When we were kids, we used to build houses with my grandmother’s playing cards. We weren’t very good at it, but we tried. If we were lucky enough to get the first ‘floor’ built, we cautiously moved on to build the second story. I didn’t know if we ever got much further than that because, inevitably, a shaky hand or an unstable card caused all the cards to fall down in a pile. We were disappointed. We were sad. We were a little mad. Sometimes, we started again. Sometimes, we put the cards away and found something else to do.
Such was life, right? We carefully built our dreams, our lives – one step, one ‘card’ at a time.We built a good foundation and then we worked up and out. Still, no matter how much we wanted it — whatever it was — sometimes, it fell through, it fell down, or it fell apart.
There in that moment, when the cards fell down, when the dreams were shattered, when the loss was so deep that you couldn’t breathe…what could you do?
We’ve all had our moments, wide awake in the middle of the night, sitting in the dark, staring at the ceiling. We’ve had the bottom fall out from beneath us, our knees hitting the floor as we melted into a puddle of tears and despair. Time stopped, our world spun out of control, and our emotions were at an all-time high. Everything changed.
Life was never going to be the same. Ever.
Sometimes, in those moments, there was nothing you could do but ride the wave.
Feel the hurt. Feel the pain. Feel the churning in your stomach, the pounding in your head, and the hollow in your chest as your broken heart was shattered into a thousand pieces.
But even when your world was falling apart, there was something you could do.
Pray for strength. Pray for comfort. Pray for wisdom. Pray for mercy.
You were never alone. God walked you through every struggle, every setback, and every hurt. God never said you wouldn’t have trouble, but He promised that He would always be with you.
God was faithful.
But when you were in that dark valley, in the middle of those endless nights, holding on through the stressful days … you knew that God was by your side, you knew there was light at the end of the tunnel — but what could you do in the meantime? What did you do when you couldn’t breathe, when your eyes stung from the tears, when you didn’t know if you would make it through the night?
I prayed … and then I reminded myself to breathe. When I was diagnosed with cancer the first time, I listened to doctors tell me about staging, surgery, chemo, and radiation. They said I would be in treatment for at least a year. A year? I couldn’t wrap my head around that. A picture of a calendar literally filled my head. I saw holidays and birthdays flash before my eyes. A whole year of my life stolen from me was just too much to process.
So I stopped myself.
I realized my limit. I stopped thinking about what Christmas would be like for my kids as their mother endured the effects of chemotherapy and how I would look in family photos that year. I stopped thinking about whether I would be able to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family or properly celebrate my children’s birthdays and my wedding anniversary. I couldn’t think so far into the future. I could only think about right now.
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
I had to fight the inclination to think ahead. I had to stop myself from worrying about things that hadn’t happened yet. I had to focus on getting through that day, sometimes, that particular moment.
One afternoon, I was lying flat on my back, unable to take a shallow breath without crying out in pain. Most people didn’t know much about mastectomy and reconstruction. It was brutal. Barbaric. The mastectomy was a major surgery with a difficult recovery. The reconstruction process was grueling. For some, the process was not so bad. For me, it was extremely painful as my muscles revolted every step of the way. After my weekly appointments, I would lie still on my bed for about 8 or 9 hours until the pain was bearable enough to breathe freely. Tears rolled down the sides of my head and soaked my pillow because it hurt too much to move to wipe them. This process took over 4 months.
There were days I cried out to God and asked Him “why” and begged Him to ease my pain. There were days I wondered if I was going to make it through the night and times when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going. I was exhausted. I was hurting. The pain chipped away at my mental state, my positive attitude, and my drive to keep going.
Alone and in agony, I prayed to a God who let this happen, a God who allowed my pain to consume me… and wondered if He had forsaken me.
I found that it was often on the darkest of nights that God spoke to me the loudest and my faith grew stronger.
When I was sick or in pain from treatment, I stayed in my bedroom so my children didn’t have to see me that way. From upstairs, I heard the echoes of our typical routine. The sound of dinner dishes being rinsed and put in the dishwasher, the laughter as games were played and memories were made.
Laughter, Conversation, Life…
I missed the activities that evening but did so to protect my kids. I didn’t want them to see me in pain. I was sacrificing my time with them for their own good. I didn’t want the snapshot memories of my pained face, my inability to move, my unmistakable agony to be etched into their tiny minds. As much as I yearned to be with them, I did what was best for them.
For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son… (John 3:16)
I was suffering and fighting through my treatment so that I could be there for my family. I was fighting so I could be there to put those dishes in the dishwasher, play those games, and help with homework. Those everyday routines were what I missed the most.
For Christ died for sins once and for all, a good man on behalf of sinners, in order to lead you to God. He was put to death physically, but made alive spiritually. (1 Peter 3:18)
It was hard. I missed my children. I ached to be ‘all in’ again. It was lonely. I felt sorry for myself and sometimes, I was angry at God for allowing me to go through it … but after all Christ had done for me, who was I to question His motives, to waver in my faith?
At bedtime, my kids came upstairs with their freshly washed faces and their hair smelling of strawberry shampoo. I heard their little feet pitter-patting across the hardwood floors and then padding up the steps. Waiting for them gave me the strength to keep going. Anticipating looking into their little faces helped me get through those evening hours and renewed my resolve to push through.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
Before they went to bed, my kids stopped to give me sloppy kisses and careful hugs. They missed me, they wondered why I wasn’t with them; but they wrapped me up in the unconditional love children have for their parents. I felt guilty for not being there, for being absent for that time but my love for them could not be squashed by time and distance. My love for them was palpable and uncontainable.
I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8b)
I promised them we would do something fun once I felt better. I gave them hope for a better tomorrow and a new day. I wanted them to know that it wasn’t always going to be this way.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
Even in the worst of times, God sent His blessings to me and God opened my eyes so I could see them. God gave me confirmation over and over again when I was going through trials that He was right there with me. He told me in my children’s hugs that night. He told me daily through the beauty of a sunset, a single flower along my path, a timely song played on the radio, a random interaction with a stranger. So many times, God had given me that glimmer of hope, that sliver of a silver lining, exactly when I needed it.
Sometimes, we couldn’t truly see until we found ourselves in darkness.
When my kids had one of those small glow-in-the-dark trinkets, they didn’t understand why it wasn’t glowing. They couldn’t see it in the daylight. They held it up to the light. They cupped it in their hands. They put it under the table. Still, it didn’t glow. I told them to go into the bathroom, shut the door, and turn off the light. It was only when they were in total darkness that they could finally see the toy glow as it should.
Sometimes God let the walls fall down around us so we could see what was outside. Sometimes God let our world dim so we could see the light that lit our path. Sometimes God let us struggle so we could see the blessings we had been missing.
It was difficult to be thankful for the hardships we faced; but those hardships brought about a new perspective, a new appreciation, and a renewal of faith.
For when we have faith, God gives us eyes that can see in the dark.
Through Him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5)