Anyone who knows me knows Spring is my favorite season of all. I'm revelling in all the colors and sounds and smells of it and being able to wear my flip-flops again, being able to take walks around the neighborhood with my family. Spring gives me renewed energy and hope.
But while I enter my most favorite season of the year, my dear, sweet mom is entering yet another new season. When I saw her on the night of our Seder, she was weak and quiet, but clear--reading her portions of Scripture distinctly. When I saw her two days later, she was confused and troubled. She couldn't gather her thoughts, and she didn't make a lot of sense when she was talking. I asked her to clarify something, and she looked like she was going to cry and said, "I don't know. I'm not sure anymore. I get so confused."
After Easter, while she was at home, she got out some books about heaven people had given her in order to bring her comfort. She got so confounded by the text that she somehow thought heaven isn't real; it's all just an illusion.
She got so upset that the hospice nurses and doctor came to examine her--first they thought she merely wasn't getting enough oxygen, but now they believe that cancer has spread to her brain. She wears oxygen now most of the time, and she's on increased morphine and painkillers.
I've increased my visits to her to multiple times a week for much shorter periods. My heart has been so heavy and frustrated, and honestly, sort of mad that of all the things that should be taken from my mom it is her hope of heaven. Why that? Why?
I drove to her house yesterday with all sorts of things on my mind, things to say to her to reassure her that heaven is real and that she is definitely going there, things to help her marshal her arguments and shore up her faith.
When I got there, my dad left us alone for awhile and she began to talk. Any of what she says now is extremely rambling and difficult to follow. Sometimes her speech gets garbled up, and her mind skips from topic to topic.
It's like within the space of a few days, someone reached down and removed the essence of "Mom" and left this poor, little, bewildered stranger in her place.
Some of what she said to me was, "I can't talk to anyone about this. I can't tell anyone about all my fears, about all my doubts. Everyone wants me to be happy. They say I'm spoiling my last time here on Earth with the Lord. The people they know who have died were just so happy to go to heaven. I can't tell them about this. I have this thing," she plucked at her oxygen tube fretfully, "and they've got me on all this medicine; I'm so confused now. I don't understand what's happening to me." And her eyes filled with tears.
When she said that, it was like a holy eraser came down on my mind and removed all my carefully wrought arguments about heaven that I had brought for her, and what came out instead was this--"Oh, Mommy," I told her, "you know how earlier in your life when you'd have the stomach flu? And you aren't having your best devotions or singing and praying then; all you can do is just lie down on the bathroom floor and pray to die, it feels so awful. Well, that's how it is now, except worse, for you. You don't need to be having some glorious time with the Lord. He remembers that we're just dust. He has so much pity on us."
"He does, doesn't He," she breathed, as a look of relief washed over her face. "Praise Him. Praise God."
"And you don't have to have heaven all figured out either," I added. "The Bible tells us that our human minds can't even imagine what it's going to be like. So it's OK to be confused about it."
"Tell me that again," she pleaded.
"The Bible says, 'Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him,'" I repeated for her. "You don't have to understand it. It's OK to be confused. You can't help it."
"I can just rest in Jesus, can't I?" she asked. "He'll figure it out for me, won't He?"
I reassured her that He would. "Jesus stands in our place and pleads for us, Mom; you don't need to worry."
"That's the one thing I've never wavered on," she went on, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. "Jesus. Jesus. Jesus." she whispered. "I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior..."
In a few minutes she tried to tell me the entire plotline of Oliver Twist, which is confusing enough on its own without being fueled by morphine. I finally convinced her to rest and that I needed to go. As I hugged her goodbye and told her I loved her, she searched my eyes and begged, "Don't feel bad, Baby. Please don't feel bad."
"I don't feel bad, Mom," I lied.
I drove home, worn out, feeling bad, yet strangely peaceful. Today I've been listening to one of my favorite hymns of all time, over and over. The second verse says, "Hitherto Thy love has blessed me, Thou has brought me to this place / And I know Thy Hand will lead me safely home, by Thy good grace / Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God / He to rescue me from danger, bought me with His precious blood."
I learned something completely new through this. Christians talk about "dying well," about running the race to win...about entering Glory victoriously, breaking the tape with arms outspread. But it might not happen that way. We don't all get to go out in a chariot of fire. Some of us stumble and fall on our way there. Sometimes we get cancer that eats up our bodies and our minds while our families look on, helpless. It's ugly and it's sad, and it doesn't end with us glorying in the hope of heaven. It's just darkness and drugs and confusion and pain.
But at the end of the day, it's not about all our efforts. It's all about Him. At best, in our weakness, our Almighty, merciful Father finds us falling before His throne, begging and pleading for the Son of David to have mercy on us.
Then Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, goes out to find that one poor lamb that wandered away--so confused and lost--picks it up in His scarred hands, and carries it gently Home by His good grace.
Praise His name, I'm fixed upon it. Praise Him.