Finding God in the Shadows

From Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage, Familius, April 2014:

“On the way home David leaned back in the passenger seat, glancing over at me as I drove. “Why would God allow a little boy to have cancer?” he asked quietly, and I just shook my head in response.

“If I could go, and Jacob could stay, I’d go in a minute.”

“I know you would,” I whispered hoarsely as I patted his leg. The ramifications of his declaration were too painful to ponder. David would die for that little boy he loved, I had no doubt, just as he would give his life for me or for any one of his children. That was the kind of person he was. I reached over to hold his hand and we rode in silence the rest of the way home.”

Sometime during that night, David’s heart stopped, and I thought mine had broken in two. I’d lost my best friend, the man who had become the wind beneath my wings.

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David didn’t live to see me sign a book contract for the book that had been his idea in the first place, Coupon Crazy, a book he encouraged me to write. He had to have been pulling some strings up there for Chemo-Therapist to also become an upcoming reality.

It was a bittersweet moment to approach a Barnes & Noble bookstore yesterday and spot this in their window:

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I wondered at the overwhelming sadness I felt as I wandered the aisles of the store that now displayed my book. The heaviness of grief still descends upon me at unexpected times, and in unexpected places. David did not live to see this.

He also did not live to hear the terminal diagnosis bestowed upon his beloved grandson, and for that I am grateful. Because now we are losing eight-year-old Jacob. Jacob is dying.

Each morning I wake up wondering if this will be the day we say good-bye. Some nights I can’t sleep and I drive past my daughter’s house at 3:00 am, looking to see if the lights are on and she needs me. I help where I can; baking the occasional loaf of banana bread, cleaning now and then, and taking the other grandchildren away for an afternoon so Jacob can sleep in peace. But there is so little I can do in the face of this. I cannot take the pain away from my daughter Elizabeth and the son-of-my-heart, Ben. I cannot help Jacob through this lone journey. With pain, with trouble breathing, it is his mother he asks for.

I rise early every morning and spend a good hour searching for answers to the hard questions. Questions like “Why would God allow a little child to suffer?” and “How can we bear to live a life without him?”  I pray. I read devotionals. I cry. I sit in silence and listen, and then I pray some more. Some mornings, I fall to my knees, only to return to them by nightfall. I am reminded of last July, when for a few weeks God took away my writing so that I would learn to be still, learn to hear HIM. I search for God in all of it.

I think about the little boy who has been a gift to us; his quiet demeanor, his giving spirit. I contemplate what he has brought into the world by his very being, despite his short time on earth. How his little body has fought this cancer for more than two and a half years. I think about the tremendous strength in those thin limbs that now tremble with weariness, that tiny heart that has stretched so many other hearts. One day a posting on his Facebook page reached 16,000 viewers. 16,000 people saw that posting, and nearly as many people were praying for him. 16,000 hearts were touched by a small child! Most of us will be lucky to touch that many people in our lifetime. Yes, I see God in all of this.

And I am writing. And writing. My work-in-progress is a chronicle of grief; Refined By Fire. By working my way back through that first year of widowhood, I can clearly see how God walked with me down the path of loss. My prayer today is that my daughter and her family feels HIM too.

“I have refined you but not in the way silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”  Isaiah 48:10

Finding God in the Midst of Pain

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Lord these past few days. My mornings begin with the One Year Book of Hope I mentioned several days ago. I have been looking for answers, and for the most part, finding them. A couple of days ago I impulsively tore out one of the pages to send to my daughter. Commonsense would dictate that I lay the page down on my printer to make a copy, but the urgency of my desire precluded rationality. A good thing; It turned out the verse on the opposite side of the page was what she needed to hear.

After delving into God’s word each morning, I pray. Yes, I have spent time down on my knees, crying out to God in anguish, but there have also been those moments of the bowed head, and the prayers of thanksgiving.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of a small boy who has touched so many lives. Thank you for the beautiful daughter who has demonstrated a tremendous strength in the face of adversity. Thank you for the man who has become another son. Thank you for the grand-daughter whose eyes search mine as she asks the hard questions, and the younger grandson whose hand I have gladly held throughout the last two and a half years. Thank you for the beautiful baby girl who chortles with delight at the antics of her siblings. Thank you, Lord, for the man I loved who now waits in Heaven to welcome Jacob home.

“Perhaps you should put your book manuscript aside for the time being,” a good friend suggested. Instead, each morning I have pulled it out and wondered at the ease of the words I am writing. Refined By Fire is the working title of the book detailing my first year of grieving. In delving into my journal and blog postings from that year it is obvious how God worked in me through the pain of loss. It helps me now to read the words I’d written in the midst of grief because then I can believe that my daughter and son-in-law will make it through what is ahead of them.

C.S. Lewis wrote “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I am in awe of the words my daughter posts as updates on my grandson’s Facebook page. Despite all she has gone through, no, perhaps because of it, I have watched her grow in faith. As the mother of a child with a chronic illness that became a terminal one, she walks tall in the Lord. She is a witness of God’s glory and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to this platitude posted on my Facebook wall last year after David died, so I didn’t respond at all. My friend, Beth did, however.

“There is no Bible verse that says that. That is a man-made saying. How else does God get us to fall to our knees in front of him?”

Working on a book that chronicles those early days of grieving while we face yet more grief has become a balm for my soul. Yesterday I came across these words I had written;

“The first time I realized just how comforting music could be was the morning of David’s funeral when I started my vehicle and Matt Redmon’s “You Never Let Go” began playing. “Oh, no you never let go. Through the highs and through the lows.” I pulled a notepad out of my purse and wrote those words down. “Through the highs and through the lows…” 

I had never felt lower in my life. Nor had I ever felt closer to God.”            

“Look for God in all this,” a friend wrote recently. “Watch for him.” I don’t have to look far. My daughter Rachel took me to a concert at our county fair where the Sidewalk Prophets were playing. The lead vocalist, David Frey, spoke to the crowd in between songs. When he mentioned “Darth Vader” at one point, I turned to look at Rachel. She looked as confused as I was; the reference didn’t quite fit in with the rest of what he was saying. I felt a small spark ignite inside of me. Jacob is obsessed with the Star Wars movies. The singer had gotten my attention. One could argue that the odds of what he said next in a large crowd would certainly apply to someone there, but there are many other words he could have chosen. Instead, what he said was “Maybe you are about to lose someone you love.” My tears began flowing, unabashed. Shortly after that, the woman ahead of us who’d been sitting with two daughters for the entire concert was joined by two sons, one who looked to be approximately eight years old. As the mother casually slung her arm around his shoulders, I couldn’t help but envy the obvious good health of her children. At that precise moment, the boy turned his head and looked at me and I saw that he had the same brown eyes of our Jacob, of my David.

“Watch for him in all this,” my friend had advised.

I see Him.