Days of Guilt and Grace

When I was in 7th grade I wanted desperately to be a anti war radical. I wore my brother’s old army jacket, a POW bracelet and earth shoes and subscribed to Rolling Stone (until my mother read it). I also found it hysterical that a friend would bring cigarettes to school enabling several of my friends and I to smoke in the bathroom during lunch. Well, that little walk on the wild side ended one day when the Principal opened the bathroom door to a cloud of smoke.

The next day my daddy suffered his first heart attack.

Off to the hospital went mother and daddy and I had to stay with my grandmother. I knew without a doubt this whole thing was my fault because of those cigarettes. I prayed so hard for him to live and my little baptist heart begged forgiveness for causing this horrible thing to happen. My guilt was my secret.

As a young mother I was overwhelmed with working mom guilt. I was a teacher. A choral director. The obsessed kind. The kind that wanted to have the biggest and best program around. The kind that counted how many all region and all state members and compared the total to every other district in the region. The kind that stressed over ratings and kept every one of them in notebooks comparing year to year. Always worried if I was doing the best job I could while knowing that I was being beaten in the “preparedness” category by other moms.

I distinctly remember the day Chase was to bring cookies to his Montessori preschool. I was tired from school and cooking dinner, but determined to make my world famous cookies after I put the boys to bed. I’m sure Jack was in tax season (that’s a story for another day). It was after midnight but those marvelous oatmeal pecan chocolate chip cookies were baked, packaged and perfect.

As I dropped Chase off the next morning he cried because I had made cookies with “puke-ons” in them. When asked, he shared that he wanted Oreos. Guilt.

Fast forward to 1997…..well, actually 1996. I felt a lump in my left breast. I knew it couldn’t be cancer because my mammogram was clear. So, I did nothing. As months passed the lump didn’t go away, I had a knot under my arm and my breast bled. I went to two different doctors who assured me it was ok. I did nothing. Finally, in the summer of 1997 a third doctor, and the hero of the story, demanded I get a biopsy and the rest (stage 3b breast cancer, mastectomy, 8 chemo treatments, a stem cell transplant and 30 radiation treatments) is history. I was all my fault. Guilt. I believed the wrong people, I didn’t listen to my body and I was too busy to slow down and take care of the problem before it progressed. My guilt was at times overwhelming. Guilt that my husband had to endure having a “sick” wife that required CVC cleaning, disfigurement, financial hardship and the stress of taking care of me and our boys while doing his own stressful job. God love him.

After 20+ years cancer free the guilt was finally buried under years of normality. Precious years of raising our boys, progressing in our careers and living life. The wonderful gift of being present for both boys’ graduations, weddings and the births of two perfect grandchildren was joyous and I was, and am. grateful.

And then…

Stage 4 lung cancer with brain mets. How did this happen to a non-smoking breast cancer survivor? Did I miss or ignore symptoms again? Guilt. What in the world have I done this time to deserve this? Was it my diet coke, coffee, sugar, no exercise, work too hard lifestyle? Guilt. My grandchildren probably won’t remember me. My friends will grow weary of loving the “sick” one who can’t entertain or be as fun as she used to be. Jack will never remember to buy new shoes. Medical bills are so astronomical that I don’t dare look. Is it my fault? Guilt.

So grace.

2 Corinthians chapter 12 says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

John 1:3 says “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s son, will be with us in truth and love.”

Grace, freely bestowed to all who believe. I sing these words but now’s the time to listen and take them to heart. My guilt, real or imagined, is covered by his grace. What a beautiful thing. What a glorious thing. He understands, he forgives, his grace is indeed sufficient. Because of him my family and my friends will extend grace to me as I walk through these days. They’ll do it because they love me and God’s grace covers them as well. We are forgiven people.

So, today……I will live. I will enjoy every minute given me and do my best to not think ahead. My illness is not my fault. God didn’t send it to me as punishment for some mortal failure. Being honest with God about my struggles and challenges with this darn illness means I’m trusting in his grace. Amazing grace. Infinite grace.

It’s a beautiful Arkansas morning as summer and autumn collide. I look out the sunroom window and marvel at his creation. Robbie, the dog next door, makes an unexpected visit to the patio as does the cat from across the street. They just dropped by to say hello. Somebody is mowing one last time. I drink my coffee and anxiously wait today’s visit from dear friends and the birthday celebration I’ll have with my sweet family this weekend.

After all, Anne Lamott says “Grace bats last”……..and my game’s not over.