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In times of loss and collapse, “okay”


Opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.

The images were horrifying. The nation watched, riveted, at the slow turn of the giant ship and its unrelenting slide to destruction. Then the crash, and the bridge, it crumpled like tin foil, cars and souls sliding down. It was, I thought, symbolic of life. There we are, we humans, driving happily along, and all at once, a crash, a slide. The supportive framework beneath us gives way like tin foil, and in the blink of an eye, we’re sliding down. The precious woman you’re about to meet knows something about such crumpling and collapse, for she’s lived through more than her share. In her lovely way, she shows us how to navigate life when the soul’s sliding down toward the water.

Growing up on Grandpa Yoder’s farm, she was one of the pack, that wild band of cousins that steamed through Kansas nights to hide and then seek. Kick the Can was the favorite, and countless summer evenings were spent just that way.

“One, two, three, four,” bellowed the counter as the batch of hot worms ran pell-mell for cover. Hearts beating loud, we’d wait for the sound of running feet, then a mighty CLANG as a shoe met the can, then more frantic footsteps flying…somewhere.

“She” is Twila. Adopted as an infant, along with three siblings, she’s been part of my life from the start. She came with disadvantages, or at least as many folks measure. Her feet, for one, were not straight. Special shoes with a bar in between (my mind can hardly fathom this) were her nighttime equipment, prescribed for her turning-in feet.

School was hard. A simple, happy soul, she slogged her way through eighth grade, but she would never go further than that. When her siblings got married or moved away, she was the one left at home with her parents. As age and disease set in, there she was–consolation, helping hands, and care giving, the three of them facing it at home.

Her mother died from heart disease, and then the three were two. Her father, a minister, suffered from cancer. As he declined, that faithful woman was there. In ways that astonished me, she stepped up to the plate and carried more than I knew that she could. My heart, from afar, was warmed.

It was while her mother was still alive that Twila faced her own health challenges. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. Amazingly, her spirits did not fail. She contracted an autoimmune disease that caused her hair to fall out–repeatedly, and still her spirits did not flag or fail. Then came another diagnosis. This time, it was bone cancer, and she felt that pain in her bones.

One day, she called me. As we spoke, I told her what an encouragement she’s been to me. Her faith is so strong. Her love for God is evident, and she looks for ways to help others. (She has a little wagon ministry, as I call it, at the facility where she lives. Practical help and love for the residents, rolling along on those wheels.)

“You have been through some hard things,” I told her. “Both of your parents died, you had breast cancer, now the bone cancer, and yet your faith is strong. It hit me today,” I said from my cozy kitchen, “that Jesus didn’t come to give us perfect lives. He came to give us abundant life in an imperfect world.”

From 850 miles away, I heard the tears in her voice and, beneath them, strong conviction. “That’s right.”

One of my favorite Twila stories came from her father while he was alive. It was on the eve of her mastectomy. She’d been fearful and anxious, but then. “Just a brief note today,” he wrote. “Twila came upstairs this morning all smiles. She said last night Jesus came and sat on her bed and smiled at her and she smiled back. Sometimes God goes the second mile to assure us of his presence.”

It was sometime after her first bout with bone cancer that she started a new habit. So happy and glad was she when the awful pain went away that she began to keep a count of how many days she’d been pain free, and she began to text it to family and friends.

Every morning, this is the message I get. “Good morning. I love you. It is __ days now.” And every single time I reply, I receive this one-word response. “Okay.”

Twila says that she doesn’t know how “un-Christian people” get through life and its terribly hard things. God has helped her so much, she knows she is loved, and she knows, Twila does, that everything’s “okay.”

In days of terminal disease, “Okay.”

In the sorrow of losing her parents, “Okay.”

In pain-free, joyous hours, too, “Okay.”

In the face of cancer’s return, still. She knows it will all be “okay.” Twila knows where she’s going, and she knows who is waiting to receive her. Until then, she keeps shining her light, encouraging others, and praying for those that God gives her.

I wish the world could know what Twila knows. I wish everyone could experience the peace that she carries, knowing that for children of God, it really will be “okay.” And this—that in every dark night of the soul, Lord Christ comes to us, just as he did to her, and he smiles.

From my family to yours, happy Easter! Because he is risen, there is endless hope for us all.

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