A FANTASTIC UPDATE: My mom met with her oncologist yesterday and her treatment will begin in mid-March. IV Chemotherapy is not necessary. The tumor growth is dependent on estrogen and progesterone so they want to give her hormone suppressants and then will do an injection of bone regenerator to help strengthen the bone. She’s been told there are very few side effects from this treatment. We are feeling so relieved about her prognosis! We are beyond grateful for all the prayers everyone has been sending her way. The power of prayer cannot be underestimated. Thank you to everyone for your love and support. We are blessed to have an amazing circle of friends.
All the lanes at the grocery store were open and there were still at least three people lined up at each one. I chose what I thought would be the most promising one; a woman taking her receipt from the cashier, about to be on her way out and then a man just after her who had very few items in his cart. It seemed the odds would be in my favor to get out of the store quickly.
The man before me had other ideas. He needed his cigarettes. They had to be Marlboros with the silver label. The cashier seemed to be suddenly unsure what “silver” could mean as she pointed to every box besides the ones for which the man was asking. She somehow even got all the way over to Skol as a possible selection. As the minutes ticked by, I was getting hot in my heavy coat and looked behind me to see an even longer line of agitated people. Would it be faster to check out my own groceries at the U-Scan? Mercifully, the cashier landed on the correct pack of smokes.
The man then wanted to write a check for $20 more than his total amount. A check… That chewed up another three minutes as he asked twelve times what the amount was. The check reader spit his check back out with an error message. The cashier explained at least four different ways the same thing: “Sir, your check cannot be processed for $20 more than your total.” He decided to void this check and try another one. I was becoming unglued by then. I kept a forced smile on my face and began to put my groceries back into my cart.
“I’m so sorry,” the man said turning to me as I loaded the last few items.
“It’s all right. I know these things happen. I just need to get going,” I said pleasantly, convincing even myself that I wasn’t about to flip out.
“It’s just ever since my wife died last month…” his voice trembled a little. “She was the one who did all the shopping for us.”
Well crap. Of course it was some heart-wrenching reason that this poor man would be having a hard time doing this simple task and there I was making him feel rushed. I stopped and looked at him. “I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m sure it’s an adjustment.” I kept my eyes averted and pushed my cart sheepishly over to the U-Scan.
How many times do I need this reminder? We will never know what people are dealing with inside their hearts. I was embarrassed of my impatience. I told my kids the story when I got home.
“We need to be kind and patient with people because we don’t know what they are going through,” I said after telling them the story.
“But Mom, isn’t smoking bad for you?” Luke asked.
“Yes, it’s a bad habit to smoke, but–”
“Maybe that’s why his wife died,” Noah offered. “She breathed in all that gross smoke.”
“That’s not really the point I was trying to ma–” I began.
“Maybe the cashier was trying to make him not buy the cigarettes,” Luke added. I couldn’t help it. The conversation had gotten so sidetracked, I began cracking up. The boys did too.
“You’re right,” I said. “Never smoke. That’s the point of the story.”
When I was about eight years old, I decided to run away from home. I remember it was late summer. We hadn’t gone back to school yet. I couldn’t tell you what led me to my decision, but I knew I was done living with my mom, dad, sister and brother. I packed an outfit to change into, some snacks, and a book. I figured I’d probably stop under a tree to rest at some point. I told my mom I was leaving.
“Okay,” she had said. “Good luck!” She probably thought I was just saying it; I’d threatened it before, but this time, I meant it. I walked out the front door. My steps were quick at first. Yes, sir! I thought to myself. I’m out of here. Maybe they’ll miss me when I’m gone.
I began my journey walking up the big hill towards the dirt road that I knew would take me into downtown. My steps became slower the further I got from the house. I risked a peek back over my shoulder to look at it.
Nope, I’m sure, I thought.
I stopped on the side of the road to look for sparkly rocks in the gravel. Maybe I’d find one that I could trade for something I’d need. I glanced back again at the house. It stood there indifferently. I pocketed several exceptional rocks and stood to keep moving. I was sure I’d been gone for hours by then.
Suddenly I heard something. Tires of a bike and the chain clinking as the gears were being changed to go up the hill. I turned to find my mom with her pregnant belly, huffing and puffing up the hill to stop me. I felt tears in my eyes. I dropped my bag and she stumbled off the bike and ran to me.
“Christine! Never do that again! Someone could hit you with their car or they could take you!” She pulled me into her arms and I sobbed uncontrollably, into hair. She took me by the hand and we walked home together.
Later in life, I came to learn my mom was actually on bed rest at that time, pregnant with my youngest brother Nick. She felt terrible during that pregnancy. She was given strict orders to take it easy and not over do it. Now for those of us with children, you know how impossible it is to “take it easy” when you have other children. And my mom had three others at that time; me, my sister Cathy and my brother Kevin. And we were busy kids.
My mom has never been a complainer. She had very little help in those days and did everything to make sure we had an ideal childhood, one in which we felt protected and loved. She suffered from Bell’s Palsy when we were young, she had breast cancer at forty-seven and underwent a double mastectomy. She still helped me plan my wedding that year, and then shortly after, helped my sister plan hers. Through everything, she’s had an attitude of acceptance and understanding. Her prayer through her suffering has been to endure everything with grace.
