See Part 1 here.
The Morning After
“They found a tumor in my mom.”
It’s only seven words long. There’s only one word in that sentence with more than one syllable (two). I’m a trained broadcaster who has appeared on news shows during my time aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
None of that mattered. Each time I tried to get that phrase out, I broke into tears before I could finish.
I stumbled into work exhausted. I saw my command chaplain first. Then my boss saw me and asked how I was. I’d been sick the week before, but I knew he had to know what was going on. My boss offered to tell my team, but I’d made a promise to God. I promised God that I’d testify, and I knew I had to start with the people with whom I work.
I was so happy to hear that this tumor was operable. I was so grateful to God for making this a situation that could be handled. None of that changed how much it hurt to know the woman who raised me was going to have brain surgery. None of that changed how much it hurt to be in that position to begin with.
But I made a promise to God.
I’d sent a message via our team group chat. Everyone showed up to meet me and hear what I had to say. Even my chief and senior chief were there. I had to say the words again.
“They found a tumor in my mom.”
I couldn’t do it. Even as I’m typing this, it’s hard to do, and if I had to say it out loud, I still doubt I could do it.”
“I promised God that I’d testify about this,” I said. “I don’t want this to be about how bad it is. I want it to be about praising.”
I’m not honestly sure how intelligible the comments were. I wept through the entire thing, trying as hard as I could to show how grateful I was to God for making this problem one that could be managed.
“They’re going to go in and take it out,” I said. “It’s small. They can fix it, and I want to thank God for making that possible.”
I pulled it together for a few more minutes to explain what was happening. I also made it clear that what I needed most was to focus on work. I’m not a doctor. My mom had more than enough support and loved ones already there with her. There was nothing for me to do.
My mom has taken care of me my whole life, and in that moment, I was powerless to do anything. When I feel that way, and I have before, what I need is something I can do. I had assignments to grade, so that gave me something, anything to focus on other than this surgery.
I finished telling everyone what was going on, and one of my coworkers came and gave me a hug. That was it. I didn’t have any more strength. I must have wept like a child for a solid three minutes. I’m positive I covered the shoulder of her outfit in tears. I couldn’t do it. She held me up as my other coworkers came to offer me a pat on the back. I needed the outlet. I needed those three minutes to feel the sadness I was trying desperately to hold in.
On one hand, I was just trying to be strong. I wanted to be focused. On the other hand, I didn’t want to give the impression that I didn’t still believe God would see this through. I knew it then, and I still know it even now as I type this. I wanted to show this calm demeanor that reflected my certainty that God was with us, but I was a boy who’d just learned his mom was going to be operated on.
To give a bit more scope, I’m arrogant. I’d frequently told my friends how long-lived my family is. I’d say, “I know I’m going to see 80.” Before that phone call the day before, I had no doubt. My mom is 69 as I type this. I didn’t think I’d have to worry about anything for at least another 10 years. A part of me thinks, This is what I get for thinking I know how things will go.
I eventually pulled myself together. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m going to grade some students.”
I grabbed my students’ folders and headed off to the room in which I could grade. My coworkers were amazing. They didn’t talk about it. They didn’t ask how I was. They didn’t ask how she was. Every time my phone buzzed, I’d look at it to see what was happening, and they’d just keep working. They gave me a sense of normalcy. Listen, no one is perfect. I’m sure I annoy each of them at least as much as they frustrate me now and then. We have differences of opinion. But that day, their ability to work like it was any other day allowed me to pretend it was.
Then I got another text.
“They can’t remove the whole thing without hurting her.”
I walked in that morning certain that there was this small tumor in my mom that they’d “yank out like a thorn” and move on. They were working on the swelling. They wouldn’t be able to operate until later that evening. However, they’d pull what they could out, do some tests, and handle the rest after that.
I was still confident it would work out, but it wasn’t going to be over quickly.
Questions and Revelations
I thought you said God would fix it?
He will. And Oh boy did I want him to fix it in one day. A year from now I’d sit with my Mom while playing cards and say, “Hey, remember that night you got that tumor? Yeah, that was a real tough night. Wasn’t it cool they just plucked it out and called it a day?” Thing is, God doesn’t work on anyone but God’s schedule. At this point in this trial, I kept thinking about the Israelites from Exodus to Deuteronomy. I’d just read those books of The Bible, so it was fresh. God pulls these people out of Egypt. They were slaves, crying out for salvation. God heard them and performed miracle after miracle to bring those people out of Egypt. About three chapters later, they’re already complaining. “Why did we leave Egypt if we weren’t going to have food? Why did we leave Egypt if we weren’t going to have water?” They were promised a land of milk and honey, and they wanted that land now.
