Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)


Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

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6 years ago

Oh, so true! Thanks for putting it into words.

6 years ago

Beautifully written. I’m so sorry about your mom. It is through the pain that we are drawn closer to Jesus and through pain that I believe we can then reach out to others with a deeper sense of empathy if we have allowed the pain to get through and not shut it off at the door. Blessings to you Shari.

Denaye Wenger
6 years ago

So well said! I resonate with what you said, but I could never say it so well. With multiple special needs in my home, including my husband’s, 3 elementary school age children, and major brain surgery fast approaching for my husband, I went through several months of shutting down and putting a wall up between myself and God. I struggled so hard to function without His grace. But I missed God, and He must have missed me, because he pried my fingers off my control, and so lovingly drew me back, through several occasions and experiences. The biggest of those, was the phone call asking me to speak to a women’s group, telling my life story and the ways God has met our needs. If you ever reach a low point like I was in, writing your story will get your attention! I knew God had done so much for us, how could I not testify to His grace?! And then the week, a little lije yours, when we had THREE cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease, AND the fourth family member broke his little finger, requiring surgery! I was the only one who stayed well. God’s sense of humor there- He kept me in harness through it all. I found, also, that the only way to get through the pain is to embrace the pain. I wouldn’t trade any of the hard circumstances of my life, because of the lessons God has taught me through them. A life of watching His grace working daily, even hourly, is a life of adventure. Thank you for reminding me!

6 years ago

Oh Shari. Tears to my eyes. Immanuel. God with us.

Alison Hershberger
6 years ago

I’m so sorry to hear the news about your mom. You’ve had a tough month!

6 years ago

Oh Shari…such pain, such beauty…so intertwined and Christ Himself with us. Thank you for writing. Praying grace over your mom and you all through these days.

Ruth Anna
6 years ago

I’m so sorry about your mom! This post is beautifully written and you give me courage to keep living…..

6 years ago

This made me cry yesterday when I first read it. It made me cry again today when I re-read it. I still can’t quite explain why….. But He said it will be alright. ❤

Dana Laviano
6 years ago

This was beautiful. I’m a new reader. So sorry for what your Mom is facing. So glad your little girl is alright. It is awfully hard to ride the roller coaster of grace, at times.
May He bless you abundantly this season.

6 years ago

Oh, Shari, I’m so sorry for the hard things in your life. Thanks so much for sharing the joy that God can shine even in the midst of pain.

6 years ago

So sorry, Shari!!! Tears and prayers! I’m gonna be banging on Heavens door for you! Asking God to give you strength for the journey… To wrap His arms around you… Draw you onto His lap… and hold you awhile!!! Because after losing two siblings and my mom- in -law in 5 years… I totally understand your trepidation!

6 years ago

Dear Shari… So, so sorry about your Mom! How beautifully you write… I am so grateful for Jesus and that he entered our broken world to bring healing and hope in the middle of the pain. I will be praying for your family as you walk this road again…

LaDonna Nice
6 years ago

love this!

6 years ago

So heart-touching, because yes, we all carry our own pain we wish we could ask to wait for another day to touch us. I’m so sorry that your family is facing cancer. Again. And your daughters’ story made me catch my breath–what a whirlwind of emotions you braved in those 24 hours. I’m so glad she’s okay, and they didn’t need to take her ovary.

This season I’ve been pondering what it means to celebrate this part of Christmas: Jesus’ coming to earth and taking on flesh–the wonder that He was willing to live within the boundaries of human frailty, limitation, frustration, pain. I’ve been amazed that He calls us to be His brothers and sisters, but it’s equally amazing that He chose to be ours. Somehow when facing physical pain, His chosen path of humanness is so comforting. He understands and weeps with you.

GrandmaKitty Brown
6 years ago

I just read this today – Dec. 24. Not your Mom!! 🙁

6 years ago

I just read this…and hadn’t heard about your Mom!! Wishing you Grace thru the trials yet to come…and yes, if we could only switch on the I’m busy right now!! May you rest in the fact that God knows and cares, even though it may not always feel like it!! 🙂

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