By Madison Garrett
Lord, the one you love is sick.
Father God, do you hear me?
The one you love and the one I love is sick. He is fatigued and worn out and downcast and there is a monster in his brain that I need you to remove. He is stubborn and fighting and we are choosing belief, but oh my sweet Jesus…
The one we love is sick.
Jesus, I want this story to be beautiful. I want it to be finished. I want it to be victorious, fruitful, glorious. I want to hear and live and write stories of healing andtriumph and running with bare feet. I want stories of hearts fulfilled and hearts overflowing. I want to hear promises of your goodness, regaled tales of your faithfulness intervening, and great victories of your glory. I want to hear you change the endings of the hard stories and make them beautiful again.
I want the uneasiness to go away and love to remain.
I want you to fix this.
I want dad’s brain tumor to go away.
Lord, the one you love is sick and we pray and we pray and we pray but still there is an uneasiness in my heart and a tension in my home that cannot be dispelled by anything other than You.
Lord, the one you love is sick. Please come and heal him.
It doesn’t make sense, but some days, being here is harder than being at Disney.
It was easier then, I think, because it was easy to throw myself into loving people. It was my job, in my opinion, to love people: to reach into their days and into their vacations and remind them of how worthy they are of love, so worthy, in fact, that an entire theme park was devoted to giving them the best experience and the most beautiful memories they could possibly have. It was easier then to break in tiny ways in order to show the guests the really big, beautiful things that they came to see, that they need to know matter. It was always the moments when I cast aside worrying about my dad to ask a guest about their day, or when I moved my exhausted body to play peak-a-boo with a tiny pirate in the Pooh que line, or when I battled a young Rey and her brother Kylo Ren with my own invisible light-saber- in these moments, I was fighting back. I was decidedly against letting the conditions of my life keep me from loving. I never wanted my own heartache to get in the way of a guest seeing the way that one person can love another, without prompting, without hesitation, without expectation of return. I wanted people to see that such a love does exist, that such a good and worthy Jesus does exist. I was breaking up with my own brokenness to soothe and aide and enliven the hearts of others.
There, I let love be the important thing. Love lightened my own burden by lightening the hearts of others.
Yet, now that I’m back, I can’t seem to shake the uneasiness. Dad’s health fluctuates, our family is in survival mode, and there is the ever-looming question mark of my future beginning May 6th. I often feel overwhelmed by all the must’s and the should’s and the need’s and the to-do’s of the months before graduation. I can’t seem to stop and be still and rest. There is always more on my mind: I should love more, study more, savor more, work more, network more, apply more, laugh more, sing more, spend more time with friends, spend more time with family, spend more time with the Lord…but all of those should’s and all of those more’s come up empty. I am left dissatisfied and disappointed in myself and striving to do better, even though striving to do better exhausted me in the first place. I am walking with bewildered steps through a very bewildering season, one in which even contentment seems evasive and joy seems elusive.
I long and long and long for healing for my father.
He grows stronger each day, I think. He walks with longer steps, he speaks with greater volume, and he lives with deeper confidence. He is reintroducing himself to life and my mom walks faithfully beside him, loving him more now than ever before. We are all getting used to our new normal; we are learning the art of simple joys, simple steps, the simple gospel, and simple, steadfast, heartfelt prayers. Lord, the one you love is sick.
But with cancer, things are never quite simple. Some days, we feel invincible; others feel like we’ve been run over by a semi-truck that didn’t bother to turn around to check on us. I don’t think we’ve ever felt at rest.
But this is what the Lord put on my heart in a quiet moment over spring break, when I was up late working on school work and researching magazine design. I was caught in a moment of realizing how different everything about my life was. I saw the walls of my family’s house covered entirely in wrinkled note cards and pen-scribbled scraps of paper; verses of truth, hope, faith, courage, and anticipation coat every empty space. John 10:42 is in the bathroom. Song of Solomon 8:5 is inside the medicine cabinet. There the eight blankets on our couch, most of them bought, made, or given to us specifically for this season of our lives. And then, all the books. There so many books, an endless supply of tear-stained guidebooks offered up by those who have walked this road before us. These are words from the heartbroken spoken to the heartbreaking, words of truth and hope and pain and authentic, desperate belief.
There are railings on each side of the stairs and compression socks in the laundry and countless bright orange medicine bottles (with names I can’t pronounce) lining every open counter space in the kitchen. It’s all new and it’s all different and all the change started to overwhelm me.
