Thursday, June 27, 2013

Unpassable Cups

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 
O my Father, if it be possible, 
let this cup pass from me: 
nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Matthew 26:39
(KJV)

"Mama, I don't want to go through this again.
I don't wanna do this.
I just can't take any more.
Mama, I can't do this."
Zach's eyes were filled with tears as he sat across from me in the front seat of the car,
as we swerved with the curves through the mountainous West Virginia terrain between 
Mom and Dad Smith's house and the hospital.


I listened.
I let him vent.
For as long as he needed to.

"I've gone through all of this so...many....times.
I hate hospitals.
I'm still not over losing Nana, Mama.
It's only been a little over a year."

What had started out as a trickle of tears,
had turned into a full-blown meltdown.

The mother-heart in me went out to him in a million ways.

"I know, Zach.
I know.
I am SO sorry",
was all I could seem to think of to say.

Everything he said was true.
What could I do to change any of it?
It had happened.
It was happening again.
We had to deal with it.

"Mama, I can't stand to lose someone else.
I don't know why this is happening again.
Especially, so soon."

"Zach, I am so sorry.
I don't like any of this either.
You don't know what I would give right now...
for an ordinary day.
But, the thing with Granny is that she is still here...with us.
We can still pray for her.
Maybe God will give her more time.
At least, we can still ask, right?"


"Yeah, Mama.
I just don't want to go to the hospital and see her like this.
I just don't want to go through this again."

My mind went back to a sweet, little four year old boy,
and that rainy night in 2005, when we got the phone call.
Mom had been involved in a serious car accident.
I rushed out the door, carrying him in my arms,
shaking with fear over what we would find,
a few miles down the road where the wreck had happened only a few minutes before.

We reached the scene and our friend, Andy, was there.
He offered to hold Zach and keep him comforted 
while I did what had to be done.
Deeply thankful he was there, 
I gladly accepted his kindness, 
as I handed a traumatized Zach into his arms
and rushed to the crumpled, white car on the side of the road.

Mom had collided with a pick-up truck 
that was pulling a trailer hauling lawn equipment.
I reached her car, terrified to peek inside...
not knowing what I would find.
I still remember the eerie glow of her headlights, 
shining downward into the ditch where her car had come to a stop,
and the twisted, distorted metal on what used to be the front end of her car.
I finally mustered the courage to try to open the door.
It wouldn't budge.

"Mom!" I screamed from outside the window.

I could hear her voice inside the car...weak and scared.

Unable to pry her door open, I crawled in through another door.
She was awake and coherent....
her glasses lying on the opposite side of the car.
The impact had been violent.
They had collided at about 55 mph.
I looked down at her leg.
It was bent, and her ankle was mangled.
It had received the hardest blow.

Soon, the ambulance arrived, and what followed was some of the longest days of Mom's,
and Zach's...
and my life.
Daily trips to the hospital for literally weeks on end.
Daily trips to the nursing home, afterwards.
Grueling physical therapy for Mom.
Long, exhausting days for us.

There were moments when there just wasn't anyone else...
to do what needed to be done...
except Zach and me.

I look back on those days and wish I could somehow erase them from Zach's memory...
and my own.
There was nothing pleasant about them...at all....
other than the fact that we were together.

My mind raced forward three and a half years later to 2008,
and a sweet, little seven year old boy,
who was then too big for me to carry in my arms....
sitting in a hospital room on the 7th floor...
waiting for the dreaded news of what was going on with his Nana.

She was so sick.
It ended up being life-threatening....again.
A colon-removal operation, 
weeks and weeks of hospital stay, then the nursing home...again.
Zach was such a trooper...through it all.
Right by my side.
We had no choice.

I fast-forwarded to three years later to 2011....
and a sweet, little ten year old boy,
wounded and hurting from the aftermath of one of the most intense spiritual battles
our little family has ever endured.
It had only been 10 days...since the worst of it.
And there we were.
Same positions.
Different hospital.
Mom was facing death...again.
An emergency surgery in the middle of the night.
Weeks of recovery afterwards.
Life-altering adjustments to be made in the months following her hospital release.

Unbelievably, eight months later, in April of 2012, we found ourselves
 in a hospital emergency room...again.
Mom was in such severe pain, that even frequent shots of morphine had little effect.
I will never forget the way my heart tore right down the middle...
just like the curtain that separated Mom from Zach.

On my left hand, was Mom.
Writhing in pain.
Every few minutes saying, "I hurt....oh, I hurt!"
And Zach on my right hand, 
anguished eyes,
pleading with me to get him out of there.

He was at the breaking point...literally.
So was I.

But, what do do?

"Cheryl, please stay with me.
Please don't go until they get me into a room."
Mom's voice was getting weaker by the minute.

