the way it would have to be
Her hair blows against my cheek, just one errant, brassy strand. She laughs, and I laugh with her, taken by those eyes that have always been as blue as the sky just before a storm. “You know, this is how it would have to be with us,” she says, lifting a hand toward the door, where some of the hospital staff stand talking, touching their clipped white badges with their fingers. On the breeze, we catch bits and pieces of words, hints of murmuring—fire alarm, two weeks, just steam, again. Two fire trucks turn into the drive and move in opposite directions, blasting a brief and obligatory horn as they arrive.
Two women in scrubs stand just across the sidewalk, the one smoothing her hair, the other resting her hands on her hips. “Nothing’s on fire,” one of them says, tossing the words toward us, “and if it were a real fire no one would even believe it.” Clearly, she’s right. Through the glass, we watch other hospital personnel amble up and down a staircase. They seem oblivious to the white light flashing in the entry way, the knots of people lingering, the red hulk of a truck idling in the horseshoe drive.
So we wait. We have thirty minutes for an x-ray, having already burned ten on the fire alarm that apparently began just a minute before as we parked and unfolded from the car.
I have already thought this through and anticipate that we will have to leave to pick Riley and Adam up from school and then come back. I told Zoe as much ten minutes ago, when we arrived and a trim woman in a business suit at the door told us about the fire drill, politely apologizing. “What has brought you here today?” She’d asked, and then assured me that “imaging isn’t busy at all.”
“You’ll be in and out,” she’d said, “whenever they let us back in the building.” I still have my doubts, and I feel the afternoon closing in, clogged with traffic and the work I haven’t touched. I pull out my phone and send a few texts—to Kevin, to a few close prayer-warring friends, asking them to petition God for the right timing that is His nature. I used to hear the lone ranger theme song all the time in situations like this, felt it rising up in my throat, but not today. God has shown me that I’m never really alone in anything. Daily, He loosens my grip and retrains the way I see.
So we wait, and I realize that my daughter still fits into the curves of my side. I feel her next to me, warm like the sun. Make the most of every opportunity, the Spirit whispers, and so I settle against the bench and laugh with Zoe over how it is that life for us generally happens in such a tangle, how the visible knots become the places where it’s easiest to see God’s fingers moving.
She broke her toe. Or, at least we predict so now that the dark signs of bruising have given way to swelling. “I need a better story,” she says, “something other than, ‘my friend accidentally tripped over my foot while we were running.'” She talks and I listen, thinking about how the line between her cheek and her chin has lengthened, how her smile has deepened and strengthened with understanding. And I realize that something like an inconvenient wait can also be an opportunity to see things more completely.
This morning, my first selfish thoughts about a day spent gathering x-rays and discerning treatment involved only the impractical details and how they would impact me. This excursion and the ones that would likely follow it had not figured into my desperate plan for reasserting some illusion of control over our household management this week. I confess that in the first how can I hours, before I sat with God and He reminded me that living is about watching Him do what He can do instead and despite, I wallowed in frustration. On a day when I felt desperate for order, a new thread of chaos had woven itself around my wrists, and I felt caught. Zoe of course picked up on this, and apologized. “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she said, and as quickly as I began to explain that I was frustrated with the situation and not with her, the Holy Spirit began His sculpting, prodding the cracked and self-centered spaces in my heart.
At night around the dinner table this week, my kids and I have discussed the attitude of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the way he wrote while being imprisoned, the things he said about his chains. So Zoe and I sit waiting under smooth skies, and I gather up the sight of her—the hints of pink and gold in her skin, the way humor lights her eyes, and a few of those verses echo. What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel, Paul wrote.
…because of this, I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phil.1:12, 18-20)
It’s something special, something faithful to know that the things that harass and delay our progress can never stop the work of God, to be able to look beyond all our temporary pain and chaos toward eternal and everlasting significance. It’s something to really care most that Christ be exalted in our bodies, and to truly believe that through prayer–ours and those of others—and God’s provision of the Spirit, what has happened to us will absolutely always turn out for our deliverance, whether here and now or—even more grand—in the foreverlands.
I have so far to go to get to Paul’s perspective. For me, a thing like a broken bone and a day visiting doctors is still enough to bruise and swell a day and turn everything all catawampus (and yes that word is a perfect one for me). And that’s what I’m thinking, as we sit on that bench and Zoe spins crazy tales about how she came by her injury, and we wait, laughing and leaning into each other. But there are greater things happening, maybe less immediately obvious than what feel like so many sigh-wrapped surface details. I can see my daughter discovering all over again that she’s loved—that she takes priority over so many other things. And she watches me—I see her appraising the length of my stride—as I seek and gather prayer and then relax, determined to trust God to the best way.
When at last we’re on our way, having managed the x-ray at just the right time, I look over at her and say, “isn’t that just the way it would have to be with our God?”
And she reaches to squeeze my fingers, and grins. “Yea, it really is.”