Monday, October 11, 2010

"We Shall Have Nothing But God"

Gal 4:22-24, 26-27, 31–5:1
"Brothers and sisters:
It is written that Abraham had two sons,
one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.
The son of the slave woman was born naturally,
the son of the freeborn through a promise.
Now this is an allegory.
These women represent two covenants.
One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery;
this is Hagar.
But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother.
For it is written:
Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children;
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband.
Therefore, brothers and sisters,
we are children not of the slave woman
but of the freeborn woman.

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm
and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery."
Since yesterday was the 10th of October, 2010 (10-10-10), people were remarking on the fact that such a date is rare, numerically. For me, the date is significant because it is the anniversary of Katie's cancer diagnosis, four years ago.

Gregg did not remember that this is so. I did not mention it to David when we spoke on the phone, so I don't know if he remembers it, either. But I do.

I thought about this date as I lay in bed last night - thought about the shock, fear and desire for it to be untrue that I was feeling so strongly, four years ago. I remembered lying with Gregg all night in a fold-out-chair cot, which was designed for one person. We didn't really sleep. Katie was in the hospital bed right next to us - her first night as a patient. We were stuffed into this little cot, because neither of us was willing to go home & leave the others. We had no clear diagnosis yet, but Katie had a mass in her abdomen, so we had been admitted to the cancer ward. We listened to the dear mother and daughter next to us, as they spoke in Spanish to one another, and as the daughter vomited from the effects of her chemo.
I was terrified.
I remembered getting bed linens from the linen supply closet on the ward, and talking privately to a very kind nurse, Fiona. She was so tender with me. We were so NEW. It was as if we were lost - as if we had just arrived, by mistake, onto a new planet.
This morning, I read the scripture passage above, and I thought about the freedom that is being described in it. I think the message is directed at the audience of the time, whose issues of freedom are so different from ours, in America in the year 2010. But what stood out to me was this:
"One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother...For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery."

This made me think of the Ten Commandments, which have been so helpful in guiding many of us as we grow. I see them as a loving provision of basic wisdom from God. They made me a bit afraid when I was a child, but as I grew, I saw that they help us, because they make so much sense. If we keep them, the world is a far gentler, more sane, compassionate place to live. But living under the Law of Moses is not the same as the freedom of living under the Law of Love that Jesus brought to us.

The Bible passage fit so well with the quote at the beginning of today's devotional:
"For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away, and we shall have only God. To the person of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain." - A. W. Tozer

It wasn't comforting to me, on the cancer ward with my 11-and-a-half-year-old daughter, to face the first hours of having "nothing but God." It was terrifying to be there. But the freedom that stands out to me now is the freedom of having nothing else to do, nothing to distract me from what was in front of me; of doing whatever is necessary in love, with the best spirit possible, under the circumstances. It had nothing to do with church, or Bible study, or committee work, or being a deacon or a Stephen Minister, or who I was, or how "good" I felt I needed to be. I was there, with the clothes on my back, and very little else. I was who I was IN THAT MOMENT, and apparently, for God, that is enough to work with.

God took me as I was in that moment, and all of my crutches fell away. God used me, and sustained me with Himself, with His presence - which was often provided through the love and caring of other people. There was no place to hide from stage IV cancer in my child's precious body. The love of God, the spirit of the Lord, was present to me in new ways when all of the supports and "hiding places" were swept away. Life became stunningly simple. Horribly difficult, but stunningly simple - somewhat like the descriptions I've read of climbing Mt. Everest.
I have wondered whether things would have turned out differently if we'd gone to the chapel in the hospital to pray during the many months that we were there; if it would have helped Katie or David to be led there and invited to pray "formally," as we had done most every Sunday as the children were growing up. That seemed unnecessary, to me; Katie was too sick to go out, much of the time, and my intuition said it would have been unkind to drag her there. She never asked to go.

My deepest feeling was that God knew what we were facing, and knew the deepest desires of our hearts; those hearts were crying out for help most all of the time. That, to me, is also prayer. Many others were praying formally for us, as well, but I had a deep sense that, if God didn't also hear and respond to informal heart-prayers, then He wasn't much of a God, and I couldn't bring myself to worship a narrow, come-to-church-and-pray-this-way-or-I-won't-help-you kind of God. That was just too small to be GOD - the God who is LOVE.
Four years have passed since the day of her first diagnosis, and we are learning to live without our beloved daughter. Back at home now, with many of the accoutrements of our former, comfortable life, I still have not returned to church. I study, pray, and even have a spiritual retreat going on with three bereaved Christian friends - but I am not part of a church community. This can be seen as both a good thing and a bad thing. I don't care to judge it right now. I just feel the deep truth of Tozer's statement from my own experiences in the hospital and Ronald McDonald House, and see it reflected in the freedom Jesus gave us to find God anywhere, everywhere, through that new Covenant. We don't have to go to church or temple or mosque to find God. He is everywhere, in everything and everyone. It takes a new way of seeing, to find Him in the places we'd rather not go, when we are naked and without our normal "hiding places." But I do believe He is there. I've felt Him in those places.
He is here, now, where Katie is not.


Kay said...

Oh Karen...what a post. I had to read and re-read it. So beautiful. I love A.W. Tozer. It is hard to find oneself with nothing but God. But there is a rest there as well. We don't have to struggle on with the things that bring us comfort etc..we only have to hold on to Him. Hugs to you friend, as you continue to hold on to Him in your journey.

deb said...

Karen ,
this writing you do leaves me without words,
but I want you to know that I was here.. really deeply here and I know God is too.

I rarely go to church. I struggle with it a bit...
thank you for your honesty.

Mary Potts said...

Yes Karen, I agree. God was there for us during the three years Erin was sick. At times He was there through the love of others, and then at times when there seemed to be no one around, He was there. I can see some of it more clearly now as I look back on those days in retrospect. There were periods when I thought I would drown, but I didn't because God was there. And now, I walk in the woods with Him and on my nightly walks with Keenan and Dave, in the calm, in the silence... without the sound of Erin's voice in the next room.

Jennifer said...

Karen -- such a powerful post. I read it over a number of times. You wrote, "It takes a new way of seeing, to find Him in the places we'd rather not go ..." I was thinking, as I slowly read, that you see God and then also reflect him back in a way that brings clarity, brings peace, brings openness. You speak simply and truthfully and poignantly of the places you have been ... the dark, horrific places you have been ... and you speak the same way about God. Yes, he is LOVE -- how could he not hear your internal, constant prayers throughout Katie's terrible struggle? And be there with you, particularly in the form of the loving people and hospital staff (nurses, doctors, etc.) around you?

As a side note, like deb and like you, I don't go to church much anymore. Your words helped me to feel more at home with where I am, as you spoke of the truth that God is everywhere. I haven't been able to articulate WHY I haven't gone back, now that the dust has settled from my own pain ... but it helps to hear you say you're not judging that. It just is.

God be with you; his peace and love be with you.


Laurie Brandriet Keller said...

You are so wise, even when you struggle. Thanks for being here ... and enjoy your weekend with your handsome men. xoxo.

Daisy said...

Beautifully said, Karen.