For Trucker and his courageous family
“Mommy!” my two-year-old shouted me awake. I stumbled into his room and saw his shadow sitting up in bed, sucking his thumb. “Mom!” He bellowed through the inches between us, “could you put your head down right here?” he patted his pillow.
I crawled into his bed. He curled up beside me, his tiny form pressed against my long tummy. “Thanks, Mom!” He yelled. He was asleep in minutes.
I lay awake for an hour, running my fingers across his chubby thighs, listening to his quiet breath and trying to hold back my tears. It is not my family I told myself, as I pressed a pillow over my face. I don’t even know them! This is ridiculous. But I couldn’t reason away my grief. Or my fear.
The grief had been with me for days. I heard about Trucker more than a year ago, from our handful of mutual friends. Back when one-year-old Trucker was diagnosed with stage IV Neuroblastoma, my own one-year-old was having trouble sleeping. I used to think about Trucker and his brave, steel-clad mama during my early, wearing days of motherhood, when long days melted into longer nights. I was only a spectator outside her story, my home a few miles from hers, but her faith, her sincerity, and her warrior heart encouraged me. She inspired a blog post way back then.
Now my heart was aching. It didn’t make sense, but ever since I had heard that three-year-old Trucker was home on hospice care, my heart would not stop hurting. He wasn’t my little boy. I never held his hand or read him Dr. Seuss. I never heard him insist that he was going to be taller than his daddy or saw him man-up after a tricycle crash. I never felt his head against my leg or heard his little voice ask me to hold him. He was not my little boy, and it was not reasonable to feel the grip of an awful sadness. But I did.
The sun rose dazzling over the rim of Haleakala. I woke up cramped in my two-year-old’s bed, thankful to drink in the sunlight and a big cup of coffee. Sorrow lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning; at least, I hoped it would.
But joy didn’t come. I took my kids to the playground, and ached as I watched their tiny feet run. I took them home and battled tears as they cuddled together on the couch, pretending to read to each other. I sucked in the wet residue of the rain and prayed for a miracle for a family I’ve never met.
And I wondered why it felt as though MY family were being ripped apart. I’m not usually burdened by excess empathy. The world is dark and families endure unbearable suffering every day. My newsfeed is clogged with famines and wars, starvation, destruction, terror, and flight. My own family struggles and I have enough sorrow of my own; why should I borrow someone else’s? Why was this family haunting me so?
My moms’ Bible study met at my house. We sat around the table, eating bagels while our little blessings tore the living room apart. I tried to look casual so I could share a prayer request. There is a normal way to ask for prayer for people who are distant. We say, with cool, practiced concern, that a husband’s colleague’s brother’s aunt’s step-son is unwell, and could everyone please remember him in their prayers? But that morning I stumbled to suggest we should pray for Trucker and his family. I expected to see Sunday Morning Proper on my friends’ faces too—distant sympathy, quick nods, jots of pens so that prayer was duly noted. But as I glanced around I saw fear. Fear and horrible, gut-tearing grief. One mommy’s eyes filled with tears. Another one pressed her hands to her face and cringed.
“Oh, I can’t,” she hesitated, “I can’t even…”
I shook my head. “Me either.”
“The pictures” said another mommy, “when I see the pictures I just cry.”
I blinked and saw a little, worn-out, tousled head pressed against his daddy’s powerful arm. A weary, brave little warrior cradled like a baby in his daddy’s strong, unyielding grip. I saw thin shoulders and a pale little face streaked with pain. I looked around my table and saw that I was not alone. I am not the only one standing outside this story, looking in, and feeling a terrible grief. There are at least 41,099 of us here.
That afternoon, for the first time in forever, both my little miracles took a nap at the same time. For 18 quiet, beautiful minutes I could just watch them. I pushed my three-year-old’s curls back from her face and tugged a truck from under my two-year-old’s cheek, where it left red tire prints. I wished I could stop time, wrap those minutes up and run them through my laminator so I could treasure them forever. I heard only breath, and the soft scratch of a chicken below the window.
