August 26th marked 4 years since my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the day vividly – and I remember how it felt that everything in my world had changed. One day everything was right and good, and then the next, everything was terribly wrong. Mother’s aren’t supposed to suffer. And they certainly aren’t supposed to die until you yourself are old, and have learned everything you needed from them.
The next day I saw a photo (that I had taken exactly 4 years before) of a muffin and a full cup of coffee. And at first, I thought, “Why did I take a photo of this?” And then I realized that this was a very specific muffin. It was a muffin from the box of food that my friend left on my doorstep the very day my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I took the photo that next morning to send to her with a thank you note. I’m pretty sure I only ate the muffin because she sent it – who is thinking about breakfast after that? But my body thanked her – because while my emotions saw no need for food, my body knew I hadn’t eaten in nearly 24 hours. And even more than needed food for my stomach, I saw in the photo the beautiful truth of not being alone.
In the food she had left on my doorstep, my friend was with me as I sat down the next morning with my cup of coffee. But even greater than that, her actions reminded me that there was Another sitting close, right next to me that morning as well. One who knew well in advance about my mom’s cancer, and the days leading up to it and the days ahead. He knew I would need a friend to leave me muffins on my doorstep, so He made sure that years earlier we would buy houses 7 minutes apart and orchestrated the events that fostered this kind of friendship. He knew I would need a job that would be flexible so I could spend as much time at the hospital and visiting with my mom as possible, so He had someone call me 2 years earlier asking me to apply for a position that offered me exactly that. He knew that a pregnancy that felt so poorly timed in some ways, caused me to take a light teaching load the very semester my mom lived her last days. He knew and orchestrated details to fulfill needs that I didn’t even know would become “needs” until months or years later.
In all of this I was never alone. Not in the years before, or the years since. But there were some days I felt alone, and some days that these manifestations of grace were much less clear and much more shrouded by pain. And yet, the photo reminded me that not everything is always what it first seems. It looks like a photo of muffin and coffee, but it actually points to the presence of Immanuel (God with us), reaching into the circumstances that feel out of place, ordinary, and even painful – to show Himself more clearly to me than I could otherwise see.
Eventually, the shroud lifts and it becomes easier to see the finger of God, tenderly writing my story. In the midst of it all, I must choose to remember that God is faithful in His promises to me. He is with us, and will never leave. In grief and brokenness, He is especially close. But also, I must remember to be His hands and feet to those around me. God is near no matter what circumstances around us may suggest, and yet He often uses people to be the reminder of His presence that someone else may need. So have faith, trust Him – no matter what circumstances in your life may look like. And then look for someone else who needs to be reminded too, and bring them muffins.
ARH Blog Contributor