When faced with death

My thoughts are jumbled and my emotions are tied in knots.  Fear, sadness, anxiety, hurt, justice, peace and anger all rage war to be the emotion that claims victory over my heart.

I have been in one other waiting room in my life where the patient faced possible death.  I sat with an 18 year old girl in the summer between High School and College when she was supposed to be believe that all things were possible.  I sat there with her and thought, "Her mom is going to come out of this.  They always say there is a chance of death, but it never really happens."

Then the doctor came out, took this young girls hand, and had to tell her that her mother passed.  They couldn't save her.  She was now alone.  Her father died three years earlier, and now, there, on that day, she lost her mother and was alone.  Completely alone.  I understood at that moment the phrase, "the world stopped.  It stops for just a moment."  It's true.  In that moment, the world around you ceases to exists and its like someone hit a pause button.  You pray, you cry deeply with EVERY fiber of your being that you heard them wrong.  Please God, tell them to take it back.  You wonder if you heard wrong, because you know that in that moment the earth stood still for you.  That moment happened eight years ago, but I remember it, I can close my eyes and feel like it was yesterday.

Last week I joined my entire family down in Houston because my cousin Ryan was having life threatening, high risk surgery.  They were removing his lung and tumor, and only one doctor in the country would even attempt this procedure.  If you would like to know more about his condition and story, he is an avid blogger and beautiful writer.  You can read about here www.nobodyfightsalone.com.

Here is a picture of Ryan at his Cycle for a Cure.

I won't recount his story for you here, but I will tell you my perspective.  I had been home eight hours after speaking at a conference all weekend and Little and I were headed to the airport to fly down to Houston to join all of my family in support of Ryan, his wife Andrea and their two small boys.  My focus had been on work, prepping sitters for the kids, food and the new book launch.  I came home, spent a few precious hours with my family and then Lu and I left.  When you have a 2 year old, flying is a big adventure, and so you play games, sing songs and generally live moment to moment.  Paul had told me before I left, "I am concerned that you haven't processed exactly what you are walking into down in Houston."  I ignored him, knowing he was right, but not wanting to dwell too much on it.

See part of the reason we were down in Houston was to say good bye.  Ryan had less than a 5% chance of surviving this surgery, and so according to statistics, this would be the last time we saw him.  But of course you are hoping, praying, and hoping again that you are really there to help with his recovery.  To be there with his wife and parents and kids.  To give your support.  But in the back of your head, in the dark place you don't want to say out loud because if you say it out loud, God forbid it might come true.  We were there to say good bye.

When Little and I got there we were hugging our family, saying our hello's, thankful for the opportunity to see them, and yet, knowing why we were there.  The joy of seeing them was followed by an immediate heavy feeling of the possibility of death.  Emotions were raw.  We were all holding tightly onto our thoughts and feelings not wanting to reveal what we were thinking or feeling.  The goal was to stay positive and create one last night of wonderful memories with all of us together.

The night before the surgery we all gathered for dinner and celebrated Ryan's wife birthday.  It really was great to see everyone, we don't all live close to one another so this was a rare occurrence.  After the meal was over, the emotions shifted.  The energy in the room changed.  I turned in my chair and saw Ryan sitting quietly in his chair, tears threatening to fall.  My first reaction was hard a blow because I have never once seen him falter in his positive attitude towards fighting this cancer.  Now I understand that I don't live with him and there is no way that he could be positive every moment of every day, but as a dedicated reader of his blog, I know that he chooses to be positive as much as he possibly can.  Seeing the reality of what he was choosing to do, seeing his humanity in that moment brought all the emotions I was trying to avoid come flooding into my heart.

Ryan was choosing this surgery to give him the best chance of living cancer free.  But the risks were incredibly great.  The risk of death was high, and in that case, he would be leaving a wife, a three year old and a 9 month old son.  Two children who, if he died, eventually would have no memories of their father.  He had to choose a surgery that meant, he was in truth, saying I can die at this moment and I will accept that.

I watched him in that chair trying not to loose his emotions.  He was surrounded by his family and I would assume was feeling the weight of his choice and potentially his last night with everyone.

