A thousand good-byes

Grief is a winding path. It is not just one good-bye but rather a thousand good-byes. That first crashing wave just keeps lapping against the sand.

It’s not just good-bye to breath, good-bye to warmth. It’s good-bye to all the would-have-beens. Good-bye to morning greetings and good-night hugs. Good-bye to shopping trips and coffee dates. Good-bye to wedding plans and babies and laughing together. Good-bye to birthdays and conversations and long walks. Good-bye to living and loving and sharing.

Good-bye to her smile, her zeal, her joy. Her friendship. Her love. Her presence.

Grief is a thousand good-byes.

I keep remembering the hellos. Oh, the joy of saying hello to her.

Hello, heartbeat. Hello, miracle. Hello, curly-headed sunshine.

Hello, exuberant child. Hello, funny and energetic teenager. Hello, beautiful and gifted woman.

Hello, warrior. Hello, lover of God. Hello, faith hero.

Grief is the ending of hellos. That is what takes your breath away, and that is what hurts your heart.

So many good-byes. No more hellos.

Our family is reading a book about heaven together. It is like a whole new realm that I have never really thought about. It is comforting in ways I cannot tell. There is a fullness added to life, and the circle comes together finally. The journey’s end–how I begin to long for it. How I begin to joyfully consider what is ours in Christ.

How I long to know the tender heart of the One who loves so well and prepares such a place. The One who gave His life so that we could go there and be with Him forever.

The One who is our eternal refuge. The One who holds Marissa safe.

Safe in the place where all our good-byes will someday be turned back to hello.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the little things

I went running this morning, and it has been awhile. Awhile since I could leave the house, awhile since I could justify the heavy breath of exertion when my sweet girl was struggling with her shallow breaths.

It has been awhile since normal.

My children are going back to work, back to school, and I am going back to laundry and meal plans and catching up. Catching up with this new normal that we never wanted and don’t want now.

I am completely amazed at the grace that has abounded. Grace for choosing burial clothes and a final resting place.  Grace for seeing pieces of Marissa’s life all around. Grace for getting up and moving through each day.

Grace for walking the path of last things.

And now grace for stepping into new.

I would be so lost if I were not already found. I would be so lost without Jesus.

Early in our journey, our pastor encouraged us to think of this road as our assignment from God. There were so many times I remembered that when I felt I could not do the new thing ahead.

If God gives me something to do, He does enable. If He sends me down a difficult path, He does strengthen.

He will most assuredly see me through.

Marissa finished her assignment well because He saw her through.

We are encouraging our children to be brave in this new assignment. To allow sadness and heartache to do its work, but to keep walking in this appointed path.

This appointed path of small things.

The walk of faith is mostly small steps. It’s mostly mundane. It’s getting up each day and choosing to walk the pilgrim way. We can’t see too far ahead, and we’re not supposed to.

Our steps would falter if we saw the miles ahead, the sometimes weary road. Our steps would falter if we saw the mountains we would climb or the valleys we would walk through.

We might shrink back from leaping over chasms deep.

But we can take the small steps of today. We can walk by faith today. We can do our assignment for today–the grieving, the loving, the every-day living.

All the little things that make up a life, that lead us on to glory.

We can be faithful to God in all the little things of today.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The battle won

And so it was that at 9:55 p.m. on March 6, 2017, Marissa Alice Bundy, brave warrior princess, put down her sword and crossed over into glory to meet her Savior face to face.

I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the battle or the bravery or the ending. I want to remember every part of the story–from first to final breath.

Marissa’s pain had increased day by day, and her knees began to buckle when she walked. We were supposed to head to Duke for scans on Tuesday and a visit with the oncologist on Wednesday. But when I explained her new symptoms, her doctor admitted her directly to the hospital to determine the cause of her loss of mobility. By the time we got there, she could barely walk even with assistance.

They thought perhaps a tumor was pressing on her spine, so they did a few tests. One painful test, a lumbar puncture, was done to test the fluid in the spine. On Wednesday she had been scheduled to see her doctor and begin a new immunotherapy drug. But instead we waited in the hospital for test results. Her pain increased and she lost more of her mobility while we waited.

