We are a very resilient family. The kind you know would make it to the semi-final round on Survivor at the very least. We like to think we have gumption and we have the oral history to back it up. Throw cancer at us, see how we lift our heads high and tell the world no worries, we got this. Miscarriages? Those just makes us stronger. Abnormal CT scans? Another opportunity to showcase this faith thing we are obviously rocking so well. You won’t catch us crying in our Cornflakes or hosting a pity party. It’s epic in my family that my Grandmother put herself to bed for just one day after losing her husband to a horrible battle with cancer in their early 50’s and allowed herself to wallow in loss just long enough to get right back up and figure out how to get a job and raise the kids still at home. Like she told me “I’m not the one who died so I had to get up and get going.” Resilience, stubbornness, grit. If we had a family crest there would be emoticons with biceps representing how tough we are.
In fact growing up when the news reported a horrifying story or someone spoke about another person’s tragedy the common response in my household was “Now doesn’t that make your problems look small?” And it’s true. If I was griping about a paper cut and NBC reports on a commercial jet liner crashing in the Andes Mountains then yes, my problem really doesn’t seem like a problem. If I had to deal with a flat tire but we hear about Susie’s cousin who lost everything in a house fire the night before then yes case in point I should probably stop complaining. It’s like my mother was channeling Dana Carvey as the Church Lady with an always well timed “well now, doesn’t that make your problem look small?”
Many times it’s a great point to present when someone is whining about something that truly isn’t a house fire. Like my friend Val told me “is it burnt toast or a tragedy” when evaluating how to react to something wrong our little ones did. Usually it’s just burnt toast, but in a self-sufficient family where caring for your own problems without complaining is the family way there are times where you just need the bandwidth to be able to say “yeah but burnt toast sucks.” And what keeps us touting the stiff upper lip like we are part of the Royal family? In years past I thought it was family genetics to meet any tragedy head on without mussing up our hair. However in truly awful times I’ve been able to see that it’s something more. Something sinful in fact (cue the Church Lady here ) . . . a little word with big consequences. Pride. And I don’t mean rainbow flag pride. I mean the ugly, sin nature, response to our own greatness, lack of humility “P” word.
Never was this more clear than when I pulled over to the side of the road to stop a wail of an ugly sob upon hearing my Dad had prostate cancer and would need immediate treatment. I jest you not that as he was giving me the “all’s gonna be fine kid” pep talk – because the parent with cancer must still reassure the kid that all’s gonna turn out fine even if the parent doesn’t know – he gave me a comparison of his type of cancer to a friend with pancreatic cancer. I still remember being baffled by his assured “if you’re gonna get cancer this is the one you want.” What the what??!! I couldn’t make this up. Not that that was the time to have my Dad crying or showing me his fears (because I’m still the kid), but the mantra that there is always someone somewhere with a problem worse than yours came through loud and clear.
Then when a routine scope uncovered a rare heart tumor as they prepped Dad for radiation treatment nobody would utter a negative word. We all played our upbeat parts refusing to admit that this lot was unwelcome. It was almost as though to speak against the situation was to question God’s will so hush-hush dear one and don’t tick off the Creator of the Universe with your complaining. But Geez Louise sometimes you have to remove the mouth guard. I was three months pregnant, scared for my Dad and only a few minutes in my Mom’s kitchen fresh off a last minute flight purchased only hours prior because immediate open heart surgery was scheduled. So I said it out loud. And I didn’t care who heard me between heaven and earth. Off came the mouth guard. “Cancer sucks Mom. Heart tumors suck. This sucks Mom. Dad in the hospital while we are here unable to do anything sucks. And I know someone somewhere has it worse off than us, but right now we get the prize on things sucking because we beat the fender benders, the food poisoning and the hangnails of the world tonight. Our moment gets to suck the most right now!!” I’m really eloquent when I need to be, huh?
And you know what? After the Church Lady (my precious proper Mother) reminded me that my word choice wasn’t lady like, she actually sat down and said it out loud too. “Yes dear, this really does suck.” And we sat there not in defeat but in peace. Peace that our shoulders need not carry all the burdens and our heads could just look to God instead of being held high in false pride that we had this all under control. Not until that moment did I feel how exhausting it is acting as though things are perfect. Look everyone how great I am because I need not bother another soul with my burdens! Pride pride pride. Sometimes we can be prideful when we simply don’t want to look pitiful.
So Mother and I took another route, minus the inappropriate language. We told their friends, neighbors and church leaders that we were experiencing a scary time and would love their prayers. My Mother accepted meals (trust me this is a big bridge she leaped across in one night as my Momma does not like to “bother” others) and she accepted visitors instead of fielding phone calls. Watching my parents accept prayer and a few minutes to chat, even laugh, with those who came by the hospital room before surgery was a reminder that others want to be “bothered” because when you feel helpless at least you can pray for a brother or sister in Christ. Bringing a meal to a hurting family doesn’t fix their hurt, but for a moment it lifts their spirits – nourisheing them beyond the physical. People told us by allowing them to bless us it blessed them in turn. Isn’t it funny how that goes? When you set aside the pride your relationships get real. Conversations are genuine and even in the ugly honesty desire to connect is rewarded with trust. Some of those folks walked that season with us so I’ll forever cherish them in my heart because it got real and when we needed friends to come alongside us, boy did they ever. If we had kept our stiff upper lip that we didn’t need help what would we have missed? I shudder to think about that.
When you are in a situation that might be embarrassing or awkward or intimidating or downright ugly, how do we push past the pride to get to the good stuff? Well it’s not on our own. That’s what got us in the prideful mindset in the first place. Even if it was with the best intentions. God desires to walk with us – even carrying us if y’all know the classic Footsteps poem. When in doubt about how God wants to be with you every little step of the way recall that He formed the earth for His people, sent His Son to die on the cross for us a torturous death, was spot on enough to fulfill ALL of the prophecies of the Old Testament and created a path to Salvation by grace alone because He “so loved the world.” Not just loved the world, but SO loved the world. I can’t even describe that kind of love. Of course, He wants more than just our pretty Pinterest perfect moments. He wants our scared moments, our ugly ones, our untrusting ones, our fearful ones, even the moments we’d never admit in the quiet darkness of our thoughts.