I had planned to dedicate the next few posts to Thanksgiving, Christmas and my pretty girls all dressed up and a FANTASTIC picture of what the Aftermath of A 21st Century American Christmas Looks Like (I bought and wrapped each gift and even I was shocked), but it has been weighing on my heart to write about what I feel I have learned as I and my family have journeyed through the last few months.
I can only take that to mean that someone, somewhere needs to hear what I have to say and God wants to use me to make that happen.
And I say that because clearly that is exactly what happened to me.
I was praying and praying and praying that my dad's cancer would be fixed, that I could fix it (Oh, you didn't know that I can cure cancer? Sure I can, if I just pray hard enough and will it to happen. Yeah. Right.), that I could battle it out for him and I, that somehow my first-born sense of responsibility and love combined with truly incredible human hubris could somehow impact this terrible arc we were on. And I was struggling, struggling and struggling some more with God, seeking Him, looking for guidance, for peace, for a sense of purpose in this journey.
I got to a point where I didn't even know what to pray for anymore. Do I ask for God's will to be done? What if God's will is that he dies on the operating table? Am I complicit in his leaving us if I have prayed that prayer? But what if I am more pointed in what I ask for? What if I say, God, I want you to heal him and make him all better, and that's not what God has in store? Am I am "bad" Christian? Could I deal with the disappointment of God not giving me what I asked for? I know what I am SUPPOSED to pray- Thy will be done- but I wasn't sure that God's will was what I wanted, and I was so balled up and trying to be in control of a completely out of control situation that was so clearly above my head, I was just like a fish out of water, flopping around and gasping for air.
So I went to church, I went to Bible Study on Sunday mornings, I went to my regular Bible Study on Wednesdays and looked for relief. The other women in my Bible Study are wonderful, kind, compassionate and empathetic women who have walked this entire journey with me. After class in the week before my parents left for MA, the leader (who is a towering Christian woman in every sense) took me aside, looked directly at me, and said these profound words to me: "Cheryl, you cannot fix this. You have to just throw it all at Jesus' feet and tell Him you are FURIOUS at Him for letting this happen. Because He already knows." And she gave me a huge hug.
That was the shift for me. That was the moment when I was able to stop asking for God to help me to fix it and I really put it all on Him. I prayed to Him and told Him, Well, God, I am furious at you. I want you to make this better for my dad. And you are the only one who can do it. I tried and I couldn't, so I am throwing it all on you. Fix him, Lord, and help him get better. And I prayed it with such a horrible smart-alecky attitude that I'm pretty sure I heard God roll His eyes at me and smile at my barely-veiled anger.
I kept praying that prayer, each time with less anger and more softness and supplication, and do you know what happened? The anger ebbed. The peace began to fill my heart. The pressure I had placed on myself to fix an unfixable situation subsided. I felt God around me. And around my family.
Even when my girls cried to me, usually at bedtime, and told me how worried they were about this monster of a surgery we were facing, I was equipped to tell them the exact same thing. I told them to pray to God that He be with us and PopPop. I told them to throw it at Jesus's feet and let Him take care of it. I told them to ask for peace and to soothe their hearts.
That was all God wanted to hear from me. Those two simple words that I was too stubborn, too proud, too angry, too scared and too hurt to say. And once I said them, all that fell away and I was back in God's arms, being comforted and held.
Seeing this situation now with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I am amazed at how God has carved a path for my father to get well. He sent us to this amazing doctor, He blessed her hands during the surgery, He has kept him free of complications so common to others who have gone on this journey before him.
And after living through this crisis, this other-worldly experience of being plucked out of my comfortable, safe and stable everyday life and plunged into another, I can tell you, my parents, my family, my children, my friends, my Pastor, my church, and anyone who will listen to me that I am beyond certain of these two things:
God is with us. Immanuel.
And all He really wants, more than anything else, is for us to seek Him out and talk to Him and lean on Him. And ask for His help.
All the other stuff is just additional layers. All the study, the praise, the worship, the liturgy, the Church, the history, the piousness, the conflict, and the structure- all of that can be stripped away and this truth remains: God is with us and He wants to be in a relationship with us.
He wants to comfort us and love us.
I had an amazing dream about a week after I got home and started processing all that had happened. In my dream, I was staring at a beautiful castle, and every so often, in a shimmering radiance, more layers of the castle would appear and then disappear. I had the sense in the dream that this castle was something someone had told me about, but I had resisted, but here it was and I was seeing it with my own eyes. It was the most beautiful castle I have ever seen. Along came an older man, who looked like a kindly old professor, and he smiled at me and took my hand. I had an overwhelming sense of warmth, love and safety with him that I can still feel. He had been trying to convince me of something, and seeing the shimmering castle was the proof I needed to go with him. So I did and it felt wonderful. And then I woke up.
You can choose to think that having that dream was just my brain firing electrical currents while I slept. You can choose to say it was random and our dreams don't mean anything anyway. And that's fine.
But I know what that dream was about and I know what God was telling me.