"Mama, please take me home now.
I can't stand to stay here a minute longer.
Please, Mama."
Bless his heart, Zach couldn't have been more pitiful.
I couldn't have felt more torn.

It was the middle of the night, and I knew Kevin would be off work soon.
All I could hope for was that he wouldn't be delayed.

Have you ever stood there?
Where I stood?
Torn in half between your mother and your child?
Both of them needing you.
Both of them pleading.
The pity in your heart going out...in both directions...with such intensity...
that you feel your physical heart actually ache??

I don't like to revisit those scenes, and I rarely do.
Until another one appears, and with it comes...
unannounced, unbidden, uninvited....
a river of painful, stabbing memories.

Driving down that West Virginia country road a few mornings ago, 


the Holy Spirit began to speak....to my heart and through my lips.

"Zach, there are cups in this life that are unpassable.
No matter how much we beg for things to change,
no matter how hard we plead to be released,
no matter what we do...
the cup is unpassable.
We have no choice...but to drink it.
Do you understand what I mean?"

He was quiet.
I looked over at him.
I had his full, undivided attention.

"Remember Jesus?
In the Garden of Gethsemane?
Do you know how hard He prayed, Zach?
There is a rare physical condition that happens when a person agonizes to such a level of intensity
that their sweat glands literally sweat blood.
(The medical term for this is Hematidrosis.)
That is how hard Jesus cried....and prayed that night.
That is how intense His anguish was.
Blood oozed out of His pores...and spilled on to the ground.
Do you know what He was praying for when His sweat became great drops of blood?
He was praying that somehow, someway, by some miracle...
God would find another way.
That He would come up with another plan.
So, He wouldn't have to be scourged, spit upon,
beaten to a pulp,
whipped,
slapped,
forced to carry a rugged cross through the streets,
humiliated beyond belief,
nailed to the cross,
and crucified for our sins.
Jesus didn't look forward to what He knew was ahead of Him.
The physical part of Him wanted another way.
He begged His Father for an escape route.
Can't you just hear Him, Zach?
Father, please, please, is there not another way?
Can't you come up with another plan?
Father, I don't want to drink this cup.
Please, Father, make another way.
Let this cup pass from Me.
But, do you know what, Zach?"

"What, Mama?"

"God was silent.
The answer was no.
Jesus left His place there...on the ground...to go look for His disciples.
Hoping to find some comfort.
Some moral support.
Something...someone...to ease His anguish.
Do you know what He found?
His disciples were there...asleep...snoring away.
They weren't there for Him.
Not even when He needed them most.
During the most anguished, agonizing moments of His life, Jesus found no comfort.
He went back the second time...to pray again.
He uttered the same words.
The same heart-wrenching pleas.
Hoping that somehow His Father had found another way.
Hoping the cup would be taken away from Him....
that it would pass Him by...
that it could be passed to an alternate substitute.
Again, God was silent.
The answer was still a deafening NO.
Jesus left His place of prayer again, and again, He found His disciples sleeping...
as if they didn't have a care in the world.
How He needed them!
How He longed for someone to change the inevitability of the happenings of that night!
Only His Father could.
He went back one more time....
to ask the same favor of God.
Surely, the cup could pass from Him!
Surely, His Father had found a way!
Surely, this time, the answer would be yes.
Again, He poured out the depths of His soul.
Again, He received the same answer.
The cup was unable to be passed.
There was no other way.
Only HE could drink it.
Only HE could fulfill God's plan.
Only His blood was pure enough...
sinless to the core.
Jesus had to take the cup,
put it to His mouth,
and drink it.


Right down to the bitter dregs.
Every drop of unpleasantness.
Every bit of it.
Until He could honestly, from His heart say, 
It is finished."

I looked over at Zach.
Tears were coursing down the little fellow's cheeks.
The scene before both of our eyes was so real.
It was as if we were there...in person...
watching our Lord beg...pitifully....
only to be told no.

"I know how you feel, Zach.
I don't like this either.
Not one bit.
I want things to be okay.
I don't want to have to do what we are doing.
This cup is unpassable, Zach.
We are going to have to drink it.
We can't change what is happening.
Granny needs us.
Think of all the times she has been there...for us.
For all of us.
If I had my way, she would be there with us...at home.
She would meet us at the back door, with one of her sweet hugs.


She would take our hand and pull us in, 
and everything would be okay.
This is not my choice, either.
But, it is happening."

"Wow, Mama.
I never thought of all of that...in that way....
about Jesus drinking that cup."

