When Grocery Bags Make You Cry

Okay, well maybe a couple times when I did the forbidden dance of grocery shopping before lunch and ended up purchasing all of aisle 7. That checkout total and buyers remorse made me a little weepy. But that's not what I'm talking about here.

This week has been a flood... of tears and of friendship and of God showing up in creative ways. I began my morning reading a She Reads Truth devotional written by the amazing Annie F.Downs. It was a post discussing how tears shouldn't be something we are so ashamed of, rather they should give us insight into what makes our heart beat. They should point us to the things that make our spirit come alive. It was a touching devotion and a great way to start my day. Little did I know, three hours later, after the coffee cup and breakfast plates were put away and the little one was dropped off at preschool, I would find myself crying into bags of groceries.

You see, I thought I had this whole "trust God in the tough times" thing figured out. We had been through and learned so much from our infertility and miscarriage. I thought that dark time gave me an advanced readers copy of the Handbook to Faith. What I didn't realize was that we never completely figure out faith. It's such a simple concept, yet is at times so hard to grasp on to. 

My own humanness gets in the way. I try over and over to manage the unmanageable. I am an engineer, a problem solver, by nature. The more complicated and impossible the maze becomes, the harder I fight to find the way through to the solution. That works fine with the normal day to day issues, but when your little sister is given a diagnosis that is by all medical standards, essentially a death sentence, I am at a loss.

After years and years of worsening and frustrating health issues, and test after test being performed, the doctors were finally able to diagnose my sister with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. MCTD is a very rare and serious auto-immune disorder. The past couple years have been a whirlwind of flare ups and pain, doctors and medications, and a whole-hearted attempt to slow the progress of the disease and ease her symptoms. Despite their best efforts, she has declined at an alarming rate, making it incredibly difficult for her to be a wife and mother to her three young sons. Days before facing her last-resort treatment, a chemotherapy drug, she received a huge answer to prayer and an opportunity to be Patient #1 in an FDA Trial for Stem Cell Transplants with auto-immune diseases. I was thrilled for her and for the hope this opportunity brings with it! Then I was completely blindsided when my years of building emotions hit me square between the eyes as the days approached for her to travel to the hospital where her procedure would be performed.

Our parents drove her halfway across the country to the hospital where her treatment would take place and as I texted back and forth with her on her long drive, I felt my anxiety building. With every mile they drove and every text I received, I became evident that she was getting that much closer to a procedure that would truly be the hope that would save her life. We were no longer talking about pain management, or how she was an amazing mom despite being so sick, or how there was another drug they could try if this one didn't work... we were now talking about her best chance at beating this thing or being resigned to her last resort treatment. All the cards were on the table now and the whole pot was pushed in towards the dealer. I couldn't run from it anymore. After one last text from her saying they had made it to their hotel and she was looking forward to a good night's rest before the procedure early the next more, I put my phone down and whispered to myself... "My God, I am so scared." For her, for me, for our parents, for her husband, for her children. I am scared.

Her procedure went well and she's back at home managing through a difficult recovery now. Though she is the first MCTD patient to receive this treatment, the doctors are hopeful that she will see some great improvements if not being cured over the coming months. (If you're interested, you can follow along with her updates here.)

Since she came home, I have been a mess. I snapped at my four year old the other day when she asked something silly like if she could have a popsicle before breakfast. As soon as the words were out, I realized just how angry I am. I am honestly ticked off that I'm even having to worry about this. I find myself lost in prayers, getting distracted with thoughts such as "Lord, she is an incredible mother, a loving and devoted wife, a small group leader, and just a beautiful woman of God. Why? Why does she have to suffer so severely? Why do her children have to be deprived of a mom that can run and play with them? Why does her husband have to work so hard and come home and work just as hard to take care of them all because she is so sick? Why can't it be me in her place? Why!!!" I try to pray for her healing, and despite my best attempts, I continually stop short of asking for the miracle because I am honestly terrified. 

What if that's not God's plan for her? In my head, I know the answers. I know God is always in control; His plans are perfect and His ways aren't to be questioned. I know He loves her and her family infinitely more than even I do. But my heart is having a hard time right now. 

But I do know, and trust, that He is faithful. We may not understand His ways, but we can still trust in them. I can trust that no matter what the future holds for my sister, she will never leave His loving grasp. Her boys and her husband will never leave His sight or be out of reach of His care. I also trust that God understands our humanness and our weaknesses that keep us from having true faith with no struggles. 

Six years ago, I came toe to toe with God and gave up my end of the fighting to have a baby. I had to face that it is God alone who was in charge of the problem solving, not me. I had to pray a truly honest prayer. Not one filled with fluff and words we know we should say; but rather the prayer that broke me and gave Him ultimate control. The prayer that told Him just how scared and angry and upset I was. I may not have the "Handbook of Faith" to rely on now, but what I do have is a personal history of His overwhelming love and grace and comfort. I do have assurance that He's big enough to see through my weaknesses to my heart and to know that I truly do want Him to heal my sister. He knows I am fighting to find faith in the midst of being afraid. So, yet again, I find myself back on my knees with a changed prayer. I'm not praying the "right words to say." I'm praying from my heart. I'm telling God that at some points, I'm too weak, too scared, to pray, but that I trust Him anyway. And just like before, that honest, no-holds-barred prayer is beginning to unleash a flood of His grace and comfort.

Grocery bags full of pantry items to be delivered to my sister began flooding in just two days after I had my heart-to-heart chat with God. Friends started stopping by with pot pies and casseroles and soups to stock her freezer and make life a little more manageable for her and her husband until she feels like cooking again. Friends called to ask how she was doing and stopped the mid-conversation to pray for her and for our families.

As I loaded the grocery bags up in my arms to bring them inside the house, I looked down into the shopping bag full of mac and cheese boxes, cream of chicken soups and sack of potatoes, and the tears began to flow. These weren't just grocery bags I was toting around and preparing to load up to deliver to her. These were bags full of prayers being offered up on her behalf. Prayers I wanted to bring myself to pray, but couldn't find the strength.

For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
— Romans 8:24-27

Friends, God is right in the middle of this situation. He is present and working and in control. He loves my sister more than I could even imagine. He loves me enough to provide incredible friends to offer up the prayers I can't bring myself to speak out loud. His Spirit is working through every single step of this and He continues to provide in the most creative of ways. Sometimes He even delivers stepping stones to faith in paper and plastic. His Spirit is present and moving when Godly friends take care of one another and their loved ones. When your coolers and trunk are loaded full of food to deliver to one in need, you know He is working. He is providing. He is in control. There is so much more in those bags of groceries than pasta and peanut butter. There is love and power and faith. Bags full of faith...

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
— Romans 8:18