At my first meeting as a committee member of the Kyle's Kamp charity organization to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer, the founder, Rob Hahne, thanked us for our involvement in the charity, pointing out that there are not very many people that can handle this type of work. Kids suffering, kids losing their hair and sometimes their limbs, kids dying? It's just way too hard.
Can I tell you something?
I was one of those people and many days I still am that person. I am meeting amazing people through this organization. I am forming bonds with some of the strongest parents I have ever met. And I know that I am not a psychologist, a counselor, a pastor. Nothing qualifies me here. Nothing at all qualifies me to be in the presence of such fear, of grief, of pain, of suffering. How often does the feeling of inadequacy, the feeling of not being enough, the feeling of just being a regular guy or gal keep us from going, from serving, from listening to God? Maybe it doesn't happen to you. But it happens to me ALL.THE.TIME.
And I'm trying mightily to still that voice of inadequacy. It is true, of course. Nothing qualifies me to be invited into such personal space. Except for one thing. Let's make that One thing - capital O. My God is qualifying me. My God is telling me to go. He is telling me He'll be with me through every effort and He tells me in no uncertain terms: You. It's time. Go.
Now, I honestly believe that sometimes the "going" that is required of us can be only as far as the four walls of a home. Sometimes the "going' doesn't reach farther than a block, a neighborhood, a school. And that kind of going? Caring for your own people, your own neighbors? I believe that is as far as God wants us to go sometimes, certainly during particular seasons in our lives. And that can, absolutely, be enough. This year, though, God is asking me to look outside, step outside, walk through something new. And I cannot even tell you how scary that is.
My heart feels too deeply, as most women's hearts do. Will it be too hard to look? Will it be too painful to see the suffering? To sit with the grieving? My lips speak too many words, as many women's lips do. Will I say the wrong thing? Will I sit mute and dumbfounded? Can't I just sit here behind my computer and write about it? And how about this: If I look too closely, am I in danger of letting the faces of these kids infiltrate every moment of my every day? Will they crowd out my own precious children?
As I started out on this endeavor in the last month or so, I tried to set my mind. I jumbled it up with ideas, with Bible verses, with comforting thoughts and with philosophical quotes about giving and serving and helping. I racked my brain for fundraising ideas and awareness plans. I worried that I just wasn't creative enough or experienced enough to come up with an effective plan.
But then I thought this: My mind is not what I need here. My little mind can barely wrap itself around the fact that children are dying of cancer. That is why He gives us our hearts. God has done something different with my heart in the past six months. He has done it through the life of Gavin Rupp who left too soon. He has done it equally through the lives of Joe, Kyle and Drew Skinner who are still very much here. And this new heart of mine? This heart is big enough to hold the space for these children and for their parents at the very same time that it keeps space for my own children and my own husband. My heart can be big enough even when my little mind cannot conjure up a single profound or comforting statement.
So, in the last week or two, my heart and I have just shown up. I have attended a fundraiser with a mom of a sick child and have sat at the table of a mom who has buried one. These women are pained and grieved and strong and hopeful all at once. They are purposeful and lost and determined and frustrated all at once. And so my heart and I just fumble around through all of that with them. My heart and I don't have to be full of wisdom. We just have to be present. We are to sit. We are to listen intently. We are to hug and hold and squeeze tight. We are to shed tears and look deeply into eyes of pain. We are often to speak no words at all and just nod our heads. We are to try to muster a laugh together. We are to share a look, a smile, or a deep, frustrated sigh. We are to love fiercely and completely.
When my heart and I do those things, I find that I am not at all burdened by the pain of another. On the contrary, I am privileged and honored to invite someone's pain in. This is what I find when I sit with a woman in the midst of fear and loss so brutal that I can't comprehend it. I just sit and feel all of it with her. It is crushing and it is horrible. But then suddenly, it becomes graceful.
Her eyes crinkle in the sweetest way when she smiles. Her giggle floats out and lingers across the kitchen. (Oh, thank you, God, she does still smile and she does still laugh!) Her pain is still new and it is still deep. The anger is right at the surface, right under what I know is a quiet demeanor. Her grief pierces all the way into my heart. But the thing is, my heart doesn't break. My heart and I just fill up with her. And I am stunned at the gift God has given me by allowing me to be in the presence of something so real and so raw. I am humbled to realize that in her sharing, she is teaching me something - something I can turn around and teach to my children. I find that God is giving me an enormous gift. He is blessing me with what I thought I would not be able to bear.
I was afraid. I was afraid and standing on the outside, just glancing in, but trying not to fall too deeply. What I find is that He won't let us drown. All the while, I will still know that as a human being, I am completely unqualified. At the same time, I know that He created me in His image so that I might comfort as He has comforted me. And though I will fumble and trip on my words and not know at all what to say, He will continue to whisper to me this:
Go to the edge. Look over the side. Do not turn around. Step in for My people. Though your hands are shaky, still hold tight to their hands. Though your step is unsteady, still walk through to the other side with them. We will not leave them alone. I am in you and I am in them. Together we can get there. Together we will learn beautiful lessons. Together we might even find a way to glimpse joy again.
Jennifer P. Skinner