"Zach, do you know what Jesus said about those who want to be His disciples?
He gave us three steps.
They must be done in the order in which He gave them.
We can't do step two and three, until we do step one first.
Here is what He said, 
Whosoever will come after Me, 
let him deny himself
and take up his cross
and follow Me.
Denying ourselves is the first step.
That is exactly what He did.
He will never ask you or me to do anything that He was not willing to do Himself.
Jesus won the victory that night in the Garden.
He fought and won the battle....against Himself.
That is how He could go through all that He endured that horrible night.
He got self under control first.
He denied what He wanted to do, 
and He surrendered to the divine will of God.
That is how He could do steps two and three.
That is how He was able to take up that heavy, old, rugged cross.
You and I are going to have to do the same thing....
in this situation."

That night, I was faced with another torn-down-the-middle-of-the-heart scenario,
when Mom S. didn't want me to leave her.
Zachary was begging me to come home with him and his Daddy and Papaw.
He feels insecure during times like this...
is it any wonder?

For a moment, I was back...to last April...with Mom on my left hand,
and Zach on my right.
Separated by a thin emergency room curtain.
Mom's eyes pleading if I looked one way,
Zach's pleading if I looked the other.
Torn...to the center of my core.

I looked at Mom Smith, lying there, frail and ill.

Everything in me wanted to turn and go home with the others.

Yet, she was asking me to stay.

So, I did.

It turned out, she had a horrible night.
Filled with pain.
It would have been so hard on her to be alone.
I was glad I was there.

I read the Bible to her...


prayed with her.
She said she felt comforted.

God met us.

She made it through the long, anguished night.

I know not what the future holds.

I don't know what is going to happen.

Everything within me draws back from losing another parent.
I've lost both of mine.
The thoughts of losing Kevin's is almost unbearable.

Dad S. and I have had quite the conversations lately.
He breaks down and gets really emotional
when he talks of the love of his life...his wife of over 53 years.


The other day, we had a good cry...together....
there in the cistern room
off the back of their house.

It is hard being in their home...without her.
It hurts to look at the rose bushes we planted for her 
for Mothers Day only a few, short weeks ago.


She was feeling so well then.
It is amazing how quickly life can change.
I keep expecting to see her come flittering around the corner,
asking us what we want to eat or drink.

The kitchen seems lonely, as I stand in her spot,
and prepare the meals....
using her skillets, pans, and cookie sheets.

How many times has she taken them out through the years,
worked her magic with food,
set those dishes on the table,
and served those who were hungry?

How many times have she and I stood in that kitchen together,
side-by-side,
peeling potatoes, 
frying chicken and deer meat?

I miss her in every inch of the house.
It seems so empty...surrounded by all of her things...without her.


Dad is so dependent on her.
She lies there worrying about him...day after day.

She told me she thought she heard his voice in the hall of the hospital the other morning.
She sent a nurse out looking for him, worried that he would fall, on his own.

They are so close.
I honestly don't know what one would do without the other.

I plead with God every day to heal their bodies.
To leave them with us as long as He possibly can.

The reality is that he is almost 88, and she is almost 82.
We weren't born into this life to stay always.
It is appointed unto every living person to die.

Losing parents is a normal part of life.
It is an unpassable cup.....
that is revolting and bitter to the very dregs of its contents.
Drinking it pierces a huge hole in the human heart that nothing or no other human is 
ever able to adequately fill.

It hurts...to drink this cup.

But it can't be passed.

There are certain valleys through which we each must walk.
There are certain situations we cannot avoid.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said,
"Be still sad heart and cease repining;
Behind the clouds the sun is shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall..."

Losing a parent is more like a flood...
a torrent of rain...
that leaves behind a scarred aftermath.

I guess that is why I dread it so.
I've walked this vale...twice.
Bereft of parents am I.

Kevin didn't shirk from sharing it...when it was placed in my hands.
Nor will I desert him...when the cup is here...
and unable to be passed....from him to another.

How about you, my friend?
Have you been handed an unpassable cup?
Perhaps a circumstance that is beyond your realm of understanding?
Have you begged God for a different outcome,
only to be met with cold, hard silence...
as if the Heavens were brass?
Have you searched for an alternate path,
only to be told there is none?

There are some things that only you can do.
There are places that only you can fill.
Cups that only you can drink.
Sometimes the responsibility, however unpleasant,
has to fall on you.

God orchestrates it so.

If He hands you an unpassable cup, it is because He trusts you to drink it.
He knows you can....even when you believe you can't.

You can get through this.
You will get through this.

Jesus had to surrender what He wanted to the will of the One Who designed His life.
Though He longed for an easier way, there was none available.
So, He took up His cross,
carried it through the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem to Calvary's hill, 
and He drank every drop....
of His unpassable cup.


There are times, my friend,
that you and I must deny ourselves,
take up our individual crosses,
and do precisely the same.


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