Grief has a funny way of surprising me. It often comes when I least expect it.
Today, Kai and I headed to CHOP for his follow up brain MRI. As we drove to Philadelphia, I saw the sunrise. I began thinking about the greatness of God. He is so big that He controls the rising and setting of the sun. Yet He is so near that He collects every one of my tears. I thought of my sweet grandfather. He is 90 years old, now on hospice, so ready to be with Jesus. I dreamed of what it would be like for him to finally see Jesus face to face. I thought of his new body, not broken by years, fully able to breath, renewed in mind and soul. Jesus is near to this dear 90 year old imperfect yet faithful servant. I thought of my precious three year old Kai, sitting right behind me. Crying, yelling, "no doctor, mommy." I reflected on all Kai has been through in his short three years of life. I considered all the love I would have missed if we didn't take this step of faith. He grieves, he laughs, he loves, he faces every day with joy. Jesus is so near to my precious Kai. He is near to him in sadness and near to him in joy. Jesus is near.
If there is an ideal place for a kid to get an MRI under sedation, CHOP is it! They brought him toys to play with in bed, he had a bedside TV to watch all of his favorite shows and he loved his outer space themed scrubs. They gave him some medicine to help him not remember the IV placement and procedure prior to him being sedated. They called it "giggle juice." This giggle juice knocked him out! He was hilarious. He wanted to sit up, but would topple over to the side. He tried to speak words, but he would just giggle and slur his words. As they worked on the IV, he smiled at the nurses and said "Mommy, Kai so happy at Doctor." I think we could all use some giggle juice!
Although it was expected and explained to me over and over, as my little one drifted off into sedation, my eyes welled up with tears. There's something about not being able to protect my little one or be near to him in distress that caused this flood of emotion. My precious little Kai, Jesus is near.
I made my way downstairs to get a good cup of coffee and catch up on reading and paperwork. Moments after I got settled, Paul called me. As I answered, he let me know that my grandfather had just passed away. It's hard to be more prepared for someone's death than when they are 90 and receiving hospice care, yet the finality of hearing those words conjured more emotion than I expected. There were tears of sadness, tears of joy, tears of relief. I thought of sweet moments we have shared in his final months. He was “Papa Two” to my boys, and they loved him. I reflected on the precious relationship he shared with Asher. I pictured our FaceTime with him as he saw us in China and met our sweet Kai. I thought of my how my grandfather who served in the Navy and spent time in China seventy years ago got to hold his Chinese great-grandson. I thought of how he would say "Oh Laura" every time I would walk up to him. These memories will last for a lifetime, but the sentiment is even stronger in moments like these. Jesus is nearer than ever, dear Papa Two.
The nurse called and interrupted my thoughts and emotions. I rushed in to see my sweet, sleeping boy. I needed to be the first face he would see. I wanted him to know he was never alone. As we sat in the dark room, the background hum of machines and the steady beep of the heart monitor filled the room. I held his hand and laid my head on his chest. Effortlessly he breathed in and out; peacefully, he slept. Jesus is near.
Kai finally woke up, his smile lighting up his face. He was offered apple juice and goldfish and perked right up! We got to share Kai's adoption story with nurses and staff, sharing the deep hope we have. Jesus is near. In every conversation, Jesus is near.
We went downstairs to neuro oncology. Kai happily rode along in his wheelchair. Smiling, eating goldfish, waving to strangers. I clumsily pushed him into the exam room, expecting to have a brief appointment, confirming no tumor growth and scheduling a follow up in three months. Instead, she turned to me and said, "it appears the tumor has grown." I choked back the tears, stood up and walked closer to the monitor with the images of his two brain scans. Trying to think of a quick follow up question, I stared at the images, but I couldn't think of a thing to say. To my right, Kai sat happily eating goldfish and holding onto Xin. On my left were two images of a small, growing group of cells, a tumor that was getting bigger. The shock began to wear off and I asked as many technical questions as I could think of. Caught standing between two pictures of reality-- a thriving boy and a growing brain tumor, Jesus was near.
Kai's brain tumor is either growing or moving between ventricles in his brain. Neither explanation is ideal. Both possibilities may likely require surgery to remove the tumor, biopsy it and develop an appropriate treatment plan. The tumor is not aggressive. There continue to be signs that confirm the prognosis that it is a benign tumor! Brain surgery. The thought of it makes my heart sink. The plan now is to wait until his MRI in February to confirm the growth or movement at which point, the surgery will be likely. Grief flooded my heart again. This grief was a little different. This grief was one of dashed hopes, broken expectations, fear of what the future might hold. I held Kai's hand and we walked slowly to the car. Each step, I took a deep breath, reminding myself that Jesus was near. Because in some of these moments, it does not feel like it. I buckled Kai into his car seat, sat down behind the wheel, turned on the car and began to weep. One of my favorite songs began to play, Dear Refuge of my Weary Soul:
Has Thou not bid me seek Thy face, and shall I seek in vain? And can the ear of sovereign grace be deaf when I complain? No, still the ear of sovereign grace attends the mourner’s prayer. Oh may I ever find access to breathe my sorrows there.
That was what my heart desperately needed to hear. The source of some of my grief was expected; the source of some of my grief caught me by surprise. Yet no matter the source, the very ear of God is near. No matter how silly my grief felt. Regardless of how badly I wanted to not feel the sadness or brokenness of this day, Jesus was near, calling me to breathe my sorrows to Him. I recalled how earlier my head laid against Kai's effortlessly breathing chest. I could feel his chest rise and fall with each breath. So God is calling me to exhale my sorrows to Him. He is near. He is always near.
Why does His presence matter? It changes our grief. We no longer grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). As believers, we have the ultimate hope that for those who believe the Gospel, death is not an end, but a beginning. Our final breath on earth gives way to our first breath of eternity. Eternity where Jesus is always near. No darkness exists, no sorrow can touch us, no tear will ever fall again. What beautiful hope. In light of the Gospel, I also grieve Kai's tumor and this new change in light of the same incredible hope. Jesus is near. He will carry us through whatever is ahead. Life in Christ does not mean that we do not feel sorrow. No, life in Christ means that we face sorrow in the presence of the God who gives us more of himself, his comfort and peace. Every grief is intended to push us deeper into the presence of God. Loss in this life is great. Pain in life is worthy of our tears. But our pain, sorrow, and grief are not the end. No, we have eternal hope of restored life, and we have hope each moment that God will be near and bring goodness and glory from every sorrow we face. We have a hope so deep that we can be honest about our sorrow and grief, knowing that God meets us in our sorrow.
Grief is sometimes unexpected. Hope does not mean we do not grieve. Hope means we breathe our grief to God and remember whatever sorrow we face is not the end. Sorrow is an opportunity to experience more of God's presence. Pray that God would awaken in you a reason for deep courage and hope. You won't always feel courage or hope, but preach the truth to yourself. Remind yourself that hope wins. Remind yourself that Jesus is near.