I am driving three hours to the airport this morning.
Three hours with the windows rolled down and the soothing sounds of James Taylor calling me home to North Carolina.
It’s hardly a road trip, but something in this endless stretch of highway makes me remember. I remember Ian in the red chair on Monday—the last time I saw him before the ICU. Before tubes and sunken cheeks, fluttering eyes and soft, swollen hand squeezes. On that Monday night, there was a big grin and animated talk of the road trip he would make to come see me in Albany. He would come alone, because he wanted to hit the open road unencumbered. Cancer had rendered him house and hospital bound for months, and Ian wanted OUT into the germ-ridden world we’d tried so desperately to protect him from since his diagnosis. We would see a Broadway show, and make a Greek recipe he’d seen on the Food Network during one of his chemo sessions.
I remember week two in the ICU. That dark room where we lived and died by the blue and red numbers flickering and sinking on the black screen by his bed. Hearts sank with them. Pleading, Breathe, Ian. You can do it, buddy! We’ve got this. I’m right here, Ashley’s right here. And still, the dreaded numbers sank.
Sitting beside him in room 17, we’d been tossed a tenuous lifeline of hope that day. I grabbed ahold of it with both hands as I held Ian’s, and with tentative excitement I began to talk about his impending trip to see me. Constraints of the English language make it impossible to describe the sheer relief and joy that flooded my exhausted heart—it was as though I’d spent my whole life holding my breath, and at long last had been granted permission to exhale and breathe in hope. For a few precious hours, I began to believe that Ian would walk out of room 17. There would be a road trip after all, and one day we would incredulously marvel that cancer had once disrupted our lives.
I drive today, and think about how Ian never will again. Last week as Kellan and I prayed together before we fell asleep, he asked God to help my sister in law do well on the LSAT she was taking the next day. Tears burned at the back of my eyes as I thought about all of the prayers I would never pray for Ian. Never again would I get to ask God to help him ace a test, or land a job or please make him dump that girl.
And I thought about the God that heard every tearful plea during those last three weeks in the ICU. Lord, you breathed life into him when you made him–let him breathe now. Heal his lungs. Wake him up, Jesus. Please, let it be me instead. Simple things for the God who created the Universe. Everything to me.
God saw. God heard. God said no.
God said no to a road trip and a thousand secret dreams that atrophied and died with my little brother. I could not understand why a good Father would withhold so much good from me. Why a good Father would stand by and watch as Ian breathed out one last time, and I breathed in an impossible ache that would never, never go away.
God preempted the question my weary heart asked with every painful beat in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus asks the crowd gathered around Him,
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
How much more. As I am violently tossed about in an ocean of unknowns, I cling to what is true. When hearts throb heavy and grief slips out of dazed, exhausted eyes, there is nothing else I can do. Truth is that God is a good Father who is incapable of giving his children anything but good gifts. Even when fish masquerade as snakes, and the searing sting of sin rips through bone and marrow. Truth is that God loved Ian so much that He crushed His precious Son so that Ian might be His. Truth is that Jesus went to the cross willingly, for the joy set before Him. Truth is that that joy was my little brother. It was all of us! In the face of that irrational, relentless, sacrificial love, my paltry offerings are laughable in comparison. I do not get to accuse God, as though I love Ian more. His love for Ian was forever settled at the cross.
As I drive, I do not understand why God said no. I simply fall back on what I know to be true. And I think sometimes, that’s all we can do.
How will you choose truth today?