The thick, ugly tissue had lived there a while, sucking up the nutrients in her food, making her sick. That’s how these things happen—unbidden, unseen. Tumors grow unchosen, uninvited, in our innocent and hidden places. They rely on our blindness, sometimes on our refusal to see.
And truly, my mother could not see the tumor clearly, since it breathed and grew on the inside, deep. Had it appeared on her skin, we all might have gasped, shrinking back, despising it. Surely we would immediately have taken her to those who could cut away this thing that threatened. We would have pleaded urgently for her to be rid of it. We would have spent ourselves on seeing her healed.
If only we wore our ugly obvious and open, where the edges of the offending evil might be clearly deliniated, we all might know the right thing to despise, the right thing to do to save each other. None of us would then be comfortable ignoring or denying our illness. We might not then blame it on so many other things. We might have more compassion and grace and gentleness to offer each other, if we could clearly see the roots of the pain. Because the truth is that we all have our tumors, just from living here, because we breathe this dust and drink the tainted water of this crooked place. The streams taste bitter here, browned and rotted by the runoff of all our self-consumption.
Mom knew her enemy as a specific discomfort, but nothing she could place a finger upon. The symptoms of its destruction were evident and continual, a foul sickness that left her emptied and unable, but these she attributed to other things. She just couldn’t see the beastly presence that didn’t belong, the tumor that had been there so long, almost completely blocking systems she needed to live healthy and whole and full.
It took an emergency to discover it, and she nearly emptied of life, rushed hurting beneath machines that hummed and reverberated, mechanical eyes that see beyond skin. Only eyes that see beneath flesh can find the claws of the beast, lurking in places where our hearts have grown around the sharp, dirty talons, inspite of them, ignoring them. They called a surgeon—quickly. And in the course of obliterating one specific infection, his trained eye fell on something else, something not right, something lurking, shadowy and fat.
They sliced away at the tissue carefully, testing to be sure it had not yet morphed into a deadly army of cells bent on a blood voyage. But for all that time, Hope had contained the Enemy. And yet, the thick ugly thing threatened her, too big for a laser to obliterate. Not even the surgeon knew how big the tumor was until he peeled back her skin to find it.
We have talked, since then, about the irony that it takes more pain to bring healing. Last Thursday, they put her to sleep, and the surgeon dragged a knife this time across her skin, drawing blood. Six inches, the long straight scar splits her apart. Six inches of pain now held together with staples, and that not even the exact place inside her where they severed the tumor at its roots, the sharp claws of it buried deep in shadows.
Riley’s gentle eyes observe the scar, and she says softly, “I’m glad I don’t have staples in my belly. I wouldn’t like that.”
Mom woke up weak and wondering if she would survive, with tubes down her nose and mouth and a puncture in her side, all in addition to the cut and the staples. The surgery arrested her digestive system, made it forget how even to do its daily work. She lay emptied and bruised for days, unable to eat and not sure that she would return from her own wounded weakness. She really believed this particular battle might have killed her.
And I think this is why we argue when the Spirit brandishes the Word, sharp, held aloft over our flesh. God would cut away this ugly, deadly thing, the throbbing tissue thieving each of us of life, the presence that never has belonged inside the tender places He indwells. But we struggle to surrender it.
We call it by so many different names, attributing its symptoms to other things, believing we might just be the only ones not taken ill by sin. We talk about the past, our difference, our justified anger, pointing to so many causes. We never want to own them entirely. We talk blame, the nasty words spewing from lips that should be clean. We talk about what should have been, what will never be, how we never can be free of this nasty, poisoning thing. Only God sees the whole buried truth of it, lurking there in the shadows, hidden well beneath our skin and all our good intentions. And He knows that the blood voyage of these cells could destroy us all, collectively. He knows the tumor cannot be left to grow.
Surely if our sins grew on our skin we would find it easier to be honest with ourselves. We might feel more urgent about healing and finding healing for each other. We can be so comfortable ignoring what we can’t see, what no one else can see. But God brandishes the Word Holy, ready to drag it across our hearts, ready to cut away that which so easily entangles and hinders, ready to heal us of our preoccupation with ourselves. He is the only surgeon who can do the work. And the thing we fear most is the pain that most definitely must precede the healing, our systems arrested by the shock of it. We know that we will need to learn a new way to live. And we all think maybe we will not survive the surgery. He will need to breathe for us, because we know we will have forgotten even how to draw in a breath.
The day came, just after her surgery, when my mother really thought she might die. Sometimes I think I might too.
But then the next day came, and she began to feel the truth of healing.
“Today I think I might live,” she said to me, honest. ”Yesterday, I wasn’t so sure.”
It was not something she’d spoken. She only gave it words after, when the feeling passed. And every day now she grows stronger, surrounded by Love that builds her up. New cells grow. But first she had to surrender to the surgery, to the feeling she might die. Unless the kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed (John 12:24). God knits her body healed, better, His mighty fingers holding her together far better than those staples. He fills the carved, empty place with Himself. He breathes new life into her, and we give thanks.
The new morning comes and my mother walks, a little bent, all the way to the ocean, where she listens to the powerful roar of the waves as the sea breezes blow her white hair and tickle her cheeks. And together, we smile with joy over what God has accomplished. All the new tastes sweet, even body sore.
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him(Lamentations 3:19-24).”