I have been struggling with much grief and fear this holiday season. My beloved family is fractured, some of my children estranged, it seems, beyond restoration. Being a mother has been the bliss of my life. Without them, meaning, pleasure, any sense of satisfaction, has paled, despite the outstanding nourishment of my many friends, my remarkable daughter, who is endlessly supportive and helpful, and my delightful grandchildren. They are all wonderful and I am truly, truly grateful for their love and infinite encouragement. But we always want what we don’t have, don’t we? One of our great human flaws is a recurrent inability to be satisfied by the good that we do have right under our noses. We long for what we miss. And I miss my children with a gnawing pain that literally howls through my every waking moment. I try to move on, I try to be accepting, but their absence is a bottomless pit of loss and pain.
Then there is the fact of the unknown. With the spread of the cancer, it is literally a waiting game. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the inevitable day when my oncologist calls and the result of my biannual scan is no longer good news. Fearing that the facts would be simply too hard to face, I have never asked or researched what exactly my prognosis is. Last month I finally screwed up the courage and looked it up. Breast cancer which has spread to the liver has a projection of three to five years from diagnosis. I know it could be worse. But I am greedy, another very human flaw. I want so much more time. I am already a year down. I am sad and I am scared.
My faith has been shaken. Yet another flaw. I am the first one to admit, I am all too human and all too flawed. But it has been awfully hard to remain reassured by the spiritual when the corporal is so spectacularly challenging. Loss upon loss upon loss has worn me down. The basest, most immature part of me cries out, haven’t I had enough already?!? I know intellectually that life is just like that. It doesn’t matter if you have tried to be a good person, tried to do the right things. Good intentions + going to church + doing the best you can = health, happiness and success, right? But there is no formula, no equation. Stuff just happens.
I have never believed God causes bad things to happen to us, I do not believe He visits disasters upon us. I could not believe in a vindictive, punishing deity. But lately I have found it is difficult to believe in any deity at all.
I have received many Christmas cards this year from the delightful people I am surrounded by. One card was from someone who is particularly special to me. The day it arrived was an especially busy one. Before I could open it, I was interrupted and set it aside. Four days later, when I went to open it and reply, it was nowhere to be found. I felt sick. I turned every room upside down. Because my mobility is so limited, there are not too many places I could have lost it in. I went through every box and basket, every surface. Nothing. I chastised myself over and over for being so careless, so disorganized, so stupid, so thoughtless, on and on. I automatically invoked Saint Anthony, every Catholic’s resource for lost things. But I didn’t really believe a word of it.After another fruitless round of searching I collapsed in my recliner, utterly exhausted and discouraged. I’ll just rest for five minutes, I thought, and then I will look again. It must be stuck in something else. I’ll turn out every catalog, every book I have laid my hands on in the past year, every container. As I leaned my head back in the chair I noticed a small white envelope lying face down on the corner of my chairside table. This is a tiny table, with barely enough room for my laptop. I had searched for card on the table easily ten times. I had picked the laptop up each time. There had been no card. It wasn’t there. But it was now. Perched on the edge, bright white, unmissable.
I burst into tears. I don’t ask for signs, I never have, even when my faith was at its strongest, I never felt comfortable testing God, demanding things. It felt disrespectful and disloyal. But I believed at that moment, with the inexplicable appearance of a card I had been searching for over hours, God had sent me a sign. He had sent me a message: do not fear, I am with you.
After I had children, I struggled deeply with the concept of putting God before else, as demanded in the Bible. How could I put anything before my beloved children? How could I? It was impossible, nothing meant more to me than my children, not even God. I always felt guilty about that and even slightly fearful. How much of a sin was it? Was I dooming myself to eternal damnation because I was putting mortal beings before the Lord? I decided it didn’t matter. I loved my children more than life itself and if God didn’t understand that, oh well.
But here I was, facing Christmas Eve alone, the night we traditionally had come together as a family and celebrated the holiday. The night I cherished as a representation of everything I loved most in the world, the night I had the opportunity, shallow though it was, to tangibly demonstrate my love for them by giving them things I thought would make them happy. The sadness of being by myself, of knowing that they were deliberately choosing to exclude me from their lives when I needed them the most, was overwhelming. I had laughed in God’s face and told Him He meant less to me than these people who were wounding me so deeply. And He was saying, I am here anyway.
Some may scoff at what appears to be my fanciful superstition. Some may say say that the card had been there all along and I just missed it. Some may argue there is a perfectly logic explanation for missing that glaring white envelope all those hours. And I might agree with all of them on some level. But I am making a choice. I am choosing to not be miserable. I am choosing to be reminded that I am not alone. I am choosing to not be afraid. I am gratefully, humbly choosing to accept the gift of God’s love and comfort.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
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