How does one even comprehend those emotions and choices?  I found I was hugging my daughter harder that night.  I kept thinking how incredibly brave and courageous he was that night to willing make that choice so that he could against the odds, live a longer life with his family.  He was so brave, and full of courage, and I would assume, so alone in that moment.  Completely and utterly alone in his thoughts and emotions.  Even surrounded by the people who know and love him the most, no one could imagine what he was going through.  He was alone in thoughts.  He was alone in feelings.

And my heart broke for him.  My heart broke for his family.  I hated sin in that moment.  I really hated it.  Call me ignorant, or simple minded, and maybe my faith is simplistic, but I don't get angry at God in those moments.  In the moments of complete and utter fear of the circumstances around me.  I get angry at the fact that sin is apart of our world.  That we invited in.  That we have to live with our consequences on this earth until we are made perfect in eternity.

Please hear me, I am not saying that because of Ryan's sin, God gave him cancer.  I am NOT saying that.  What I am saying, is that we live in a sinful world full of brokenness, disease, death, and tragedy.  No one is untouched by it, and just because you are a child of God, doesn't give you a get out of jail free card to pain.  We are all touched by and live in a sinful place.

And maybe the reason you could call my faith simplistic is because I have personally been untouched by tragedy.  Those closest to me have been inflicted with much pain and disease and tragedy, so I am not a stranger to it.  I don't ever view God as a bystander, just watching horrible events take place.  I never wonder where he is, or question why he doesn't stop tragedy from our lives.  I guess I have always understood that he can't stop it for everyone.  If he stopped death, disease, and tragedy from everyone, than we would be in heaven.  I also understand and have experienced the peace and healing and life giving relationship with God that comes out of such pain and hurt.  I have seen redemption be born out total darkness.  I have witnessed the body of God raise up to their calling and help and be responsible for those who have been broken.  It is the most beautiful thing to behold, watching God's children living as God intended by loving others in their pain.  Experiencing them sacrificing themselves for others.  We don't get those beautiful moments of joy and depth without the pain.

Would I rather see Ryan completely healed and healthy and free of pain.  Of course I would.  I would choose that.  But God is doing something with this story.  He is working in Ryan's life.  He is bringing healing and he is raising up the body of God around him.  There is redemption happening there.

So in my moment of feeling his loneliness, with a lifetime of memories of my cousin, and complete awareness of his choice, all my tears threaten to fall.  I didn't just want to cry, I wanted to sob and cry out and let the emotions take over so I could feel the depth of them, and then let them go.  I went to him, kissed him on the cheek and told him I loved him.  I had no words of wisdom and nothing profound to say.  What I wanted him to know is that his life mattered and changed me.

Then I walked out with my daughter and my dad and sobbed.  The unflattering cry where tears mix with snot and your whole face is wet and red.  I just allowed myself to feel for him, for the hurt of so many others who have been touched by uncontrollable pain.  That night all our hearts were heavy.

How do you live in a reality of something dark and scary, but try to hold onto a little bit of hope?  Those emotions are so conflicting with one another, its hard to let either one win out.  You don't want to hope so much that the reality will be hard to accept.  And you can't let go of any glimpse of hope, because living becomes impossible.

So it brings me back to the waiting room the next day.  I had nice conversations with uncles and aunts and cousins.  I played games with Little.  And the whole time, even though there might be faint smiles on our faces, we were all just waiting.  Waiting for the bad news, hoping for the good news.

We were told to go back to the hotel because his surgery started later than expected and they didn't need us all there.  That's where we were when we got the news that the surgery went very well and Ryan was in recovery.  My grandmother is the only one who cried out in joy and wept.  We sat there.  Completely shocked.  At least I was.  I couldn't believe how much I was prepared for the bad news.  My own history had prepared me for the worst, but the worst didn't come that day.  We immediately came together and prayed our thanksgiving to God and then I wept.  It was a miracle.  There really is no other option.  It was a miracle.

We are all guaranteed death.  We will all in some way experience pain and hardship and tragedy.  The hard days will come, and maybe they are even already here.  I am a believer that God is still good even in these moments.  I have to believe that.  And I was prepared for that.

But we got life that day.  Ryan got life that day.  His boys got their dad that day.  His wife got her husband that day.  His mom kept her son that day.

And postponing the tragedy just a little bit felt good.

It felt good to celebrate life, even just for a little bit longer till the next hard thing.

Thank you Lord.