In printing, an image is broken down into four basic colors — cyan (blue), magenta (pink), yellow and black. If you look through a magnifier, you will see that any printed photo is made up of different-sized colored dots. If you step back a little bit, or blur your eyes, it looks like a photo or a piece or artwork. But really, up close, you can see that the inks are not continuous, that there are little white spaces between the colors. It looks good enough, and if the line screen is high (meaning there are more dots per square inch), and the paper is good, it might look like the original work of art. As long as you don’t look too closely.
I think I forgot to look closely. I convinced myself that I had the original in front of me, when I really knew better.
After my mom heard “terminal cancer,” she was a different person. There were moments, glimpses, into the person she used to be. It sounded like her when I called several times a day. It looked like Mom in the car next to me as we went antiquing or out for lunch. But she was sad and scared, which I understand completely, and it changed her. Over time, the cancer did, too — whether it was the cancer cells, or the effects of the radiation to her brain, or the tumors, or the chemo, or, later, the toxins her body was unable to secrete, her brain just wasn’t the same.
We’d pretend. In fact, we pretended so well that I think we forgot we were pretending. We were going through the motions, trying to stay strong, wanting to enjoy every extra moment we had with her. It’s true that those were gifts. But I was in denial. I thought she was better than she was. I was so desperate, I didn’t notice when she became a pale reproduction of the woman I knew, not the original.
See, I kept praying for healing. I didn’t ever really expect complete and total healing, and in my core I knew God wasn’t going to grant that, not this time. My heart wasn’t strong enough to deal with that just then, though, so I kept pretending she was OK, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.
When Mom passed away, as you’d expect, the tidal wave of grief rushed in, knocking me back against the wall. But there was an element to it that I hadn’t expected — surprise. Shock. I couldn’t believe it had really happened that way.
I mean, really, how do you stand up and look God in the face (figuratively, of course) and shake your fist? Tell him you are TICKED. OFF? Tell him you don’t like the way he handled his business and you don’t like the cards he dealt you and it’s not fair and you want to hurt someone else, anything, anything to keep from hurting this bad inside?
In my case, I didn’t. I just pretended to keep serving him. Eventually I quit trying to pray. I was out of words, and out of faith, and out of trust. My public faith was a farce. Such a farce.
Turns out, Mom wasn’t the pale reproduction. She was simply changed by that horrible disease and its nearly-as-destructive treatments. I was different, too, but not in the same way. I turned into an imposter. A forgery. A thing of deceit.
On the surface, I looked like the same woman. I posted prayers on Facebook, showed up at church, thanked God publically for each little moment of brightness along the way. But the thing about reproductions? Over time, colors fade. Edges curl. Papers warp. Once the reproduction might have fooled people, but with the passing of time — or under close scrutiny — the truth becomes apparent to even the most casual observer.
I carefully constructed dots of faith, which rested lightly on the surface, hiding the truth, sometimes even from myself — that the woman inside was furious and broken. And oh so alone. The God who had always been beside her, well, she didn’t think she wanted him anymore. And she no longer had her mommy to turn to. Yet all the other people in her life still turned to God through the worst of it, leaving only one conclusion: that she was the problem, not God. That she had failed, too.
That didn’t help.
I wanted so badly to keep my mommy that I believed the only “right” answer was for Mom to be alive. What’s better than happy and healthy and here? Anything less, and God had obviously failed. I lost faith in the God who seemed to be unable (or worse, unwilling) to help. The one who didn’t stop me from having these hard, painful, hateful feelings. The one who took her away from me and is keeping her all to himself. I began to wonder if, in fact, he really could heal, or if that was something from long-ago Bible stories. Fables?
One night, in despair, I finally went to Him in honest prayer. I left the petulant, hateful child at the door and went in, humble, reverent. God, please, help me to understand. I don’t expect to know it all, but let me see whatever it is that I need to see to get past this place, to get back to You.
And another night not long after that, as I crawled into bed, I decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long time, and share my thoughts with God. I miss her, Lord, I whispered into the night. And a surety came over me, a silent “voice” so clear and strong and immediate that I couldn’t deny it.
She’s as close as I am, He said.
Oh, how that knocked the breath out of me. Oh, how that changed things for me.
He loves my mom, too. He did the best possible thing he could do, the greatest plan he could imagine — let her walk away from her mental turmoil and physical pain, straight into his arms.
And if she’s with him, eternally connected to him, I can only find her again in him.
My soul is raw and wounded. The healing process is slow and still, sometimes, quite painful. But I understand deep in my core now that the only way to heal is to seek my God again. It’s not using him as a way to get to something else; it’s understanding that the only way to fullness is through him. He is the only balm, whether I like it or not. He is all that is genuine and real. He sees right through the cheap reproductions and the most sophisticated of forgeries. And he is the only one who can transform a pale imitation into a beautiful, genuine, real work of art.