Sometimes my life has seemed like a never-ending series of significant (and typically painful) before and afters:
Before the miscarriage | After the miscarriage
Before my friend’s tragic death | After my friend’s tragic death
Before I was laid off | After I was laid off
Before a friend’s betrayal | After a friend’s betrayal
Before the estrangement | After the estrangement
There they are. My before and afters. And somewhere in the midst of those before and afters was, for me, the mother of all before and afters: breast cancer. Before I knew the tumor was invasive breast cancer. After I’d gone through a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Before breast cancer | After breast cancer
With each heavy blow of these before and afters, pieces of my heart have fallen away. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit these things: I am jaded. I am The Realist. I am not the kind of person to whom you say, “It will be okay.” (Because I know very well there is always a chance it won’t.) Honestly, once the doctor said it was cancer almost five years ago, the way I viewed the world permanently shifted.
It was simply confirmation of what I’d already learned, years earlier, when someone precious to me was a victim of random violence that ended her life: The bad things you tell yourself can’t happen can happen. To you. To people you love. To the good people of Boston and the good people of West, Texas. And if you didn’t already know it, you’d most certainly know it after the doctor calls you up and says cancer.
Tamara on the left has cancer. (She just didn’t know it yet.)
Tamara on the right is cured. (And she’ll never be the same.)
And I can work at describing the glass as half full—after all, there’s always someone who’s had it much, much worse. (So much worse, I know.) But the indisputable fact remains, my glass is not what it used to be. It is not what it was before. And I cannot afford to think that the glass will be full again, because I must be braced for the next earthquake of loss.
But that’s no way to live.
And the truth is I’ve been living that way—with precious little HOPE—for quite some time now. There are too many before and afters now to pinpoint when it started slipping, but I know hope’s just been ebbing away ever so slowly for years, further and further from my reach. I have children who make me laugh, a husband in whose arms I find comfort, and a God I still believe in; but the aftershocks of disappointment have caused a deep crevice within me that has made it impossible to dream good dreams with any expectation of fulfillment.
And then one day, not so long ago, HOPE happened. Despite what experience has taught me, despite The Realist raging caution in my head.
Because why shouldn’t I believe the glass can be full again?
Why shouldn’t I believe hard work will pay off?
Why shouldn’t I believe that justice will prevail?
Why shouldn’t I believe our dinner table will buzz once more with the gregarious voices of friendship?
Why shouldn’t I dream these good dreams for myself and for my family?
Why shouldn’t I REACH for The Thing with Feathers?
Oh but you see, The Realist in me knows that hard work doesn’t always pay off. That justice doesn’t always prevail. (Et cetera, et cetera.) The Realist knows Jesus never promised health, wealth, success and loyal friends. I get it. I know Jeremiah 29:11 was for the Children of Israel. I know Joel 2:25 wasn’t promised to me. I live and breathe the reality that my reward for faithfulness might simply be found in the eternal shabbat. The way it was for Moses. The way it was for James. I get it, friends, and I’ve written essay after essay proving The Realist gets it.
But in this after, I’d rather live in expectation of God’s glorious goodness, than fade slowly into hopelessness.
I’d rather believe His plans will bring joy and devoured years can be repaid than live out my days steeled against the next bout of suffering. So, while I move into the future with The Realist ever present, I will quiet her misgivings in those precious moments when I reach for The Thing with Feathers and dare to dream out loud in the presence of HOPE.