Hi. Remember me?
It’s been a little crazy.
We went to Italy. That was fun.
We’re plunging head-first into the holiday season. Whoa, Nelly.
Also? Parenting a teenager is a lot like parenting a three year old. You have days of blissful joy, and moments of sheer, knock-you-flat, emotional exhaustion. That’s where I am.
I spent two transatlantic flights plus the next two weeks in October sifting through ten hours of voice memos, filling two notepads, and revising what I had already written for the book . It was exhilarating, exhausting work. I loved it. I finally finished the book proposal and submitted it to our agent for review. Huge, huge, HUGE relief. Now we revise. And wait. And probably revise some more. And wait some more.
I want to give you a teensy-tinesy sneak peek into one of the most inspiring, profound moments of Erika’s story. A certain realization knocked me over when it made itself known to me.
Cliffs Notes Version: Erika had acute leukemia and a rare gene mutation that made her cancer more aggressive. She got the wrong chemo, and her cancer cells doubled. She got four more rounds of chemo. She needed a stem cell transplant, but her DNA markers were so narrow, she couldn’t find a match. So Erika got stem cells from an umbilical cord. Crazy, right? The transplant made her so sick and caused her so much pain, somehow she ended up in heaven. Multiple times. She walked hand-in-hand with Jesus. Then she returned to her hospital bed and kept fighting. She wanted nothing more than to be a mom to her two teenagers.
During one of her visits in heaven, Jesus carried her to a large table and set her down. Then a movie of Erika’s life played in front of her, interspersed with scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion. She fell to her knees and wept with gratitude.
OK, pause. Read the above paragraph again, slowly.
Are you picturing it? Are you there? What do you see?
Here’s what I saw, and it blew me away when I realized what I was imagining. I’m in the woods, and I see the table—big, sturdy, rough hewn wood—in the shade, set under a grove of pine trees. And Jesus is there, and I’m sitting on the table. Dark, reddish, soft dirt and pine needles cover the ground. In the near distance lies a pond with a dock. Birds in the sky. The air crisp and clean.
Much like Camp Allen, Navasota, Texas, 1984. Actually, it’s exactly Camp Allen. I could probably wander around today and find this exact spot.
My dad took my brother and me to Camp Allen several times for our church’s annual Father-Child retreat, and I attended summer camp there twice. It was here I learned “Seek Ye First,” “Pass it On” and “I Cannot Come to the Banquet.” (and if you didn’t switch up the words and sing “I have married a COW, I have bought me a WIFE…well, you weren’t with cool kids. Come to think of it, this is only offensive if you’re an adult. It was downright hilarious when I was eleven.)
Here I was introduced to the art of stepping away from everyday life and intentionally searching for the presence of God. My eleven year old heart so desperately craved meaning and spirit and acceptance, and I was still trying to figure it all out. (Um…still am.) In this quiet, secluded, gorgeous campsite, I found the first breadcrumbs on the path God was laying out for me, and I began to follow.
Thirty years later, when Erika described her visit to heaven and I subconsciously pictured the piney woods of Navasota, I realized this: Jesus was there. With me. The whole time. Wooing me, calling me, speaking tenderly over me. Holding my hand. And I didn’t even know it.
During Erika’s leukemia treatment, through all the painful tests and procedures, the horrendous experimental chemo, the devastating side effects, she would pray, “Jesus, hold my hand. Don’t let go. Please hold my hand.” When she opened her eyes in heaven, He was holding her hand.
And y’all? He’s holding your hand. He’s holding my hand. He’s right there. Whatever is going on right now, He is with you.
The omniscience and omnipresence of God blows me away. It’s so crazy. He walked with me when I was eleven, when I hardly knew Him. He walked with Erika through excruciating cancer treatment. He walks with me now when I am my teenager’s worst enemy. When Nathan is vomiting out the car window in the school parking lot (oh, yes, he certainly did.) When the people we love the most are crumbling into a miserable heap and we don’t know what to do, and we are helpless to make it better. When we are cracking under the weight of our own self-centeredness. He’s still there. Not passively observing. Not distant. He’s holding our hands.
Giving me the visual of Camp Allen is God’s cosmic VCR playing home movies of my childhood a la Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. He’s showing me how it really was, how it is, behind the scenes.
Does that sound completely wonky? Yeah, I guess it kinda does. I’m still trying to make sense of it. It could be a weird, Freudian, subconscious piece of meaninglessness. It could only be a coincidental frame of reference.
Or maybe not.
I find God in the Bible. I find God in worship choruses. Yes.
God the Creator continues to paint his story through art and literature and nature…and imagination. He is the King of Metaphor and Allegory. He is the Master of Artistry. So if a long-forgotten memory unfolds another corner of truth for me—that could be Him, too.
My friend Deanna recently handcuffed me to a recliner and forced me to watch Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly version. (Just kidding, Dee. You know I loved it.) I am admittedly biased toward the Colin Firth BBC miniseries version, but whatever. Tomato/tomahto, Keira/Colin, it’s still a brilliant story. I re-read the novel after watching the Keira version because I was certain Wickham impregnated Georgiana, but it turns out I’m mixing up my Jane Austen narratives. (I think that was Sense and Sensibility. Obviously I possess neither.)
I really do have a point.
At the end of the book, Elizabeth and Darcy are both abundantly and deservedly ashamed of their abominable behavior during the first fifteen chapters. (Darcy deserves it; Elizabeth is only guilty of being born a century too early. OK…maybe we can fault her for a tad too much righteous indignation. I’m still on her side.) After Darcy lashes himself for his scathing letter, Elizabeth consoles him:
The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
My years between eleven and forty are chock-full of “unpleasant circumstance.” I own scores of abominable behavior. Too many embarrassments to count, too many regrets, too many shameful moments. But God and Elizabeth Bennet shush me: Chill out. It’s over. Remember the good things; forget about the bad. Move on.
And Jesus says Doesn’t matter. I was right there with you. I never let go of your hand, even when you were a mouthy seventeen year old with enough self-righteous pride to take out a herd of antelope. I’m still holding your hand, even through the mistakes forty-five minutes ago. Let’s move on. There’s a lot more I want you to see.
So onward we go, wandering through the next campsite, stumbling over tree roots, kicking up clouds of dirt til it coats our shoes. We run, walk, meander, explore, ponder. We take sips of cool water and wipe our mouths with our sleeves. We lean against a tree to rest, feeling the crisp breeze on our foreheads, inhaling the sharp scent of pine. Then we walk again.
Hand in hand.