But something was thundering behind the silence. C.S. Lewis says God whispers to us in our comforts, but He shouts to us in our pain. When God shouts, His voice breaks cedars. His voice sends mountains skittering. His volume shakes the desert, twists massive oaks, and strips the forest bare (Ps. 29). When God shouts, hearts melt. But then the wise ones grow quiet and listen.
I have a memory. I am five years old. I’m undersized after an infancy spent on the brink of life. I am curled up beside my mother, my head on her lap, feeling the warmth in her legs. I wish she sat more often. I wish I didn’t have so many siblings, so she could be all mine. I feel her gentle fingers in my hair. “Mommy,” I whisper, “am I your little girl?” My lonely heart wants to hear “Yes, darling! You’ll always be my girl.”
Her answer burns. “No,” she says softly. “Not really. I love you tremendously. More than you can imagine. But you belong to God. He lent you to us, and we give you back to Him.” Her words scald deep, deep enough to glisten after 30 years. But over time, their sting fades and a garden grows in their fertile grooves. My parents are people of invincible faith. And they handed all their children over to God.
My mom almost never talks about the child she lost—the one she physically laid in a little box and released to His hands. But years ago, on a grassy hillside in southern Mexico, she watched a shepherd trying to lead his little flock across a stream. One stubborn, frightened ewe would not step into the current, so the shepherd crossed back, picked up her lamb, and carried it over first. In a heartbeat that mama’s anxiety shrank away as her courage found feet. She galloped across the river. Sometimes I think my mom’s courage was born the day her daughter died. She lives with abandon, like someone whose treasure is not on this earth.
When I think about her loss my heart winces. I wonder if the assurance born from adversity is worth it. I am thankful that the choice isn’t mine to make. I pray I would choose well. I pray I would choose love. Behind the silence, when the grief quiets down and the fear is chained up, I can hear Him asking me.
And that must be it. That must be why, or at least part of why, a great, mighty, merciful God let something so unthinkable loose in our community. God had something enormous to say, something that would reverberate across these islands, across the Pacific, across the mainland United States, down the crowded streets of New York, and into every heart that heard the story, a message so important, so heavy, and so piercing that only a little boy could carry it.
That’s what the steel-clad mama says. “Love wins. Love beats cancer.” When I first heard that I thought No it doesn’t. Love doesn’t stop cancer. Cancer wins. Cancer is going to rip this family to pieces. It is going to claim the sweetest smile that ever went viral on Facebook. It’s going to stop that mama’s heart from ever beating properly again. It is going to steal away that tiny boy, silence his adorable voice, and leave a raw, unmendable hole in his family’s broken hearts. Cancer wins.
But then I saw Trucker. I saw his weary, brave-hearted mama choosing to be all-in. I saw his fierce, tender father standing like a shield around his family. I saw strength, endurance, patience, and hope standing fast in gale-force wind.
And I knew she was right. Love wins. Love beats cancer. Cancer wants us to cringe, to brace, and to look away. Love steps in close, so hairbreadth close you can see the soul in its eyes and feel its heartbeat. Cancer wants us to move apart, to put a chasm the size of our pain between us and those around us. Love packs a bag, brings the Kleenex, and moves in. Cancer wants us to fear, to hide, and to shield ourselves. Love rips off its armor to shield others. Cancer wants us to believe we are in danger; it whispers that we are dangling over an emptiness so painful and vast that no comfort will ever ease it. Love reaches out to cradle us, and thunders that we are safe.
Love wins. God wins. God is love; and love beats cancer.
It’s a powerful message, and He is taking the trouble to write it across my world with the tears of a precious family. I hope my heart is brave enough to hear it.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them…He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said “write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Update: on a bright Friday morning, March 3, 2017, love won. Little Trucker left his mama’s arms and went to be with Jesus. But another battle began, one that might be even harder. Please be praying for Trucker’s courageous family. You can meet them at the Team Trucker website or the Team Trucker Facebook Page (which, when I last checked, had 41,099 followers).
(The image is not Trucker)