My mother—my dearest friend—was diagnosed with colon cancer this weekend.
It’s hard to write those words. Hard not to see her, since all hospital visits are prohibited due to COVID. Hard to know the hospital is dealing with other health issues she has, like a major infection, before they can deal with the cancer.
Hard, hard, hard. The doctors say it is treatable, but it is still hard.
I have cried a lot and freaked out a lot and prayed a lot. I have collapsed into bed overwhelmed with the enormity of it all and tried my best to keep updating family and friends. My typical occasional-tinge-of-jaw-pain from stress has evolved into full on TMJ disorder spasm.
And so it’s really wild to write this and say that I still feel blessed.
The church—the church. The church. Philip Yancey once wrote that the church is God’s answer to the world’s pain and suffering. I can testify that, for me at least, that is true. So many people who love my mother, so many believers, have called, texted, asked for updates.
Does your father need a casserole, honey? He’ll say he doesn’t, but does he need a casserole?
Can we buy them groceries?
What do you need, sweetie?
They have sent me Bible verses they are praying for her. They have prayed with me over the phone. They have deluged me with heart emojis and praying hands and encouraging stories. “God has got this,” they say to me, affirmatively. A woman whose husband committed suicide called me and said, “God will give you strength. I can testify to that.”
They have held special anointing services for my mother. They have contacted their friend’s churches, sister’s Bible studies, friends’ prayer groups. Whole cities of believers I have never met once in my life are being mobilized, committing to pray. They have found hope and handed it to me so that I don’t have to look for it at all.
Last night I sat at my kitchen table overwhelmed by it all. How can it be that, with my husband, I can sit alone at a table and yet feel surrounded by so many loving people? How can I put words to the relief that as my prayers descend into a panicked garble I know that the rest of the church is stepping in for me, with me? How can I admit how comforting it is to know that they are there, that I could reach out to any one of them to cry, to yell, to ask for an encouraging word?
My mother has told me, in our texts and calls from the hospital, that she feels God’s presence. I believe her.
I pray God will heal her and allow these moments we’re living now to become nothing more than a memory down the road. I pray that all this passes for her quickly and with ease. I am anxious person by nature; I must remind myself that living and acting in hope and gratitude is the way. But as we live in the in-between waiting for information on what treatment will be like and what waits ahead, I mostly remember my brief visit to the adoration chapel last week when we knew something was wrong but not what. When I needed to be somewhere-not-my-house, somewhere I could sit with God.
I walked in, and when the door closed behind me I was comforted as always by the hush, the feeling of timelessness: a reminder that all of this, everything that matters, belongs to God and that there is a whole side of existence, of the cosmos, that I don’t see. It’s the same feeling I have when I can sense the embrace of the church in moments like these: a tiny foretaste of what one day will be. A promise of redemption in a broken world.
I wish this wasn’t happening. I wish that, if it had to happen, it wasn’t happening now in the middle of COVID. I wish it hadn’t happened to my mom, of all people, and none of it is fair or right. But—
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. …all we have to do is decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In the time that is given me, I will care for Mom as best I am able from a distance. But I am also moved to be the care I am experiencing now for others. And maybe that is God’s gift in this, too: that those who are hurting, when they are in Christ, feel most moved to put that hurt to use for others. I could not handle this alone. I hope that through this, I become the person who ensures that other people also do not have to handle it alone.
When it all falls apart, God is there.
His people are, too.