In the days since Patrick’s cancer was called cured, I’ve returned again and again in my mind to a word-picture I drew for us that day in the hospital garden. News of unexpected joy had just been shed upon us. In a movie, the actors would have gleefully exited the building where the fear-filled memories had originated. But not us. We were reluctant to leave the place where Real had prevailed. Real help. Real care. Real tearing of our hearts. The sort of tearing that brings Real life: the kind of Real that frees us from the substitute hopes we build our lives around.
With all that Real tumbling around, we sensed we couldn’t blithely exit.
We knew we needed to stay and scrape at the confused surface of our thoughts. For mixed with our relief and heart-stopping gladness, we also felt a strong sadness, a mourning. And before we’d be able to pass on our amazing news, we’d need to understand our unexpected sadness. So we wandered through the gift shop and past the coffee shop and finally landed on a bench in the hospital garden. We lingered.
And as we lingered under the green of the familiar oaks, comforted by that shaded haven, the question we pondered, and the fear we faced, was this: Would we be able to return to normal? Only the hospital nurses and doctors really knew what Patrick had been through. How could we leave and resume life separated from their kindness and tender support? How could we drive away and have no contact with those whose friendship had carried us through such a pivotal part of life? How would we leave (and I know this sounds odd) the comfort of our beloved children’s hospital, our safe place?
Our thoughts lingered over how we’d want to convey Patrick’s story to others, and how we’d want God to redeem the years in ways that helped. But would the lessons of the wounds, so deep and life-changing, be able to be shared in meaningful ways? Would we be able to cross the great divide between cancer-life and normal-life? We felt unsure of how to reenter the regular day to day. How would others, who’d not been through it with us, understand? Loneliness in our new-found news loomed. Life felt off-kilter. Like a dream.
An analogy to help
As we talked, I realized I’d felt these same feelings before: on the day when my mom died, and again when my dad died a few years later. You may have experienced the disorientation yourself — the sense of confusion brought on by the realization that normal life has continued on for others while you instead are dealing with the monumental and the unfamiliar.
Now, on this new day of monumental life-change, I prayed for a way to sum up for us what we were feeling. And a picture came to mind: a picture of WWII veterans returning home.
By way of honoring all veterans of war, let me say that I know my confusion in no way compared to that of returning WWII veterans. They were scarred physically and mentally from bloody atrocities. They carried home dark memories no one but their platoon buddies would ever share. One moment they’d been fighting in trenches together, and then unexpectedly the war was declared finished and they were told to return home, to leave the battle-torn field, to return to normalcy.
They were told to separate from the unit they’d charged into fear with, and to head back, alone, into lives in separate countries and states and towns. Mothers and wives and children would never know the fear and fatigue they’d felt. Words would fall short. In much the same way, we didn’t want to leave the comfort we’d felt in the presence of Patrick’s oncology team. They’d cared so tangibly. They’d helped so carefully.
Ah. But we needed to remember a life-steadying truth:
Their care, shed upon us for years, was really God’s care shed upon us through them. We were leaving their comforting presence. But not His. He was always and would always be there for us.
And that realization fortifies, rejoices, and settles the wobbliest of hearts.
For most of us, our deep wound wasn’t shaped in a bloodied battle trench. And for you today, your hurt may not be cancer-related. Your wound may originate from deep within a torn marriage. Your pain may flow from a childhood of hidden hurt. You may yearn to speak of a lost loved one, of a lost dream, of lost hope. But no one would understand. Like the returning veteran, you feel very alone.
But you are not.
I want to say that again: You are not alone.
The same God who knew their pain and confusion knows yours. The same Lord who was the only One who could help them then, stands ready to help you now.
For you, no matter your wound
When no one else can understand, He can and He does. So on days when you feel alone with your deep wound, whisper to Him. Fall into His arms. Carry your sense of confusion to Him. Lay your all at His feet.
For He remembers all your weaknesses, and His faithful love endures forever (Ps. 136:23). You can pray to Him, and linger over His words to you. You can know that He understands your depths of agony. You can trust that you are held by the Father. He carried when you knew it not. He still carries even now.
… it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! (Isaiah 53:4)
Jesus the Son of God … understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Turn to Him when lonely in your memories. Turn to Him when lonely in your present.
He knows. He loves. He’s there.
That’s what matters. That’s the whole point.
For Patrick. For me.
And for you.
(If you’ve not read Patrick’s story of cancer and the day he was called cured, please click here: When cancer is called cured. Or, for the beginnings of his story, read: Better than a thousand substitutes.)