Those of you who know me well know that my favorite symbol of new life and transformation is the butterfly. I was named Emerging Butterfly when I was in seminary. After graduation, the butterfly became the symbol for my retreat and small group ministry, Emergings. That symbol and name followed me as my ministry itself emerged and evolved to include counseling and coaching. It is the symbol I utilize in my memoir, for this website, and for this blog.
In league with early Christians who shared my aversion for using a gruesome form of execution as a symbol for their faith, I have been reluctant to wear a cross. Despite the cross being associated with them, early Christians didn’t use it extensively until the fourth century. I am in the seventh decade of my life, and relate more closely to those catacomb Christians who were uncomfortable with this symbol.
However, as I pondered the twist my life has taken as my daughter’s illness has turned her life and mine upside down, I found these foreign and unsettling words emerging in my consciousness, “This is the cross I bear.” Sensing Spirit calling forth some new awareness within me, I turned to my Bible and revisited a passage in Luke.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” ~Luke 14:27
Is being my daughter’s caregiver my cross to bear? Am I being Jesus disciple in the way I bear it? I pondered these questions as the weeks progressed…moving through harsh judgments as I always do before loving kindness emerges.
I revisited Jesus facing his cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. In my Harper Study Bible, Matthew’s heading for this portion of his Gospel (Matthew 26:36-46) is “Jesus agony.” He describes Jesus as troubled and depicts him saying to the disciples who accompanied him, “My soul is very sorrowful.”
Something inside me relaxed. I have permission to be sorrowful, something that has been found to be persistent for parents of children with chronic health conditions…something that has been strong and visceral within me these past few months while my daughter’s healthcare crisis signaled the progression of her disease. Sorrow has been especially intense since she moved in with me where it stares me in the face daily.
Three times Matthew and Mark depict Jesus praying that he not have to bear his cross…praying for his life to be spared.
Again, something inside me relaxed. While I don’t face the unspeakable horror he faced, I have wished away the effects of my child disease…wished I didn’t have to be a caregiver, something that doesn’t come naturally to me…wished I could return to the joy-filled life I had recently created for myself.
For the years my daughter lived independently, we both denied the reality of her disease, hoping our lives would be spared the life-sucking symptoms so many others with this disease and their caregivers experience. This was not to be.
Then Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.” Finding a way to relax into those words has been a bit more difficult. Moving beyond the retributive images often attributed to the Divine has required years of pondering the way my experience of suffering evolves.
In my process, I have come to experience the Divine as coming to me with compassion and empathy, crying with me, giving space for my suffering, suffering with me. Only after I have plumbed sufferings depths with Divine Love as my faithful companion does my spirit open. In some mysterious way that can only be attributed to Divine grace, my eyes open to behold a miracle of resurrection, transformation, and new life. A gift I might not appreciate or even notice, if not for the suffering, presents itself. Only then can I relax into and embrace a more mature experience of “Not my will but thine be done.”
When Jesus entered Gethsemane, he asked Peter, James, and John, three of his disciples, to remain there and watch with him. Three times during that hour of gut-wrenching prayer, he found them sleeping.
I thought about the suffering these three men experienced after Jesus’ violent death. They must have known they had let him down. And now they ran in fear for their own lives. And yet, his transforming spirit remained with them in their suffering and fear until they were able to muster the strength to fulfill their calling as his disciples. These three fisherman had no idea what they were signing up for when they enthusiastically left their old life behind to follow him.
I relaxed as I contemplated how none of us really know what we are signing up for in this life…how weak our willing spirits often are. When my children were born, I wanted to be a “good mother.” I carried idealized images and cultural conditioning about what that was and was not. I had no idea what I was signing up for and despite my willing spirit, I often let them and myself down and sometimes wanted to run for my life.
But today I am here doing what doesn’t come naturally. My railings against the cross I bear are dissipating and so I seem to be entering the “Not my will but Thine be done” part of the process. Even though I am sometimes weary of the call to evolve and want to shout “Enough already,” I experience myself beginning to surrender.
Today I accepted an invitation to have lunch with an established group of women who are new to me. They were curious about my life and respectfully sought me out. That gave me an opportunity to give them a thumbnail sketch of the outline of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. They thanked me for sharing and were enthusiastic about wanting to read my book. They were compassionate in their acknowledgement of my suffering.
The woman sitting across the table from me then shared that she found my story inspiring.
Something inside me relaxed.
She went on to tell me about her life. Sharing honestly about my own suffering made it possible for her to share hers. She has an amazing story and has thought about writing her memoir. She wondered if she was too old and asked my age. She is only one year older than I. I assured her, memoirs only get better as we gain in wisdom. I told her how writing about my life had helped me make sense of it.
Her eyes brightened, she sat up straight, and said, “You have inspired me to get serious about writing my story.”
I felt relaxed as I left that restaurant today and in awe at the outcome of the invitation I almost didn’t accept. Instead of giving in to the weakness of my willing spirit, I listened to the still, small voice of wisdom inside that told me to go. I mustered the strength to show up with my eyes wide open.
These women eased my suffering with their compassionate presence. And it seemed no accident that I sat across from the woman who needed just the inspiration I was able to provide. This, to me, is the gift and the miracle of “Thy will be done.”
My cross seems a little more bearable today.