It’s time to tell the story.
It’s time to give credit where its due.
A bit before Thanksgiving, before the mild winter of 2015 had even started, Mother and I were coming home from an evening at Josh’s.
We were sated with a good old fashioned soul dinner (which means beans and cornbread and sweet potatoes) and when I said I needed to stop on the way home, she said, ‘I will wait on you take your time. I’ve got trapped gas for some reason.”
I could tell you I didn’t think much of this complaint, but that wouldn’t be true. I did. Something in the pit of my stomach or in my mind where intuition resides or maybe it was my heart warning me. Something bad was happening. I could feel it. I knew it.
The next morning when I went to see how she was doing she explained she had hurt all night.
We’d be off and on for the next 5 months. Up all times of the night and day, hurting, not hurting, fatigue growing until she was spending more time on her bed than anywhere, I worried about what to do. We went to the ER. She had a cat scan. In between the holidays, trying to get into see doctors when she mostly didn’t want to do, the scan said she had a suspicious thickening of the ascending colon wall but everything, everything else in her 83 year old body looked great and completely normal.
On February 29th, a day that only comes around once every 4 years, the stomach doctor came towards me while we waited for Mother to wake up and with his head shaking, told me. “She has a large tumor. Let’s hope it hasn’t spread.”
It was like a bad movie. Or maybe your worst nightmare. He showed me the pictures he’d taken.
There is nothing quite as ugly as a malignant tumor. Have you ever seen one? I remember seeing a cancerous pancreatic cell on a tour of an imaging lab. The beautiful, intricate, orderly nucleus, bereft of any control of it’s DNA copying, bulged and contorted in ways that were so ugly, one would be hard pressed to create out of the imagination something worse. The tumor in Mother’ s colon reminded me, it looked the same.
There is great beauty in the way our bodies work. It’s all at once mind boggling and humbling and inspiring. Equally and opposite of all that beauty, cancer is one of the truest testaments that this life goes wrong. It’s part and parcel to the very bad, uncontrollable part of this world’s reality.
Five days later, when that same doctor was phoning me to tell me that the biopsies did indeed show cancer cells, we were back at the ER, only this time there was great panic, doubt and fear consolidated to the point that I was unable to pray.
I see no purpose in going into the detail of the emotional and psychological toll of the previous months. If you know me, you already have an idea, but let me say that it is not death that I hate for my family, its suffering.
So here’s a confession I will make.
I believe I will see my son Jake again. I believe he waits for us in paradise. There are experiences, intuitions, heart knowledge that God has always assured me with that make this the realness of hope. (In Biblical terms hope has a different meaning than we use today, its means confident expectation). I know all of this by the blood of Christ of which I am understanding more each day because I live in a time when the record of those who walked with Christ and watched him nailed to a cross and walked among them after death has more chance to be proven true than false. (You really shouldn’t listen to the naysayers on this. You should do some investigation on your own if you bought into the Bible isn’t true argument) I believe a room is prepared for me and mine after this life is over, for all those who believe in fact. I trust in the Holy Spirit, that entity that Christ promised to us all thousands of years ago. I know the power of this kind of supernatural. But I will be honest, if I had been struggling before on how much goodness and blessings we can expect in this life, (because I do struggle with this, the facts to me are indisputable; there is evil here, there is cancer, there is heartbreak) in the midst of this awful, bad, ugly tragedy I had no idea what to ask God for.
I found that increasingly I couldn’t pray.
Part of the reason was because I know that not every one is healed who asks, at least not in the way we humans pray for. As a Christian I had to be ready to take responsibility for my request and allow anyone to ask the right questions: why does God apparently say NO so often? Why aren’t their miracles like the early church claims if there is indeed a God? Why is a loving God so willing to stand back and let this all happen? Why does He allow suffering? Its one thing to have answers that keep your own heart counting on grace and another entirely to create the very situation that would make others lose faith, or worse yet, never even consider the love you know. (Not all of my theology is right. For what God tells us we should ask, see footnote below.)
And there is the fact that this was my mother. I was heartbroken to think of suffering. More than heartbroken. Its difficult for us not to think that life should be fair.
On March 4th, from the ER, they checked Mother into the hospital. There was no blockage, but things seemed slower than they should so they would keep her for observation. In 12 hours her hemoglobin went from 7.2 to 4.2. At 13 hours her blood pressure went from 116 over 65 to 63 over 32. Over the next 5 hours they would push the IV that they had been using to keep her hydrated to delivering 3 pints of blood and enough fluid to try and get the liquid volume rolling through her veins to keep her alive. I do not know how they did not blow out the 8 decade old vein in her thin, thin arm. But they didn’t. It was this fact that put wheels in motion I would not have known to pray for. The surgeon, one we would not have gotten if we hadn’t gone to the wrong hospital, did what ever doctors do that proves to insurance companies that immediate medical intervention is needed, even when the protocols (presence of blockage) dictate such events are unnecessary. Within 48 hours, a 33 year old gifted surgeon, had ressected Mother’s colon, explored her insides and declared the lymph nodes would tell in the end, but it looked like the tumor was confined to the section he removed. He left her with three small holes for his cameras and instruments and a small lateral incision through her belly button.
