Three years ago, if you would have told me my son would soon be diagnosed with a dangerous form of cancer, I would have…
Just to name a few...
But that cancer, it morphed and grew right here, in our own house, beneath our collective naive nostrils.
When the diagnosis came, it was the last thing we ever expected.
And honestly, there is nothing we could have done to prepare ourselves for it.
We simply had to walk through it.
I remember wishing it all away, wondering, hoping that maybe, maybe it was all just a nightmare.
Yet, we had to wake each day and face reality's glare.
And, we survived.
Have we been traumatized? Yes.
Do we now live in fear of the next bad thing that will happen? You bet.
I would never want anyone to trivialize, sugar-coat, or glaze over our experience: “but look at how you’ve grown,” or “at least xyz didn’t happen”.
That would suck; it would not help...
What I am amazed by, though, is that we DID walk through hell.
You see, shit happens.
You cannot stop it.
“You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it... "oh no!", you have to go through it!”
We all fear lots of things.
And I think, beneath it all, what we all really fear is death.
Some of us dread the finality of it.
Some imagine walking through the suffering and the grieving involved and do everything they can never to go there.
Most all of us fear the witnessing of death, from either the side or the front lines.
And now friends, we are facing an unexpected sickness that is spreading faster than wildfire.
We cannot predict who will become sick when, for how long, or how severely.
We are frantically clearing shelves in grocery stores, hoarding resources and fretting over the news.
And the news?
How sweetly it alerts us to every new death.
How thoughtfully it stirs up new fears within us, ones we had not yet imagined, like “Will the internet break, since everyone is now working from home?”
And guys? We are scared.
We are the generations nurtured on sci-fi and fantasy, the children who imagined zombie apocalypses and planets ruled by apes.
The empty grocery store shelves, those people wearing face masks garbed in hazmat suits standing precariously in empty subways? These images conjure fear, fear and more fear.
We are scared, yes.
But I want us to remember.
I want us to know.
We stand on the backs of our ancestors, ones who weathered plagues and wars, who survived holocausts and depressions.
Shit is happening again, just like it has so many times past.
We didn’t have time to prepare for it, and we don’t know how bad it will get.
But here’s the truth: we really can’t control shit. Not any of it.
We cannot control the invisible. Not at this time anyways.
And we, the collective world community, WILL PASS THROUGH. We will see the other side.
One day, our children’s children will read all about it in their history books.
“My grandma told me about that,” they will exclaim.
Now that we have settled that, what do we wish to be remembered for, when the proverbial storm has passed?
How we protected ourselves at all costs?
Anger and vitriol, the spreading of lies and rumors, frosting shit with shit?
Or, how about as... the people who pulled through, they who were resilient?
They who stolidly accepted life for what it was and dug deep for the courage to do the right thing, the loving thing?
Because there really is only one element in all of this we can control, and that is our own thoughts, words, attitudes and actions.
And when you stop, take that deep accepting breath, you will see the single mother struggling to feed her kids, suddenly without a job or school lunches, the horrendous endless suffering in Syria-what will those families do if they contract the virus?-, or, heaven forbid, the lonely death of an elderly man or woman.
We have a job to do still, friends, in this world God loves.
Let’s focus on controlling that-which-we-can-control, and leave the rest to rest.
What does hope mean for the hopeless?
For me in my cozy Americana life, it's easy to feel like “hope” is attainable.
Yet if I'm honest, hope for me is more like anticipation.
I anticipate Christmas.
I anticipate road trips, meeting career goals and the next fun outing.
A few days ago, I tuned in to an NPR special on slavery and Ghana.
Did you know this year, 2019, marks exactly 400 years since the first boat of approximately 20 enslaved people from Africa was brought to American shores?
The NPR program focused on Ghana as a center of the slave trade.
It traced the history of the slave trade, pointing to the deep-rooted guilt many Ghanaians carry because of their ancestor’s part in helping to capture their fellow Africans to sell to greedy foreigners.
During the program, one woman, an archaeologist, mentioned that at her dig, an old castle used as a holding cell for slaves, people refuse to work at night because they can hear screams and cries for help.
At another point in the program, a woman shared what it means for African Americans from Ghana to return there and see both where their ancestors came from and the horror they went through.
She shared that many Ghanaians are holding ceremonies in which they apologize for their part in the slave trade.
In the process, these African Americans are finding peace with their heritage by tracing their roots and realizing their ancestors were people of enormous strength and courage.
When the archaeologist shared how her slave-castle dig was haunted with screaming pleas for help, I choked back tears, for momentarily I too heard the hollow anguished screams piercing the stench and the darkness, screams that would never ever be answered.
My heart ached for the women who were raped repeatedly and then, instead of rescue, healing and hope, gifted a lifetime of ravaging dehumanizing slavery.
I felt an inner tormented crazy-making helplessness at the mental image of children screaming for their mothers whilst being sold and shipped far far away, robbed of identity, heritage, home, safety, belonging.
I pictured the men, beaten and humiliated, translated as cattle, their very human dignity violated, lost.
How the hell did these people have anything even remotely like hope? Even a glimmer of freedom-light was assuredly snuffed out within a week or two of capture.
Yet, somehow, miraculously, as they heard tidbits of the word preached by their persecutors, they absorbed ideas like salvation, and rescue.
The stories of Daniel and of Moses were written for them, to them, weren't they? God was on their side.
God would rescue.
They wrote songs and they sang: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.
And their spiritual songs paradoxically displayed both torment and impossible HOPE.
Isn't that theme, after all, of salvation, of deliverance, all over the pages of the word?
Save me, rescue me, deliver me, we cry out...
And I am left spinning, dizzy, wondering if I've gotten hope all wrong.
I search for it and reach for it.
Sometimes, I try to manufacture it from the empty stores of my own cavernous interior.
And when I can’t find it or feel it, I do what I can to forget about it, the thought of its un-attainability impossible to hold.
What if we are living in the upside-down of Stranger Things, seeing hope all warped and wonky, ever-reaching, stretching, grasping, clawing?
What if the very nature of hope, though, is that it is always there, regardless of our striving?
What if hope isn’t something we attain or create?
What if it isn’t something we discover or buy?
What if, instead, hope is simply "The Thing That Is".
What if, like the slaves of old who wrote the spirituals and sang them jubilantly as they plodded through endless days full of torment, we simply acknowledged hope's existence as longing's perfect parallel?
What if hope has always been about the seeing rather than the grabbing, the holding, and the hoarding?
Light a candle, friends, right now, in the darkness, right there in the middle of the cancer diagnosis, the uncertainties, the insurmountable injustices.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.