I have to think that there are times in every single person’s life when they walk to the edge of heart-stopping anxiety and wild-eyed fear over the unknown that lies ahead.
Perhaps the precipice is the craziest of thrill rides at an amusement park, but at least that one is temporary.
Perhaps the crag is the terror felt when a loved one or our own self faces diagnoses yet undetermined and tests to ascertain some inkling of information, the trail that would lead to solving the medical mystery and a prayer-full-y positive outcome.
We came close to the edge of that cliff a couple of times last year when one of our daughters developed unusual and somewhat alarming, yet unrelated symptoms several times within a few weeks. And then when IVs and MRIs were needed for one instance to answer questions, and five pediatricians and three pediatric specialists couldn’t unravel the second mysterious issue or resolve worsening problems for a week… it’s enough to make a mama heart anxious and worried. And God’s grace and mercy were at work, even when I doubted.
Sure, we had also hustled the path to x-rays a couple times for the other girls to figure out if they had broken legs or hips in sled-riding accidents, which thankfully were just jarred terribly and painfully. And we had raced to the dentist when one girl caused mouth trauma by landing face-first on the arm of the couch, knocking out and loosening multiple teeth and slicing up lips. Yet throughout all of those situations, God’s mercy-full hands were upon our littles and at work.
I’ve had several close calls over the years too – being diagnosed twice with leukemia or lymphoma (I forget which as I was elementary-age, and that feels like a lifetime ago), nearly paralyzing myself twice after a pool diving incident and when a tree fell on my head. Thankfully, God’s divine providence had something else in mind – rare extra ribs above my collarbones that were mistaken as cancerous lymph nodes and a few broken teeth instead of broken necks and spines. God has been gracious. And beyond mercy-full.
But none of it could compare to the awful, gut-punching, heart-wrenchingness we just experienced this week.
A lump where lymph nodes live on our little girl, barely six years old.
A lump we didn’t remember before and couldn’t tell how long it had existed as is.
A lump defined by a nurse practitioner and a doctor as a cyst or a mass, possibly needing surgery and specialists.
A lump that could be cancer.
And while nothing else was detected in other lymph node locales, little else sinks into a daddy’s or a mama’s brain quite as quickly or as harshly as the thought that that sweet and spicy child might face a difficult and unpredictable future.
It’s truly amazing how rapidly you can search information online and in medical books, trying to glean something, anything, that would shorten the hours between the what-could-be and the calls to set up a test, never mind the longer hours until another day and the sorrow-swallowing waits. It is truly amazing how unbelievably long a few days can suddenly become, even when you try to speed it along by cramming time full of things to busy oneself and one’s littles.
And it is truly amazing how frantically and desperately your brain can race through every possibility of what lies ahead, can analyze the hushed out-of-room conversations between the nurse practitioner and the consulting doctor, can relive every touch they made to glean something good from too little information, can squeeze every iota of every heart cell into false bravery for a gorgeously long-lashed brown-eyed babe who should never have had to hold the lemons life has handed to her in the past year.
For sometimes you just cannot and should not turn every one of life’s lemons into lemonade.
Sometimes, you just need to hold them and wait until they are fully ripe before you can determine the next step.
Because sometimes, lemonade isn’t what’s next. Sometimes we just don’t need ingenuity and determination to face whatever adversity lies ahead by altering what is present right now. Sometimes we just need to be present with what is present.
The need to overanalyze every minutia of every possibility or probability does not make for good lemonade. In fact, it leaves much sour and bitterness behind it.
It is in allowing the lemons to ripen fully, waiting patiently (or impatiently in my case pretty much every time). It is in allowing the flavors to fully mature and the juice to be tartly vibrant, trusting that each burst of tangy zips and sips will be what they will be, when the time is right. It is in allowing God’s grace and mercy to sweeten what it may, whenever that may be.
For our little girl does not have to make lemonade from her lemons.
We do not have to face cancer’s clammy grip on her beautiful life. Thank you, God. Thank you for overwhelming us with Your sweet grace and Your sweet mercy upon her.
But for too many people, this has not been the case. I visited one such family a few weeks ago and kissed a forehead almost claimed by cancer’s unquenchable thirst. In the past year, my girls and I mourned the losses of several friends’ relatives, taken beyond too soon by that same insatiable beast.
And then making lemonade from life’s lemons seems like the only thing left to do. To make the best of the road ahead. To relish and enjoy every moment of every sunrise and sunset spent together when extra time is an absolute blessing. To grieve and break a million zillion times over in fumbling, struggling attempts to find some semblance of life afterward.
And that lemonade can never be sweetened enough, even when we one day recognize God’s grace and mercy at work throughout the journey. Nothing can ever replace the loss. No one can ever undo the pain. The void and the bittersweet aftertaste remain.
Over my lifetime, I have lived and loved a hundred and more heartbreaks for friends and loved ones who were inexplicably called Home by what some could perceive as a gluttonous God. I’m sure you have lived and loved similar heartbreaks too.
And grace and mercy feel so far, far away. And answers to why are much farther still.
But we are not being tortured by a gluttonous God or a covetous God or a jealous God, who only wants the ones we don’t want to share with Him. Absolutely not.
We are loved beyond measure by the God of the broken and of brokenness. Not tortured by Him. Loved.
For He Himself was broken into a million zillion pieces, just like us. For no other reason than for love.
Take communion some time. Listen to the words that are spoken.
Jesus’s body. Broken for you.
Jesus’s blood. Poured out for you.
Every single time one of us takes of the bread, He is broken again. And again. And again.
Every single time we drink from the cup, His blood is shed again. And again. And again.
What if the lemons we think that life is handing us, those ones we sometimes think we should turn into lemonade, are actually His body and His blood?
What if we are actually being invited into Jesus’ innermost circle, the ones who are called to share in His brokenness, in His suffering, in His sacrifice?
What if we are actually being pulled into His cruciform and cross-wide embrace, His battered and bloodied presence, His shattered and pierced countenance?
Not because He wants to hurt us or cause us to suffer or bring about death and grief and pain.
But because He wants us to know that He understands and that He has walked the same path to the edge of the most awful of precipices and that He has faced the most brutal of sentences.
A million, zillion times over. And then some.
Broken. A million, zillion times over. And then some.
Not because God’s grace and mercy couldn’t have saved Jesus from death or suffering. But because God’s grace and mercy never left Jesus in His death and suffering.
And don’t think that life’s lemons are invitations to a lemonade stand.
Think of them as lessons in trust and patience. Even when either trust or patience or both are not the lessons or the lemons you want to be partaking. Lessons that God’s timing is infinite and mysterious, and ours is not.
Think of them as broken steps with a broken God, whose grace and mercy may not always seem like they are evident, but whose grace and mercy and even love will always be present. Whether you want it or not. Whether you know it or not.
A million, zillion times over. And then some.