They found the lump in August.
By September she was bald. The wall of her chest, I mean. Cut clean from the cancer, but also dismembered from her femininity. And the healing was long and slow. Most of the scars, they still ache, when she thinks of it all.
Thinking is something she has plenty of time for these days.
Because this year of chemo is cleaning her clock. Those eyes that once sparkled like the ice crystals along the window sill now rise painful, a slow recognition of the grandchildren who used to give her so much life and energy. Oh, she still knows them, but it’s harder to keep pace. Harder for the throbbing of her loving heart to make it out of her tired lips. But it’s okay. We come to her at Christmastime. We watch more movies together, because it drains her less. And we send the kids to play in the snow rather than bring all their wiggles into her living room. And it works. Love makes space like that.
But I see she feels the space. And sometimes, well, it feels rather empty.
Because she used to be the Bible Study leader, the oldest woman in a church full of young marrieds with small children. And we’d sit at her feet every Thursday night and hear spine-tingling stories about times He showed up in her family life. She had this engaging way of asking us about our hearts and it was a God-thing. We’d talk out our hurts and pray out our fears and share recipes and laugh loud. There was vulnerability in her words and there was kindness in her eyes and we just knew she held our hands and our hearts as we took our first tottering steps into womanhood. She taught us so much about what that word meant.
Such a different woman sits before me now. Milo and Otis plays in the background and she feels less sure of her womanhood somehow. Maybe even of her faith.
But how do you address such a private battle unless you’re invited in? So I wait. And I hold open the yawning space. Will she enter?
She picks up her glasses and studies her camera. She tells me about how she can only focus for a little while after her chemo treatments, so she only reads snatches of Scripture these days. And I watch the shadow settle over her face. Then she describes her new church, how she knows they love her and pray for her there, but she’s not really connected. She has no deep or lasting relationships there. And I feel the sigh in her soul. Days gone by, I wonder if it’s for the days gone by.
Her eyes, always so sharp, fill with sudden tears. In the silent space that hangs between us, the full and the empty, she speaks her peace. But you know what I think God wants me to know in this time?
“He is still pleased with me.”
She weeps gently at these words.
And I hold the silence. Because the peace is just too heavy. Words would be a harsh intrusion on such a sacred moment.
But I drink it all in.
The past. Her strength and zeal and all the religious activity. The present. A shell of who she used to be. The very woman who taught me what femininity meant now straps on her breasts with each quiet morning that greets her. Emptied. Yet, in the stillness that she cannot change, growing full. Learning Peace.
Learning to let herself be loved.
But can I tell you something? She is more beautiful, with a God-glory, with her crocheted snow hat covering her hairless head and her prostheses resting in their box than she ever has been to me before. Her life ministers great lessons of peace and rest and security in Her Beloved that are beyond all the grace words she ever offered me on a Thursday night over tepid coffee. She sings the song so clear now, for those who have ears to hear, and it is one of beautiful womanhood. Of true femininity. Of a Bridal response to a Lover who never gives up.
And of accepting her radical acceptance by God. Not for all she does, but for all she is.
Her life is but a whisper now of the noisy days gone by, but she is living theology before me.
The theology of brokenness.
It is the song of the emptied. And the full.