On Thursday morning, her oncologist came into her room with the results. She’s brilliant and she’s tough, but she cried when she told us that the cancer was in her spinal fluid, the most difficult cancer to treat. Since Marissa’s cancer was in so many other places, we were out of options.

Marissa asked the doctor how long she would have and the answer was weeks at best. I watched her face. I expected sadness and even despair, but what I saw was relief. She told me later her first emotion was peace, and I could see a determination to finish her fight well. She spoke with joy of heaven. We talked about the most important things she wanted to do before she took that journey.

She wanted to marry Daniel. She wanted to see her Grandma. She wanted to sort through all of her things and give them away to people she loved. She wanted to say good-bye.

The rest of the day was spent trying to get her pain managed for going home. They contacted hospice to meet us there, and we headed out. By the time we got home, she was sleeping almost all the time. She could respond to some questions, but not really talk.

She was surrounded by love. I will never forget the tenderness of her brothers helping her into her hospital bed or her sisters giving her sips of water. Or of Daniel, faithful and sweet, continually encouraging her.

She rallied some for some family visitors on Sunday, but mostly she was fading away. On Sunday night, Daniel placed a beautiful ring on her left hand.

Through the night she had some agitation, and the nurse came early Monday morning to increase her pain pump. On the day of her home-going, we gathered around her. We sang to her. We prayed for her. We told stories. We read God’s words to her. Over and over, we called out: “We love you, Rissa! We are so proud of you! You have finished your race!” We talked of heaven and her Savior. We told her it was okay to stop fighting, to let go.

As her breathing became more labored, we increased our encouragements. We took turns expressing our love and thankfulness for her. We urged her on.

I felt the intensity of God’s reality and the secure hope of His salvation.

Eventually her breath became more shallow and we gathered closer. Daniel moved to the head of the bed and kissed her head. And finally she relaxed.

Finally, she was free.

And grief was there. It gripped us all. Father, mother, sister, brother, beloved one–we sobbed. We wept. We sorrowed deep.

Oh, the pain of missing her. Oh, the ache that fills our hearts.

But there is joy. There is goodness. There is light.

There is even beauty in this darkest night.

Because of the Lamb! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! She is with Him now in glory, forever with her Lord. She fell asleep in pain and woke in glory!

Her battle is won!

She’s safely home in the arms of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

Gentle Shepherd

Dear Shepherd, lead us.

This is a path we do not know.

And we can feel ourselves falling, stumbling, reeling, letting go.

Walking over shards of glass that cut more deeply as we slow.

Dear Shepherd, lead us.

We cannot see the light.

And fear surrounds this secret place of dark. This blackest night.

Dear Shepherd, lead us.

This path is Yours. Don’t let us lose the way.

The storm is fierce and we are bowed so low beneath its battering sway.

And would you carry the little ones?

The weak ones and the ones who fall?

The saddest hearts and those whose pain has crippled them?

The weary, worn? The small?

Dear Shepherd, lead us.

Lead us on.

On to peace and the arms of God.

On to light and green pastures and forever rest.

Lead us to morning. Lead us to joy.

Heal our hearts and hold them fast.

Be our God. Be our Shepherd. Be our Savior.

Gently lead us. Lead us home.

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. Daniel 2:22

 

 

 

 

 

When the story gets sad

Marissa is sleeping across from me in the hospital bed. She has been running a low-grade fever in the evenings for a few days with increased shortness of breath, so her oncologist wanted her evaluated to rule out an infection or lung embolism. We spent 19 hours in the emergency room–they ran a bunch of tests and then we waited for a room upstairs so they could admit her overnight.

So it was in the middle of a darkened ER room when we were already so weary from waiting that we heard the numbing news. Marissa’s cancer has spread. More in her liver, and now in her lung and bones. Spine and sternum and ribs.

The trial drug has failed to halt the progression. There is no miracle today.

When the doctor left, I climbed up on the stretcher and we sat quietly. Still so numb. Numb, but aware that this is one of the saddest pages in the story.

