New Year’s Eve has been my least favorite day of the year for many years, but this year I was resolved that it was going to be different. I was going to a party with a group of friends I like a whole lot, with a boy I like a whole lot, dressed to the nines and wearing the heels that make my feet hurt, but that always make me feel feminine and pretty. Indeed, the morning of New Year’s Eve, I had determined that this was going to be a good year, that I was going to leave cynicism behind…or at least I was going to try really, really hard.
I didn’t know, of course, how quickly that resolve would be put to the test.
My phone rang a little after 10 on the morning of December 31. My friend of ten years was on the other end, sobbing before she even got a word out. Her mom had been at the doctor’s to receive word on whether or not the mass they had seen in her stomach was cancerous. It was, and the prognosis was not good. Six months if they did nothing, a year if they only did surgery, hopefully five years if they did chemo after surgery.
“I’m going to need you next week when Mom’s in the hospital,” she spat out in broken breath.
“I’m there,” I choked back.
And when we both had gathered ourselves again, she continued, “And I need you to go to your party tonight and I need you to have a really great time. I need you to do that for me. I need to know you’re having fun.”
At that point, I didn’t want to go to my party anymore. I wanted to jump in my car, get myself to Delaware and to my friend, and hug her and her mom. But, that’s not what she needed. She needed me to go to a party, because she needed to know that someone she loved was going into the next year having fun.
I had lunch with one of my Bible study girls the day before I left for Delaware. Over burgers and fries in a bar booth at Chili’s, I admitted that I was angry because cancer had taken so much from my family over the last two year, and that it couldn’t have someone else I loved, as if I had any kind of control over it, and that I worried my resolve to not be cynical was going to crumble before January even really started.
My friend didn’t say anything. She just sat and listened, her eyes filled with such compassion. Borrowing from her calm, I took a breath and found myself saying out loud, “I have to believe for a miracle this time.”
In that breath and in that moment I knew that my faith was so small, and not in the mustard-seed-way that we’re supposed to believe. When I say that my faith was small, I mean that it was limited, that I had limited God to moving only in ways that I could conceive. He could do anything really, but His means had to be conventional. He could change the course of a whole country, yes – but only if the right people were in the right political positions. He could change dire financial straits, yes – but only if the person accepted a job with a big salary, and it probably wouldn’t hurt if they tithed every week too. And He could heal, yes – but only through medicine.
This is small faith, but this is not mustard-seed-faith.
Mustard-seed-faith knows a mountain will move if it were so commanded. Mustard-seed-faith knows a mulberry bush could flourish planted in an ocean. Mustard-seed-faith knows the Son of Man was killed and rose again on the third day. (Matthew 17 and Luke 17 have kicked me in the face.)
It seems to me that mustard-seed-faith has some unreasonable edges to it every now and again, that it leaves room for God to move against convention, that it hopes and it surprises. Mustard-seed-faith, I think, believes in miracles.
And sitting in that booth in Chili’s was my mustard-seed-moment. Either I believed for the miracle, against all reason, against the doctors’ diagnosis and prognosis, or my faith stagnated where it was.
I prayed desperately and expectantly for the first time in my thirty years, and I knew, even for just a moment, what it was like to have faith the size of a mustard seed.
I was sitting at the dining room table reading one of Aesop’s Fables with my friend’s ten year old when her husband came down the stairs having just gotten a call from my friend at the hospital, her mom out of surgery.
“It’s benign,” he said. “There’s no cancer. And there’s no sign that there ever was cancer.”
We put down the Aesop’s Fable, pushed the pause-button on home-school for the day, and did a happy dance in the kitchen. I stole off to another room to call my mom, and we cried together – for the miracle that had just happened, for the loved one that cancer did not take from us this year.
I know that not everyone gets a happy ending to their mustard-seed story. I know that cancer wins sometimes. I know that bad things happen to good people. I know that just believing for a miracle doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.
Sometimes you do get the happy ending and sometimes you do witness a miracle. And maybe when you do, you have to talk about it. Because maybe, like my friend needed me to know I was having a good time at my party, when things seem at their worst, we need to know that God is moving in good ways in the world. And because maybe knowing that God is moving in good ways is what keeps the cynicism at bay.
2014 has already taught me that it certainly doesn’t hurt.