Day 9: We Can Do Hard Things // 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness
Hi there! This is day 9 of a series I’m writing this October called 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness. You can find the entire series here: 31 Days of Hope in Brokenness.
Last April, I got the phone call no one wants to get. My precious great-grandma, 95 years young, was in the hospital with a severe UTI caused by extreme dehydration. The doctors said it appeared that she had not had any water in days. They said the resulting infection in her kidneys was so bad, she might not make it.
We got in the car immediately and headed to the hospital, Chris leaving work so I wouldn’t have to go alone. My mom was already there, Granny’s fierce advocate, patiently explaining everything every five minutes because of the dementia and short term memory loss, her voice somehow still kind even though she had to shout for Granny to hear her. She was conscious, but disoriented and in and out of sleep. She jolted awake suddenly, calling out for God to help her. My heart sank. When Granny fell asleep for a longer stretch, my mom resumed her knitting in an uncomfortable chair in the corner.
We had prayed all the way there that she would have the very nicest and best doctors and nurses, and she did. They were all so kind and careful. We were so grateful. There were a few extra rough moments during the inbetween space when the doctors weren’t sure if they should keep trying to treat the infection, or not, since the treatment was causing her a lot of discomfort and was not getting results. The day we met the hospital’s hospice liaison was the best and worst day; she was a kind soul who advocated for my Granny to be allowed to comfortably transition to a much more peaceful environment in hospice care in the absence of an effective treatment, which was wonderful of her, but of course what it meant for us was devastating.
Somehow, we walked through it. It helped a little that the hospice care environment was dramatically different than the hospital. It was quiet, calm, and peaceful, the hospital bed outfitted with wooden headboards so it felt more like a real bed, complete with a handmade quilt. No one was ever alone there – they had volunteers that came to sit with people whose families were unable to come. Sometimes people dropped off cookies or banana bread for the families. And hospice nurses are straight up angels from heaven, patiently explaining every frightening symptom and change, and bearing witness to our sad and holy moments only when we wanted them around. The experience could never be described as easy, but the hospice center was such a relief and a blessing for us compared to the harsh and cold hospital. They were not trying to prolong a life at all costs, including the cost of the patient’s dignity, comfort, and wellbeing. They were not waking up my Granny every hour to stick her with needles while she cried because she didn’t know what was happening or why. They understood death, and they made this incredibly hard thing into as peaceful and kind and gentle an experience as it possibly could have been. But it was still hard.
I used to teach 7th graders, and I had a poster on my classroom wall that said WE CAN DO HARD THINGS. I would point to it whenever a kid whined about an assignment being hard. Yes, it is hard, I would tell them. And that’s okay! Because we can do hard things. It worked about 50% of the time, which is about the percentage that 12 year olds listen to their teacher. It works on my own heart, too, when I remember. We can do hard things. We can lean in when there is pain instead of backing away. We don’t have to hide from what hurts and what’s broken. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, right? That is surely one of the most quoted verses in the whole Bible. I wish walking the walk was as easy as talking the talk, though. My first instinct when I come up against a hard or painful thing is to run. Sometimes that’s the right response. Fear is a natural response to danger and discomfort exists to keep us from doing unwise things that could hurt us. But if we run from every instance of pain and every difficult thing, we will never grow. Some of my most painful life experiences have been the ones that shaped me most. It’s the situations where you have no idea how you will get through it or figure it out that help you understand that everything can be figured out. Everything can be gotten through.
We just kept showing up. We had a deep sense from the beginning that there was nothing else to do but just be there. My Granny outlived both her sons and the rest of her family and friends, so my mom and I were it. Chris was there too, supporting me and loving my Granny right alongside us. I fell in love with him even more as he took a turn holding her hand and giving her sips of water. Then, at home, we would get into squabbles because I was under so much stress. But we walked through it together and always made it back to the hospital the next day. We sat there in her room for days, only going home to shower and sleep. My mom slept in the uncomfortable chair once. We sat and talked around her bedside – what my Granny would call “visiting.” We did what she would have had us do, what she loved to do: sit and visit with family. Catch up. Just sit and visit. One of my favorite ways to do hard things is together.
One night I wandered into the hospice’s chapel, stocked with piles of books and a stained glass window that was lit from within so the colors were always visible no matter what time of day it was. I picked up a small prayer booklet.
Dear God, be good to me.
The sea is so wide,
And my boat is so small.
– Breton fisherman’s prayer
My Granny’s boat was so small and the sea, so wide. But what I didn’t know was that Jesus was in the boat with her, and the boat was cupped in His Father’s hands.
