I’ve been having trouble sleeping ever since my biopsy in January. What started as a reaction to pain medication mixed with an uncomfortable numbness of the left side of my chest, seems to have become a bit of a bad habit, one I’d desperately like to break. During one of my recent sleepless nights, I started looking up local retreats. I felt like God was calling me to spend time with Him — uninterrupted, quiet time, something that’s a bit of a challenge with my babbling boy. But every retreat I found was either too far away, too expensive, or required too much time.
It hadn’t been more than a few days since I’d given up the idea all together when a dear friend mentioned a retreat she was putting together. It would be small and low-key she said, which sounded perfect. My husband graciously agreed to watch JP all weekend, so Friday night, after an hour of wrong turns that took me in circles (yes, I got lost, again…come on, it’s me!), I finally found myself in the wilderness of Northern Virginia.
Though the camaraderie, sense of community, and worship were amazing Friday night, I was really looking forward to the quiet, alone time we had planned for Saturday morning. But just as the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, though I sensed God’s presence in the room, I was distracted by my right hand pressing down on my left chest. Immediately, I realized why that move felt so familiar, so instinctual: it was the same move I did for months before my cancer diagnosis. For months before the real crippling pain and exhausting cough began, I had strange, painful sensations in my upper left chest. They didn’t seem linked to any particular movement or position, and they came and went with no explanation. For months they were minor, and I might not have even noticed them had it not been for my right hand automatically reaching up to grip the source of the pain. The pain eventually grew stronger and began to radiate to the back and side of my chest, as well as render lying down virtually impossible. But at first, it was just small sensations, my body trying to warn me of a silent, growing threat.
And on Saturday morning, as I gripped my chest, I slowly realized I had been doing it all week. A lump formed in my throat and a feeling of dread came over me as I came to this realization, and immediately, my mind begin to wonder: Is there still cancer in my chest? Is it growing? Has it been growing? Will I need radiation? If it’s cancer, will radiation even be enough?
Much as I yearned to lay down my burdens and just be with God, I couldn’t. So I got up as quietly as I could and went for a walk outside. I knew there was a small pond nearby, and I thought seeing the calm, still water might calm and still my soul. Plus, there are few things I find more beautiful than the sun shining on the water.
But as I moved closer to the pond, I could tell it was neither calm, still, or beautiful. The wind was creating ripples on the murky water, and sunshine was nowhere to be found. I sat down anyways, but I had to will myself not to cry. I breathed in deeply, trying to find a sense of release. But all I could feel was the tightness in my chest.
Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on the water. It didn’t last long, but it was there, even if just for a moment. It didn’t turn the water into the blue, crystal-clear pond I was craving; the water was still dark and murky. But, a reflection of sun lit trees appeared on the water. It was breathtaking. And I realized that even though I couldn’t focus on God through my anxiety and pain, He’d found a way to reach me.
For, seeing the reflection of the light in the pond made something seemingly ugly, beautiful. It made something frightening, inviting. And I thought, what if I were to see God’s reflection in all things, even the things that scare and overwhelm me, even the things that seem dark and ominous? Then, wouldn’t everything be filled with unspeakable beauty?
Now don’t get me wrong. There are things so ugly and so terrible it seems downright impossible to see God in them. But then again, we’re entering Holy Week. This is a week that so many years ago began with Jesus being led to His death and ended with Him rising to eternal life. So if something seems impossibly sorrowful, impossibly ugly, impossibly bad, God is still bigger than all of it. And He who makes all things new has the power to create beauty from ashes, and life from death.
And so tomorrow, I will go to my oncologist’s to discuss what to do about my chest pain. Perhaps we will watch and wait, or perhaps we will schedule my PET scan for sometime in the next few days to see what it going on. Perhaps what I’m feeling is merely healing from my chest biopsy, or perhaps it is cancer. I am scared. I am overwhelmed. Despite the restfulness I did eventually experience this weekend, my heart is neither particularly calm or still. But I am continuously seeking God’s reflection in all things, and I believe I’ll continue to find beauty.
And I will seek You with all my heart.
I will seek You and find You.
For when I seek You with all my heart,
You will bring me to Your heart.