I've held 50/50 chances in my own two hands, flesh of my third daughter lying silent in the sleep of coma, doctors hovering in full biohazard gear, telling us of damaged neurons and people who don't wake up from infections like these. I've lived 50/50 chances in my own bones, almost 5 years now of a cancer journey, and I am passing that first hallmark on the road to survival, on to the next, the 10 year mark, when I have just a 50% chance of still beating cancer, still having a beating heart, still being here.
A friend died quietly on All Saint's Sunday in the peace of her earthly home, and while she walked away from us, she was welcomed on another shore by others who'd been waiting there for her return to another home. Today is her funeral, yesterday her wake. I touched her cold hand in the casket last night, a new friend gone quickly from my life. The nurse in me saw the sore on her nose from the NG tube, the reddened finger from the oxygen probe. The signs of cancer's battle still visible after death. She faced that last battle with a smile on her face, with courage, with hope. I held my tears back while I was in her room, because she was brave and I didn't want her to see that I am not. Today at the funeral, her body was gone. An urn stood at the front of the church instead. It was a little too quick, this ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I stared at the ceiling, the stained glass windows, let the music carry me away to the top of the church, so I could numb the tears and flee the fears, keep myself together in front of my peers.
We all hold death somewhere silent in our cells, but mine can be pulled out and measured in a test tube of blood, quantified in numbers, just how much death is there stalking me this year. How much treatment will be needed to keep it at bay. How my chances change every time they test my blood. I have my Scriptures that have become my mantras: sufficient unto each day are the troubles thereof...my hope is in you, maker of heaven...redeem the time...with God, all things are possible...
If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (from Romans 8)
I live in moments, I breathe in small joys, I am mindful of that which is set before me in this present time - the class I am about to teach, the task I am about to accomplish, the piece I am playing on the piano, the painting I am working on, the children who throng me and demand all of me. But it is a practice, all of this. A way to keep pain and hopelessness and paralyzing fear at bay. A Holy practice of obedience, because He tells me to carry His light burden, to walk in peace and not in fear; to walk and not faint, to believe in things much bigger than the landscape I can see with my own two eyes.
I hide tears behind closed doors. When I am doubled over with grief, I do so alone. I don't want to gather my children into these moments and darken what days we have together. I don't want to bring my husband in to the gates of my vast suffering. I struggle to let even Christ be with me in my Gethsemane nights. How can I say I have hope, how can I believe all these promises I have listed, and still be so overcome at times by the weight of death that hangs so heavy on my heart?
Several times throughout the Bible, God mentions the measure of our years at 70 or 80. My coworkers at the University see me as "young blood", 33 and maybe 40 years of a career ahead of me. Will that come to pass? Will I see my daughters and son at their weddings? If I make it to 20, I will be in the 3% that beat the odds. My children will be the ages of my friend's, her brave children, brave like her, who shed barely a tear today as they celebrated their mother's vibrant life and spoke of her deep faith. Will I have "fed" my children enough of my faith by then, by that 20 year mark, that they can be so brave? Will they be braver than me?
Through the sobs that wrack me on my drive home, loosed finally in the silence and privacy of my car, away from the eyes of others, I turn up the music and let myself come back to my body, this body filled with fear today. This body that watched a friend fall to cancer in a month's time with little warning. This body that can't imagine doing it half as well as she did. This body and mind that don't want to go there yet - home. As much as I long for heaven, as tired and worn out by life's struggles and cancer's lingering effects as I am, I have so many things left undone. So many things to finish. So many lives left to touch and mold and cherish. The voice of a friend sings me home to my yellow house, the home I want to stay in for ever so much longer...
when I was a child I held my mother tightly
then i grew taller and left to follow my dreams
I went after my dreams and some of them brought me delight
But they didn't bring me everything i hoped they might
I fell into love like a skydiver in the clouds
It wasn't enough no we couldn't sustain it ourselves
All the things i pursue
Well they stay for a season
Then everything moves
Everything moves oh
My towers fall
But you aren't leaving me
cause everything moves but you
I trained my body to run and not be weary
I worked and i read how to raise a better family
Then i bought a good house on the safe side of town because i could
And as long as my life stays like this i'm feeling good
Until my bones become brittle against my will
My heart is home oh to make the earth stand still
You are a tree always in bloom
You are a hall of endless rooms
A living fountain springing up
I'm satisfied but never done
I'm never done
~Christa Wells, Everything Moves But You~
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:54-58)