I don’t often wake up in the 5:00’s, but when I do it’s to hold a bucket for a sick kid or meet a friend. I prefer the latter. For over a year now, gosh, maybe 2 years (Lord, where is my memory?), I set my alarm twice on Wednesday night and by 5:40 on Thursday morning, I’m pulling out of my driveway and headed downtown to meet a friend for our mostly-weekly walk. As I’m driving, I’m half convinced I’m a mini-van bullet train, speeding at over 120 miles per hour because Mama has somewhere to be. And then as headlights tail me, I look down to see I’m under the speed limit by at least 20 because actually Mama is tired and everything that early is an ungracious lie. So I speed up and remind myself to pull it together in those next 10 minutes before we meet at her doorstep.
This morning echoed previous Thursday mornings as I, with one-eyed open, stood over the bathroom sink while my electric toothbrush did all the work. I’m pretty sure both armpits got deodorant but I’m not convinced. I grabbed a light sweatshirt and was glad it was cold enough for one. Brought Otis the dog outside and stumbled into the bullet train Sienna. Some days, depending on how long it’s been between seeing this friend, I mentally gather questions to ask her along our 3-ish mile walk. Today was the first Thursday we’ve been able to walk in, again, give me my memory back Jesus, over a month (??), so I collected questions in my clustered brain, all of which vaporized once she asked how I was doing.
A simple question with a simple rhetorical answer. I’m fine. We’re all fine. School starts next week. Everything is fine. But I’m not fine. And this friend knows me well enough to know when I’m lying. I just started crying. First it was quiet and I don’t think she realized the tears, but then, as we walked and I shared my brokenness over how stupid ALS and cancer are, it became obvious.
Our church has been studying the Old Testament book of Psalms. This book is known for songs of both lament and praise from recognized historical leaders like King David, Solomon, and even Moses. With the weekly theme of Praying Through Pain, emphasized in Psalm 6, one of the teaching pastors and a few friends within the church shared their stories of asking for healing or meaning with Parkinson’s, chronic blood clots and major family transitions. It took everything in me to quiet-cry. To not be the bursting open crazy lady by the aisle.
My grandpa was diagnosed with ALS this year. I think I’ve mentioned that before but I’m not sure. He’s an Air Force veteran, father to three daughters, and a madly in love husband to my grandma. He was a crewman with the SR-71 Blackbird and his stories are what legends are made of. He is one of those good men. The kind of man who still danced with my grandma until he couldn’t. The kind of man who would do a once-over on any one of my cars when he or I visited. There was no task too bothersome for him. From roofing to expanding closets, cleaning horse poop or traveling all over the States to spend time with people he loves, I’m telling you, he has loved full and well. And everything in me hates ALS. I hate what it does to the human body. I hate what it does to a person’s dignity and abilities. I hate what it does to caretakers. I hate that it is progressive and relentless. And I really hate that it’s happening to a person I love.
Just over a month ago, the same week that I flew to visit my grandparents, one of my nearest and dearest was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer. One that doesn’t look or act or sound like anything you would ever be suspicious of. It seemed to come quickly with almost no answers of origin. And I love this friend. Like a blood sister. A ride or die. We’ve been through the gamut and she is, by far, with no exaggeration, one of the greatest people I have ever known. And everything in me hates this cancer. I hate that it was so sneaky. I hate that the words “oncology appointments” and “surgeries to remove …” are things we’re talking about and planning for. I hate the fear and anxiety and sadness that occupy space in our hearts and minds and bodies because of this jerk cancer.
“Be gracious to me for I am languishing … my bones are troubled”.
Friends, my name is Emily and I am in a season of lament. I feel like I need to admit that to myself because I’ve been working so hard to just be fine. I’ve looked ahead to the coming school year, greatly anticipating the change to only one child at home. I’ve spent time with my head in the clouds about writing. I’ve been running and swimming and grilling steaks. And it’s fine. But like David, my bones are troubled. My soul languishes and there is a deep-pitted cry for respite over grandpa and healing for my near & dear.
Part of me feels guilty – like I’m not trusting our King, our Maker, our Healer, if I’m sad. Part of me wants to be a pillar of strength and admittedly, even prove mental capacity to myself. Part of me questions whether or not joy can exist parallel to anger. Lamenting first felt like failure. Like my faith had failed me and I was weak. And then I read David’s cry for mercy and I was suddenly allowed to join the song of not being okay. It’s okay to hate disease. It’s okay to love people so much so that your bones and your soul actually ache. It’s ok to walk 3 miles and cry. It’s okay because the greater truth is that we’ll be okay. The greater truth is that our Maker, our good, good Maker built emotion into our DNA and is able to handle all of mine, which of late is astounding. Our sovereign Healer is able to see and understand disease and the outcome, and I can trust that. I can trust that He gives respite to the weary, and comfort to the afflicted. And even when we ache and scream and question, He is King and in Him is reprieve.
Friends, I pray for you to be comforted today. If you are here with me in the Land of Lament, light a candle and settle in with Jesus. He’s here too.