It begins with a choice. The choice is trust. The choice is acceptance. The choice is to praise God when in the face of this horrible loss of my child, my feelings are instead to demand an answer of God “are you insane or do you simply just hate me?” Not appropriate Christian thoughts – just my raw feelings. Feelings can be spectacular, they can lead me at times to doing great things. But feelings can lead me to saying or doing things to be regretted. And feelings can be awful – they can toss me about violently like driftwood buffeted by waves in a vicious storm at sea. Feelings can drive my God given free will in any direction, but they are not free will – free will is choices, choices made every single day in every single situation, sometimes because of feelings, but sometimes in spite of feelings.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Taking up the cross – the cross is pain, suffering. And here it is, stretched out before me. As I touch it, study it, as I wrap my hands, my mind and my heart around it, it brings me peace and even, even brings joy. I am a Christian. I am a Catholic. For over five years I preached God’s love to my children in the midst of the tremendous suffering that comes to any child and family in the throes of childhood cancer. As the leukemia kept coming back, I looked deeply into my children’s eyes and I saw fear – one afraid of leaving, the other two afraid he would leave. And it was a fear I knew they must not bear alone. With every part of my being I did not want to step into that realm, but I had those intense conversations with them about life and death that are typically reserved for maturity, not for little boys. I promised my sick child that if God chose to bring him to heaven, that he would be happier then he had ever been before. I promised his brothers that they would be ok no matter what – that God would take care of us, if we were to be left behind in this world, and that we would all be together again one day in the next. I told them that this was the cross God had designed for us all to carry right now and that we must carry it with hope and courage and most of all love. And then suddenly, just as we were on the cusp of two new clinical trials, his body now ravaged from five years of cancer and cancer treatments, he died. Left then we were, with the choice to embrace this new excruciating cross with that same hope and courage and love I had spoken of in the past to my children, or every word I had said to them would become without meaning.
Faith teaches me that there is life beyond the death of the body. Faith teaches me that this life, as critical as it is in the development of our relationship to God our Creator, is but one breath in the eternity of life that awaits us. Faith teaches me that upon death I will be judged, by a judge who will love me with a love greater than all of creation, but judged nonetheless. Faith and my God given logic tell me that if I don’t pass muster, if I cling yet to my faults and my erroneous ways, I will not pass fully into God’s presence, into this presence in which my child lives on, until every sinful inclination has been purged from my heart. It is the cross that purges! It is the tears of the cross that cleanses! Jesus did not ask me to take up my cross and follow Him because He is mean and wants me to suffer! He loves me! He knows every single cell in my body, every thought I have ever had! He knows how thick headed and hard hearted I can be! And in spite of that, He wants me to be with Him fully and completely. He wants me immediately upon death and for all eternity. So He has presented me with the golden ticket, an opportunity to be purged now, here on earth, of all the things within me that can prevent me from leaping directly into His arms forever and ever!
But even that alone, does not keep me at peace. It should, but it doesn’t. I miss my little boy. My own death may be a lifetime away for me. Year after agonizing year may pass without seeing his face, without watching him saunter into the kitchen and hearing his sweet little voice saying “hey mommy, you know what was funny on Garfield…?” or watching him setting up the Imaginext Batman toys just right… But then a choice – the choice to praise and thank God even in the midst of a pain so intolerable, so unspeakable. And an image, it becomes ever so clear of my smiling little guy leaping into the arms of a love greater than all creation! I feel the joy – his joy. And it brings me peace. It brings me joy. I will take this cross now, as heavy and crushing as it is. My cross exists because my child’s cross has ceased. And when this one breath has been fully breathed, when this cross is lifted away from me, oh that I might be with my sweet baby boy, never to be separated again!