Sunny days must have consistently won over rainy ones when I was a school-aged child because most of my memories are rooted in the long treks after the three o’clock dismissal. I would hightail it home, taking every shortcut through the backyards that stood between the elementary school and my front door.
“Run, run as fast as you can,” I would tell my feet, as I was distancing myself from those immature children who picked favorites and then picked on those they had deemed inferior.
There was no doubt whether or not I was on the list of the popular kids, but I never was ridiculed because I made myself invisible, an ability I learned from the dynamics in my home. This skill was utilized in almost every social circle. Go to school, do a little work; come home and see how my mother was doing; that routine suited me very well until it dawned on me that I could not remain invisible forever and survive.
One day when school was dismissed, the bright blue sky suddenly turned black and then proceeded to release every drop of its accumulated precipitation. “Run, run as fast as you can,” I told my feet. “Run to get out of the rain.”
At home I found my mother dozing on the day bed in the den while the soap operas told the sordid intermingling of the lives of beautiful people. I stopped in the bathroom and rubbed my wet hair with a towel. A glance in the mirror did not reveal a beautiful person, and I couldn’t blame the rain. Here at the onset of my teen years, I was faced with a great dilemma: I desperately wanted to fit in, but I was afraid.
Dropping my wet clothes on the floor, I pulled on a casual outfit which included my favorite sweatshirt. In it, I felt secure. Then I slid onto the couch that sat adjacent to my mother’s bed.
As I was my mother’s companion for TV’s “Guiding Light,” I imagined myself to be my father’s silent confidant, ever ready to pour out words of encouragement and comfort whenever he would choose to turn and acknowledge me. Something sad was brewing in his heart, and I wanted to help him. But he never chose to confide in me. Where was he, so deep in thought? Was he replaying the time he spent in World War II and the unbelievable atrocities he saw there?
I felt powerless to solve my parents’ problems. So I determined someday to lift them up on the shoulders of my happiness. Such was the grand, warped plan of my childhood.
As I waited for that bright future, I found some semblance of relationship with my maternal grandmother. I was drawn to her orderly home and gentle, disciplined spirit. And she was religious. While the entire extended family went to church every Sunday, she was the only one who put voice to her faith; she was the one who lived out the gospel with steadfast endurance. Grandmother had no time for moping. She hit the linoleum running in the morning. She had her share of difficulties, but she never let them define her.
Time slowly passed and, with great delight, I left the teen years behind. At twenty I was preparing to leave for the city to fulfill my destiny. But first I visited Grandmother. I nervously chatted away, keeping the conversation light and funny. All that talking, however, took an unexpected, woeful turn. Out tumbled many fears with a hint of the underlying anger. Then, since I didn’t like what I was hearing myself say, I iced it over by backtracking with remarks that served only as a layer of guilt.
There is no hope for me, I groaned within my spirit. Grandmother, however, intently listened without interrupting, like a psychologist who is assessing her client’s situation. When I finished, silence filled the space between us and I wanted to flee. But then Grandmother spoke and her words revealed the strength behind her small frame.
“We must take up our cross,” she simply said.
Our cross? What does the cross have to do with my plans for a life where everything is tidy, happy, and successful? What was Grandmother talking about?
While I could not make the connection of Christ’s cross to my life, Grandmother’s statement sank deep within my soul where it lay dormant for many years.
Grandmother lived to see me marry a fine man and have one daughter. My plans for a good life were set in motion. I kept our home immaculate. During the holidays, it looked like a Christmas card. Every spring and summer the flower beds declared: “Care and love reside within.” Boundless energy undergirded the dream. As long as I worked hard and pretended to be happy, surely my heart would catch up with my outward persona. However, deep down inside there was a faint echo: “Not right! Not right! Something’s missing.”
Then the second daughter was born. After one month of caring for the baby that would not settle, she was diagnosed with cancer. Fourteen months passed, and the surgery and radiation treatments did not fulfill their intended purpose; the cancer was back and now in her bone marrow. Chemotherapy was the new, last hope.
“Run, run as fast as you can,” I read to the older sister. “You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.”
Run, run to be there for the five-year-old sibling. Run, run to take care of the house, to look after the baby, to keep all of her appointments. … Run, run, I was running out of steam.
There were many rounds of chemotherapy. She received a treatment every day for one week, every third week, for two years. After one of the toddler’s chemotherapy treatments, I was sitting beside her on my big bed that had been prepared for her body’s violent reaction to the toxins. Several hours of vomiting and diarrhea would soon begin. While she slept, I read a book about an encounter a man had with Jesus when he was in prayer. (The book came into my life because I was searching for something/anything to help me cope.) I put the book down and let the pent-up tears flow. I was so sad. More than sad, I was angry. In my mind in that moment, the sleeping child beside me was not going to have the chance for a full life.
“I’ve done everything I know to do,” I told the ceiling. “It’s up to you now!”
Of course, I was not calling out to the ceiling, but to our heavenly Father. The prayer was a two-pronged one: one prong for the recovery of my sick child and one for me. I was tired, and I was lost. I was confused, and my best efforts had failed. I was so tired. “Run, run,” I was tired of running. I could no longer outrun God.
At that very moment of the prayer, Someone else started running. “Run, run,” God the Father was running as fast as he could, for he saw one of his children turn and start coming toward him (see Luke 15:20, the account of the Prodigal Son).
Jesus entered my life that day thirty-one years ago. The experience of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is as real to me as the physical objects around me. The sick child survived and is now a grown, healthy, married woman. I no longer run aimlessly. God is the mainspring of my life. I now understand Grandmother’s response to the fact that the cross is the answer for my life. In order to bring glory to God, I have had to take up my cross daily and follow him. But with him, my burden is light because I am held up by his everlasting arms.
Did my life turn out to be perfect? Since that day on my daughter’s sick bed, have I lived “happily-ever-after”? I can only be honest and say, “No, of course not.” Am I perfect person? No, of course, not. But, there is a huge difference between the woman who was running to make a good life and the woman who now looks to God for the answers in her life.