Just after we learned that Ben had a brain tumor, everything we had known about life changed. Well, not everything. But we knew – even then – that our perspective would be forever different.
It was difficult to even process all of the emotions we were feeling. But because we were also trying to raise two four-year-olds and their 20-month-old sister, we knew we couldn’t be 100% upfront about the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. We needed them to remain hopeful. Because none of us knew exactly how Ben’s story would unfold. So Andy and I would take turns, excusing ourselves from our son’s bedside, to grieve the information as it became available. Most times, we would take showers. The ninth floor of Children’s Hospital was equipped with a basic shower room and the nurses accommodated us nicely. New people we had met suggested we cry in the showers. Something about letting the water wash our tears was refreshing. Getting it all out and then emerging with a clearer mind.
I never told Andy that I could hear him sob from the hallway.
I remember that anguish. Pain. The word “cancer” felt like a punch in the gut. We felt sick to our stomachs at the thought of moving on. What a future with cancer would look like for our son, for our family. It felt like such a death sentence. And yet, God told us to go to Him. To trust. And so we did. Or, we tried. We kept pushing our hearts to do what our minds told us, even when the two weren’t on the same page. “Cry, curse God and die… have faith, trust in your Heavenly Father…” These ideas were on loop inside my brain, constantly fighting each other.
More than three years later and it doesn’t take much to pull me back to that spot. That shower room on the ninth floor of Children’s Hospital. One word, smell, mention… it brings it all back. And although that time served a purpose, it was a season we had to go through, it is my choice as to whether or not I stay there.
These crying sessions were essential for our healing. Our processing. Our mourning. Our grief. Even trips to the doctor, the grocery store – all of these times alone served a double purpose of being able to cry without little eyes watching us. There was a season for all of this.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
It was okay to weep. To mourn. To cry out to God. To shake our fists at our own humanness, disgusted that cancer even existed much less found a home in our sweet boy. There are times when this is the very best thing we could do. Because that was the season we had found ourselves in. And yet, we also know that one season doesn’t last forever: winter eventually gives way to spring and the summer eventually transitions to fall. We found that the longer we spent in these times of mourning, the more often we wanted to stay in that season of pain. We felt a strange sort of comfort in our agony. Gratification in licking our wounds. A sort of commissary in acknowledging our victimhood. And so my husband and I purposed to visit these places of hurt. But not to stay. We could go but not set up residence.
We found that the longer we stayed pursuing the darkness, the larger it became. The more we fed the beast, per se, the bigger it grew. That’s one reason why our crying sessions in the shower were so beneficial: they had a clear ending point. After more than fifteen minutes in the shower, we knew someone would be knocking on the door, asking if we were okay. It had to end. Because humans were never meant to be able to carry that kind of load all on their own, all of the time. It’s absolutely exhausting.
Fast-forward more than three years. We’ve had many crying sessions since those first showers after his diagnosis, many of which were in our home just after Ben died. And almost every single night since then, I’m scared to turn off the lights. I put off bedtime as long as I could, just to put off the inevitable moments where I’d be alone with my thoughts. What if Jack gets cancer, too, I’d worry. What if I lose one of my kids? How could I even go on? I opened my eyes and my memory pictured my otherwise completely healthy four-year-old rounding the corner of my bedroom door in the middle of the night, with his hand to his forehead whispering, “Mom, I have a headache.” One moment and I’m there. Those flashbacks are some of the most painful in my repertoire. I tried numbing my mind with social media as I drifted off to sleep. Going through pictures, frivolous articles, party-planning on Pinterest… anything in order to distract my brain from where it wanted to go. And it’s only recently that I realized that I had everything I needed in order to battle it. I had to address it – call it out – and then speak to the Light.
Many nights, I would just pray for the morning. Because with the morning sun came new promise, new beginnings. And hope. It was amazing how much different of a person I was at 1 o’clock in the morning versus just a few hours later as the sun emerged on the horizon.
I shouldn’t be surprised to recognize that the Bible is full of references to God as the LIGHT.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
I want to be in the Light! Light means warmth, comfort, safety. Just as a lighthouse is a symbol of safety and a beacon of hope, so is my God. His word is my guidepost. And everything I know from my years on this earth has pointed to that truth: that He is a good God and He can be trusted.
Seek the Lord while He may be found. Isaiah 55:6
If I wanted to find the Lord, I had to look. But only because He was not the one who moved.
For me, that meant speaking to the Light. Even if I just saw a small glimmer of a candle as I turned off the lights and entered my own mental darkness, I knew that that flicker of hope existed. I spoke every verse I could remember, every praise song I could repeat, every promise that came to my mind. I would even play hymns on my YouTube app, pressing the phone as close to my ear as I could so as not to wake up my husband lying next to me.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
(“It Is Well with My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873)
Hearing those words being sung a Capella from the comfort of my bed, with several voices in perfect unison, nourished my aching heart. They helped bridge the gap between what I felt in my heart and what I knew in my head to be true. Rehearsing all of those verses I had committed to memory reminded me of that Truth. And going over them again and again reaffirmed the hope God offers. The more I moved toward the Light, the more I gave those words of truth to be home inside my head, the less the darkness permeated my mind.
Here’s what I’ve learned: the more I speak to the Light, the more the darkness disappears.
I attack those specs of light with as much fervor as a sailor who is lost at sea, hoping for just a flicker of light from a lighthouse. Even the slightest flame to show him that he was not far from safety. That he just needed to keep his eyes affixed on the Light and he could guide himself toward land.
I still get the tiniest bit anxious about turning out the lights each night, hours after everyone else has gone to bed. I never look forward to those moments where I’m left to my thoughts before my mind finally allows me to give into sleep. But I’m grateful that I know now what to do in order to help bridge that gap. Now I know how important it is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2.) It is comforting to know that when I speak, I am summoning the Creator of the Universe. The God that defied death and went before me to create a permanent residence for Ben and me and everyone else who accepted Him in heaven. And that for some reason unbeknownst to me, He cares and loves me… so much more than one person could ever deserve.
And all I had to do was welcome Him in.