Like I said, I’d just read those books, so all the information was pretty fresh. Something told me complaining to God about his schedule was a bad idea. Each time the Israelites complained or turned away, they were made to wait. Heck, even Moses was never actually allowed to set foot on the promised land.
I figure some might argue, “What a petty God. He punishes his people just for complaining.”
He rewards faith, and punishes doubt and distrust. At least, that’s my interpretation. Also, these people were slaves, but they want to turn away from the God who saved them from that life to return to slavery just because they have to stay in the desert a few months and build some stuff? That sounds like some pretty petty people to me.
Think about it. Do you have children? Did you ever give your kid some candy? What did you do if that kid then complained he or she wanted a different candy or that the candy given wasn’t big enough or as big as a sibling’s candy? Well, if you’re me, and you saw a kid complain about what it was given, you took it. Ask my little sister and every nice and nephew I have. Complain that what you have isn’t good enough, and watch me take that. Now said person understands that what they have is something that should be appreciated.
Maybe you’re a better parent/uncle than I am. Maybe you found some way to help the child see how what they have is better than what others have. (For the record, I’m not saying I went straight for yanking said candy (or other gift) away, but I got there eventually.) But I’ve done it, and I’ve seen it happen. Yes, God is far better and far more effective, but I’ve always considered him my Heavenly Father. He raises me to be the man I should, and if I get selfish or over demanding, he shows me just how much I already have.
If I’m being honest, I’m less afraid of him taking my mom if I lament this trial than I am concerned that I want to show God how much faith I have in him. That morning, I committed to the idea that, “The harder this gets, the more I’ll believe, and the more I’ll praise him.”
Is it wrong of me to have wanted this over quickly?
I don’t think so. I’m human. I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like worrying. I don’t like being afraid. I aspire to reach a point in my faith where I can truly just let go of my troubles and trust God. I’d like to get there one day, but I’m not nearly there right now. I’m a worrisome, control-oriented person. I believe that to change, one must do. I believe that there’s always something to do to make a situation better. Maybe what I’m learning right now is sometimes there isn’t a choice. Sometimes you’re powerless, weak and out of things to do. So have faith.
Frankly, this is hard for me. The faith part isn’t so hard. I still firmly believe this is all going to work out. I still have faith it’ll happen.
But what am I going to do about it? How am I going to fix it?
Nothing. I’m not. God will. He’ll work through doctors and medicine, but this is in his hands, and I don’t like feeling powerless. I honestly look forward to the day I think, It’s fine. God will handle it, and then I sit back and let him.
I’m not saying people should just sit around waiting for God to fix their problems. I’m currently trying to struggle to balance the concept of free will with God’s plan. I don’t have any answers. My current theory is God provides opportunity. Sure, he’ll part the Red Sea, but he worked through Aaron (he actually thrust the staff down; the movie lied). But he didn’t just teleport the Israelites to the promised land. They had to journey there. They had to cross the sea, trusting God would protect them.
I’m reading the Stormlight Archive. It’s wonderful, and in it there’s this ideal. Journey before destination. If God had just teleported them, what would they have learned? I mean, they were already complaining about their situation; imagine what they would have said if they realized they had to conquer their promised land if they hadn’t have gone through what they did during that journey?
Yes, I would have greatly appreciated a few bad nights and then it would be over. But already I’m learning. I’ll talk about some examples in future editions, but I’d already mentioned Carlie. She’s grown more now as a woman and a person than I’d ever seen her grow. I won’t pretend to know her mind or opinion, but I think she’d rather grown in less painful circumstances, but I came to rely on her so much in those first three days. The circumstances we learned that fact in were terrible, but knowing how much I can count on her is equally encouraging. The journey is what changes us. I hope my journey will end soon, but for now, all I can do is take the next step, trusting God will be with me.
So what did you do while you waited?
I went to Trivia night with my friends and my girlfriend. Why? Because that’s what I do on Wednesday nights. Normalcy is precious to me. The more afraid or confused I get, the more I seek my routine for comfort. I was surrounded by friends, and just like at work, they weren’t reminding me of the thing I was trying very hard to trust God to handle.
How afraid were you?
At that point, I was still pretty hopeful it would be over quickly. I was worried. But even now my faith is unchanged. The concern is there. The pain is real. I’m just hopeful that my faith and trust in God are more apparent than my concern and hurt. I won’t pretend they don’t exist, but I don’t want them to be the focus of my attention.
If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog. I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.
Thanks for reading