I was laughing as I washed my hands at the kitchen sink, watching my husband make my children giggle at the dinner table. It was such happy racket I felt light-hearted as I picked up the phone to answer a call from my mom. I remember giggling into the phone.
“Hey Mom! Sorry, we’re just finishing up dinner – can I call you back in a sec?”
It was the silence. Not too long – a heartbeat of hesitation on the other end of the line. Then my dad’s voice came over the line.
My smile fell off my face.
“Oh… oh okay,” I said, drying my hands as I started to walk to the other side of the house for quiet.
“Is something wrong?”
Another pause. I paused too, standing on the other side of my bedroom door, my hand on the doorknob, cupping the cool metal inside my quickly heating palm.
“Your mom has cancer.”
That moment was the beginning of the journey that my family and I have yet to finish traveling. I never thought I’d be mothering my babies and cradling the fading shreds of life that still clung to my own mother.
She was 55 when her cancer appeared. By the time they caught it, it was already stage four, the direst stage a cancer can be before it shuts down the human body and shifts it in shadow to the other side of the veil.
Her diagnosis was almost two years ago. After months of grueling chemo and radiation, she is holding steady. The cancer has hidden itself back in her body, temporarily crippled. My siblings, my father, my husband and I are grateful – relieved, even, but not consoled. Because after a person looks death in the face, how can consolation ever cover the multiplicity of the evils death’s demeanor holds? And how do I, the beloved daughter of the most determined, dedicated, and loving woman I’ve ever known, let go of my claim to a piece of her life?
A dear friend once told me, when I confided in her that I was terrified my first pregnancy would end in miscarriage, that I should remember that the child in my womb wasn’t my child to begin with. This child was God’s. I was just the one privileged enough to raise that child in His light, not the one to whom the child belonged. And if Christ took my child back to Him sooner than I had hoped? Well, that was His prerogative. He had better things prepared for my child then I ever could have prepared for him on this side of eternity, so how could I blame God if he chose what was better for my child sooner than I would have? I was humbled.
But these last few years I’ve been a hypocrite – refusing to admit that the same truth applies to my mother. I’ve been wrestling to believe that the transformation of my mother’s life from pain to glory would outweigh the waves of grief that would drench our souls without her.
As I process this whole path I’m walking, I keep asking myself what ‘letting go’ would look like. And in my mind’s eye, I keep seeing a leaf on a tree turn to brown, fade… and fall. To me, Autumn has always been the season of passing away. When trees lose their emerald leaves and stand bare in the quickly cooling air, my heart goes out to them; it’s like I see them shivering against the sky, stark and naked and lost. When the geese fly south for the winter and pass over the browning land in all their swooping glory, I almost wish I could go with them… to fly on feathered wings to a better place, leaving the stark chill and the bareness behind me.
In my heart, I know that this is not what Autumn really is. At least not wholly.
While I was sitting at my desk the other day, I was looking out my window, and as I looked, I felt like I could feel the crisping of the air begin around the eaves of my window. Fall was coming. Why? What was the point, if it was just a harbinger of bitter cold and the hibernation of all that was beautiful?
But in my cynicism I knew that Autumn wasn’t just a precursor for winter, it was a priest, preparing us for the eucharist of another Spring. Not death, but the ritual for the resurrection of life. If this is what the creation around me claims, I thought to myself, shouldn’t I claim it too?
If God proves Himself faithful year after year in his own creation, turning death into life, how could He not prove Himself faithful in our own seasons of loss? To realize that our Christian lives aligned with the natural world was humbling in that moment.
George Herbert’s passage in The Country Parson illustrates much more poignantly than I could. He is describing the behavior and beliefs a minister of the Lord should embody, and particularly, the convictions the minister (a parson) should hold in order to shepherd his flock. Herbert describes the embodied beliefs this way:
“[The Parson] sees not how a house could be built without a builder, or kept in repair without a housekeeper. He conceives not possible how the winds should blow so much as they can, and the sea rage so much as it can… [without] the usual seasons of summer and winter, earing and harvest. Let the weather be what it will, still we have bread, though sometimes more, sometimes less… [Therefore] he conceives not possible how he could believe a Divinity, if he had been at the Creation of all things, should less believe it seeing the Preservation of all things. For preservation is a Creation, and more, it is a continued Creation, and a creation every moment.”
I loved that. To believe that the seasons, good or bad, are being preserved by God – to believe that the goodness of His act of creating this world is worked out in love, second by second, as He preserves the creation he so lovingly crafted once upon a time? It was reassuring.
I happened upon this poem by Christina Rosetti the other day. It stirred my heart as thoughts of my mother weaved in and out of my head. As I read, I saw such a picture of completion in three simple stanzas. When my eyes had read the last word on my sun-soaked page, I paused, lost in thought. As I gazed at the poem, it suddenly occurred to me that it was written in seasons; each stanza was like a season of the Christian life – of the Christian hope in the resurrection of the body. Rosetti says so much with so little:
“THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YE MAY BE ALSO”
How know I that it looms lovely that land I have never seen,
With morning-glories and heartsease and unexampled green,
With neither heat nor cold in the balm-redolent air?
Some of this, not all, I know; but this is so;
Christ is there.
How know I that blessedness befalls who dwell in Paradise,
The outwearied hearts refreshing, rekindling the worn-out eyes,
All souls singing, seeing, rejoicing everywhere?
Nay, much more than this I know; for this is so;
Christ is there.
O Lord Christ, Whom having not seen I love and desire to love,
O Lord Christ, Who lookest on me uncomely yet still Thy dove,
Take me to Thee in Paradise, Thine own made fair;
For whatever else I know, this thing is so;
Thou art there.
I see the withering leaves, and I recall the burgeoning blossoms of seasons past; I watch the flowers shrivel, and I look to their coming again, brighter and more beautiful in the season to come. For now, I will practice the age-old art of waiting, loving and letting go.
Christina Brown is an artist who loves Beauty and the multifaceted ways in which it manifests itself in our lives. Though primarily a writer, it is her dream to pick up her painters brush again someday and attempt to partially capture, through life’s fleeting snapshots, the sublimity and goodness of our God. Christina lives at the foothills of the Rocky mountains in Colorado with her two beautiful children and gracious husband, and will not be found at any time of day without something delicious to drink. Her favorites include cappuccinos, iced tea, sparkling water, and her husband’s lovingly crafted cocktails.