When I was younger, I loved to read stories that made me cry. Age taught me that sadness is real, and now I hesitate. I protect myself from sadness.

And yet it has followed me. It has found me.

I would despair if I did not know the Storyteller.

I would  despair if I did not have the promise of His strong and sympathetic arms to carry us. The promise of His covenant love to sustain us. The knowledge of His almighty power. The assurance of His comforting presence.

I would despair if I did not know the end of the story.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely I will help you; surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:19,20


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the path is dim

Some nights the moon has only the smallest sliver of light. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of fullness, but it is mostly darkened. There is light, but it barely brightens the path.

It is light that comes from another place and won’t be fully seen until another time.

Life has seemed disconnected and hard to believe lately. I sometimes wake in the morning with a happy heart until the remembering creeps in. Was it just 18 months ago that we were living a normal life? Has it been such a short time since it changed into this hard, weary path?

Have we strayed so far from full light into this eclipse-like darkness?

Marissa is struggling physically, and it’s been hard to find a steady path forward. If one problem resolves, it seems there is always another to take its place.

The pain itself is brutal and searing and inescapable. I have been looking desperately for the beauty in this pain, but it has been elusive. The only beauty arises from the light.

Where can we find light in the middle of darkness? We find it in brothers and sisters who come alongside and minister to us. We find it in answered prayer. We find it in God–in His words and in who He is.

God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

So we continue to cling to the light. We trust that the darkness will eventually be gloriously illumined. We believe that our dear girl will be given enough light to walk this path.

We rest in the promises of God.

We are always thankful for the sliver of light. For the remembrance of the full light and the knowledge of the source of it.

For the promise that all will be made right.

The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted. Isaiah 30:26

Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over. Isaiah 60:20

 

 

 

 

 

Things you will never regret

You will never regret rocking a baby and kissing a soft head while breathing in the scent of newness.

You will never regret mud pies or tea parties or your child falling asleep to your halting lullaby.

You will never regret late night talks with your teenager as you sit around a fire under the star-filled sky.

You will never regret listening to a struggling heart and loving the soul that is searching.

You will never regret kindness.

You will never regret running to God in your hopelessness and finding the eternal hope of peace with Him.

You will never regret opening your eyes to truth and the gift of faith that surges in.

You will never regret being rescued from your deepest, heaviest iniquities.

You will never regret trusting God, not in the sunshine and not in the darkest night.

In eternity, you will not regret pain or what could have been. You will not regret standing firm in your fiery trial. You will not regret the storm that drives you to your Savior’s breast. You will not regret the flood or the fire or the blackness that threatens you now.

It will be worth it all.

You will never regret loving Jesus.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the quiet

I have not been reading much or talking much or writing much. Marissa has been in the hospital and the days are going by with such quietness. After the flurry of the first days of test after test, now we are waiting. We are waiting to see if the long-awaited trial drug is going to start fighting the cancer, waiting to see if they can manage the nausea and side effects, waiting to see if she can climb out of this new place where she has fallen.

It is very still in this place.

Sometimes stillness can be an enemy but mostly I find it a friend. I find that even when my sad thoughts are swirling round, there is comfort and truth swirling right alongside. I find over and over that God is real and His words are real.

I find that He is my anchor in this storm. This storm of quietness.

Marissa’s physical battle screams in the silence. This sudden plunge into distress has us wondering, how should we pray? What is God doing? We want to be confident in His power, yet submissive to His will. We want to trust in His goodness in the worst kind of pain. We want to be faithful even when wondering.

We want to be full of faith even when He is quiet.

I remember my pastor preaching out of Matthew 15 where the Canaanite woman is begging Jesus to rescue her daughter from suffering. “And he did not answer her a word,” Matthew 15:23 tells us. I have written in the margin of my Bible this:

Sometimes God is silent.

Because He is sometimes. It doesn’t mean He is not listening. It doesn’t mean He is not loving. It doesn’t mean we should stop asking. His silence is temporary and purposeful. The Canaanite woman continued to cry out to Him, and He eventually answered her. He eventually recognized her faith and healed her daughter.