But then, the Lord spoke straight to my aching heart.
“This is not the season you will call home.”
This season of WAITING, of doubting, of wishing, of praying, of begging the Lord to see His goodness and searching everywhere with tired eyes to see His provision, this season of crying out to the Lord for healing and a miracle and an end to all the tests and the blood work and all the chemo and treatment and physical therapy…this is not the season we will call home. This is not the place will stay in forever. We can be at peace here, knowing that the Lord is on His throne and the ultimate authority, appointing and overruling every trial, but we do not have to be at home here. The Lord isn’t forcing me to be at home in this season. He isn’t asking me to cozy up and watch movies with Doubt. He doesn’t ask me to befriend the brain tumor that has latched itself onto my dad’s head. He doesn’t force me to be at rest with the things that steal it from me.
I believe that the Lord is fine-tuning my heart to see His provision, and I believe that my heart will be uneasy until it recognizes it. He is tuning my heart to know His will, so I will recognize it when I am in it and when I am not.
So the uneasiness I feel in this season, the fact that I feel so unsettled, so in-between, isn’t an indication that I am wrong or that I am doing something wrong or looking at something in the wrong way. It is instead perhaps the Lord whispering to my heart that I do not belong in this season. I do not belong in this place of weeping, of hurting, aching bodies, and orange pill-bottles. As His beloved, I belong in His provision. As His chosen beloved, I will never be at home in a place of lack. When my heart waits for provision with uneasiness, it is not because I do not believe in it; it’s because I know that I do not belong in this place of heartache. I belong with Jesus, and wherever He is, lacks nothing. Wherever He is must be the most beautiful place in the world, a place free of tension and uneasiness. Wherever He is, there is is JOY. If I am uneasy now, it is because my heart is eager to draw close and rest in the presence and provision of the Lord--- which I know for a fact will be GOOD and not broken.
This is not the season we will call home. We are wandering through it, navigating it to the best of our ability, but the Lord wanders with us and will not allows us to get lost. We will not call this season home, because we are the beloved of the Lord’s. And I boldly believe that He loves us too much for that.
We are ALLOWED to be uneasy when things are hard and I think it’s its ridiculous to convince ourselves that we shouldn’t be. But we must let the uneasiness matter. The heart break and the bruising and the world-changes matters. Something like cancer shatters realities, it wipes passivity from our hearts, and it wrenches us from the motions and into a wilderness so vast that we simply cannot navigate it without the Lord. The bruising shatters and the bruising matters, but the redemption matters more. It is a terrible privilege to carry pain.
Pastor Levi Luskgo wrote a whole book about this. (If you haven’t read it, it’s called Through the Eyes of a Lion and it’s fantastic.) He writes from experience and he writes from pain. His sentences bleed and run with fresh tears; they lodge themselves in my heart and refuse to budge. He lost his five-year old daughter to a freak asthma attack and now spends every day of his life stealing victory from the enemy and pressing into the tension of longing for eternity but being stuck here on earth. He knows better than I do that this season is not his home and he writes about it better than I can:
“You need to actively be on the lookout for every way you can to redeem the hell you are put through by shining your light in the darkness. Your suffering is being used to create the anointing oil for the next level God wants you to reach. Squeeze every drop out of your trial. Let nothing be wasted. Hold nothing back. None of your tears have fallen to the ground unseen…I want you to believe in Jesus’s name that there will come a day when the devil will regret ever asking God permission to give you your trial, because you will end up twice as blessed as you started out.”
It is a beautiful and chilling call to action for those of us who are hurting. It is a powerful reminder that we are not defined by our brokenness, not even by brain cancer. This is NOT our permanent season. It is not our permanent existence. I declare that boldly, decidedly believing it. But while this is our season, we must use it. We must take it back. We must claim it as a victory that has already been won, since Jesus has already rewritten the end of the story.
Yet even if it isn’t, even if the brain tumor is permanent (please Jesus remove it and heal my father completely and do not let any of this be permanent)…I must rest in the knowledge that this world and these broken bodies are not our permanent homes. There is a place, a beautiful place, where brokenness and brain cancer do not exist…but that place is not our lovely earth.
So while we are on earth, while we are in this season, while we are trapped in uneasiness and fear and worry, while we have access to the platform that pain gives us, we must let love surround the change.
(Or, the synonym version: invite Love to walk with you through the wilderness. Allow Love to sit with you in the storm. Seek Love in the waiting place.)
