Push Back…life the way it is!
Today I’m boarding a plane from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to return home. This is not a new experience. I’ve traveled before and I’ve been in foreign airports enough to know the routine. We arrived several hours early because international flights always require additional time to ticket, check luggage and then process through the various stages of leaving a foreign country. The entire experience is filled with anticipation because everything we are doing is designed to prepare for the flight that is scheduled to take us to a new destination. Even when things are slow or you experience frustration with the process; you still are guided by an inner sense that the end of this experience will result in your arrival at the destination you have chosen.
At some point, they called us to board the plane and as I moved through the jet way to the plane, I began to go through my normal mental checklist…find my seat, from my carryon, take the items I will need for the flight and then just before settling in I always send a text to Kathy letting her know the schedule and expressing my joy that in a few hours, I’ll be with her. We enjoyed sending personal messages of love and anticipation to each other and she would be anticipating the text so that she could know where I was and when to expect my arrival. So it was part of my process today since I’m flying home. The problem is that Kathy will not be at the end of this trip and that was very sad. Thirty plus years of habits will be hard to break but if I plan to continue my work and travel overseas, new systems will have to be built. So, again transitions force my hand to adapt. So as I sit there with my phone in hand, I think, who needs to know I’m on the way home? Completely alone in my mind, with people all around, I think, what are the new processes required for my future? How much change will be required? It’s all transition.
Settling into my seat, I begin to anticipate…the push-back–the movement of the plane backing away from the terminal. It is the signal to the passengers the trip is beginning. Everything up to this point has been preparation and anticipation. Now, we are moving and that means in just minutes, we will be soaring. Push back involves several things…both in the plane and outside. In the plane, the pilots are making final safety checks, ensuring safe travel. The stewards and stewardesses are getting passengers settled and initiating internal controls for our safety. Outside the plane, the lifelines, which have kept the plane secure since its last arrival is being let loose and the support systems from the ground are being stopped. The plane does not need them nor can function properly, if it remains tethered to the terminal. The fuel and supplies are now onboard the plane and there is no further need of further supports.
The tethering of the plane to the terminal systems occur on arrival and usually involves things like power, waste management, fuel and security. In the security of the tether, the plane can be refueled, resupplied and prepared for later flying. There is a necessary period of time that each plane needs before taking off again. Again, it’s transition.
Kathy’s cancer forced upon us a change of pace and a reorganization of life, as we once knew it. I’m a very tightly focused task-working individual and in many ways so was she. Together, we approached each day with a list of things we wanted to accomplish. Often our final moments in the day would be a rehearsal of what we anticipated tomorrow to involve. However, when cancer came into our lives, it changed all that. Life got slower and the focus shifted from work and other things to a new priority—helping Kathy fight cancer. Our calendars became filled with doctor’s appointments, lab days, nutritional decisions, and pain management.
Each day, I awoke to assess where we were, what we were facing and what that day would hold. I remember a good brother who made an early trip to Akron to visit one of my sons and he said to me over lunch—“Your life will change going forward. Get ready to adjust to her every day. If she is having a good day, your day will probably be good. If she is having a bad day, your day will probably be bad too!” I could never have anticipated how right my friend was. Each day had its challenges. It was transition in the very truest sense of the word.
We were and are surrounded by very competent people who made it their business to share the load. My office team was extraordinary and they simply came alongside and carried Kathy and me, handling so many things that allowed us to focus on the important task of Kathy’s health. My pastors and leaders in Ohio made it their priority to keep as much stuff away as they could, allowing me to be available to Kathy always. Even when meetings and events required participation, everyone and I mean, EVERYONE made our process and transition his or her highest priority. It seems incredible to consider now how God was looking out for us in this way. I speak more directly to this issue in another chapter but I’m convinced God is so far ahead of our transitions, we are meeting people and building relationships we don’t realize we will need until much later. There are people in my life now that I know God placed there for many reasons but for sure, in order to help Kathy and me navigate our transitions with cancer.
Push-back from the terminal also sets up the point of commitment to fly the plane to the expected destination. You would not leave the airport unless you planned to fly. So, once the pilots determine we are ready, the signal for push-back is given. There is a commitment in that decision that says—we are leaving. No one on this plane wants to remain another minute at the airport. In fact, should there be any kind of delay in takeoff from this point forward; expect a huge groan from the passengers. We are ready to fly. A new transition has begun. We are leaving this place where we are and going to a new place in our future.
