I got sucked in today and for a few minutes there, I thought I might drown. Last night, I promised my three little girls that I would watch a movie with them this afternoon. I knew it was going to be rainy. All five boys were out of the house. I had a new embroidery project I was eager to begin. The girls were all excited about this movie and, well, I never watch movies. So I made a promise. I don’t make promises lightly and I don’t break promises. And those little girls know it.
They wanted to watch “We Bought a Zoo.” Sounded like good light-hearted fun to me. We were maybe three minutes into the movie and a I made a lame excuse and left the room. I was choking back tears. I called to my 15-year-old, Mary Beth.
“Have you seen that movie? I asked her.
“No…” she answered tentatively.
“The mom died. She was sick and she died. How much do they talk about the mom dying in that movie? Is it about that or do they just move on from here?”
“Mom, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. And besides the girlies watched it last night and loved it. Clearly, they weren’t bothered by the mom dying. They’re not scared of cancer. It’s not even on their RADAR.”
I know. But I am.
All the big kids know we don’t watch movies about moms dying of illnesses. They read <em>The Penderwicks</em> to each other, because I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. That mom was even named Elizabeth. I just can’t go there. Especially not in the last week of April.
Twenty-two years ago, during the last week of April, I was diagnosed with cancer. For the most part, I’ve moved on. My husband and I learned valuable lessons–we were two years married with a one-year-old baby at the time–and we are grateful for them. Cancer brought us to our knees and the Holy Spirit changed our lives forever. Mostly, it’s all a really good thing–I live very, very grateful for every day.
But with every spring, I remember tulips blooming outside the hospital and I remember wondering if I’d live to see them bloom again. I still do. Mostly, though, I focus on the gift and the opportunity of the day. And I avoid movies where the mom dies.
“Mommy,” came Karoline’s insistent wail from upstairs, “you’re missing the whole thing and it’s a true story!”
Great. A true story.
Mary Beth looked me square in the eye. “You have to watch that movie. You promised.
And I did. I watched the whole thing, much of it with my head down, staring intently at my needlework, trying hard not to let them see me cry.
Please, Lord, let them remember that I watched a movie with them on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon. Don’t let them remember that I nearly missed it because I was afraid. I want to leave a legacy of love, not fear.
I want my legacy to be one of hope, of living all-in for Jesus, of embracing His will for everything it’s worth. I don’t want perfect fear to cast out love.
But sometimes it does.
There’s an “I forgive you” I need to say, but I choke back the words, lest I be hurt again, much like the way I choke back my fearful tears. I am afraid to die to self and unclench my hand in friendship, just like I am afraid of recurrence of disease. And really, they are both deadly, pride and cancer. I miss the opportunity to extend mercy, to live for Him because I am afraid.
I see her struggling with stroller and dog and babe-in-arms, coming towards me on the sidewalk. Do I break my stride, turn down my iPod, and offer to push the stroller for her all the way home? Or do I cross to the other side of the street, too shy to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know? I remember the words of a spiritual director years ago. Shyness is vanity. It’s self-love. I have to die to self. I cannot be afraid to die.
There are moments every day when He asks me to die. Most of them are very little ones, like an offer of a helping hand to a young mom on a beautiful spring afternoon. Some of them are a little bigger, like the genuine forgiveness of a deep and painful wound. And every once in a great while, I am called to something big, to confront a life-threatening illness, to look my greatest fears in the eye and say, “I’ve got Jesus. He’s bigger than suffering and death, no matter what.”
Only by His grace can I do any of it, the big or the little. But do it I can. I have to. My children are watching. I promised them that we can do all things in Christ who strenthens us. They hold me to my promises. Always.