I woke this morning to a message from a friend, “Savor the hard stuff.”
Not words she’d wanted to send. But words God had laid on her heart, clearly, unmistakably. Three times in thirty minutes. And on faith, she sent them to me.
“I LOVE you!” I immediately typed back, because she’d sent exactly the words I’d needed to hear.
Twice in two weeks, the phone had rung in the middle of the night, and I’d risen, pulled on jeans and fleecy socks, zipped my jacket against winter’s chill, and stepped out into the night.
As I slowly backed out of the garage on the first trip, snowflakes glittered in the headlights and crunched beneath the tires, and I thanked God aloud for heated seats.
The roads were empty for miles. Still and beautiful in the fresh falling snow. A world at rest. For I was alone on these usually busy roads, just me and a lone county salter, idle on the overpass, orange lights flashing.
Into the still, Matt Redman’s voice swelled in worship,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
O my soul,
Worship His holy name.
Sing like never before,
O my soul,
I’ll worship Your holy name.
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger.
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing,
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find…”
And I sang along, quietly, for this felt, somehow, like holy ground.
But not trip two. That night, those miles, I felt no peace.
Open your hands, I heard God speak to my heart.
“No, Lord,” I whispered, defenses rising, battle lines drawn.
Open your hands, I heard again, tenderly.
Nineteen years ago, I’d sat in pool of autumn sunlight, rocking this unborn son, and released him back to God. Eyes closed, sun warm, hands open, heart aching, I released my son to his Heavenly Father, thanking Him for every day my son stayed safely tucked inside me, for every beat of his tiny heart, for every lengthening contraction, every moment his stress lessened, for this was my son, and whether or not I ever held him in my arms, he would always be my son. Samuel Christopher. Asked of God. Bearing His image. Gift and priceless treasure.
What if I’m doing this for him?
Really??? How can this be for him? Any of this? I don’t even know how to pray anymore. What to ask. How to help. What to say.
Long-term illness is hard. There are no easy answers. No quick fixes. My son, who’d called in the middle of the night, wants nothing more than to be a “normal college student.”
But he’s been sick for five years. Came down with what we thought was the stomach flu on his brother’s birthday and never got well. And this inability to “leave that part of himself behind” when he moved to college is one more reminder of the constancy of chronic illness.
It goes with him wherever he goes. He can’t just leave it behind.
Open your hands.
Tears spilled as I tried to breathe, evenly, slowly, to still my racing heart as I pulled onto campus, winding along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan on this velvety cold night lit by an opalescent moon.
I love this campus, Lord. They’re so understanding. And kind. But this? This is hard. I long to wrap my arms around my son and hold him close. Protect him. Do something, anything, to make this better.
Heal him, Lord! Make him well! Oh, Father, please, I know you can!
But what if I’m doing this for him?
I shook my head and wiped my tears, breathing deep, forcing calm.
“I’m here,” I texted, waiting in the quiet. Minutes later my son walked through the door in his leather jacket, backpack slung over his shoulder, hamper of clothes in one arm, box of meds in the other, and slumped into the front seat.
“Hey, Honey,” I said, laying my hand his shoulder.
We pulled away in silence, enveloped by the night, as the first notes of Tenth Avenue North’s I’m Worn rose from the radio.
I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
“This,” he whispered in frustration, gesturing toward the radio, tears spilling from his eyes. And mine.
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn
I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
So, heaven come and flood my eyes
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn
Open your hands, I heard again. Open your hands. And lay your Isaac down.
“Oh…” I swallowed, a sob rising in my throat. “And savor the hard stuff?”
Yes. Savor the hard stuff. Enter the deep. For that is where treasure lies. Where dross is drained away and love roots deep, where self withers and trust grows, and we learn to abide.
Chiseled, sanded, pruned. Grafted to the Vine. Polished and refined.
The hard stuff. Where we learn to open our hands, open our hearts, and lay our Isaacs down.
I don’t know what the future holds. I only know that today we traveled back to campus to begin the medical withdrawal process for our son for this semester of college. Today the tears fell, in every meeting, as we spoke to our son’s friends, as we began to pack up his room, as we drove along the bluff.
And today the words came hard as I opened my hands. Opened my heart.
And laid my Isaac down.