probably one of the most drastic seasons of transition for my husband and me was in 1999. Our youngest daughter, Jordan, was to be married in August and she was moving about 1200 miles from home. We were going to be empty nesters for the first time, and not only that, we were in the midst of planning a major second career.

We had been farming (and I was teaching school) for 26 years in Western Canada, and we were in the final preparations to leave Canada and move to Quito, Ecuador, to develop a new campus for Covenant Bible College, which was a one year college of discipleship. We were doing cross-cultural mission courses online, reading missiology textbooks, updating our vaccinations, and making arrangements to rent out our farm and home. I had retired from my teaching job in the Spring and we were all set to take off our last crop together in the Fall.

In the hectic days following our daughter’s wedding, and just before we were to leave for Colorado to hold a reception for the young bride and groom down there, I discovered a lump on my breast. Looking back, I really didn’t feel overly concerned about it... but I did phone our family doctor and ask if she thought I should come in to see her before I left for Colorado. She encouraged me to do that and after a quick examination, we were off to the wedding reception with a plan to have a mammogram and needle biopsy when I returned. Well, the needle biopsy was inconclusive because of blood in the sample, but the mammogram indicated that splaying out in all directions from the lump back to the chest wall were numerous cancer cells. My doctor was immediately concerned because the mammogram looked very much like an invasive type of cancer.

On the day that we heard that news we were headed to the Canada Campus of Covenant Bible College to greet the new incoming students. We both felt numb and like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. There was a terrible dread and fear of the future. Over the next couple of days I contacted each of our children and our parents. I found that the most difficult part of the whole experience. As I thought about the possibility of the cancer being fatal, I was grieving for my husband and children. That seemed to be the deepest anguish for me.

As we waited for the results of  the biopsy to determine if the cancer was invasive, we sensed God giving us a peace of mind and heart that we believe was supernatural and was the result of friends and family praying for us. It was a time of complete surrender to my Maker, not knowing what the future would hold, but trusting in His goodness and love for me, and His plan for my life.

A week or so later, when the doctor finally called with the results, I was so thankful to know that the cancer was “insitu” and not invasive into the lymph system of my body, that the decision to go ahead with a simple mastectomy seemed very minor. It turned out that all those cancer cells were encapsulated and once removed surgically could not affect the rest of my body. Since the biopsy didn’t contain all the detected cancer cells, it was important to remove the breast so that any cancer cells remaining would be removed in the event that they could later break out into the body system.

So on October 1, 1999, I had surgery and returned home the following day. Four days later I was helping truck grain with my husband and we were praising God that He would still allow us continue in our journey to go to Ecuador. Several professional people cautioned me about the probability of experiencing depression after the mastectomy. I never did experience depression or identity issues due to the surgery.

I will never really know for certain, but perhaps one of the reasons for this was that I had grown not to depend on body image for my true identity. (Self-awareness)

I also had the new hope and challenge of going to Ecuador before me. (New opportunities using giftedness)

And then finally, I have an incredibly loving and supportive husband, children and friends who prayed and walked along beside me during this difficult transition journey. (Great Life Coaches)

I know it was incredibly difficult for our adult children to experience our last Christmas together in our family farm home, and then pack up everything and clear it out by New Year’s Day. On the day before we were to fly to Chicago (for mission orientation and final interviews) en route to Ecuador, Andy received a phone call from his doctor disclosing that Andy’s recent EKG and Echo cardiogram showed indicators that he had had a silent heart attack at some time and that he should be continuing with further heart stress tests and a possible angiogram! We couldn’t believe it! First me, and now him! And no experiences that would have been close to a heart attack!! What was God saying to us? Were we really called to go to Ecuador? Was this a closing door? Was Andy truly seriously ill?

We took our questions with us to Chicago and continued with the planned orientation, but consulted a good friend and missionary doctor who just happened to live across the street from where we were staying. His comment, after listening to the whole story and looking at the test results was, “Well, Andy, it’s expensive to ship dead bodies home from overseas.” We laughed and resigned ourselves to the fact that we would now have to continue on another medical journey of testing and waiting. Since our Canadian health care provider would not cover this type of testing in the States we returned to Canada for over a month, living out of a suitcase in the homes of friends and family. Talk about being in a homeless state, without the comfort of predictable daily routines and expectations!

Miraculously, our family doctor pulled strings for Andy to consult with a heart specialist shortly after our return to Canada. Within another three weeks Andy had had the stress test and the angiogram, and the doctor had pronounced his pipes clean! He quickly gave us the go ahead to travel and we were on a plane to Ecuador two days later!

Thankfully both Andy and I remained healthy and well during our entire tenure in Ecuador and up unto the present.

But in the midst of the that time of transition, we asked God countless times what His will for us was, if we had heard Him correctly, if we were making the right decisions, and why there seemed to be so many obstacles along the way

And I know that, in the asking, we became deeply reliant and surrendered to the Lord in order to hear His voice in our lives.

I also know that by living out the journey, as it unfolded, God’s grace and provision became more than sufficient for all we needed.

Perhaps this is a small glimpse into His plan for transforming us to become more of who we need to be, as He conforms us into His image.

 

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