“Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don’t know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who x-rays our hearts understands the Spirit’s approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.” Romans 8:26-27 The Cotton Patch Version
Clarence Jordan (translator of The Cotton Patch Version) is right. I don't know beans about praying. Prayer absolutely blows my mind: God, the creator of the universe, wants to be in communication with me? I really can't grasp that.
But I pray anyway. I pray to music. I pray Scripture. And I pray for loved ones. I pray for Barbara and her two boys—their husband and father died suddenly this past January. A friend who has pitiful insurance and horrific health problems. Cathy whose younger brother died way too young leaving a wife and children. Teachers whose salaries have been cut or who have lost their jobs—particularly those among them who are single parents. A loved one in a new job. My nephew-in-love who goes off to college next year and his dad who has Parkinson’s disease. Niece Rachel who is about to start her senior year. My mother-in-law with MD. And then there’s this: my friend Kim who beat breast cancer last year just before her son, now 11, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer—the same Kim who has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. This week, her son, who was just denied access because of his age to clinical trials that might save his life, will be going to NIH in Maryland to explore further treatment options with his dad (Kim’s husband) while Kim faces her own cancer surgery back in Oklahoma.
Yeah, I gotta tell ya. I don't know beans about praying.
But thanks be to God, knowing is not necessary. Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV) says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (emphasis mine)
And when I read that I sigh: a sigh of relief. I sigh because suddenly I remember, I’m not alone. I sigh, I breathe, remembering that Barbara is not alone, and Cathy isn't and neither is my nephew.The Spirit is sighing with me, magnifying those sighs, translating them into words that I can't seem to find, building them into bridges from the hearts of the hurting to the very heart of God. I sigh knowing my Rachel has a bridge and my mother-in-law can cross it too cause this bridge is seriously wheelchair accessible. And I sigh so deep within my spirit, beyond the flood of tears that chokes my heart for a little boy who just wants to play baseball with his brothers and for his mother who wants to watch him. I sigh with relief because as I do, I find that the Spirit is already there. The bridge is already built. The words don’t have to be found. “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes” for me.
Even though I don’t know beans about praying.
Becoming a big sister.
I stood on tippy toes to reach the phone, still corded. Daddy gave me the news: “It’s a boy!”
Learning to read.
The letters were right there in colored chalk. “C-A-T means this.” My sister stood beside her chalkboard, pointing to a picture she had drawn of a cat. And in that moment, I got it.
Losing a pet.
I tried to get Pickles, our Cocker Spaniel, to come back; she kept running after the car. Straddling the banana seat on my bike, I called and called to her. But Pickles never came. “Do dogs go to heaven, Mama?” and “Will I ever stop missing her?”
Falling in love.
In the end, she didn’t know any of us. No matter: loving Grandmama for better or worse gave me sweet joy and made me a better me.
Becoming Aunt Aileen.
Nothing. Nothing prepared me (has prepared me yet) for the joy of it.
Believing beyond Meredith’s birth.
When Meredith was born twinless, my faith quivered at its core. This one was to be two, this tiny singleton sans sister who fought for her life in NICU. Praying through the questions, working through the doubt, set new roots to my faith. (Meredith—one of my 12—is all grown up now. Thanks be to God.)
He was only 3 years and 7 months old when he died on April 6 2008. I still wish the truth were a lie--I wish that Paxten still lived on, growing bigger, getting stronger. I do not want it to be true that he's gone. Yet while losing him hurt like nothing I'd experienced before, it was loving him that changed me: Love fast, Live now, Laugh anyway, Linger a little longer. I loved loving Paxten. I love him still.
Originally posted 4-6-09
Originally posted on April 2, 2009
On April 6, 2008, Paxten Andrew Mitchell slipped from his parents embrace into the gates of heaven. This time last year, no one was talking about Paxten getting well. He was home, with his family, with hospice. I miss him.
