It's not that unusual when everything is beautiful . . . It's just another ordinary miracle today. ~ Sarah McLachlan
Twenty-four years ago today, I very nearly lost my youngest daughter, Kelsey Brooke, to Cancer. The disease had silently been ravaging her tiny body over time in such a myriad of confusing ways that by the time she was officially diagnosed, on a Monday morning in the middle of July, it was almost too late.
As I held her on my lap while a different doctor than the previous three explained, sad-eyed and regretful, how dire her circumstances had become, clarity flooded over me, penetrating the numbing shock that was allowing a silent trail of tears to flow steadily even as I held myself together. It was not a sudden growth spurt that was causing the pain in her knees or excessive sleepiness. She had not been fighting a virus by which a healthy immune system would prevail over time. She had not been experiencing episodes of fleeting loss of consciousness due to the breath-holding, strong willed assertion of toddler syndrome. And there was a reason that the blood had seeped through the band-aids of her skinned knees when she fell off her tricycle . . . even as it saturated the cotton beneath the band-aid where a simple blood test had confirmed an expedited diagnosis thirty minutes before. It was Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and my little girl was dying.
She did not die, of course, as evidenced by the picture (above) of her praying over all of Romania in 2011 on a year long missions trip that would take her to a dozen countries on three continents. And there is more to the story than can be told in just a few pages. But people ask questions. And sometimes they stare hard after I answer a few, and after what I don't say. Like did she lose her hair? Yes. It came out in strands and clumps, and once as I was kneeling over the side of her to change the dressing on her chest catheter after a bath, a section of it stayed behind, caught under my knee on the floor as she got up to scamper off, a bare spot on the side of her head. Soon the bare spots became too painful to look at, and we just shaved her head. That was painful, too. But then it was over. Another question is how did you know? And I talk about the doctor's appointments. But the truth is that I knew. I just refused to entertain my own intuition. There was a moment in the midst of all the doctor's appointments and the common answers that my own voice echoed in my head one night after I had put her to bed. She kept getting out of bed, which was very uncharacteristic of her. And she had cried, and said, "But, Mommy, something's biting me." It was an odd statement, but stranger yet was my voice, the crystal clear thought that said "she has Cancer." And I was so horrified by it that I refused to answer, refused to acknowledge. But I knew. I was a young mother, and I knew nothing about Cancer, had never been around anyone who had it enough to know what I knew, but I knew. It was the voice that made me take her back to the doctor again. And again. And there is my least favorite question -- one that has always seemed ridiculously absurd to me, and that admittedly I get less and less as my friend set gets wiser: How could you possibly have have done that? . . . lived through that? How do you not do what's given to you to do? How do you stop living at the prospect that your child might not? You live harder, fight harder, love harder. And maybe I'm not qualified to say this, but I'll dare: If you lose the fight . . . if you lose your child . . . You have loved and lived and fought with all your heart could stand. And that's something that will carry you the whole rest of their life . . . and yours.
But here's another story I want to tell you. It's one that happened long before there was ever a need to answer those questions, and I think that it matters so much more. Soon after those initial moments in the doctor's office, somewhere in the haze, I remembered a day three years earlier when I had dedicated my daughter to Jesus Christ, recognizing His sovereign will in the life of the tiny little miracle that He had given to me . . . and "gave her back". . . promising her life to Him. It's a dance we Christian mommas have been doing with our God since before Samuel was raised in the temple: acknowledging our frailty and our weaknesses as human beings and asking for the grace to perform such a holy task. In other words, In case I screw this up, you've got my back, right, Lord? . . . That Sunday morning, she was exactly three weeks old, and what we knew about her so far was that she loved to sleep. Indeed, beyond her initial and frantic bug-eyed "put me back" anger in the ensuing moments after she was born, we had hardly seen her awake. She even nursed sleeping. But on this Sunday morning, I answered an altar call, carrying my sleeping baby to the foot of the cross with me. And as I prayed over her, supported by one arm over the steps of the altar and with the other holding her tiny-ness in its crook, something made me look down at her. She was looking up at me, wide-eyed and focused, complicit, almost . . . wise and knowing. I remembered this, and It occurred to me that He was asking me to make good on that promise . . . and although I stood firm, I did what any mother would have done. I begged, But, oh, God, please, please, can't I keep her? And I did. And we did.
Right this very minute, I can hear her outside my window playing with her niece, my granddaughter, who is visiting from Colorado. With my husband and my son in law, they are laughing and drawing giant sidewalk chalk pictures of Michigan and Colorado and all things in between. It's an ordinary thing, but it's a small miracle to me. Since January, my semi-retirement sabbatical has allowed me to spend Mondays with Kelsey in a kettle bell class. It's been brutal on this middle aged body that has been accustomed to spending a ridiculous amount of the day at a desk behind a computer. But a few Mondays ago, I got a particular joy as I lay in a puddle of my own sweat and a failed attempt at push-ups to look over and see her in a perfect plank, grinning widely at me . . . another ordinary miracle. I went back this past Monday with Kelsey, her sister, Brittany, and Mackenzie. I felt stronger that morning, surrounded by more miracles. I'll never stop thinking of them that way, because when you very nearly lose one child, the wonder of them all . . . the very wonder of the world, even, is magnified. I feel it strongest every July. Happy Middle of July.