Like a Lake

About a month ago, I was at Toledo Bend, staying in a beautiful lake house with Jenny and her family. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen that weekend--cooking, eating and cleaning (as much as Brian and Jenny would allow). The open floor plan gave way to a spacious living area, which featured large bay windows displaying a wide expanse of water sprawled outward below an endless sky. I did most of the meal prep from the kitchen island so I could easily talk with my friend and keep an eye on the water.

 The lake called to me as if the white caps contained hidden messages. The tongues of its miniature waves sang secret songs as they tasted the earth of the shore. All weekend long, I kept looking to the water as if it would help me to gather my thoughts and steady my spirits.

It was a hard and beautiful weekend. Soon after writing about our God-ordained encounter, Jenny's doctor unexpectedly "timelined" her, giving her only a few months to live with or without treatment. Before that weekend, she had taken one round of chemo, which was awful for her. All I wanted in the world was to be there for my friend. Originally, I had intended to travel to Houston, to Jenny's home, and help her with household tasks, but she suggested we meet halfway at her father-in-law's lake house instead. Rather than cleaning, doing laundry and cooking meals, Brandon and I were on vacation with good friends. It would have been perfect had it not been for the huge, ugly elephant in the room. (If I did not passionately hate cancer before, I definitely do now.)

To our credit, we managed to talk of things unrelated to Jenny's health struggle. We learned a lot about one another, enjoyed the kids, shared old photos and ate really well. But when there is an elephant in the room, you occasionally bump into it whether you want to or not. There were sighs. There were tears. Then there were moments so perfectly bittersweet and glorious that they took my breath away. And the lake witnessed them all.

Against the magnificent backdrop of the water, I watched Brandon bond with Brian and Benjamin. What I witnessed bloom between them whispered tales of long friendship regardless of what the future holds. I have never been so thankful that God blessed me with a pretty singing voice as I was when I pulled out my hymnal given to me by my Grandmommy (who was taken by breast cancer in 2003), and sang my favorite hymn--"Be Still My Soul"--to Jenny out on the back porch against the uneven, rocking chair rhythm of Toledo Bend finding its end on the shore. On Saturday night, Jenny, the kids and I headed to the boat dock to get a front row seat to the spectacular sunset. The wind tossed and pulled at us as layers of clouds, each with distinct personality, danced among the rays. It lasted and lasted, taking on different shapes and hues--one moment the sun wore a brilliant halo, the next it wore a scarlet crown, angles of light vaulting off his brow like starbursts which the lake caught in her giant bosom. The colors glowed richer and warmer until the great ember rested his head on a bed of tall pines in the distance, and with a violet sigh, bid us goodnight. And I believe my favorite moment of the weekend took place on Sunday morning. Jenny and I prayed and took communion together. That day marks my most memorable communion experience to date.

 I led so awkwardly, but our hearts were so sincere. I had brought along rice crackers I had special ordered. For the first time in almost a decade, I took "the bread," and was momentarily taken off-guard by the sensation of crushing it with my teeth. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 came to mind--"We are pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." In the next thought, I recalled Isaiah 53:5--"He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities."Jesus was crushed, so we would never be more than pressed. He despaired so we would have hope. He was forsaken so we would always have God in our midst. He was destroyed so we could be salvaged.

In the shadow of cancer and timelines that are impossibly brief, it is easy to forget the victory Christ has won for us. It is easy to forget that we are not crushed, not forsaken, not destroyed. This is why Communion is such a gift--it reminds us of what was won for us and of the One who won it. If we could always keep the cross blazing at the center of our vision, we would never--for even a moment--despair.

In the spirit of honesty, I will confess that my weak little heart wanted to despair all weekend. It wanted to shield itself, fold inward like a cowardly rosebud afraid to face the open air, imagining itself to be safe in the hideaway of paper thin petals. My heart is frail, and it is also smart. While it still believes that Jenny will outlive her timeline and could very well beat this thing, it also knows it could be in for a mortal wound. (Our souls have been knit together, after all.) But taking that moment with my friend to remember the cross--to feast upon the sacrifice of Jesus--gave my yellow-bellied heart courage.....the courage Sara Groves musters in her song, "Like a Lake," which played on repeat in my mind all weekend as I took in the watery expanse of Toledo Bend--

"So much hurt and preservation
like a tendril round my soul;
So much painful information
no clear way on how to hold it.
When everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache,
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake,
wide open like a lake.

Standing at this water's edge
looking in at God's own heart,
I've no idea where to begin,
to swallow up the way things are.
Everything in me is drawing in
closing in around this pain.
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake,
wide open like a lake.

Bring the wind and bring the thunder;
bring the rain till I am tried.
When it's over bring me stillness.
Let my face reflect the sky,
and all the grace and all the wonder
of a peace that I can't fake--
wide open like a lake.

Everything in me is tightening,
curling in around this ache.
I am fighting to stay open.
I am fighting to stay open.
Open, open, oh wide open,
open like a lake."

In the last month, Jenny has undergone another chemo treatment, which was also terrible, and has chosen a new doctor at MD Anderson who specializes in her type of cancer. She begins a rigorous treatment schedule this week--she will receive chemo every two weeks until her body can't take anymore. As you can imagine, this will be extremely difficult for her and her family. Join me in prayer that the chemo will attack everything bad in her body, and leave all that is good. Pray that she will be given strength and courage and peace and all the things a person needs to face a trial this big. Pray for her sweet family--Brian, Benjamin and Juliet. Pray that she is able to have a joyous Christmas with her family. Ask the Lord to continue to give her hope. Hope is so very important.

I'm still holding out for a miracle--the big kind that ends with, "You're cured. Go home and enjoy life," but I do not know God's mind. He is far too knowledgeable, far too wild and unpredictable to guess at what He will do. However, I do know that He is good and that He has very specific purposes in mind which will ripple outward, extending far beyond our lifetimes. Trusting in His goodness, believing in His kindness and remembering His sacrifice which fulfilled every promise He ever made gives me the courage to fight--to pray from the vantage point of victory, to laugh with her about everyday life, to go to her with my comparatively miniscule trials without feeling petty, to encourage her in any way I can, and to hold my heart wide open.....

 Open like a lake.