What can love do, exactly, when introduced to situations as scary and dark as this? It seems like a hollow statement, a Christian buzz word that doesn’t actually mean anything. But I have seen first hand the way that love transforms heartache. I have watched my mom rub my dad’s head until he falls asleep. I have watched her hold his hand every time she prays. And I know that love, when imitating Jesus, changes things.
Love lightens. Just like loving guests at Disney eased the tension in my heart, if we “stand against the darkness and love”, we can ease the burdens of the ones we love. We can bring light and hope to the ones who need it.
Love is the body of Christ being the body of Christ. Love is our neighbors dropping off a cheese pizza late at night. Love is our parent’s friends welcoming my dad’s new normal with open hearts. Love is my grandparents doing everything they can to take away my mom’s to do list, everything from doing the ironing to taking their eldest granddaughter to brunch to when her dad was in the hospital during her spring break.
Love is the way that my sister dances through the trenches of the season. She is the one at home, the one seeing it all, the first-hand witness of my family’s greatest wilderness, yet she dances. She thrives in being the one in the thick of it and she daily fine-tunes the way that she sees and cares for my parents. She is the most observant human I know, seeing needs before any of us and filling them before any of us think to. Love is the ridiculous ways that she finds to make my father laugh. Love is the way she refuses to give up on joy even on the darkest days. She isn’t interested in proclaiming happiness to the world, but prefers the authentic route, the quiet confidence in the Lord and the daily choice to keep caring for the people that need it in her own special way. I firmly believe that she is our strongest defense against depression laying claim to our household and she is the most adamant fighter for my dad’s sense of humor. She finds the gold in his tension and she teases it out of him. She sings silly songs until he smiles and makes sarcastic comments until the scariness and the darkness of this season fade into the background little by little. Her love lightens the entire atmosphere of our house. Her love lightens the burden that weighs on my mother’s shoulders and spirits. Her love dispels the tension that so easily engrains itself in our hearts and her love casts out the hopelessness that so easily entraps us. Her love lightens us and surrounds us with a kindness and a care that eases the uneasiness in our hearts.
At a concert recently, the lead singer of Penny and Sparrow led the audience in an exercise that stilled every aching part of my soul. We started out singing the words of the bridge at a whisper, every person in the audience quietly repeating “I never fall outside of love” to themselves. We get louder and louder and louder, until we are all screaming it at the top of our lungs, viscerally speaking love over ourselves and our fellow humans, until the song suddenly stops. We all go silent, resting in the newfound freedom that arose when we sang until we believed the truth of those lyrics. We sang until it bore into us, into our hearts, permanent and unshakeable: we can never fall outside of love. We are never in such a whirlwind that Love cannot keep up.
Love can always surround the change.
Love surrounded the hospital bed when we prayed over dad altogether for the first time since the diagnosis. Love surrounded the change when the four of us (since Mitchell had already gone back to school) laid in bed together and watched Robin Hood just days after it all started and loved surrounded the change when we cried nonstop, hugging Dad and hugging each other and clinging to every little moment we had. I remember my mom constantly whispering to him what a good job he had done as a father, how much she loved him, how honored she was to have been loved by him. I remember my dad telling me in quiet moments about how much he loved her, how it had always been her, how none of his other relationships had ever been real, had ever made sense, because he had always been waiting for her. Their love has always surrounded their every change and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
When we decided this week to take my dad off all treatments to let his body rest, to let the Lord heal him, love surrounded that change, too. There are highs and there are lows of this story, yet deep and real love surrounds it all. We are each other’s strength, pointing one another to Jesus when our eyes get too downcast in the reality of brain cancer.
After six months, hope gets hard. But love only gets tougher.
So, in the in-between, in the wilderness, in the waiting, we will keep clinging to the Lord and we will keep clinging to each other. We will keep breaking and keep loving and keep letting love break us. We will fight and cry and pray and hope with every breath we breathe. It is a terrible privilege to carry pain. It is a terrible privilege to live and tell this story. But it is a beautiful honor to carry the hearts of the ones I love and carry their love with me, believing that maybe there is glory in the motions and glory in the nitty gritty. This is how we take back our lives. This is how we dominate the chaos of the world and change the course of human existence. This is how we cut back the effect of cancer on our lives. This is how we claim victory in brokenheartedness.
We let love surround the change.
This is how we win.