I didn’t know what a “drabble” was until just recently. It’s an extremely short work of fiction of exactly 100 words in length. Nicole McLernon, 21 year old daughter of my good friends Mike and Patty McLernon, recently wrote a “super-drabble” – ten drabbles in a row. She based it on some of the lyrics to my song, Out of the Depths, from our Psalms CD.
Nicole unpacks what it might mean to “wait on the Lord” when you find out your daughter has cancer. Although her piece is fictional, the situation is all too familiar. I was affected by her portrayal of a struggling heart learning to submit to God’s wisdom and truth revealed in the gospel. This is one aspect of what worship leaders seek to do every time they stand before a congregation – help people see how the mercy of God meets them in the midst of their trials.
Out of the depths
“I’m sorry.” The doctor looks into my eyes then back down to the floor. “It’s cancer. Your daughter has lymphoma.”
My world reels.
“But you can treat it, can’t you?” My daughter, my 14-year-old princess? Cancer?
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
This is not happening. I am an oncology nurse. I administer chemotherapy; I hold the patient’s hand when they are too weak to even speak; I call the doctor when the patient does not respond; I am silent with the family after they’ve said their last goodbyes.
“It’s progressed too far.”
I cannot even cry.
Oh Lord, I cry to You
I stumble out of the room. There is my daughter, sitting there. Her eyes lock with mine. I try desperately to fill my eyes with hope, try to give some strength even in my gaze.
Her eyes question me. Oh, God. How am I supposed to answer that question? How am I supposed to deliver my daughter’s death sentence? Nothing in my life had prepared me for the rush of love I felt when she was born, when I first heard her cry, when she was placed in my arms for the first time, when her life began.
When I am tempted to despair
Now, nothing in my life has prepared me for this. For the rush of love I feel for her as I search for words that speak of the end, of the grave, of the long goodbye.
I must sit down.
I walk slowly, haltingly. I lower myself into the seat next to my precious little girl. Her eyes have not left my face.
I take her hand.
Was it a minute? Ten seconds? An eternity?
A deep sigh wells up from within me. I strangle the urge to let it out.
“Piper?” I must do this.
Though I might fail to trust Your promises
“Piper. The doctor said it’s too late. We didn’t catch the cancer in time.”
I am calm. Or perhaps I am dreaming and I shall wake up momentarily.
“What does that mean?”
“It means we…” Oh, God. “We only have a little time left.”
“He said two months.”
Am I really having this conversation?
Only now does she look away. But just because she has flung herself into my arms. I wait for tears to start. For her heart-wrenching sobs that will surely shatter mine.
Here they come.
I stroke her hair, silently. There is nothing to say.
You never fail to hear my prayer
We start radiation, hoping not for a cure but just some comfort. Piper is the bravest of us all. She endures. Still, I do not cry.
I hold her hand, like I’ve held so many patients’ hands before. But this time, I am the weary family member. This time, it is my heart breaking.
I bring in chocolate fudge swirl ice cream one day. Piper smiles at me, her eyes alight with joy. She takes a bite. Her face twists in displeasure and shock. The radiation has changed her taste buds so that she cannot even enjoy her favorite treat.
In every trial and loss
“Mom?” She tries to cover up her disappointment in a brave effort to encourage me. “Thanks for bringing it in.”
She looks so small, sitting there in that hospital bed, wearing that ridiculous gown. We’ve laughed about the gown. We call it her “simply telling us people interesting dragons” or “stupid” for short. Piper has always loved words. She’s always learning new ones, sprinkling her conversation with vocabulary that she’s picked up over the years. She gets that from her dad.
Her dad. My husband. The man is exhausted. I finally sent him home last night to get some sleep.
My hope is in the Cross
We bring Piper home when it is clear that there is nothing more to be done. She said she didn’t want to remember her last days being in the sterile hospital environment. Her words, not mine.
The clouds are rolling in as we pull up the driveway. They are dark. Angry. Threatening.
Piper walks up to her bedroom, possibly for the last time. Weariness shrouds her body. Her shoulders stoop forward and she stumbles on the stairs. She makes no protest when Jack picks her up and carries her.
I cannot follow. I turn and run out of the house.
Where Your compassions never fail
“Are you listening?” I scream to the heavens.
As if in reply, thunder booms in the distance.
“How dare you do this? Are you truly all-powerful? All-knowing? Good or kind? What kind of sadistic monster does this to a child?”
Lightening illuminates the sky, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. The wind swirls around me, whipping my hair around my face, into my eyes and open mouth. Thunder crashes, as if it is trying to frighten me. I am not afraid. I am furious.
“Can you hear me?” I shout again, expecting no answer.
So more than watchmen for the morning
The rain is pouring now. The trees and clouds perform a wild dance in front of me, driven by a relentless wind. I consider going back inside but I am too angry.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch your child suffer and die?” I can still be heard, despite the thunder.
There is a brilliant flash of lightening. The thunder rumbles, far in the distance and suddenly, the tempest is over.
The rain is falling gently now. It looks like heaven itself is crying.
Then I hear it, not with my ears, but in my heart.
I will wait for You, my God
“I killed my Son for you.”
That is all. I hear nothing else.
That is all I need to hear.
Tears begin to well up in my eyes. Tears that have not been shed since Piper was diagnosed. Healing tears for my parched soul.
He killed His Son. For me.
I turn, slowly, and walk back into the house. Up to the second floor. Into my daughter’s room.
She sleeps the exhausted sleep of the very ill. I sit down next to my beautiful, dying daughter and take her hand in mine, gently, softly.
“I love you, Piper.”
© Nicole McLernon 2009