A year ago today, Angela wrote this about having cancer.
I miss her. I miss walking through the spring air during our lunch breaks like we did last year. I miss reading the same books. I miss her brilliant, always on target advice. It makes my chest ache.
Her two year battle with cancer and death left me with a lot of questions. I spent many a dark night praying. And on the darkest nights, I didn't pray at all.
I was angry. I never doubted that He wasn't there. I knew God existed. I knew He was listening to my prayers. To her prayers. To her husband and father and sister and mother's prayers. He was listening. But here's the bitter pill I struggled to swallow... God listened... and God said no.
The most amazing thing to me is that Ang wasn't angry with God. She wasn't bitter. She was scared, but not angry. I couldn't understand that. I was ready to scream the walls down, yell at doctors, throw a fit on the cold tile floors of the hospital lobby. And I wasn't even suffering. But she didn't do that.
Before I knew Angela, God and I had a very polite relationship. I prayed every now and then, always beginning it with “Dear Lord…” and always ending with the obligatory Amen. We were like the husband and wife at the dinner table with nothing to talk about. We smiled. We passed the salt. I believed, but it didn’t go much deeper than that.
And then as Angela got sicker and sicker, all that changed. My conversations with God seeped outside the boundaries of my biweekly, kneel at the bedside “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers. They got louder. Angrier. One night after visiting her I stood outside the hospital, gazed up at the stars, clenched my fists and muttered, “Lord… what the heck!?” Except I didn’t say heck.
I know what you’re thinking. The sacrilege! The disrespect! But believe me, over time my prayers became increasingly vivid. And while I was angry with God, disappointed and appalled that the curtain of good fortune was being torn down in front of my eyes…our relationship grew. I found that I needed to complain to him, cry to him, shake my fist at him.
I realized for the first time that I had an actual relationship with God. I realized that my frustration and tears meant that I really did believe He was there. That He was not a distant clockmaker or the leader of an exclusive club. I realized he was my Father, the only one I could turn to. Simplistic as that may sound, it was a revelation for me.
It's easy to have faith when things are going well. Or at least holding status quo. But when we face the dark side of life, when we have to turn and stand nose to nose with the unpleasant, frightening, heart-breaking face of suffering and death, things lose their clarity. We falter a little, gaze up toward heaven and ask the ultimate question, "Why?"But Angela didn't lose her clarity. She didn't lose her faith. And I thank God for that.
Losing her has made me re-evaluate my life. And while I cringe at the suffering she endured, I'm thankful for her example. For her faith. For her bravery. I'm humbled that I was there to witness the last few years of her life. It was a privilege. It brought me closer to God.
I still don't understand why it happened to her. I'm sure that Angela's struggle is just the first in a series of life events I wont understand. I've read at least ten books on suffering and each them seemed hollow. I know the authors had the best of intentions. But I don't believe suffering can be explained. I don't believe we'll have an answer in this life. And that's the hardest part.
But somehow, through a lot of tears and stubborn prayers, God and I are finally a team. We've mended the gap. At least I'm assuming that since He didn't zap me with lightening over the fist shaking thing. I kid people, I kid. But it's changed my life. And it really beats smiling and passing the salt.
If Angela was here, she'd wave her hand in the air and blow off these compliments. She was never one for accolades or praise. In fact, this post would have made her downright huffy. She did not want nor need the spotlight. But she deserves it. So I'll end with her words instead of mine.
"Painted at the top of my stairs, the first thing you see when you walk into my home, is the line “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.” It’s true. Those creatures who live closest to God do not bemoan their fate. They live every moment of their lives instinctively, vibrantly, freely."