I have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus really performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels. It’s just that my own story is marked by the miracle that never came: my mother’s healing.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old. My memories of that time in our lives are still vivid nearly two decades later. I remember seeing her bandaged chest after her mastectomy. I remember her waist-length curtain of dark brown hair falling out in handfuls, and the way she looked the morning after she made dad shave her head. I remember walking into their bedroom to see her laying in the darkness, spent with sickness after another chemo treatment. I remember the prayers I prayed – God, please help mom feel better. God, please make her hair grow back. God, please don’t take her away. God, please. Please.
I remember other things too, memories that I look back on with deep gratitude and love. I remember the stack of cards that came in the mail, from everyone we knew, it seemed. So many times mom would open them and a slip of paper would fall out onto the kitchen counter – a check to help us make ends’ meet. I remember the people that showed up on our doorstep, arms full of food. Some of these people were flesh-and-blood family, but most of them were our church family. We attended the same small Baptist church in my rural hometown in Michigan for my whole life, and my mother’s whole life. They are a congregation of real salt-of-the-earth people, mostly farmers and their families that have lived in the area for several generations. With the same steadfastness (some might say stubbornness) that survives Michigan winters and plows the hard ground year after year, the parishioners attend that same First Baptist Church on Cochran Road. And with that same steadfastness, they rally around one another in seasons of hardship. At the time of mom’s first diagnosis, and again five years later when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, they were ever-present with prayer and encouragement and meals and cards and childcare.
Mom lived with metastatic breast cancer for nearly 10 years after she received the second diagnosis in 2002. Considering that her doctors gave her three years maximum prognosis, this was miraculous. Most of that time, she didn’t even look sick. It wasn’t until it spread to her soft tissue in those last three years that things started to change. As her conditioned worsened, mine did too; my faith felt toxic. I felt like what hope I had left was dying inside of me. The community and meals and financial support were great and all, but God, wouldn’t it just be better if you healed her so that we wouldn’t need it anymore?
I wanted total healing for my mother, but God refused to give it. I prayed for the miracle, longed for the miracle, tried to will myself into believing hard enough that if I knocked, the door would be opened. It didn’t. In the final year of mom’s life, everything felt desperate and desolate. Mom was in and out of the hospital every other week and every part of her body seemed to be failing her. At home, things were just as dire; my parents were swamped with medical debt and no one had the time or mental where-with-all to keep track of anything.
And that’s when Love showed up in a big way for us. A few friends from church and some members of our family decided to plan a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to help raise funds for my parents. Hundreds of helping hands joined the effort with donations for the meal and the auction, and on the night of the event, hundreds more showed up. Despite how physically weak she was after another stint in the hospital, Mom was able to attend. They sat her in a chair by the door to the auditorium where the dinner was being held and friend after friend came to her with hugs and words of encouragement. All in all, more than 800 people came and raised more than $14,000.
Some days, I still have a hard time believing in miracles. I can’t sugar-coat the reality that the one I spent a lifetime praying for never came. My mom died when I was 24, and every day I miss her. Every day I battle my bitterness and anger. Every day I ask God why. Every day I ask God to prove to me that Love is real. And every day, the memories fall like manna – I remember the friends that showed up with arms full of food, the cards that came in the mail, the funds tucked inside them that helped our family make ends’ meet. And I remember the night of the spaghetti dinner and silent auction as its own miracle – all those people showing up for us, all of them sharing their resources and moving one another toward compassion and generosity – it was the feeding of five thousand, it was water turned to wine, it was Love made flesh and dwelling among us.
Bethany Suckrow is a writer and blogger at at www.bethanysuckrow.com, where she shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about losing her mother to cancer. She and her musician-husband, Matt, live in the Chicago suburbs.
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