You know that feeling, when you chest feels tight and your head feels numb? Where your thoughts run in sluggish circles, even while your heart is hammering away in your chest like a race horse. I felt like a scrooge, or like one of Shakespeare’s over dramatic heroes as I pulled onto the highway, glaring at the sun for daring to shine.
But no part of it felt over the top. No part of it felt unjustified. I was pulling away from a room, on the seventh floor of the Children’s hospital, where only a few hours ago my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
There’s been some mistake. I thought to myself. They mixed up the results. They brought back the wrong chart. They’ll realize it soon enough, that there’s been some mistake.
But I knew it wasn’t true. As much as I longed for it to be.
My friend’s child had cancer. A deadly disease. Without terrible and painful interventions, she would die. Even with them, there was no guarantee.
The anger felt like molten asphalt in my throat. WHY GOD WHY??? WHY GOD WHY??? WHY GOD WHY???……and those were the only words I said to him all weekend.
That weekend I poured myself into all the things I could control. I organized people to meet their practical needs. I made chicken enchiladas. Bought food for their fridge. But the asphalt in my throat turned to cotton in my brain, and when I got all the groceries home from Costco, it took me a half hour of staring at the the pile on the kitchen table to figure out how to put it all away.
I kept putting on my strong face for my children. Or at least I tried. But at the sink you’d find me weeping into the dishes when I thought no one was looking. I wasn’t talking to God. I was angry at him. And somewhere in the back of my heart, the Old Me was playing stone mason, and desperately rebuilding the fortress of walls around my heart. She was ruthlessly lopping off the buds of hope that had destroyed the walls once before, leaving only the faintest stubble of vines in her wake.
All of me felt like a harp string, tuned too tight, till the notes were sharp and sour, and the slightest touch would snap me in half.
The tender me was prisoner in a back room somewhere, but I could hear her trying to scream through the walls of the ever growing fortress; God is still good. There is a reason for this. He makes beauty from ashes. Turns despair into laughter. You can trust him.
Mostly I ignored her. I slept fitfully, and dreaded waking up each morning and realizing that this wasn’t all some horrifying dream.
Then one evening my husband began to draw me out. That faithful man that God gave me as a gift. He showed up and showed me the way out the terrifying tower I’d locked myself in.
“You know what’s true” he said. “You need to talk to God.”
“I don’t want to.” I said.
“But you need to.”
“I don’t even know what to say.”
“Just talk to him,” he said.
And I don’t remember the words that came out of me, face down on the pillow. I’m sure there were mumblings and groanings and unintelligible words. I’m pretty sure I mostly talked about how mad I was at him. But towards the end I came to this conclusion: “God I know that I’m a toddler, throwing a giant tantrum, because I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing something…even though I don’t understand it!”
And with that, the peace began to come. Not in overwhelming waves, but in small chunks that began to knock down pieces of what the Old Me had been building in the back of my mind. Little pebbles of peace chipping away at that fortress, and a still small voice that kept saying, You don’t need this. You don’t need this. You don’t need this.
As the vines of hope began to grow again.
It’s been a little over a month of Fridays since my friend’s daughter’s diagnosis. A week after the original results, we found that instead of just ALL, a childhood cancer that is relatively easy to treat, she has a rare genetic abnormality in her leukemia cells which made it significantly more aggressive and difficult to treat, and made it even more likely that if cured, she could have a relapse.
The first month was horrible. The medications obviously poison. The once spunky little girl turned into a zombie by steroids. Almost all her hair fell out in a matter of two weeks.
Then last week, they had another bone marrow aspiration that would tell them whether or not the treatment was working; if she would be in remission or if she would need to go on the bone marrow transplant list.
When the results showed that she was in remission, cancer free for the moment at the very least, you would think I would have been thrilled.
But you know what? It’s hard to hear the bugle of good news behind a fortress of stone.