When Paxten was still well enough to be in the hospital, I visited him about once a week. I’d come bringing fresh Playdoh® or new dinosaur stickers. (I still catch myself looking for stickers or checking for a bargain on Playdoh® before I realize my reason for buying those things is no more.) Paxten and I would stick the stickers all over ourselves and anything else we could find; we’d sculpt new creatures with the Playdoh®. Actually I would sculpt, or Amy would, as Paxten directed our efforts. We made funny faces. We wrestled—careful not to disconnect IV cords as we played. And we laughed. We laughed a lot, Paxten & I. Eventually though, I’d have to go home to my children, often leaving Amy by herself with her boy.
In the hospital bed (it seemed huge when Paxten was in it alone), Amy slept with her boy curled into her. No doubt she did all night what she did all day—checked his temperature with her mommy hands and diagnostic kisses, glanced up at the monitors to see if everything was normal (that is, as normal as it ever got for Paxten), and readjusted his tubing so he was not lying on it. . . When Paxten stirred during those long nights, I bet he had the same conversation with his mother that he had several times every hour during the day.
“I Wub You.”
“I love you too, Paxten.”
Only one child got it right.
Oh, all the children knew their parts; the creation play in this morning’s worship service was lovely. The flowers, colorful and bright, stood tall, blooming and blushing. The birds flapped otheir wings. The fish swooshed, the mice crawled, the frogs hopped. The apple tree, its branches menacing, taunted. The young man who played Adam delivered his lines masterfully, having us laughing at all the right times. Eve entered the garden, singing with a voice that sounded as if it had indeed been created by God for this moment in time.
But only one child—only one—captured the wonder.
Our church has been celebrating creation for the last few weeks—art, the written word, music, drama. During this time, sermons, anthems, and special events have focused on the beauty of creation, more specifically on the wonder of the Creator. The point, it seems, has been to bring our minds, our hearts, to a state of amazement. We’ve had the work of a local artist hanging in our atrium: wall sized paintings depicting the explosive dynamics of creation. We’ve had dancers—yes dancers in our Baptist sanctuary—offering their gifts in worship. We even had kites one Sunday (they called them liturgical kites to make them sound more churchy but they were kites all the same). Our orchestras played, our handbells rang, our authors read from their books. It’s been a time to delight. It’s been a time of awe.
And this morning, Cameron Brown, full of wonder, delighted in the awe of it all.
Of course, Cameron is exceptional, gifted really and it is not fair to compare others to him. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite that usually happens: he’s often compared to others in a most unfair way. (Some people are such slow learners.)
When Cameron came down the aisle this morning wearing a bright red shirt, carrying a gigantic rose-red flower, his eyes sparkled. When his little brother came down, dressed like a mouse, Cameron giggled a little, watching his favorite person mount the stairs then crouch like a critter. He looked around at all his friends standing there with him, his smile growing, his eyes dancing. When the audience laughed, Cameron laughed too. When Eve sang, Cameron watched her every move. And when it was over, all too soon, Cameron stayed in place. He looked around that great big sanctuary, appearing every bit the picture of pure, innocent wonder. The director came to him, he took her hand, and flashed her his full-face grin. And as they slowly made their way back down the aisle, Cameron continued looking over his shoulder. It was as if he didn’t want it to be over, not yet. It was too wonderful, too delightful.
Anyone could tell by the look on his face: Cameron got it. And once again I thought, I want to be more like Cameron. I want to see the world like he does. I want to see God like he does.
“One quick question,” I said to my pastor. He was heading back to his lunch table with a full cup of coffee; I’d finished my lunch and wanted a word with him before I had to leave.
“Oh hi, Aileen,” he said, more gracious than most would have been, having been caught between coffee and dessert. “What’s up?”
“A lot. For one thing I just lied to my pastor." I realized in that moment what he no doubt already had guessed. “My question is neither quick nor singular.” Guy Sayles smiled, relaxed and unhurried. I forged ahead.
