The Unpredictable Road - A Lesson from the Cross, Part 2
"Jennifer! Something is wrong with Linda…”
I remember the phone call as if it was yesterday. I stood in the kitchen, hearing, but not wanting to believe the words.
Words that tore through the plans we’d barely pieced together.
Words that shattered any remaining illusion of our control.
Words that reinforced just how powerless we were...
The Storm Before the Storm
Just two weeks before the phone call we learned my mother-in-law, who lived out of town and alone, had suffered a stroke. The next fourteen days were filled with confusion, anxiety, and disbelief as other serious and unexpected medical issues came to light. These new and worrisome findings, in addition to the stroke, required their own prompt attention. As she was a widow, my husband (her only child) shouldered the responsibility of navigating these complex waters with her. And this situation, difficult enough on its own and complicated by its setting in another state, was further challenged by its timing in the height of the COVID pandemic. Thanks to COVID restrictions we were unable to go to the hospital. We could not see her for ourselves or speak in person with her medical providers. Our only option was to wait by the phone for the infrequent hospital updates – an option that left us feeling helpless and in the dark.
After several days of this routine my husband traveled to his mother’s home to be with her when she got out of the hospital. The days that followed were quickly filled with multiple doctors’ appointments and varying opinions on the best course of action. Additional testing and procedures were needed, but their risk was great, and their ideal timing and location was unclear. One thing was evident though: My mother-in-law would no longer be able to live alone in another state. And this simple fact brought a new set of unanswered questions and differing – sometimes unsolicited – opinions. So many decisions needed to be made regarding her medical care and both her short and long-term housing. But not only did it feel like there were no good options before us, we quickly realized we didn’t even have most of the information needed to make any decisions.
Each possible scenario collided with unanswered questions:
What results would the additional testing reveal?
What effect would additional procedures have on my mother-in-law’s already fragile medical state?
What level of care would she require in the days, weeks, and months ahead?
And if she couldn’t live alone, where would she live?
It seemed that beyond planning for the next several days, we were paralyzed.
But as our ability to plan the future became more and more stunted, my desire to plan the future kicked into overdrive. I could focus on nothing other than how the next few days … few weeks … few months … and even the next few years would play out.
Would any scenario allow her to live alone, but with in-home sitters and nursing care?
Would she require the kind of care only found in a nursing facility?
Would these changes be temporary or long-standing?
Would others expect her to move in with us, and what would that even look like?
So many questions.
And no answers...
Nonetheless my mind raced through these scenarios nonstop, obsessively playing out each one as my stomach twisted into knots and my head pounded.
Details changed by the day, and every decision was a struggle. The situation was confusing. Filled with uncertainty. And emotionally exhausting. As our stress increased, I gradually turned to the one place I hoped would offer the Words and Peace my heart desperately needed: Scripture.
Now holding the Bible and taking a few deep breaths while trying to slow my racing brain was sort of helpful – but not nearly as helpful as the quick Google searches I began doing each morning! Fortunately, people much wiser than I have compiled lists of Bible verses about nearly any topic imaginable, and my search history soon reflected my daily hunt for verses that would speak life into my current struggle - be it plans, timing, unanswered questions, etc. Writing down at least one verse each day, I then kept it with me, rereading it each time I felt overwhelmed. And little by little, a small amount of His Peace began to seep in, slowly easing the anxiety that had threatened to drown me.
Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.
I became intentional about taking individual steps that would serve Him, as opposed to my own selfish desires, and on focusing only on the decisions right in front of me. And slowly … a few, tentative plans were made.
The Storm Intensifies
“Jennifer! Something is wrong with Linda…”
I felt myself split in two as I remained on the phone. The healthcare provider in me took over, asking questions before directing my husband’s aunt to call 911. But even as I reassured her I would stay on the line as she waited for EMS, every part of my inner being screamed in protest as I acknowledged the situation. From the call, I suspected my mother-in-law had just had another stroke, only two weeks after the first – a fact soon confirmed by the hospital. And despite my recent efforts to focus only on what would serve Him and what was right before me, it seemed the few plans we’d actually made - ones we were still struggling to accept - were falling apart. I felt angry. Defeated. Hopeless.
