Holding My Breath
Three days before we left for China, we hung up the phone with a doctor. I burst into tears. The excitement that was building for our trip to finally meet Kai disappeared. Our excitement was replaced with fear. Our confidence and faith were replaced with doubt. It was the doctor's job to prepare us for the worst case scenario of what his health could be. (The further we are removed from this, the more I see God's hand, but I'll save that for another blog post!) Her warnings were serious and we didn't know what we were walking into. We had more questions than answers, but we knew that things could be dangerously bad. As we processed together and with others, we knew that whatever his health required, we would care for him for as many days as the Lord would give him to us.
Fast forward three years. Last week, Paul and I now sat in the cafeteria at CHOP. Kai's MRI and neuro oncology appointments have become such a normal part of our lives. The first appointments were the scariest, when we didn't know if his tumor was cancerous or what it would really mean. His brain tumor is very rare and we have learned that part of our journey with Kai is to be engaged in the waiting. It's so rare that we just have to watch and see. Some appointments, everything looks great and we can wait for a year to recheck it. Other appointments, we need additional or early imaging to get a clearer picture of what is happening. Our doctor, even with her medical degree, Ph.D. and master degrees has to watch it and wait. She knows more than we will ever know and yet, she's engaged in the waiting.
As Paul and I were talking, he asked how I was feeling this week. I said, it just feels like I've been holding my breath all week, like I can't exhale. I choked back the emotions that were starting to come out. It's scary, I continued. We live most of our days, totally full of gratitude for Kai's health and many days, even forgetful of his health problems. Then these days creep up, when we're forced to remember the seriousness of his health and what could be. I want to say that it's hard and scary and heavy, but I find myself referring to these appointments as no big deal or overplaying the positive aspects of his health and trying to deny the scary parts. All the while, my heart is overwhelmed and I just can't exhale.
What does it look like to stop holding my breath? What does it look like to exhale? I think it means to engage in the waiting. To acknowledge what is scary and heavy. To confess what we do not know. To be grateful for what is good, but not as a way to deny what is hard. To allow yourself to feel sad, to allow yourself to feel anxious, to allow yourself to feel unsure. As you acknowledge these feelings, exhale them moment by moment to the Lord.
Our emotions are a gauge that show us where we have misplaced our hope. Our emotions help us to see what we treasure more than Christ or where our hearts are not understanding who God truly is. If my theology, in other words, my understanding of who God is, was perfect, He would be my full treasure and hope. But on this side of heaven, our emotions will continue to show us where our hope and treasure are misplaced.
My anxious heart revealed that my hope was in a particular test result, not fully in Christ. I did not completely believe in God's goodness, nearness, faithfulness or steadfastness as these things were out shadowed by the possibility of a particular test result.
Guess what my emotions are not? A gauge that tells me I'm messed up and I need to figure it out before I can turn to God. But that's so often how I treat them. "Come on, get it together" is often the quiet cry of my heart. That is not what God has asked me to do. He is just asking me to come to Him with the emotions. Every big one, every small one. They are all an invitation to draw near. Now that's an easy burden. This week, it has been hard to exhale because I felt like I needed to get it together. And to be honest, I can't. I can't get it together, I can't keep it together. I keep fighting my strong urge to try to get things together before I turn to Him. Sometimes I don't even fight against it and I allow the impossible task of figuring my thoughts or emotions or problems out keep me from coming to Christ. Then I am gently reminded, getting it together is something He never asked me to do.
What is keeping you from breathing deeply? What is making you hold your breath? Breathe deeply of the love and mercy and grace of God. And exhale all of the things that stir in your heart and the emotions that shake you. Exhale them all in the presence of God. And when they swell in you moments later, exhale them again, and again and again. Because God isn't asking you to get it all together. He is just asking for you. Engage in your wait. Learn to breathe deeply of His grace.