About a month ago, she decided to go get an x-ray to find out what was causing some severe hip pain she’d been having. Chalking it up to “probably just arthritis and older age,” she was shocked to find out she had a mass in her pelvic area. The doctor said it looked like it might be cancer. A PET scan and biopsy this past week confirmed that she has metastatic breast cancer in her hip causing the bone to deteriorate. Ligaments are pretty much the only thing holding the bone in place. They cannot operate because there isn’t enough bone left to support the leg. They will need to do some sort of chemo and/or radiation to kill the tumor and then will give her medication to regenerate the bone. While the prognosis is hopeful, it means another round of challenges for my sweet mom.
I’ve been spending time with her over the last few weeks seeing her vacillate between fear and acceptance. I can say with every bit of certainty, my mom is the most beautiful and courageous woman I know. My mom is a believer. She is obedient. She doesn’t question God. Even though she is afraid of what’s to come and her faith is being shaken, she is so strong in love and grace. She isn’t angry or asking “Why?” like I am. “Why her and not me, God? Hasn’t she been through enough? Hasn’t she proven over and over that she suffers with undaunted conviction to the truth? Test a sinner, God. Test someone deserving of suffering. Please, not her.”
See, I take life’s hard knocks more personally. I’ve run far from my faith so many times. I’ve become hardened by life more times than I can count. Even at eight years old, I ran away from home. When challenges happen to me, I pull away from God and try to make sense of it on my own without looking through eyes of faith. It’s just my nature; go through a tough time, lose faith, and run away.
We weren’t going to go to church today. I am a little under the weather and staying home to relax sounded better. But Scott and I decided at the last minute to go anyway to a later service. I am so glad we did. The message had us crying beginning to end because it seemed made for us. I wanted to share it with you because maybe you’re going through something similar and looking for faith. Maybe not. But maybe you’ll think of this someday and it will help you.
You probably know the story the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). There was a man with two sons. The younger one told his father he wanted his inheritance so he could leave home and live his own life. The son leaves, squanders his money and after some time, finds himself impoverished and starving, living with pigs. He decides to return home and beg his father for a place among the servants. He has his speech prepared “Father, I have sinned against you and heaven. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But instead of punishing him, his father throws a huge party to celebrate his son returning home. The older brother is furious and asks how the father can forgive this “SON OF YOURS” (disowning him as his brother). He, himself, has been a faithful servant and his father has never even given him so much as a goat to celebrate with his friends.
Now see, this is the part of the story where as a listener, I am often thinking, “Seriously. That younger brother screwed up horribly. The older brother has every right to be pissed off.”
The father’s response is: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this BROTHER OF YOURS was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The father reminds his son that, “he’s still your brother, like it or not,” and they ALL should be rejoicing.
Luke also makes a point in his gospel to explain who was listening to Jesus’s parable. In the crowd were tax collectors and sinners. There were also Pharisees. The sinners were the rebellious ones, they are the “lost sheep.” The Pharisees were the rule-followers, the self-righteous and the judgmental. They were angry with Jesus for being friends with the sinners, wondering why he’d keep company with such bad people. Do you see the parallel? The Pharisees sound a lot like the older brother and the sinners sound a lot like the younger brother. And of course, God is the father in the story.
The pastor tied this whole message up with a beautiful bow: “Jesus’ message to the rebellious sinners is ‘Come home! What you left home for is unfulfilling. Your home is with God and He is here waiting for you.’ His message to the self-righteous is: ‘You are lost too! Don’t focus on the fact that you have stayed true. Do not seek to punish the lost. Go help them find their way home.’ There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:10)
The word “prodigal” doesn’t mean “lost,” as I had originally thought. It means “recklessly extravagant.” Timothy Keller wrote a book called “Prodigal God.” It is about God’s love for us being recklessly extravagant. He loves us enough to leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that goes missing. He chases us to bring us home. He wants our love. He loves us like a pregnant, bed-ridden mother peddling up a hill after her rebellious, runaway daughter to help her come home. He loves us more than any earthly love we could ever comprehend.
So why do we go astray in the first place? Some people think it’s the devil tempting us. But the devil is more cunning than to be so obvious about his methods. The devil is merely doubt. The devil plants seeds of doubt everywhere he goes, making us question our love of each other and God’s love of us. The seeds grow when we feed into the belief that there is any validity to that doubt.
But God is coming for us, heroically chasing after us to save us. And He does this using our love for each other while we’re here. He wants us to love each other with reckless extravagance, just as He does. He wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to find our faith in Him again. We need to find our angels to get us through. We need to be angels for others.
We can take our tragedies in life and allow them to harden us. We can be angry and bitter with those who have hurt us. My mom could do this with all the hardships she has endured, but no…She persists in unrelenting faith. She persists in love for God, never questioning His journey for her. She is so, so good and beautiful, this mom of mine.
Mom, I love you and am so proud to call you my mother. Thank you for your prodigal love. Thank you for chasing me up that hill and for bringing me home more times than I can count. You are going to get through this and we are going to be here with you.
I love this song so much by Cory Asbury. It’s brought me to my knees many times lately. Reckless Love