© 2006 by Jim Robinson
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. —Matthew 14: 26, 27
Dawson was born with the most beautiful eyes.
But last December, one of them didn’t look quite right to his father. They were sitting in a restaurant—four-year-old Dawson, his mother, father, big brother Daniel, and the grandparents. Eating, talking, discussing the day’s events, the busy-ness of things with Christmas coming soon.
And then Mark noticed something. Perhaps in any other situation, under any other lighting, it might have gone unnoticed—the dilated pupil, the strange milky-pink cast, vaguely translucent and colorless. Mark reached out and placed his hand in front of Dawson’s other eye, and asked what he could see.
What unfolded over the next few days is the kind of thing every parent prays will never happen. Please God, no. Not our child. Not our baby. Our child.
They moved quickly for medical help. The process didn’t go as they’d prayed, though; the look of concern on the doctor’s faces, the quick referrals to specialists. This unexpected chapter thrust upon their lives would not relent, and with each new page turned, the news worsened. From one examination room to another, hearts pounding, their world falling away. The looks warned. The scans confirmed.
Dawson had a cancerous tumor inside his left eye. Without intervention, he would probably not survive more than another year. As Mark and Carol Ann stood helpless, holding each other up, they were told of the risk of more cancer, perhaps in the other eye, or anywhere. They could hear the words, echoing off the cold white walls. Their son would need an operation. Soon.
It didn’t seem fair. Dawson had been born into the world weeks early, fragile and weak, not much bigger than his father’s two hands. There were challenges. He and his parents grew accustomed to fighting battles. He was small, but beautiful. He had been through a lot. Why him? Why this?
Everything moved around them like a dream, a very bad dream. But they did the things that needed doing. They booked the flight. They packed their bags. The very best at this kind of procedure could be found in Philadelphia. That’s where they would go. They would do the next thing, and the next, and hope beyond hope to wake up from this terrible nightmare, confused but safe.
My wife and I went to see them before they left. We sat at the breakfast table and talked, though the words meant less than the company to them, no doubt. Because words don’t mean much in times like this. Words don’t carry enough comfort, or hold enough hope. Teresa and I tried to be upbeat and encouraging. But the truth is, our faith often isn’t sufficient. Even the most well-meaning of us can sometimes discover a surprising inability to reach beyond our own fears far enough to be fully available for someone else’s. My wife and I have small children of our own. The fear of our good friends scared us. And so tears came, from all of us, and the silent embraces meant more than the words.
FAITH AND FEAR
I am familiar with Fear. He comes to me, and I know his eyes. I see him not only in the eyes of those who come into my counseling office, but in my own sometimes, too. There. In the mirror. Sometimes the look is old, a reflection of things from the past perhaps not yet fully surrendered. But often the eyes are looking forward, too far ahead. All of these marvelous gifts that have come to me since getting sober, since sacrificing my selfishness to Christ…can they be real? Can they last?
We know it isn’t “right,” this worrying, this projecting of pain into a future that hasn’t yet arrived. Most of the time, we Christians do our best to remain in the day, to follow Jesus’ advice about living for and in the present moment, rather than worshiping the false god of fear. Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, writes Matthew, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? And we read this, and we get it. But then something happens, something unbelievable, something that looks and sounds and feels so very un-God-like that we blink against it and try desperately to refocus. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? …for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. Yes, Lord, yes. I know you love me. But here, now, in the midst of this terrible fear…But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you… And if we’re not careful, oh so careful, the words can begin to threaten our sense of strength, our perception of our own “spiritual condition.” Maybe something is wrong with my faith. Is it strong enough? Has it ever been?
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Children seem to understand this, naturally, the way they understand laughter, and the love within the laughter. As adults, we know this…but it is often too much in our heads, rather than our hearts. When things are going smoothly, we practice it. But then the fear comes…
Something from my early religious teachings will sometimes sneak up on me, and an implanted, covert kind of shame will resurface. I will default to a common misinterpretation of Scripture, and I’ll find myself believing that somehow my faith can cast out all fear, that if only I can muster enough of the stuff it will act as a shield against fear and loss and projected loneliness. But this is not true. Perfect love is my only real hope, and perfect love is something we humans are incapable of manufacturing on our own. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4: 18)
He that feareth—All of us. Made perfect in love—Jesus. Mark and Carol Ann are strong Christians, and deeply committed parents. Their passion for raising their children within a Christian environment is nothing less than inspiring. They are godparents to my son. But they are not equipped to face the fierceness of fear on their own. None of us are. It is too much. And so, as followers of Jesus, we ask for something we can barely understand through our own quivering lips. We ask Him to give us the strength to put on our clothes, to feed our children, to take them to school and to the park and to the doctor. And when they or anyone else we dearly love become sick, we ask Him for a strength beyond our broken hearts to keep us upright in the chair beside their bed, and to calm our trembling enough that we might hold their hand in our own.
LOOKING TO TOMORROW
Dawson lost the eye. But his life was spared. There was no more cancer.
The family returned both empty and filled. They had survived, all of them. At times Mark and Carol Ann had wondered if they could stand the pain of their son losing a part of his precious body, but they did. Prayers for something far more precious—his very life—had become their ultimate plea. God had answered. Their faith had not allowed them to walk through the dark forest unafraid, or unscathed. But walk through it they did. And the great Healer traveled with them. He does not say we will walk the earth free of fear. But Jesus—the embodiment of Perfect Love—promises that He will never let us walk alone.
They were home in time for Christmas. But Mark and Carol Ann were somewhat numbed by the exhaustion of it all, and found themselves struggling to embrace their usual enthusiasm for the occasion. At times, they admitted to feelings of just wanting the day to pass, so they could begin to recover, and start a new year. But still, there were children in the house. Children unaware of just how serious things had been, unable to comprehend all their parents had been through. They only knew somewhere within their innocent spirits that it was Christmas, and that something Love-filled was about to happen.
And so, the lights were lit on the tree, the presents opened. Grandparents, parents, children. Together. Celebrating a certain day, a day that in ways we can never fully fathom always seems to make us pause, and wonder. To breathe. To take in a dared-hoped-for respite from the reality of a world that can be most dangerous indeed. To be still, and see through the eyes of childlike vulnerability that He is God. If only for a moment. But then, this moment is all we really have.
At the end of the day, after the wrapping paper had been thrown away and the prayers spoken and food eaten, Dawson, wearing a patch until the prosthetic could be fitted, came to his mother. She lifted him into her arms. She smelled his hair.
“Oh, Mommy,” he said, his voice almost wistful. “Wasn’t this a wonderful Christmas?”
Yes it was, little Dawson.
Yes it was.