My niece, Zoe, is a survivor. Not like in the dreamy “little girls are resilient” way. Like in the Zoe kicked cancer in the face way. We walked through some really dark days a few years ago. My family held hands and we prayed all the way through the valley of the shadow of death – literally. As I walked to Zoe’s hospital room one day, I asked the nurse what the colored signs on the doors to the right and left of Zoe’s were for. She explained that the signs alert hospital staff that the tiny, precious patients in those rooms are near death. It was a silent way of reminding people who entered to be sensitive to the broken hearts inside. It was also a silent reminder that death literally knocked next door. So we prayed and cried and prayed and cried. Through chemo and radiation and puke and fear. And still holding hands, we slowly but surely, walked out the other side, led by a little bald head who now, 5 years later, has long, blonde hair.
Her head is no longer bald and her nails aren’t chipped from drugs – they are usually painted a sparkly shade of pink. But rarely do wounds heal without leaving scars and aftereffects in the wake. For Zoe, that lingering damage is in her back. The tumor wrapped around her spine and that area of her body has tried to compensate for the trauma by compressing and turning inward. Her spine has curved and isn’t allowing her to stand or walk straight, which is affecting her organs, hips and more. So today, Zoe is back in a hospital. After today’s surgery, she will remain in the hospital in traction and, then in a few weeks, she will have a second surgery to fuse the vertebrate that have died.
Zoe is scared. Her mama and daddy are scared. Her grandparents and her Aunt Gigi are scared. And if her Aunt Gigi can be candidly honest for a moment: I’m so sad. I’m sad she has to feel one second of pain. I’m sad I’m an ocean away and can’t sit beside my sister and say nothing. I’m sad that some of the childlike faith of a little girl in Zoe has been replaced with hurt. I’m sad that I can’t hug her and hold her and tell her I love her. I’m sad I won’t be there when she wakes up. I’m sad someone else will hold the pink bucket when the anesthesia makes her sick. I’m sad someone else will paint her nails and blow bubbles to take her mind off what’s happening. I’m so sad.
I’m also speechless at how good God is. That may sound an odd thing to you in the midst of the sorrow I’ve described, but the truth doesn’t change with our situations. The truth is the same when we’re up and when we’re down. And the truth is: God is good. He doesn’t want Zoe to hurt anymore than I do. He loves her more than I or her mom or dad, even, could imagine loving her. He has surrounded her with a family who would walk through fire for her. And we will. And just like last time, He will go before us. A sweet new friend approached me Sunday to ask for specifics about Zoe’s situation. I shared a bit and thought it overly compassionate when she started crying. But then she told me why. She told me that while we don’t really know one another, she felt compelled to fast and pray for my family. After I talked to a friend this morning in another city, she prayed with a group of women I will never meet. God was paving the path before I knew how bumpy the walk would be. My sister and her family live in Adelaide, Australia. While they aren’t close enough for my family to be there every day, my brother-in-law’s family is, and they are. And that means that even though I’m not beside my sister in the waiting room, God made sure she’s not alone. Some friends “happened” to have a business trip that took them to Adelaide last week, and my mom and dad will arrive soon. God is in the details. He knows our need before we know to ask for help. Even when we don’t understand, God is good.
Does it mean I’m not sad? No. My heart feels like it’s in pieces and some of them are on the other side of the world. Does it mean any of it’s easy? Not at all. But does it mean we have hope beyond what we feel? Yes. A million times, yes!
Because as I trust Him even when the sadness leaves me empty, God fills the void with joy and peace.
It doesn’t mean I know what tomorrow holds. It means I know who holds tomorrow.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)