August 27, 2014
Feast of St. Monica
“The Lord is near, have no anxiety at all.” Philippians 4:6
Elise and Jason with their family
Three weeks ago I was stunned and grieving over news about our precious thirty-five-year old friend Elise, who was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer. The mother of five young children, she wrote in a letter to our church community that the thought of her children is “the one thing that makes me cry.” I couldn’t stop thinking about Elise and her mother, Denny, who’s been a friend of our family for years. I kept imagining how much Denny’s heart must hurt for her daughter, knowing all too well how a mother’s heart aches for her hurting children.
Never could I have predicted that within days, my own twenty-six-year old son-in-law Grayson, the husband of my daughter Gaby and father of their three young sons, would be diagnosed with Stage 1 testicular cancer. He went to the doctor after finding a growth, spurred on by Gaby to make haste after Elise’s diagnosis.
Gaby and Grayson with their boys
Following the doctor’s evaluation a week ago, Grayson underwent surgery to remove what had been preliminarily diagnosed as a cancerous tumor. I flew up to South Carolina the day before his surgery to be with them and help with the kids. The biopsy confirmed that the tumor was indeed cancerous, and we were told that Grayson would probably need invasive surgery in Indiana to remove the lymph nodes along his spine. He will see the oncologist for the first time today to determine his treatment plan, which will likely include chemotherapy, in addition to surgery, to bring him to what is expected to be a full recovery. Meanwhile we wait and we pray. And pray and pray and pray.
Today is the Feast of St. Monica, the mother of the great St. Augustine, who also prayed and prayed and prayed. Her intense suffering and years of tears were matched only by her determination to win her son’s conversion to Christianity, which she eventually did in spades. It was St. Monica who famously said: “Nothing is far from God.” Not wayward sons, nor cancer, nor any dreaded diagnosis. It took me a few days, plus a wrestling match with God, to remember that truth last week.
I woke up in South Carolina the morning after Grayson’s surgery beset with grief and fear as I anticipated the yet-unknown outcome of his biopsy, as well as its ramifications for his young family. Thankfully, their parish church has Eucharistic Adoration every Tuesday, and I was able to steal away for an hour to drag my heavy heart to the Lord.
“What in the heck is going on, Lord?” I began angrily. “You know how much trauma our family has been through!” I continued with frustration. “Enough is enough! Didn’t you get the memo that our period of suffering is over?” I complained to God for most of the hour while He listened patiently. Then He politely reminded me of the meaning of faith.
“Faith is a participation in God’s own self-understanding,” I heard the words I’ve spoken in lectures many times coming right back at me. “Trust that I am love, and that I will only work this situation for good,” God gently nudged. In that very moment, I turned toward God in trust, asking for the faith to see the entire situation through His perspective, instead of through the lens of my own fear of suffering. Immediately, peace came. Not by magic, but by grace. Not through some worldly formula for happiness, but by way of heartfelt surrender to a Father who loves me, and all of my children and grandchildren, infinitely more than I do.
Nothing is far from God. That’s a message bears repeating over and over again. St. Monica, who spoke those words of profound faith and trust, pray for us.