Seasons Change

The leaves turned colors and fell outside Mom’s window over the last couple months as we’ve watched with her. Autumn is profoundly mysterious and awkward–the shining forth of color as living things wither and draw inward and pass away. Beauty and imminent death, calmness before months of lack. I’ve put pen to paper many times in this season, and I choose to believe God is drawing out something worthy of wonder even as I stare at the looming hole in reality.

In the past two months, our existence as a family has been nothing short of charmed. This is especially true of the last week and a half, when Mom came back from the brink and we all hung around her and the house while she flurried orders, wisdom, and reminisces from the hospital bed. The ICU stint was the warning bell, and propelled everyone–well, I hopefully think so–to spend the one-on-one time they’d avoided or didn’t realize they needed. Mom has responded with a twinkle in her eye even though we know she’s low on fuel given her appetite. She’s smiled and buoyed us up and cracked jokes when Dad accidentally refers to lowering the hospital bed as “putting her down,” and acts like a 5 on the pain scale is easy peasy lemon squeezy. Even when the pain creeps higher than that, she refrains from the swear streams I know would be leaving my mouth. She says she doesn’t want to taint her witness as her condition gets harder to bear, as if the last couple months have been cake. I know she’s fighting to believe truth, like we all are. But sometimes, we’re surprised. Last week gave me more peace and joy than I ever believed could coexist right now.

That said, I’m awfully tired of the ache in the back of my throat, and of carting around mascara and makeup removing wipes. We vacillate so fast. Last night I was telling a story that made me laugh so hard I could barely finish it, and twenty minutes later the lump was back as the pain jumped to a 9 before Dad got it back down with the serious stuff. Sometimes, a baby comes to visit and Mom coos and laughs and it seems like we might have weeks. Three hours later, there’s a visceral wish to make it stop, and the brink seems close and merciful.

Last week forced me to articulate what I believe about miracles, and that kind of sucked and was kind of a relief at the same time. Mom’s near-miraculous bounce back after the ICU and the couple truly stellar days in the middle of the week tempted me to wonder if God was doing something special. You start hoping despite your best efforts to face reality, because how could she look so good, and why on earth is her handwriting less shaky today? And then the one bad day creeps into the next several, and you have to acknowledge that this shit is real. Again. It’s safer not to believe in miracles than dare to hope and believe while seeing nature take its course and divine intervention stay away. But really? We did get a minor miracle. Maybe not the full, complete miracle, but the chance to say what we meant was a chance we very nearly lost.

Are God’s hands tied? I fully believe He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer, as I’ve articulated before, but I recognize that my reasoning for why He doesn’t intervene was so, so limited in scope. I took into account the rest of the world; I should’ve taken into account the universe itself, the powers invisible that we so quickly forget because we only have five senses. But Dad has reminded us that we live caught between two warring factions, even though the end result is a sure thing. Are we collateral damage in the fight? Not exactly. But he pointed to 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, and drew out the early verses. Nothing will separate us from the love of God–but damn if those forces won’t try, and death is still their chemical weapon, used with abandon on all that lives. There’s much more than the turn of the earth going on, and perhaps some things simply must be in the grand scheme. The verses say that Christ MUST reign until he has subdued all his enemies, and we know the kings of earth are no match for him. Rather, we are not forgotten though the universe rages on.

Maybe something bigger is at work–I know I’m too close to the center to tell, but I choose to believe when people I barely remember call and say that Mom’s story is being shared in places she’s never been. I see hints of this in the overwhelming number of meals people have brought my family, and the many texts and notes people close to me have sent (you will never know how much those are worth to me!).

I also pray that this outpouring of love and my own sadness wakes me up to love and compassion. It’s kind of strange–when I shared with a few friends that Mom had been diagnosed, they shared their own hurts back with me in ways I hadn’t known before. And I was so humbled, and also a little ashamed at how little I recognized or noticed their wounds before. Sorrow like this imparts a special kind of credibility, both to comfort and to speak truth, and I have listened most closely to people for whom intimate grief is familiar. I wouldn’t wish membership into the sorority of suffering on anyone, but these are the people, the women, who have a credibility to comfort in ways others don’t. And that’s precious and beautiful in its own way.

Sometimes, the truth is as simple as an acknowledgment that damn, this HURTS and this is REAL and this is NOW. I realize now how quickly I’ve passed by others because their grief made me uncomfortable, and I wish I could turn back the clock on those moments. On the other hand, could I have said anything of value back then? Likely not, but I know now that hugs and acknowledgement are always accepted. I want to see people as I have been seen. Not because it makes my experience “worth it,” but so this means of grace may be extended to others as it has been to me.

Speaking of grace, my old co-worker’s explanation of “grace for today” is constantly on my mind. His wife was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer when their youngest was still a toddler, and she continues her struggle today. But in the early stages, he said something that’s really stuck with me, about God’s mercies being new every morning. “That means we only have the grace for today, not for tomorrow–tomorrow’s mercy hasn’t arrived yet. We receive the grace for today only, and wait in faith that tomorrow’s will be new and waiting for us when we need it.” They chose “Grace Sufficient” as a blog title, and I think I glimpse now what they meant.

Grace for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy Faithfulness

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