Kathy was always afraid to die. She seemed to think her fear began when her father began taking the children to sing at funerals he was conducting. For whatever reason, she despised the idea of dying. We talked often about it and there may be some of you reading this who joined her in prayer at times about this fear. We read the Bible at night and spent hours discussing what dying and life were and how the transitions from life and death might feel. At some point, we began to grasp in our limited understanding that life and death are both transitions. It seemed the Scriptures offered this same assessment. We are born to this life with the understanding that there is an appointment to die. Not any of us will escape that appointment unless the Rapture occurs in our lifetime. Death is the result of sin in the world and faces all of humanity. There are cemeteries in every town, village or community to remind each of us, death is in our future.
It became my desire to prepare Kathy for the possibility of death. Cancer will do that and especially in the stage that Kathy had. The week of Kathy’s original diagnosis and before we found Cancer Treatment Centers, I spent an entire day at my local Barnes and Noble reading everything I could get my hands on regarding Stage IV colon cancer. What I found was disheartening…more than 118,000 people in the USA annually get colon cancer in stage 4 and only 27,000 on average make it to the magical 5 year point. While I desperately prayed and believed Kathy was going to be one of those 27,000, I also felt a responsibility to prepare for what could happen. My bend is always toward proactivity and so if there is a possibility, we should anticipate.
In the beginning, our conversations were emotional, strained and scary. Neither of us are therapists or have formal training and yet we were preparing for transitions that were being forced upon us. God had determined this path was before us and obediently we were not going to live in denial. We had long ago promised each other “truth”—that we would not withhold any detail that was part of the process. Sometimes that was hard but I’m thankful now we decided to do it that way. There was no subject that we would not, could not talk about and if one or the other was not comfortable, we would stop but commit to pick it up at some point.
Some of our questions were answered by precious words from God’s Word.
We found peace in Philippians 4 when Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Kathy’s favorite psalm was 91. We read it almost every day. There we found security against our challenges and the understanding we would not be overwhelmed by the moments we were facing. David writes, “This I declare about the Lord; He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust Him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
We found the battle with cancer is often more emotional than physical, especially in the early stages. Our fears and anxieties were helped by the courage that came from this question Paul poses in Romans 8… “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”
Looking back, I think Kathy was as prepared to die as one could possibly be and as I’ve said a number of times, she exited this life as peaceably as I’ve ever witnessed and that was a gift from God, given her former struggles to die. I will always be grateful to God for that. There were many tears in our discussions as we consider the possibility that death would separate us before we were anticipating. We loved each other purely and deeply. There was not a single moment I wanted to surrender to her cancer and the impact of her death has been devastating to me in the embrace of what will be missing for me going forward. However, going forward is the only choice. You either choose to live or you die and it was Kathy’s philosophy and mine as well that every day you don’t live—you are dying. She would often whisper to me—“I’m going to live with you and not die” We believed it and to the best of our ability we lived every day with all we had to the very end.
There is no flight home without the push-back and there is no living without transitions and the courage to face them head-on! Avoidance does not serve us well and understanding that life will have moments are that totally not understandable and that our moments of confusion are par for the course will help us navigate necessary transitions. Death stinks! The separation is almost unbearable except for the promise and power of Jesus at work in us to be a daily comfort and hope. In her book about the experience, When Leaves Turn Under, Kathy writes these words,
We might wish our lives were predictable and manageable, defined within clearly identifiable boundaries and absent the unexpected or unplanned-for moments that create our anxiety and fear. It is fun to live life with the wind at your back…to feel the push of momentum taking you to an intended destination with little effort and only the desire of anticipation. But life is not so! Rather, life consists of constant challenges and repeated experiences testing our courage and raising our capacity to believe in God. Without these kinds of experiences, I assume our lives would be unprepared and incapable of surviving the attempts by our enemy to distract us from our Kingdom assignment. 
Kathy made her transition and the flight left on time. I’m confident she was delivered to the desired destination. The only One who loved her more than me greeted her there in that wonderful place. Someone once told me that Jesus loved Kathy before I did and I know that is true. She checked her cancer at the gate and walked in wholeness and peace. Her transition was complete. The boys and I continue to grapple with the transitions her passing created for all of us. We will do this because we can with God’s help and because our faith will sustain us. We won’t pretend it is easy, transitions never are but God’s grace is more than enough and He has always been there for us. One day my assignments on earth will be done and the push-back for my flight will begin. My anticipation is high to see her again.
By the way, it was probably good her flight was a short one because she hated flying. That’s why I had to text her from planes like this one—she was always waiting on me to come home.
 Philippians 4:6-7 NLT
 Psalms 91:2-4 NLT
 Romans 8:31 NLT
 When Leaves Turn Under. Kathy and Bill Isaacs. Derek Press. 2010. Page____