A lament for Heidi

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After a long 24 hour bedside vigil, I was finally able to come home, change my clothes and shower. But it’s not over. I’ll go back to her bedside shortly, and breathe in her precious smell until she smells like heaven.

I know how this goes. My youngest sister will be the fourth beloved, precious family member we will lose in just over a year.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand. What is going on here???

Last year, on Christmas morning no less, we first learned Heidi had a brain tumor. Later that same week we were informed it was glioblastoma – the fastest growing, most deadly and ruthless form of brain cancer with an average prognosis of 12 – 14 months Screaming into Nothingness (when God disappears). Here we are, in month 13 and she is days (maybe hours?) away from dying. Heidi is anything but average, but in death, her numbers will align fairly well with the statistics.

She will leave behind a husband, Chad, who has been her best friend since forever. They were married 23 years. Chad and Heidi have two children – Ashley, 17, a high school senior, and Nate, 14, an eighth grader. Don’t tell me they’ll be okay. They won’t – at least not yet. Their momma is about to die.

Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand.

It’s NOT okay to lose your momma when you’re a teenager. I have analyzed this situation from every angle and I can find nothing that makes sense or eases the pain. And I think I could punch someone in the face right now who tries to tell any of us how God works all things together for the good.

There is no way this can be good. No way.

Unless, perhaps…. Unless I don’t understand what “good” really is….

As a family we have all wrestled with mortality and God and His plan throughout Heidi’s illness. But one night, while in a long nighttime wrestling match with God, I suddenly wondered if His idea of good is simply not the same as ours. Maybe He doesn’t have a Webster’s. Maybe when He Google’s “good”, He doesn’t read of the things we typically think of (health, wealth, prosperity, fitting into your size 6 jeans, sipping wine along the Cour Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France…)

If God is good, and I have NO DOUBT He is, then His definition of good CANNOT be the same as ours.

Because, Oh, Lord, I just don’t understand you otherwise.

It’s interesting, but in my experience, the things that we typically think of as “good” and as our “blessings” are often the things that create a separation between God and us. They are things that, often unintentionally and often subversively, lead us to believe we don’t need a God. Things like enough money (or too much), enough food (or too much), enough vacation (or too much), enough or too much of everything, as well as the absence of disease and absence of trials.

Conversely, it is the sufferings of this life that bring us to our knees and to the place where we find our desperate need of a Savior.  And I believe that more than anything God longs to draw us closer to Him. He wants nothing more for all to come to know him and accept the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior.

So what if maybe, just MAYBE…., in God’s dictionary, “health” is not the absence of disease, but, instead, one who knows he/she is nothing apart from Christ, and that we live and breathe and have our being in Him alone.  Since God IS good, and longs to give us good things, MAYBE, “health” has nothing to do with our physical bodies.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, “wealthy” does not refer to one who has a hefty savings and retirement account, drives a fancy car, and owns all manner of material possessions. Maybe being wealthy actually means to understand that friends, family and a purpose in life are some of the richest gifts offered to us. Maybe we’re rich when we realize how little we actually need “things” and start living more simply – when we have more time for people instead of accumulating and maintaining our “things”. Maybe wealth is the opposite of what we always thought.

Maybe, in God’s dictionary, a “blessing” isn’t a concept we can actually get our heads around. Maybe, saying we’re “blessed” when referring to health, wealth, jobs, children and good fortune causes great pain to those struggling with cancer, infertility, unemployment, a prodigal son/daughter, rape, poverty, oppression, rejection, loneliness, etc. because it implies God has withheld His blessings from those people.  ESPECIALLY – oh especially – when we Christians suggest it is the LACK of faith that produces suffering in this life are we guilty of serious theological malpractice!

Are suffering people NOT blessed???  Are we able to escape all trouble and heartache if our faith is simply strong enough??? When people suffer from the evils in this world is it a reflection of their lack of faith???

Hell no.

It just can’t be. Or God is not good. God must have a different definition of “blessed” then we do.

Otherwise, God, I just don’t understand.

So, I decided to start reading God’s dictionary. I cannot make sense of Heidi’s passing any other way. I need a God who IS GOOD. One whom I can trust even when I’m angry at Him. One who IS PRESENT everywhere. One who doesn’t pick and choose favorites and grant the rich, the beautiful, and those born into first-world countries more “blessings” than the rest.

This is what I found in God’s dictionary:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn – for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart – for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers – for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3 – 10

So as I resume this bedside vigil there are TWO things I can know for sure: Chad and family will be comforted. And Heidi, well, she shall soon see God, for she is truly pure in heart.