“My friend’s son—he’s 10—has inoperable brain cancer. He got bad news yesterday, really bad news. His mother and I were talking last night, and she asked me some tough questions. I’m only in the second semester of seminary here. I have no idea what to say.”
"I’m not sure theological degrees give you the words to say under those circumstances," Guy said, speaking the frustrating truth of pastoral care.
“My friend's question was this: ‘If God is omnipotent as we believe God is, then why hasn't my son been healed?’ Good question right? So, ya know, why?”
Setting his coffee on the counter, Guy shook his head. “Well the first thing I would ask myself is, 'Is this really an appropriate time for a theological discussion?' It probably isn't. If not, I would say, ‘I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I love you.’”
I found this to be brilliant instruction. How many times do we spout off theological treatises when it just isn't the time? The person really needs to hear, “What you are going through is awful and I’m sorry that you are going through it because you matter to me.” And we start quoting scripture, telling them about God’s will or the nature of creation. Sometimes, we need to say less in order to say more.
Guy continued. “If it is a good time for a theological discussion, then I might say, ‘Well, God doesn't always get God's way.’”
He must have noticed my hesitation because he elaborated. “When people disagree with me on this, I ask them, ‘Does God always get God's way with you?’ Of course not. If it is true with one person, it must be true with others. And if God doesn't always get God's way with people, then God doesn’t always get God's way in the world. After all, if God did, then why would Jesus have commanded us to pray for God’s will to be done? It would just be done whether we prayed or not.” (Intriguing, huh?)
“But,” Guy said, “If God is omnipotent, and we are Christians, then we believe
Christianity is confusingly full of contradictions. The equations just aren't as simple as we would like them to be.”
I knew he was right. But what could I tell my friend that could comfort her, if only momentarily?
“There is one simple formula, though,” Guy went on. “God loves us. God just loves us. God always, completely, beyond-our-imagination loves us.”
“So, when our hearts are breaking. . .”
Update September 1, 2015
Since I published this seven years ago, Caleb Spady slipped from his earthly father's arms into the embrace of his Heavenly Father. He passed away 15 months after his diagnosis on July 21, 2009. Many others have been diagnosed with DIPG since then. It is a cruel and horrible disease.
But there is good news. Research is being done; treatments are being perfected. Because people are becoming more aware, more funding is available for all pediatric cancers. Don't be afraid to learn about pediatric cancer. Awareness doesn't lead to cancer diagnoses. Awareness leads to hope.
Knowledge. It really is a good thing.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Each year, Chili's holds a Donate-The-Profits day to benefit St. Jude's research hospital. This year, that day is Monday, September 14, 2015. Find a Chili's that day and eat up! Just by doing that, you'll be making a difference in the life a child.
Published on: Aug 29, 2008
Five months ago, at a huge party to celebrate a life that we already knew would be way too short, Paxten Andrew Mitchell gave me a big hug and a kiss. As he fell into my embrace, I rubbed his fuzzy head, feeling hair there for the first time in our year-long friendship. Later Paxten wrestled me to the floor and stood triumphantly above me giggling at my weakness.
In less than a month, Paxten’s fight against cancer ended at Heaven’s gate. Now my friend Kim Spady is fighting for the life of her son Caleb, a vibrant ten year old boy with a ticking bomb in his brain called a Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Caleb, like his brothers, is the joy of his parents’ hearts and the pesky younger brother to Jacob and older brother to Seth and Luke. DIPG is totally random. Kim & Ken could not have protected Caleb from this monster by having the right genetic mix or by sealing Caleb in a bubble from birth. They could not have kept DIPG from attacking their son. But now they will move heaven and earth to win the fight over DIPG. (Caleb passed away on July 21, 2009. He was 11 years old.)
Surely we can all do something to stop these random pediatric cancers from ripping open our hearts and tearing out our children. Kim believes, and I know she is right, that the first step is awareness.
Would you visit one of these links and become a little more aware?