And the recent Peace in which I had begun to walk evaporated.
As the next few days progressed, the situation that was awful enough before, somehow grew even worse. We were again limited by the same COVID restrictions, but information from the hospital came even less frequently, and our list of unanswered questions grew. We gradually learned this stroke carried effects far more devastating than the first, and my husband was now faced with gut-wrenching choices we didn’t want to consider much less make.
The Storm Becomes the Cross
The road on which we traveled was not one we’d chosen. It was scary and painful. And each step only highlighted our powerlessness. Regardless, this undesired situation was ours to walk through. Each painful choice from which we wanted to run, was ours to make. And in this vein, the entire situation became a cross we were obliged to carry.
I recognize the cross is by its very nature, heavy, and this one was certainly no different. But in addition to the expected weight of worry and sadness, the unpredictability of this period somehow made it heavier, and I felt crushed by its weight. From the little details of my day, to the big picture goals for my life, I am a “planner.” And for my life and career goals, as well as the daily juggling of our four busy household schedules, this has served me well. But the constantly changing nature of this period prevented us from planning beyond the next step, and the few plans we were able to make simply fell apart.
And as they fell, I did as well.
The Unpredictable Road Ahead
Despite my longing, this journey did not come with a road map or schedule. We did not know whether our next step would lead to a speed bump or a mountain. We’d been asked to pick up the cross and carry it - yet we knew not where we were going or the course we'd travel to get there. We knew simply that each step we took somehow led us to rockier ground.
I cried out to God regarding the uncertainty of the situation and the unbearable heaviness of the cross. And as I did, I gradually came to understand the truth He wanted me to see: Over the years, I had slowly built my foundation upon my ability to plan the future. This had become the source of my security. I’d allowed my calendar, my goals, and my plans to deceive me into thinking I actually had control. But this difficult period highlighted clearly the fragility of a foundation built on plans.
Sitting with Him in prayer, I heard His gentle whisper:
Jen, I know you wish a road map was attached to this cross. But if you knew the destination, you would try to plan the route. If you knew what lay on the path before you, you’d look only to yourself and your resources to get through. And what I want most is for you to come to Me, so I can carry you through.
I’m not asking you to stand on your abilities, holding tightly to your plans, while you attempt to control the cross in front of you.
Lay down your plans. Let Me be the foundation you stand upon. And stay by my side, so we can shoulder the weight of the cross together.
Sitting with this longer I now see that NOT having a road map actually IS His blessing. Only one person has been strong enough to pick up His cross - while fully armed with the knowledge of all that would happen while holding it - and still carry it. And this person was Jesus. God Himself, made into flesh.
The missing road map is for my protection, not my frustration. It is part of His perfect design. Not meant to make my journey heavier ... rather, it is meant to drive me to Him, as I seek out His Strength, so He can become my foundation. For it is only when I stand on Him, as opposed to the shifting sands of self-made plans, that my heavy cross can be made light.
Another Storm on the Horizon
An unexpected finding on my father’s CT scan.
A myriad of tests and appointments and procedures.
Initial reassurance that everything is likely fine …
And then, roughly 6 weeks after the original scan, the word we didn’t want to hear. The diagnosis from which we wanted to run: Cancer.
But I hear His whisper:
Jen, I want you to trust Me. Let Me hold the details of all the ups and downs that lie on the road ahead. Allow Me to protect you by keeping both the details - and the outcome - of this journey hidden until I’ve prepared you to carry them. Still your mind. Stop searching for the road map. Loosen your grip on your plans. And let Me be your security and your foundation, because I will never fail you.
So, here I am. Trying to be intentional as I embrace the unpredictability of the road ahead. Trying hard to view it through the lense of His beautiful protection. And trying each day to give thanks for His willingness to carry every detail He knows I’m not yet ready to hold.
And praying, as always, that God breathes life into these words.
January 23, 1946 - May 27, 2020.
May your soul rest in eternal Peace.
as he begins treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center on June 14th.
(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)