God’s Grace: A Journey of a Thousand Miles

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with our Creator. I’ve felt abandoned and lost regardless of the amazing people he’s brought into my life- that is until now. He sent me an angel ten days after my admittance into the hospital. Tall, strong, and glowing, she walked in with the largest of smiles.

“Sistah,” she exclaimed and gave me the warmest of embraces. She smelled of lilac and spices, endless green pastures, and the freshest of air.

Tears burst forth the moment she walked in. She held up a crocheted heart and exclaimed, “I sat up all night, praying and crocheting. All the hope and love I have for you is in this heart.”

She placed it within reach and I grabbed it as though it were my life jacket. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t formulate words of gratitude to match her deed. I was a sponge, and she was the water.

“The girls and I miss you very much,” she said.

At “girls” I lost all control. She became my sister in October when we sat down together and planned out what our middle school Serenity Club would look like, a lunch club that would welcome troubled girls and empower them to find peace and acceptance. We’d just gotten them to the point where they felt loved and were beginning to shine. Then, my world had turned up-side-down.

“You know that you are loved,” she said, “Not just by the students, your family, and friends, but by Jesus, the holy spirit, and God. And, he has great things in store for you, my dear. This is simply a test, a tribulation that you will have to overcome. Turn to him during this time, give yourself to him, and he will deliver your from the darkness.”

She handed me a tissue. I wiped away my tears. She knew of my troubled past. She knew of the anger that dwelled deep in my soul, the pain and confusion.

“Just because you turned away from him, doesn’t mean he’s forgotten about you. He’s been watching, waiting. Talk to him, share your pain and he will carry you through this.”

“How?” I asked. I had no idea how to trust him enough to find the kind of deliverance she was referring to.

She handed me a bible and said, “Read this and then, tell him how you feel, ask him for guidance, talk to him as you used to talk to your father.”

Silence.

“You’ve never been alone, you thought you have, but he’s always been there, through your father’s death, and other moments of darkness, he’s sent you angels to help you through it all.”

I let myself float away. She talked, but I remembered the angels that had stood beside me, that had tried to heal my soul through those times.

I envisioned each one and knew that I had pushed each and every one away. I’d let the anger consume me. I’d stopped writing, trusting, and being. I’d felt broken. So why now had God reached out and sent me another wake up call? Why had my angel walked into my hospital room? What was I missing? What did he want of me?

I’d given myself to teaching and my students with the most unconditional of love for the last 19 years, what had I not done? All this I asked myself during those moments of light that her presence brought.

It took me a couple of months to physically heal from December’s operation, and when I did, my brother and sister-in-law were there. “Come with us to church. You will love it. It’s in Burbank, it’s a relatively new church. The pastor and his wife are amazing and this will be good for you.”

I couldn’t drive. I felt weaker than I’d ever felt before, but every Sunday morning I found the strength to dress and we drove to church. I felt guilty for driving to Burbank when we had so many churches around us, but my husband said, “I doubt Jesus turned away a person from a neighboring village because they didn’t reside in the village he was currently preaching in.”

And so we went and we did fall in love with the people, the music, our pastor’s sermons. The contemporary grunge look was appealing to the rebel in me. The band’s voices mesmerized and fueled my mind.

Each Sunday as I sat there, I prayed one prayer, “Show me why you saved me. What am I supposed to do with the rest of my time?”

There were days the chemo was too much and I could feel the bass pummeling my internal organs. I removed myself then, into the back room where tears and breathing became my solace.

Pastor Dave was never far. He approached and asked, “Are you alright?”

I nodded.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” He asked.

“You’re already doing it,” I said.

“Just pray,” Ryan added.

He squeezed my hand and said, “Already being done!”

I figured that the more prayers going out there meant that maybe God would show me what my purpose was. And one day, after my second chemo treatment, sitting in the hospital with my brother I envisioned the structure of The Eight Faces of Cancer. It graced my brows as surely as a crown sits on the head of a King. I saw each chapter, envisioned the development, plot, and purpose.

This writing opened up a new world of possibilities, a path I’d turned from after my dad’s passing. The heavy dread lifted and a lightness descended as I lost myself in the world of words.

This last week, on Mother’s Day, as I was listening to our Pastor’s words describing Martha and Mary and how blessed they were in their own rights, I realized I needed to make contact once more with my initial angel, to thank her for walking her path and for leading me to South Hills Church. In the darkest of moments, I “lean in” and allow Pastor’s Dave’s words to carry me forward.

I was lost in thought when Dave transitioned from sermon to a Mother’s Day Surprise. He called out my name.

I glanced around at my husband and family, wondering if I was imagining things. The chemo had started interfering with my mental acuteness as well as my body.

Information took longer to process. From the stage he repeated my name, “Mar-i-neh, please come up here.”

I rose slowly in case my body/feet failed me. Ryan and I joined him on stage, both of us weeping this time. Confusion swirled about my thoughts. Was this another dedication, like the one he’d just performed for the children? What was going on?

Pastor Dave began to read off of a paper he’d placed on the podium, a testimonial my sister-in-law had written. “She is an inspirational mother who nurtures her children’s growth with her unconditional love, support, and kindness,” he read.

I covered my face with my right hand, unable to stop the tears and snot from running down my face.

He had no idea how terrified I’d been that I would never again get to be their mother, that they would be motherless.

He continued, “In December of 2016 Marine was diagnosed with stage 3 Colon Cancer.”

I cringed. I’d gone public, but I hadn’t heard anybody else say it aloud till now. I felt the brand sear my skin and willed myself to stand strong.

“She fought through the darkness and found the light.”

I couldn’t help but mentally recognize my angels-Ms. Stacey Ligon, the McCollums (Merideth and Phil), Suzanna and Sassoun Nalbandian, Melik and Seta Yanikian, and now Pastor Dave Stewart and his wife Karrie.

I had turned my back on God. But he had not turned his back on me.

“Her amazing talent of writing has come to life as she started a book called The Eight Faces of Cancer, and a blog that will take you to another world,” he continued to read, he paused to comment on my weekly blogs and lighten the mood a bit with his humor.

I gasped for air. Is this why you saved me? I wondered…to tell my story? To stand tall in spite of the tribulations?

Pastor Dave continued talking about the blogs, quoting one from the previous week and ended with giving me the one thing I’ve missed since the diagnosis-a part of my old life-the healing powers of the ocean.

“You and the family can go any time. You can wait till the treatments are over. However we/the church wanted to give you this experience. Just let me know, we have a booking agent that is ready to book your stay at a resort of your choice along the ocean.”

I’d expected prayers, not a selfless act of kindness.

What I took away from the moment though was what I had been looking for all my life- God’s grace. I realized that I was not alone, that I had never been alone. I realized that miracles happen every day and some of us see them and some don’t. I realized that every time the darkness lifts it’s a miracle and I’m not sure how I would have gotten this far in this fight without the miraculous individuals our Creator had sent to guide me.

All I could think of just then was how blessed I was that God did not give up on me when my anger was ready to give up on him. I returned Pastor’s Dave’s embrace and whispered,

“Thank you. I feel blessed that I am still alive and that I’ve been led here.”

Now, to continue this”journey of a thousand miles…”

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