When our son Mikey was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago I was terrified. I was terrified that he might die. Plain and simple. A life lived without my child was just unthinkable. His life was, and continues to be, infinitely valuable. We were told there was no cure for his cancer but we scoured the earth anyway to find some glimmer of hope that could save our child. We clung to the only shred of hope we could find in modern medicine and it wasn’t much. One child had survived this. One. So we treated our son, our treasured baby, in the same way, and we HOPED. We hoped in medicine and protocols and surgery and doctors. We hoped for one end and gave little, if any, thought to the suffering that might result. The truth is, there was no choice that didn’t take us down a path of suffering. We understood that, deep down, from the very first. We couldn’t spare Michael and we couldn’t spare ourselves. The only thing we could do was love him and love his life and take care of him in the very best way we knew how. That included modern medicine. We also knew deep down, that if God wanted Michael to live, he would use doctors and medicine to bring about healing. So we learned to pray and begged God for that.
It was painful and difficult to watch his little body decline and go through such trauma. He endured surgeries and medications and being stuck in the hospital when he wanted to be home playing with his siblings. The chemo robbed him of the ability to walk and his days were spent in a constant state of nausea and vomiting. We did everything within our power to make him comfortable, to distract him, to keep his spirits up, and help him Hope in a future where he would feel good again. Most days he would lie there, desperately quiet, and I imagined him just begging God to let it be over. When we needed some reassurance that he was okay, he would selflessly smile and say, “It’s a beautiful day”. When we started to lose hope, the comfort was always that he was still with us. He was still breathing and as long as there is life, there is hope. It never crossed our minds, not even fleetingly, to put an end to his suffering ourselves. That would have taken the hope of life away from us, possibly for eternity. I shudder now to even think of the sentiment so prevalent in our throw-away culture that does not value life and really does not value suffering.
That suffering was a vehicle, of untold Grace and life unending.
Naturally, I needed to cope with watching my child suffer. It hurt so much. In my prayers, begging God to spare him, He led me instead to Mary. I pondered her journey again and again, trying to learn from her the way to endure. I felt as though I was walking that road to Calvary right next to her. She was quiet and accepting, abiding in something that eluded me. I was crying out, scared, alone and desperate. She stood at the cross without flinching and absorbed every blow to her son with quiet dignity because she hoped in something not of this world. She hoped in the one thing that rendered brutal suffering powerless. Resurrection. She surrendered and trusted and hoped in a Love so powerful that the suffering and the death became the treasure. Suffering is a treasure that has the power to transform our scared and desperate hearts into hearts full of Trust and Love and Hope.
It was an agony to watch my baby suffer and a difficult road for a 3-year old to walk. Even as we prayed for his rescue every day, I lived an agony that transformed me. We suffer many things in this world for lesser gains. God knew, like the perfect parent that He is, that He was giving me the opportunity to choose Resurrection. Mary knew it too, from a lifetime of grace and learning that culminated in the cross. I learned it from a beautiful little boy, a heart full of a mother’s love and a deep understanding that every breath of life has the potential to overcome death. I don’t look back on Mikey’s journey as a nine-month battle of suffering. I look back and remember every day that I loved him. I remember every moment that I held his chubby hand, quietly enjoying the weight of it in my own. I remember reading to him and singing to him and trying to keep him entertained, and I remember the reward of his beaming smile when I succeeded. I remember washing and dressing him and praying with him; inhaling his unique scent. He told me one day that he needed a sword. He said it was his job to help St. Michael the archangel and I remember the determination with which he said it. I remember him teasing his brother even from a hospital bed where he clearly did not have the advantage. He knew his role as big brother well without ever having been taught. I remember him doting on his infant sister, Laura, and him wanting to care for her and protect her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. No, I don’t look back and see only suffering. I see a million moments of living and loving that I would never trade. More importantly, I understand now how those moments, good and bad, were at work in this mother’s soul. God had plans to prosper me! And Michael. I couldn’t possibly have known all the plans the Lord had for me. I still don’t, but I trust Him.
When Michael breathed his last, I was no longer terrified or desperate. In those moments of death and devastation when I felt utterly empty, I learned the most important Truth of my life. God revealed His presence and I knew with a peace that passes understanding that I had all I truly needed. I had learned to pray, not merely for the end I desired, but the end that would bring the greatest good for all of us and I was filled with the deep Joy of knowing my baby was face to face with his creator and had fulfilled his purpose in this created world. His suffering taught me Love in a way I never could have learned it otherwise. I was re-created in Christ and could never have seen that coming. Mary knew it though. God makes all things new.
We don’t have a choice about suffering as it will surely find us, but we do have a choice to make. We can pick up the cross and walk the very narrow road, or try and go our own way.
When I get my turn to stand before my God I’m not sure I will say, “Yes Father, it’s been a rollicking good time. Let’s do that again.” But, I will definitely say, “Yes Lord, it was all very GOOD. I got to know You here.”