I’ve told you this story in much less emotional detail then is my want. Even now its difficult for me to consider all that has happened. I don’t really want to relive much of this. As time has passed and I have had time to recollect and reconsider and analyze, here’s the other facts that for several days now I think I should say to you:
I did pray, but not for the miracle we received. Mostly all I could do was pray that like my earthly father, God would stand beside Mother, me, and my family with each moment forward. Whatever that meant. I prayed for the doctors, each from Pakistan, old and young, that their hands, the wisdom and training would tend to my Mother in ways that only they could do.
As the word got out, my loved ones, some of them blood family and many not, began praying. I don’t think I said that strong enough. They stormed the gates of Heaven, petitioning as their hearts led. They stood in my stead. They asked when I couldn’t. For days. And nights. They visited. They brought food. They brought gifts. Sons supported in ways I never dreamed. A brother did too. My husband did laundry and kept the dogs. Those of my heart prayed over Mother’s slight body before and after the surgery. They rubbed her forehead. They mingled their tears. They prayed unceasingly.
I do not know why Mother’s tumor had not spread to her lymph nodes. I pray that the mild chemo that she will probably be encouraged to take will be gentle in side effects but lethal to any ugly cells.
But those who are reading this right now I so want to give you my heart: life is not random. It is not just a some certain number of years and then you turn to dust. There is a purpose. There is a much bigger plan than the time we spend earthly. I have once again witnessed the hand of God intervening in my life. It’s the third miracle I could convince you of, if you had the desire. (There have been more but those are with just less obviousness and contain more personal attribute that lend to heart knowledge rather than heart and mind.) In this case I am not talking about the miracle of restored health for my Mother, although I am forever and shamefully humbled by that. The week that I described with you had God’s interference written all over it, in it and through it. He knew before my Mother was born how that week would go, but it was sheer beauty to see His hand in the people, faith filled and not, that were set in motion to accomplish His will. I also want you to know this: we are a people who are made for relationships. Don’t just gloss over that. We are meant to be there for each other. Do not ever convince yourself that you do not need friends or family. You do. Your life depends on it. Your very happiness depends on it. You are to allow people to give to you in times of need and you are beholden to give when others need, seek out others’ needs. It is the richness of this life. As many as you can possibly foster.
I do not spend a lot of time wondering why God did what He did. I don’t think that is the question I am supposed to be asking. I think my job is to do my very best to listen to what He wants me to do, where He wants me to go, in this grand plan He’s got. To pay attention to him, to His love for me. He wants to me to know firsthand his grace, over and over and over. He wants me to look for blessings because despite the devil, He’s got a plan to prosper not to harm and it’s my job to live that truth. With each new day. With each loved one. With each heartbeat that I have left. Because clearly, His plan is much more than I dare ever imagine.
God’s grace to you this Easter. And if you need me, anytime, anyplace, let me storm the gates of Heaven for you, not in my own wisdom, but knowing that there is a creator whose perfect love is all we need.
Addendum – What the Bible says about prayer requests:
Let me set the stage for you. It’s about 20 years since the Rabbi Jesus Christ was executed. Hundreds of people have claimed that they saw Christ after his Crucifixion. Their beliefs have created a movement that is spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Original followers of Christ have created documents that give details to who witnessed Christ’s resurrection, the miracles, his goodness and are feverishly documenting the Good News so that people can check their sources. Jews everywhere are trying to reconcile this ‘savior’ with the words of prophecy and promise that they have lived by for thousands of years. Some do and believe and some don’t. (Christ’s message was not really what those who were praying for power wanted to hear.) Paul, who originally had done everything he could to destroy this movement (Christianity), has a conversion experience and ‘sees Christ’ on the road to Damascus. In one moment, he turns his life to a completely different task. He now becomes Christ’s ardent and articulate fan. Paul while in prison for his beliefs, writes a letter to Christian who live in the Greek city of Phillipi. The letter is both full of optimism that Paul will get out of prison but also laced with the knowledge that his life may be coming to an end. In chapter 4 verse 6-7 , Paul states the following:
‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
You have to really think about these words to understand how powerful they are. What’s curious about it is that these verses do not promise a yes, or no or give conditions on what dictates one of those answers. (If this had been dictated strictly by humans, we’d give a manual of how to get the result you wanted.) No, this is a very, very different way of considering requests. First there is the command that you not be anxious. (Because, lets face it, we are all that, a lot. How many times during a day are you anxious?). Then there are instructions about how to do this: the first is you should talk to God about everything, make it known to him what your heart needs to say. Tell him! Then we are instructed how to ask this, with thanksgiving (I am still a little bit up in the air on this one. The conventional interpretation is all things will come to good through God. But that is quite hard for the human mind to get wrapped around. Lately I have wondered if it couldn’t be thanking him for having the chance to have him to ask!!) . Then there is the promise of what this will bring you: that through the very Christ who Paul witnessed on the road, who changed his life, you will get peace. Peace. This is information coming from a man who sits in prison at the end of his life. There are no promises of prosperity or material possession or specific physical needs. No, only an emotional, psychological one, that of peace, that surpasses all understanding, but permeates every thought and fiber and has supernatural properties. Quite something, huh? With all of our access to psychiatry and neuroscience and drugs that make us happy or take away our sadness today, in a world that wasn’t even aware of the theory of germs or string theory, antibiotics or heart transplants, the Phillipians are told how to achieve peace in their lives despite the hardships and storms? Here’s the truth. I have experienced this peace. The last several months. Truly. I hope you do too.