The blend of familiar chords filled the room, and I closed my eyes. It had been a long few days, and I felt the weight of life squeezing my throat tight. I was tired, my eyes so heavy, the knot in my neck pulling my head slightly to the side.
“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let earth receive her King!”
The melody washed over and through me, and I didn’t sing. I just listened. I was too weary to add my own voice, so I just let the song envelope me.
Christmas songs bring comfort. They are so familiar, and they carry with them years of memories, of happy times and joy filled moments. In a season of weary fatigue, the words and the melody felt like rest.
This Christmas will be a different one for our family. A bittersweet Christmas, indeed. The cancer of a loved one forces us to take it slower this year – to cherish the moments more sweetly – to look for the miracle of healing because that’s all we have left.
I believe He can speak life and health back into my father-in-law’s body.
I trust Him to be good whether or not He does.
We also have the awesome privilege of bringing our sweet “K” back to us for Christmas. How mysterious God is to ordain these two events in such a way. How awesome is His power to dictate that we should feel both immense joy, and desperate sadness, all at the same time.
“Let every heart. Prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing.”
I’ve written about Love before, and I’ve pondered the beauty of suffering. Walking in faith is easy sometimes. It’s easy to say “I believe” in the face of great joy and peace. But when the soul cries out without the promise of an answer, faith becomes a wrestling match.
Like Jacob with the angel, I tussle with my Savior. I call Him Sovereign, and I question His actions. I praise His goodness, and lament His silence. I waver, then accept, then waver, then accept.
“He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove. The glories of His righteousness.”
When the wrestling is finished, I hobble away, and still His Love pulls me back. You don’t wrestle with the Savior and come away unscathed. But the scathing is like a healing – the fire burning away the parts of me that cling to this world, the selfish pieces of my heart that seem so firmly attached to the things I can see and understand.
I don’t understand cancer, and I can’t see the glory of heaven. I doubt, and I question, and I wish that pain wasn’t so…painful. I open my eyes and look at the Christmas decorations up front, and it hits me that the story of Christmas has to be true. If it isn’t, then what is the point of my wrestling?
I battle because I want to believe, and the wrestling points me to Christ every. single. time.
This Christmas will be bittersweet as we cling to the One who came to earth as a humble infant. He was the One they prophesied about for hundreds of years. He was born in a manger, and His birth set into motion a life that pointed to a Creator. He would grow into a man who died on a tree so that I might live.
So that our family could have hope in the face of uncertainty. So that we could hope for a miracle, take comfort in the knowledge of heaven, and cling to peace when life feels foggy.
“And wonders of His Love.”
He tugged on my sleeve and motioned me down. I leaned over, and his lips pressed against my ear, sending a shiver down my spine. He’s the one with the freckled face – the one who is asking a lot of questions, and seeking for the answers. I felt his hot breath, and my heart leapt with a fierce love.
“Is Jesus real?” he whispered. I glanced at his big, blue eyes, so full of wonder and hope, and the lump in my throat dissolved. There are so many things I don’t know – so many questions that feel unanswered. But not this one. The answer to this question is Joy to the world.
I lean down and press my mouth against his ear, and he pulls his shoulder up with a tickled grin.
“Yes,” I breath. One syllable, filled with conviction.
He grabs my hand and smiles, his nose inches from mine. “Good,” he whispers.
And I nod, because he’s right.
It is good.
Last week I wrote of Love, and of the beautiful, mysterious pain that accompanies such a surrender of emotion. When I typed those words, I formed them in the context of watching my child graduate kindergarten. They were framed in the knowledge that Love requires separation, and in my innocent state of mind, I could only see the separation of parent and child that comes through space and time.
Then we got the phone call no one wants to receive.
There was a mass. The biopsy reveals cancer. We wait and we pray, and we hope for the best – the miracle of healing. Today the confirmation brought unwelcome news.
Stage 4. Metastatic.
Suddenly the pain of Love grew wings and took flight. Lee’s dad – our patriarch, our hero, our mentor, and a steady spiritual guide – now faces a fight that, short of a miraculous touch from God Himself, will result in his passing from this life on earth and into the gates of heaven.
Lee and I have gathered our flock tight these last few days, clinging to one another as we slide down into yet another trough.
“…Now it may surprise you to learn that in His (God’s) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks;some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
There is no irony in our present circumstance. We cannot point to these days with a flippant laugh and label them a coincidence. For on the very day we got news that cancer had invaded one we loved, Lee was in process to make a transition at work.
His division was cut loose from the company. We’d known this for weeks, and while the news was met with some disappointment, suddenly it seemed that he had lost his job for such a time as this.
Severance gives him a cushion to absorb the blow of his father’s illness. We have the freedom to leave, he and I, for the weekend, and fly to Arkansas where we will fold into the arms of his parents and brothers and all face this new challenge in the race together.
What a privilege it is…
When we told our kids of their grandfather’s illness, I felt a tightness pinch my heart. My sweet little ones will now taste the sting of illness. They can no longer be sheltered from the fear of grieving and, given the statistics, they may face the searing pain of death far earlier than I would have wanted them to.
And yet I cannot escape the thought that this journey we are about to walk as a family is a privilege. One thought has rumbled across my heart all day as I’ve processed this pain of a Love torn.
What a privilege it is for my children to know the sting of illness and the reality of heaven at a tender age.
We’re gearing up for a road filled with hope and unknowns. We cry out for a miracle, with full belief that God, in His mighty power, is capable of banishing the cancer from Herb’s body with a simple touch of His Hand. We pray for this, that we may show our children the power of God, and proclaim Him to the world.
We accept the reality that God may have a different path planned. One in which we must say goodbye far sooner than we ever hoped or imagined or desired. And if this is the path we must follow, we will show our children the power of God, and we will proclaim Him to the world.
Cancer is an ugly word. It sucks the marrow of joy right out of a soul. But we have been given the grace of time. We pray it will be longer than the statistics predict. We pray it will be sweeter than the treatment’s effects. We rejoice in our current state of jobless unknowns, for it gives us the sweet freedom of time to process.
What a privilege it is to walk this road of grief and hope, for in this trough I feel God so near. He is real, a balm to the sting.
My ten year old and I took a walk today. Hand in hand we made our way down the sidewalk, and his sweet innocence blessed me.
“I’m excited to see heaven now,” he said to me, a smile spread across his face. “I can just imagine it, and what I’m imagining is awesome.”
What a privilege it is to walk this pain. We covet your prayers in the days, weeks, and months to come. They will be hard, and they will be sweet. They will mirror the mystery of Love.
Join us in praying for a miracle – no matter what shape it may take.