I remember that it was June 17th, because it was Father’s Day. Kevin was so sick that he wouldn’t be going anywhere that Sunday morning. I also remember it was Father’s Day because I hadn’t gotten him a damn thing. And I felt like a loser wife because of it. Even if I knew we both got a pass. I was tired and exhausted and all I could think was that it was going to be yet another day where I was alone at the house tending to two little children downstairs and a sick husband upstairs. We had ten more months to go of subcutaneous interferon. And I definitely wouldn’t be going to church. Again.
We love our church. Oh, how we love our beautiful, tiny little neighborhood church that we stumbled upon in the fall of 2010, shortly after moving here from Los Angeles. There are maybe 30, 40 members. We meet in an old movie theatre, converted to a cheerleading gym, now converted to a church. We have a curtain hung halfway across the main room because our church members could never fill up the whole space. But we will be needing to move the curtain back a few feet soon 😉 All of us parents with little children hold our babies for the first hour, bouncing them on one hip and tending to our preschoolers with animal crackers and crayons. Children wander the aisles and receive snacks or get held by just about anyone in the congregation. No one minds if kids cry or whine, and we all love that everyone, big and little, gets to experience worship and prayer. The parents take turns herding the little ones off to “nursery” during the sermon. It’s wonderful, but also exhausting for any parent during this season in life. But for us, when I’m showing up at church already at 50% and Kevin’s at maybe 10%, we just haven’t had the energy to tend to our kidlets while trying to worship and participate in service with the body.
We hadn’t been to church in about six weeks.
Oh, we’d tried almost every Sunday morning. And sometimes we even made it to the building, only to turn around five minutes later and bail with a 17 month old who really still needed to be napping and an almost three year old who was whiny and clingy, as he sensed our own exhaustion and weariness.
I missed church.
I needed to go to church.
And on Father’s day morning, at about 9:00, something from deep within me screamed, “I have GOT to go to church today!”
I called my friend Becky to find out if her church had childcare for the full service. I was about to ask her if she would just take my kids so I could go to my own church, but it sort of seemed inappropriate to ask. So instead I just asked if I could go with them. She said yes but that they were leaving right now for the 9:30 service. I said I’d meet her in front of my house in 5 minutes.
God orchestrated every detail of getting to church that day, and even though it wasn’t my own church with the body of believers who had been walking this path with us for the last nine months, He gave me immediate affirmation that I was right where He wanted me to be. The children got checked into childcare without a hitch, and as I walked into the worship center, I began to cry. I don’t think I realized until that very moment how much I had missed the opportunity to worship freely, without wee ones to tend to. The church I went to that day, Trinity, has a fun mix of being kind of a “hip, modern” church, but also with lot’s of church liturgy. And you know how I feel about church liturgy. There was a collective reading of scripture, and the verses were from Second Corinthians, Chapter 5, verses 5-9.
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent in the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Now, I am not a biblical scholar by any means, and so my interpretation of this verse, in that moment probably has very little to do with what it actually means. But I know for me, I was feeling grateful to be at church somewhere, but wishing I was at my own church, with my own church body. And what God said to me through those verses was that I needed to be absent from that body in order to be present with the Lord. And that God had something to say to me right now.
Every bit of being able to relax and participate fully in the worship service was so life giving to me. But you guessed it…
There was a guest speaker that day, the director of the church’s women’s ministry. Her name was Candace Smartt and she was giving a sermon on abiding through difficult times. At least, I think that’s what it was about. You’ll have to ask her, because I can’t remember anymore. What I remember was that, halfway through the sermon, she casually mentions that her husband was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma three years ago, and that it was really difficult, and that she was thrown into this role of full-time care giver and that she didn’t know if her husband was going to live or die. And I cried quietly in my chair. Because she knew. I immediately planned to write this woman a letter, thinking perhaps she might write me back, give me a note of encouragement. I knew that this was a woman who knew exactly what I was going through, and keep in mind, this was before we knew Kevin’s cancer had recurred.
At the end of the sermon, my friend Becky immediately said that she would get my kids and that I had to go up and talk to her. Believe it or not, I was nervous about this, because I know all too well that I say inappropriate things, I overshare, and I was also pretty emotional. I try to be aware of how I can overburden people that I barely know… it didn’t quite seem appropriate to do that to someone I’d never met. But I went up anyway and the first words out of my mouth were, “My husband is fighting melanoma, and it sucks” and then my voice broke, and I started to cry.
Stupid cancer. Always making me cry.
Big God, always giving me shoulders to cry on.
She opened her arms, this woman who was the same age as me, this woman who knew, who absolutely knew exactly what I was feeling in that moment. She pulled her arms tightly around me and I cried and cried and cried. I absolutely sobbed, and I was so embarassed, because here I was standing in the middle of this hip, cool church, with this woman I’d never met, and I was breaking down. And yet at the same time, I knew that this was God’s gift to me. He had given me this woman, for this moment at least, to share in my burdens in a way that only she could.
After about five minutes (or more, I don’t know) I finally got it together enough to sit down and chat with her for a moment. We hunted down some kleenex, and I finished off the box. I tentatively asked her if her husband was okay. She pointed across the room and said, “Yep, he’s right there.” And we exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.
Little did I know that God’s gift to me was not just for that day.
Two days later, we sat in Kevin’s oncologist’s office and they told us they were concerned about his symptoms and were ordering scans. And you all know how that turned out.
To be continued…