My first scary dream of recollection was quintessential four-year-old fare: A monster was coming to get me. An actual monster -- green and scaly, about six feet tall with large, sharp teeth, spikes on its back, and a very long tail. It looked rather like a cross between a miniature Godzilla and Triceratops, in fact, and he was glaring viciously at me through the small, diamond-shaped window located on the front door. I was screaming as I sat in the living room just waiting for him to thrust his massive arm through the door, and my purpose was to protect my younger brother from his evil clutches. So I sat there screaming, with my arms around my brother, fearfully waiting for this beast to break down the door and proceed, I imagine, to eat us. That is why monsters chased children, after all: To eat them.
And then I woke up.
I can look back on that dream now and laugh uproariously. Sometimes I find myself wishing that my adulthood fears were as simple and, yes, lighthearted. Monsters trying to eat one are as nothing compared to things like, say, cancer and mass shootings and natural disasters. The former is imaginary. The latter are quite real.
Just two months ago I was terribly afraid that my husband had cancer. He did not and he does not, and I am relieved beyond words. But oh, the fear that gripped my trembling heart.
Three months before that I was shaken to the core by the Connecticut school shooting. For weeks afterward I was terrified to take my daughter to her Mother's Day Out class on Mondays. I reluctantly did take her, but the first three times I sat in my car for minutes afterward, weeping and praying for God to help me release her to His care.
A friend of mine recently discovered that she has a rare form of sarcoma cancer. She's younger than I am, and her daughter is my daughter's age.
One of my dearest childhood friends has four children, the youngest of whom is battling leukemia. He is more stable now after many months of treatment, but a fellow sufferer, a little girl they know, recently succumbed and passed away.
And two nights ago a massive F5 tornado ripped through the town just north of us, killing 24 people and leaving destruction in its wake. We know people who lost everything. We know others who survived in closets. We know others who drove madly to escape it. The roads it destroyed are ones I drive fairly often. I won't recognize them now.
Everywhere around me, week after week it seems for the past several months, I am reminded in the most sobering ways of the frailty of my life and of this world. Never have words like these been more real to me:
"All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field... Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever."
"You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."
"For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more."
"Trust in Him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us."
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea..."
I told a friend recently, "The older I get, the more I want Jesus to come back now." I think that's because I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of living. The first thing I have to do in the morning is get on my knees and thank the Lord for this day. I have to do it so that I can get up and face the day without the paralysis of fear around my heart, knowing that He gave me this day, and He will be sufficient for me, whatever it brings. "Thank you for my life, Lord. Thank you for my little family. Thank you for my home, thank you for the Bible, thank you for salvation, thank you for where you have me. Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you..."
It's those littlest things that are the biggest things, and I think that's why the spring of hope and the winter of despair sometimes come together, as Dickens wrote. The more one is aware of how quickly a thing can be taken, the more tenderly one will cherish it. The more unpredictable life becomes, the more one is forced to trust the One who is in control. God's love and presence are often revealed most beautifully after agonizingly horrific tragedies. And I think that's why I currently live in the crazy, beautiful paradox of "the best of times and the worst of times."
Right now, as I write this, my daughter is telling my husband how sad she was to say good-bye to her best friend after their play date today. "But we have to say good-bye at some point, Lilia," he says. "We can't stay with them forever. You know what I mean?"
No, I don't think she does know, but she will. Presently her world is made up of toys and tea parties, fairies and monsters. But someday she will learn, as her Daddy and I are learning, that this life is passing away before our eyes. She'll learn, too, I hope, that the worst of times can be the best of times, that Winter and Spring will sometimes kiss each other...