You don’t have to become an expert. Just learn one thing. You don’t have to spend your whole night on the internet (Kim’s already doing that). Just learn a little bit. I’ll never get another hug from Paxten on this side of Glory, but one way I can honor the gift God gave me in Paxten, is to spread the word about pediatric cancers.
Join me, okay? Together, we can strengthen the hope for a cure. Because as Kim says, “One day a child with DIPG will be healed. Maybe even today.”
Zach, the Palestinian who guided our tour of Israel, knew a little something about aging gracefully. A grandfather who had been considering retirement for months, Zach was hard at work, leading our group of 34 American tourists through his homeland. He walked all over Masada and Qumran in 100° heat. He hiked through Megiddo and strode up and down the ancient streets of Old Jerusalem. All the while, Zach shared his knowledge with us: telling the history of the area, quoting scripture chapter and verse, and recalling vignettes particular to the sites we visited. As far as I know, he never once sat to rest; he walked every step I did.
A month after my trip, my family and my sister’s headed to North Myrtle Beach, my parents’ hometown, for our annual vacation. My brother, Hal, and his family were already there. A few weeks earlier, they had moved back to the area and purchased a home right down the road from our parents.
Unfortunately, things were not going well. Because of a series of complications and botched repair jobs, Hal was still not in his new house. For six weeks, his family of five had been living with our parents while my brother became increasingly frustrated with the work crews he’d hired to make his home safe for his family. As we sat around Mother’s dinner table one night talking over my brother’s predicament, the doorbell rang.
“It’s Mr. Rothman,” Mother announced. “Come in Dick; have some supper.”
Mr. Rothman has been a family friend for 25 years (he watched my brother grow up). He passed retirement age at least 15 years ago. Since that time, he has nursed his beloved wife through Alzheimer’s, becoming her daily visitor when he made the gut-wrenching decision to place her in a nursing home. In addition to spending hours with his wife (who long ago had stopped recognizing him), he visited the other residents of the home. Mr. Rothman brought sunshine to the lonely, even when he was heartbroken with loneliness himself. More than ten years after she became ill, Mr. Rothman’s wife drew her last earthly breath, while her devoted husband looked on, weeping.
Also during the last 15 years, Dick Rothman has been running his own business. An electrician and an expert in air conditioning repair, Mr. Rothman has plenty of opportunities to stay busy. So by 9:00 every morning, Dick Rothman is out making his rounds, visiting customers who’ve relied on him for years.
“Hey, Hal,” Mr. Rothman began that night, “I’ve been thinking about that job you’ve got going on over there at your house.“ He had been over helping my brother with odd jobs while a larger company had replaced all of the duct work in the house and then worked to get the air conditioning running again. The company, though it had come highly recommended, seemed to be botching the job.
“Here’s what they’ve done,“ Mr. Rothman said, taking a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and drawing on a table napkin. Hal nodded in agreement. “And here’s what they should have done.“ He drew a different diagram.
“Uggh!” my brother groaned, “I knew it! I knew they were not doing it right.” Dejected, Hal slumped as he propped his elbows on the table and covered his forehead with his hands.
And then Mr. Rothman laughed aloud. “Oh now, Hal,” he said, “I didn’t come tell you this to get you worried. Let’s worry about it tomorrow if they don’t fix it.” He folded his hands in his lap, smiled and shook his head, seeming to recall some distant memory. “’Wait to worry.’ I’ve got that written all through my Bible. ‘Wait to Worry.’ I have to remind myself of that. But the thing is, we’ve got plenty of time to worry.” He patted my brother affectionately. “Let’s worry later.”
Hal knowing Mr. Rothman was right, laughed with his friend--a friend more than four decades older than he, a friend who had reached out to him and pulled him out of his despair.
“The olive tree never dies,“ Zach said. No matter what it has been through, no matter how old it gets, the olive tree keeps bearing fruit. Just like Zach. Just like Dick Rothman.*
On November 6, 2014, Dick Rothman celebrated his 90th birthday. Two days later, he passed from this world into the arms of his Savior, Jesus. Hal's air conditioning still works just fine.