It Is Well With My Soul

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This blog is not usually very personal. I like sharing opinions more than sharing how I am doing personally.  Perhaps it's a defense mechanism.  Perhaps it's a way of channeling a certain kind of artistic expression.  Maybe both.  Regardless, there comes a point in time when the answer to the question, "How are you?" isn't simply "Good, thanks!" Sometimes, oftentimes, things aren't okay.

So to my readers, my friends, my writing companions, I'm going to be real with you.

A difficult stage in my life began several weeks ago when my summer ended abruptly.  The word cancer sends a jolt into your world.  It's like a sudden, shocking reminder that life doesn't continue on forever, that you really aren't in control of the days to come, that death is eminent.  I know this because my family received news that my grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer without warning or explanation.

My first feeling was numbness, like a cold and distant stupor.  I guess it was more like the absence of feeling than anything else.  I couldn't process anything.  Life was a fog.  Suddenly, things like going shopping for school clothes or packing for college felt shallow and empty because none of it really mattered.

The day after we received the phone call, I wrote this in my journal, August 9: "I went to the pool alone today to process everything by myself.  I got in the water and was struck by the odd thought that I came to grieve in the very place where I myself almost died. [I almost drowned when I was eleven and yet my sister saved my life, pulling me up from the water.]  It's strange the memories that fill us in moments of great sadness...But, as Paul tells us, 'For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.'"

After the numbness, came an eagerness to be active, to do whatever I could to better the situation.  Cutting summer short, we went immediately to be with her in Jackson, Georgia.  I threw myself into work because it was a way of coping.  And yet, I felt the soft nudge from the Lord telling me, "Don't be Martha when you should be Mary."  Was I spending all of my time working because it was helpful for her or because it was helpful to occupy my mind with a task?  Immediately after this thought was planted within me, I made an effort to visit more with her and I even had the chance to record stories from her life.

I had the great blessing and privilege to capture this beautiful picture out by their lake.  It will forever be precious to me.
Here's another journal excerpt from August 13: "The first day we were here, I sat next to her as she reclined in her lounge chair.  All of a sudden, she pointed past me out the window to a red robin that had swept down to the iron bird feeder. 'Look,' she exclaimed.  'A beautiful bird!  Isn't he pretty?  He has a nice rich red color, which means that he's the male.  If there's danger, he'll fly off to make the predator follow him so that he can protect the female bird.' I wanted to cry.  Even in this season of sorrow, she continues to amaze me with her ability to find and appreciate beauty.  How I wish I could be like that."

I've heard it said that when grief strikes, many search for a "metaphor" for their loved ones.  It's a way of reflecting and representing them. I have many metaphors for my grandmother, but they all reflect the same principle about her: she could find beauty in anything.  Teacups that represented community over a pot of herbal Earl Gray.  Leaves in the shape of a heart that evoke verses regarding God's love.  Tiny black seeds that would grow into juicy watermelons, proving that time changes everything.  All of these things represent her to me.

Even still, it's difficult to describe what it's like to pre-mourn.  It's like having foreknowledge that a terrible event is about to happen and yet you can warn no one.  The cognition is not necessarily a blessing because it also means a prolonged grief.  It's a season of waiting.

As my sister sagely pointed out, "Death is the only thing that cannot be evaded, only postponed."

She should be a poet.

But the truth is that simple.  Death is contrary to what we naturally desire, therefore making us melancholic.  It symbolizes the fall, but it also resounds with the promise that it is not the end.  1 Corinthians 15:55 says, "Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"

Her pain is all over now and she is reclining in the presence of the Lord.  How envious I am that she is getting the grand tour of heaven even as I write these very words!  How small I feel and yet I am filled with the comfort that this is not really the end, that I will see her again in glory and there will be no more cancer.

When I got the call that she had passed, I lost all composure and melted into tears.  I was away with friends for break and felt so helplessly far away.  One of my friends drove us out to an open field where we lay under the stars and he said, "Sometimes there are no words except that God is bigger."  As I stared up at the night sky, I was filled with an indescribable peace.  And that's because I have hope and joy in Jesus.  It doesn't always mean that I have happiness.  But even on days like today when I am struck by the deepening, aching yearn to be with my family as opposed to being here at college, I know that God is faithful.  I know His timing is perfect. I trust that His plan has a reason and that He is in control.

I don't know what you're going through today.  Maybe loss.  Maybe anxiety.  Maybe fear.  But I encourage you to be open and vulnerable with those around you.  To conceal is not to heal.  There is a time for everything, even grief and tears.

At church this week, we sang my favorite hymn which always moves me.  It was written by Horatio Spafford in the wake of severe tragedy.  After the death of his son, he sent his wife and four daughters on a trip to Europe, intending to take the next ship to meet them.  However, the ship sank and all four of his daughters died.  On the trip to meet his grieving wife, he penned the following words:

"When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul."

There is no need to fear.  There is grace and joy in God's presence even when I feel far away from those I love.  God does not leave us comfortless.

So may it be well with your soul today.  Earnestly love those around you for you never know who might need encouragement.



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  1. An amazing and inspiring post! I'm so glad, Ciera, that you can find comfort in the Savior. I pray that you and your family will continue to feel His peace and love throughout this time. :)

    Alexa S. Winters

  2. Thank you, Alexa. I truly appreciate it :)

  3. VERY well put Ciera! Your Grandmother & my Mom Deanie Reser were good friends & suffered simultaneously with their cancer. My Mom wanted to call & talk to Nancy, but was never well enough to do so after hearing of her liver cancer. My Mom passed on September 30th, the morning before my 51st birthday! Much of what you wrote I experienced similar feelings as well. When Mom passed, I was standing at the fot of her bad. I had never experienced such extreme and mixed emotion in my life! The supreme sadness of losing her, coupled with the feelings of Joy that she was no longer in pain and reuniting with her Mother, Father and sister who had all been waiting on her for years... Glad I got to read your healing words. You have keen spiritual insight. Zane Reser