He eventually spoke words of forgiveness and healing and peace.

I know with absolute certainty that God could heal Marissa in one moment and with one word. I know that with one act, his death on the cross, He has already secured eternal healing for her.

But for now, He is silent. For now, we continue to ask.

We are waiting, still, in this storm of quietness.

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act. Psalm 37:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there grace for this?

I’ve done many things I thought I couldn’t do. I’ve birthed nine babies and survived all the days of small ones. I’ve been up through the night with a sick child. I’ve been terrified of new things and overwhelmed by having too much to do. I’ve wept with heartache and sorrowed deep. I’ve walked with my daughter through cancer treatment.

But there was always rescue, always a window of relief. There was always grace for the moments, always hope.

Is there grace for this?

Is there grace for cancer? For cancer that isn’t going away? Grace for this level of pain? Grace for a mama’s deepest sorrow? Grace for suffering? For watching the suffering of your dear one?

I know there is grace for living. I have received grace in mothering, strength for each day. I have seen a glimpse of joy even in the hardest moments of life. I have been strengthened when weak and lifted when falling. I have breathed deeply and gratefully when a crisis has passed.

And still I wonder. Is there grace for this?

Because if faith means anything, it must mean grace for the things we cannot do. It must mean grace for the impossible. It must mean amazing grace, God-given grace, infinite and matchless grace.

It must mean grace for the hardest thing.

After six days in the hospital at Duke, Marissa is struggling to get back to a semblance of normal. Her lung function is compromised, so the whirr of the oxygen tank is a constant companion. With multiple liver lesions and malignant fluid in her chest cavity, she is always uncomfortable and often in pain. Before she was sick from the treatment for cancer, but now for the first time, she is sick from the cancer. She finally was able to start the trial drug one week ago, so now we wait. If it works against her cancer, she may gain a reprieve. If not, the cancer is growing every day.

If not, we face one of the hardest things.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Content with weakness? Content with hardship and calamity?

Yes, for the sake of Christ and so that His power will rest on us.

We are desperate for that power. The amazing truth is we are not abandoned in our weakness; we are made strong. We are not forsaken in the midst of calamity; we are blanketed by the greatest power. We have been invited into His fellowship of suffering, and we can let His power rest on us.

And when we are in a place where we feel we can’t go on? When we are trembling in our weakness? When our calamity is the deepest sadness of the heart?

He meets us there with strong and perfect grace.

Grace that is sufficient. Enough. Enough for the hardest thing.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story we’re meant to tell

I’m sitting in a hospital room on the 9th floor while Marissa is sleeping. The sun is rising and silhouetting the life flight helicopter that sits on a landing right outside our window. I’m drinking coffee out of a paper cup, and I’m missing my children and my normal life. Maybe Marissa can go home today and we can trade oxygen tubes and pain medication for a messy house and noisy family. Maybe we can just drive away and rest.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks and hardly a chance to recover from one blow before another comes. Since September of 2015 we have been running to stay ahead of this cancer. It’s been relentlessly chasing her and now it hardly feels like she can stay on her feet to keep running.

She is so tired of running, and the enemy is winning this race.

I have watched my daughter cry out in pain and struggle to breathe. I have heard bad news–wave upon wave nearly knocking me down. I have felt my faith twisted and pulled, and sometimes I can almost smell the burning of the rope that is holding me.

A skirmish of the soul.

I run, desperate, to the living Word, and I long for deliverance. I long for peace. I long for truth that is bigger than this moment–bigger than this story and bigger than me.

I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Psalm 143:6-8

I think I know this failing of spirit. I think I have felt this anguished thirst.

I, too, have searched for a hidden face.

Snow is falling gently now outside my window, making everything white. There is beauty in its covering. It changes the way everything looks, and even the ugly is masked.

Truth brings its own covering of beauty. It is a strong mantle covering the worst of pain, the ugliest of days. It is the big picture of redemption and new things and death swallowed up in victory. It tells of a future with no more sickness, no more dying, no more tears.

It is the big story, the forever story, the story we’re meant to tell.

It is the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4