That’s right. I’m still in there. Desperately trying to escape. The voice of the tender me, the soft me, the me that’s sensitive to what the Lord of hosts is doing; that me was getting louder and easier to hear through the holes that the hope vines were tearing. Through the holes that the peace was beginning to peck away.
But I realized on receiving this good news how afraid I am to hope. How desperately afraid I am to trust God. Because I feel like hope is a trap and a lie. And I was expecting more bad news. I had decided to expect it, as a way to try and protect myself from the painful surprises that life seems to keep throwing my direction like so many fast balls over the past six months.
I was trying to control it. And once again, this surprise, though good, had undermined my shallow attempt to pretend to be in charge of life. To pretend to be able to predict things, and by-proxy, to control them. My Old Me trying to take over; saying to the tender me, Get out of the way! YOU are going to get us KILLED! Your hope is foolish and the love you claim to believe in is a lie that cannot be trusted.
The reality is (and I’m sure most of you know this already), I cannot control or predict the future. I am not in charge. I am not the boss.
There’s a toddler in my house; she’s three years old and three feet tall and she’s angry because I’ve given her a bowl and not a plate for her to eat her lunch. She’s raging mad. She’s screaming. Throwing herself down. Insane with the desire to control, and devastated at the perceived loss. She looks exactly like me.
Tender me in the tower is peeking out through the cracks; shouting till she’s hoarse, He is good! He is good! Hope is not a lie! It’s freedom! All is grace! Everyday is gift! Every day is joy! Rejoice! Rejoice!
I want to let her out now; but I’m afraid of the rawness. The gaping wound of a hole in a tower wall that I’ve built to keep me safe. The vines would wreck and break every last part of that self-protection until no stone is left on another; and then I would be well and truly naked. Out in the open. Vulnerable.
And everyone could see the scars on my heart. And the trust I’m afraid to hold to. And the faith that’s so thin, it seems like a paper cloak at times when I know it could be thick velvet.
The truth will set us free.
And the truth is that God loves my friends and their daughter more than I do. He’s the only one able to work for their good and his glory in all things. The only one who always does what he says he will do. The only one who has the power to make all things as he sees fit.
He calls the stars out one by one…and because of the word of his power, not one of them is missing. Then there’s the verse I tattooed on my skin:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of these will fall apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
He knows every hair that has fallen from that sweet little girls head. He knew all the days of her life before there was yet one of them.
And he knows mine.
He knows the days that I’ll build towers of fear because I’m choosing not to trust him; even though he’s never given me a reason not to.
He knows the days I’ll come running back; a prodigal into her Daddy’s arms. Safe and held and deeply known.
He loves me. Even me, in my faithless, wandering, orphan heart. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
We’ve been talking about Abraham a lot. And the gift God gave. And the sacrifice God asked him to make. Still Abraham trusted in God; that this son of promise would be raised from the dead to make him the nation that God had promised. But I keep thinking of Sarah…did she know? How would that Mother’s heart respond to her husband taking her Issac, her laughter, up to the mountain to sacrifice him to the Lord? Because God asked him to? The thought rips into me.
But God gave us these glorious words in 1 Peter 3: 6
“And you are [Sarah’s] children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
Maybe she knew before hand; or maybe it wasn’t until after. But either way she must have known about what transpired on that mountain top. And God says we will be her children, if we “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
It speaks of fear. I have been living from fear to fear of late. From terrifying nightmare, to terrifying nightmare. And yet, we are called to do good in that midst. And to not fear what is terrifying.
To stare into the black, and refuse to be afraid. To go into the darkness and not leave the ones we find there alone, just because it’s scary and hard and painful. To go in. To do good. And don’t be afraid. To become fearless by faith.
The prayer I prayed over a year ago at my kitchen sink; that God would teach me to be fearless… Dangerous prayer. One God is delighting to answer. And when I’m listening I can hear him whispering to my soul around each bend and each corner, “Courage, Dear Heart.”(C.S. Lewis’ Aslan)