Monday, July 29, 2013

Cancer and Questions Pt. 4: Holding the Tension

In the weeks following my mother’s diagnosis, I booked a flight to SC to be with my family as soon as possible. The plan was to help my mom transition from her recent operation and prepare for a round of chemotherapy. As of last night, the plan is to keep her company in the hospital-- which may be her home for the next month at least-- while a pending leukemia diagnosis hangs over all our heads. When everything can change with a phone call, I’m reminded early on that this is not the kind of situation where we can know what to expect today, tomorrow, or next month.

As I’ve prayed and reflected in preparation of a visit with my family, I’ve felt caught in the whirlwind of a thousand emotions, each unrelated to the last. But the main question that has plagued me is: do I put all my energy toward hope that my mom will be healed, or do I begin preparing myself for her death? It seems too early to give up, and yet too late to be in denial. Though I didn’t when the word was originally spoken over my father, I now know what cancer means. I’ve seen what it can do, what it has done. And yet, as a follower of Christ and a subject of His Kingdom, I know that even cancer is not too great for Him. I’ve seen what He can do, what He has done. Here on this plane en route to see my mom for the first time since her diagnosis, I find myself caught in the middle of these two realities, between one place and the next. Between Dallas and Greenville, between my past and my future, between hope and acceptance.

What I’ve realized in the last few weeks is that I desperately want to escape the tension and just land somewhere. Expecting—willing myself to believe—that my mom will be healed prevents me from facing that terrifying question: what if I lose her? It protects me from envisioning family holidays as a true orphan, or my siblings’ weddings without a Mom or Dad to pronounce their blessing, or the birth of my own first child without that Irreplaceable Person to hold my hand and my new baby with joy.

And yet, expecting—resigning myself to believe— that my mom won’t be healed prevents me from nurturing the hope that things might be different. It protects me from exposing myself to more pain by allowing myself to really feel how desperately I want to see her dance out of that hospital room. Bypassing the entire step of hope for healing protects me from the risky business of keeping my heart alive to what I want more than anything: for her to grow old and beautiful, for her to see the fruit of her life’s work in the unfolding lives of her children, her legacy.

The truth is, it is easier to live in denial: either of the real possibility of her passing or of the real possibility of her healing. It is much harder to remain in suspense. Like the clouds outside my airplane window—heavy with expectation but awaiting their appointed time to release—a heart that is alive through this battle with cancer is a heart that must expand. I must learn to hold both the real hope of healing and the real possibility of death in tension, until the appointed time. Any other approach would be to choose denial for the sake of my own safety.

To choose the tension is messier, riskier, and likely more painful. However, as a Christian, it is the only path I am given to walk. God’s Kingdom has broken into this world—He has declared His authority over things like cancer and death, and my mom’s healing would be only one of many evidences of that present reality. To deny the possibility of a miracle would be to deny the reality of God’s power here and now. And yet, God’s Kingdom has not yet come in fullness, so to deny the possibility of her death would be to deny the reality that the story isn’t over yet, and we are still awaiting—like the clouds—the appointed time when He will return to make all things new.

Until that time, I am called to the painful hope of an expanding heart, holding the tension.

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