On the way to my great-grandmother’s funeral it was pouring down rain…and I heard Francesca Batistelli sing,
“There’s nothing worth more
That could ever come close,
No thing can compare
You’re our living hope…”
And I was reminded of how our Father, Ruler of All Kingdoms, Maker of Oceans and Stars, once put on skin like ours, and vulnerability like ours, and became human. Even smaller: a little baby, because no one could be afraid of a baby. Subjected Himself to all our scraped knees, the flu, that particular sting of being left out on the playground, our uncertainty about who we are and whether we matter, middle school awkwardness, broken bones, broken hearts, all our diseases and the ways we find to hurt one another, and death, all just so He could be with us. He even put on a human name – Immanuel: “God with us.”
“Your presence, Lord…”
A week prior, in the middle of the heartbreak and relief that is hospice care after a difficult time in the hospital, my granny was surprising all of the doctors. “We think she has 24 hours.” Two days later, “1-3 days.” More days passed. “We think tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and went. And we were still there, because of course we were, because that’s what you do when you love someone, and when it’s someone who has always so loved you. We didn’t know a lot about hospice care or about how a person dies, but we knew we should be there. So we were. We sat with her and talked to her, my mom told her stories while she knit dishcloths, we played cards, we cried, we found it in us to laugh a little. We just loved her. We couldn’t give her love in food or water because she could choke and didn’t want to eat, so we gave her family time, as much as she could carry, until she took her last breath. And there were times when I really struggled with the slowness of it all. There were times when she would struggle for breath, try to raise herself up, try to speak after speech had gone, try to ask a question that would disappear in her throat before being able to be heard. So we worried, and we held her hands and stroked her hair, and we called the nurses and they upped her pain meds, and we prayed, and we waited. We waited for six days. She surprised everyone; no one expected her to last that long.
There are moments when I was mad at God. Not for taking my granny home – she was 95, so we were somewhat expecting it and I knew she would soon be healed and whole with Jesus – but for the whole thing being so full of suffering and so slow. I cussed at God (oops, too real?). I said, what are You doing? I said, where are You? (I said these things more colorfully sometimes.) And I got in return, after a little while, a mental picture of the risen Lord, OUR Jesus, the one who had become human, for us, and He was sitting by her bedside, with us. Holding her hand with us, and whispering things to her that only she could hear. Because of course He was. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.
“Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord…”
There He was, taking time out of His busy schedule. Nothing was more important than this, than comforting a dying woman. He knew it. He’d been there. He’s been there, y’all. Jesus knows every bit of what she was going through and feeling because He has been through all of the steps. He could tell her where to put her feet as she walked this road. And I believe He did. Finally after days of not understanding why God would allow death to be like this, so not peaceful, so ugly, so slow – I still don’t know what purposes He was working out in that. I honestly don’t get His plan there. But I am certain of what He whispered to my heart on what I didn’t yet know would be her last day on earth: “Every single minute of her life matters.”
“I’ve tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
In Your presence, Lord…”
The rain slowed on funeral day, but it was still coming down. He was still there. He still wept with us. Isn’t that extraordinary? That He knows the whole truth and the goodness of what is to come, how He will make all things new and right, how the things over which we cry are not permanent, and how even our biggest and most devastating heartbreaks will seem like one bad night in a crappy motel compared to the indescribable beauty and wholeness and peace and joy we will experience in His presence forever, and He still cries with us? What a compassionate God He must be. What amazing graces must He be planning for all of His precious children.
This is how I have come to believe that God leaves no one out: come home to Him not because you are afraid of hell, but because He is home and heaven and He is where you belong. He is the point. Love is the point. I can tell you if you are afraid that He will reject you because you are not holy enough or churchy enough or put together enough, rest assured, friend – after seeing Him patiently sit at the bedside of a woman who had lost all control of her body, whose mind dementia had ravaged, who could not even cry out in the end – I have to believe He is on your side just as He is on hers, and mine, and ours. I’ve seen it: Jesus loves you so very much. He loves you like He loves my great-grandmother. Even though none of us can do anything to really prove our worth to Him, He loves us and wants us anyway.
If your brokenness has you on the ropes today, know all is not lost. Somehow, Jesus enables us to do hard things exactly when we need to. We can do the hard things because they matter, and because that’s where we’re supposed to be sometimes, but most of all we can do hard things because that is part of our identity in Christ. All it takes is one look at the cross to see that Jesus is familiar with doing hard things for worthwhile reasons. We are not part of a family who takes the easy way out. We are part of the body of Christ who gave Himself for us. May we give ourselves to others in His name, remind ourselves that He is deeply good, and walk through the places He puts us, even when it’s hard. I just know it will be so worth it when we see what He has planned.