Monday, January 31, 2011

Stopping at the Stop Signs

A few years ago, I was driving home from work within a residential area, before I got to the highway. Suddenly, I saw the dreaded lights flashing in my rearview mirror. And you know in a residential area, it's pretty much you they're stopping, not racing aside to get to someone else.

I pulled over, and an officer came over to my window.

"Did you know you just completely blew off that stop sign back there?" he asked.

"No, I didn't, I'm really sorry," I told him.

"I mean, you just blew through it," he said. "You didn't even slow down."

"I'm so, so sorry," I said again. "I honestly didn't see it." I was too ashamed and too smart to add that I had been driving through this residential area twice a day on work days for the past several years.

He looked in the back of my car where my two babies were and said, "I'll let you off this time, but try to watch what you're doing." He leaned his head in and said to Lucy, who was about 2, "Don't tell Daddy that Mommy got stopped by the policeman, OK?"

A couple of weeks ago, we started the spring semester women's Bible study at our church. Here's what we're doing:

The challenge for the next 9-10 weeks is to step up our faith, to not just believe in God, but flat out believe Him. Believe He is who He says He is and that He'll do what He says He'll do. In the first session, we learned that the Israelites were asked to wear blue tassels on their garments to set them apart and to show that they believed God. For at least the length of our study (I have a feeling I'll do it much longer), I'll be wearing this--a specially-made Believing God bracelet--as a reminder to me that I'm asking for my faith to be stretched and increased.

There is homework for each day during the week, and then there is one portion to save for the end of the day called "GodStops." This is a time to write down all the ways that day that, according to the book, "any means by which God seems to go out of His way during your day to make Himself known to you." Stop stands for "Savoring the Observable Presence."

The book goes on to say, "Don't be discouraged if you don't observe evidence of His presence every day. Some days are so hectic that we don't look up enough to notice that the world is still turning--let alone notice the One who is turning it!"

As soon as I read that, I sighed in relief. "That's me," I thought. "I know I really won't have many or any GodStops because I am just kind of freaking out right now. Every day I look at my calendar, and it's filled. All I want to do at the end of the day is turn out the light and fall asleep because I know I'm just back on the treadmill tomorrow. So...GodStops will just be off my radar for this study."

Fortunately, God stopped me right there and reminded me that this is exactly what the study is about. Increasing my faith. Believing Him. And maybe I'm cruising around so fast that there are GodStops all the time, and I'm just blowing through them without noticing. So, that became my prayer for this study: "God, show me the stop signs because I'm just not seeing them without you, and I know they're there."

All of a sudden, they're everywhere. They're in something I previously would have said was a coincidence. They're in something I previously would have taken credit for myself (ouch). They're in the birds that stop at the feeder outside my kitchen window or when I got up the other morning and stood outside Lucy and Elaine's bedroom door. Usually in the mornings they get along about as well as Sylvester and Tweety, but there they were, laying in bed in the dark and singing Chris Tomlin's "How Great is Our God" together.

Then last week the phone rang, and it was the hospital. Somehow when you see their name on the caller ID, it's never a good sign. Either you owe a big bill or you're going to owe one. They were calling because they found something in the mammogram I had done the week before, so I would need to come to the breast cancer center to get a more extensive mammogram and an ultrasound.

I'll tell you now that if you get that call, the majority of cases turn out to be nothing--overlapping tissue, a calcium deposit, whatever. But for me, it feels like my aggressive genetics are stopping by to say hello.

You know that poem, "Snake" by Emily Dickinson?

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

"Zero at the bone" about covers it.

So I drove the hour and a half to the breast cancer center, which was next door the building where I used to go so happily every month, then every week for my pre-natal appointments. I checked in and sat down and looked around. There were women of varying ages in the waiting room, no one spoke, and we were surrounded by pamphlets: pamphlets of information, pamphlets of smiling women in headscarves, and I kept thinking, "He knows how scary it is to be us."

I had my exam and then was moved to another waiting room. Time seemed to slow down to slow motion. I noticed everything around me: the stirrers at the coffee station. The box of Kleenex and the money plant on the table. The fact that the other woman in the waiting room was reading a David Baldacci book, but the dust jacket was upside down.

They called me in for the ultrasound and gave me a warm blanket because the room was so cold. The ultrasound took a long time. The technician and I were both quiet, intent on the images on the screen, until I said, "The last ultrasound I had was for my second daughter. It was two days before she was born, and all of a sudden, she gave us a big smile. The technician caught that shot, and we have that picture. She's been smiling at us ever since."

Finally she was done and left the room, telling me that eventually a doctor would come in to talk with me. I laid there in that cold room, the blanket no longer warm, and thought, "I will accept this God, without murmuring, if this is what You have for me to do." Then I tried to go through a mental list of my index cards with my verses on them. I fingered the blue beads on my bracelet. After awhile, and I'm not sure if it was a long time or if it just seemed like a long time, my mind fell back on the old standbys I know so well they're imprinted on my heart--the 23rd Psalm. The Lord's Prayer. The Apostles' Creed. And I was went through them, images kept clicking through my mind.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for Thou are with me...
...Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...

I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting...

Finally the door opened, and the doctor came in.

"Mrs. Daniels?" he said, with an Indian accent. "You are clear. I do not find anything. You are free to go until next year."

Heart stop.

You are free to go.


As I drove home (and you know I had the praise music cranked), my mind was full of the day and the verses and the thought of seeing my husband and my girls when I got home. I knew that though I was by myself in that hospital, I had never been alone, not even for a second. I knew that whatever the outcome had been, it still would have been a GodStop moment. I knew that at a different time in life, I might receive a different verdict. I knew that while I was on that exam table, I had savored the Observable Presence.


Melanie said...

Oh, Alice, thank God! I'm so glad you got good news. Sending you love and hugs!

Cindy said...

Praise God you are fine!!!

mae said...

I'm so thankful you are alright. I know that it was a hard day for you and am thankful the Lord was there with you the whole time.

Laura Brown said...

Great news about the exam! I liked this post a lot.