This precious family does not have the “blessings” that most people think of – they are in the valley of the shadow of death and this is an impossibly sad and difficult place. But, I’ve just GOT to believe that according to God’s dictionary, they are blessed indeed.

Otherwise, Lord, I just don’t understand. You just don’t make any sense to me.

And then the Lord said to me:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

 

Screaming into Nothingness (when God disappears)

 

Christmas moimages-2rning. As our girls tore into their stockings hung by the chimney with care, the phone rang. The phone call that changed everything. From now on, life will be defined as either “before” the call, or “after” the call.

 

My 45 yr. old sister had been rushed to the hospital after waking up with right-sided paralysis, vomiting and headache.

 

We’re a tight family. Without a second thought, we trashed our Christmas plans and bolted up to the hospital as well. And by “we” I mean, everybody – Grandmas, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, kids, and cousins. Someone pointed out how we must have looked like the Bravermans in the final episode of Parenthood.

 

Together, we exited this comfortable and familiar world called “normalcy” and were forced to enter a foreign galaxy called: “Neurology ICU”. Here, no English is spoken. Here, the air is thin and breathing is difficult. Here, minutes are hours and waiting becomes your livelihood. Here, appetite’s no longer exist. Here, sleep is stolen in 10 minute increments – in chairs – next to strangers who smell as if they haven’t showered in days. Here, you don’t remember if you’ve combed your hair or changed your underwear or brushed your teeth – but also, you don’t care. Here, you cry a lot.

 

ICU. IV. CT scan. MRI. Decadron. Dilaudid. Emesis. Norco. Emesis. Toradol. Emesis. Hemmorhage left parietal lobe. MRI. CT scan. PET scan. ICU. Tumor in eloquent area of brain. Differential diagnosis: Glioma. MRI. Surgery. MRI. ICU. EEG. Seizure? EEG. MRI. Diagnosis: High-grade Glioblastoma.

 

Welcome to our newest Galaxy: Brain Cancer.

 

And the common denominator of all those gathered in this galaxy? We are lost. None of us know our way around here. None of us know what to say, what to do. None of us know what we want, what we need. None of us know what questions to ask. None of us want to go home, none of us want to stay. None of us can eat.

 

None of us can pray.

 

None of us feel God anymore. We are told He inhabits this galaxy, too – but it doesn’t seem possible. There is so much pain and suffering and heartache and anguish here – this feels more like hell. God cannot inhabit hell, can He?

 

We wail and cry and mourn in this galaxy. It’s the only thing that comes naturally. And our cries turn into screams. And we scream into what feels like nothingness…

 

And yet…..

 

And yet….. our phones were lighting up from all the saints – the incarnate Jesus people – saying they were praying and giving us scripture to hold onto.  All the things we could not do.

 

Screaming into nothingness was all we knew to do. But the Jesus-people took it from there:

 

  • If you’ve ever hit “like” on the Facebook post for the hospitalized person simply to show you’re out there and you care – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever typed the simple word, “praying” on a carepages post – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever dropped off bar-b-que on the porch of someone going through a crisis because you know they’ll eventually need it – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever just showed up in the ICU waiting room with a basket-full of munchies and a tray full of subs – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever awaken in the middle of the night and thought of someone in a crisis and then prayed for them – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever felt God supernaturally gave you scripture to be shared with someone in crisis – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever just hugged someone – really hard and really long – because the deep pain of the situation left you with nothing to say – it mattered.

 

  • If you’ve ever brought food to the home of someone in crisis even though they said they didn’t need any more – it mattered.

 

  • If you ever sent a “thinking of you” card – even a lame, dusty, covered-with-pink-grandma-style-peonies, cheap one that you resurrected from the bottom of your “card drawer” – it mattered.

 

 

When lost in the galaxy of brain cancer – or lung cancer, or breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter; or divorce, or reactive-attachment disorder, or death, or job loss, or the rejection of adult children, or alzheimers, or heart failure, or marriage infidelity, or financial ruin, or ALS, or any other crisis that launches you from earth – you cannot find your own way back. You truly are lost. And you cannot pray.

 

And the thing is, you’d stay lost in that galaxy forever – screaming into nothingness forever – if it weren’t for the Jesus-people who stepped up and prayed. In a crisis, the Jesus-people aren’t praying with you, they are praying for you.

 

I wonder.

 

I wonder if the Holy Spirit speaks through the prayers, the actions, the cards, the hugs and the bar-b-que, of the Jesus-people and if that’s what this scripture means:

 

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” Romans 8:26