Some words are bigger than others words. Lately, the word ‘Pandemic’ has loomed very large indeed. Several years ago the word ‘Brain Tumour’ changed my life. But what do we do when these Big Words come along, these situations which hold the power to turn our world upside-down, to put our livelihood in jeopardy, even to threaten our very identity? It’s easy to throw our hands into the air and give up. After all, how do we keep on living as Christians when we don’t know the outcome, we don’t know who can help, and we do not feel at peace?

We may not know the ending, but we know the direction. The problem with these Big Words is that they disorientate us. One moment our lives are planned out, and if we don’t know every step of our journey, well, at least we know the next one. Then along comes a pandemic, a death, a marital break-up, and all of a sudden our certainties are swept away. In 2015, my younger sister was diagnosed with a large brain tumour. Surgery was scheduled immediately, and all my seemingly concrete plans for university graduation, for work in a rural community, for my future, were thrown in disarray. All of us have parts of our life which seem inviolable. Of course we’ll get to go on holidays this year; of course we’ll be able to have children; of course our family members will remain healthy. Yet when the unthinkable happens, it’s easy for our sense of security to evaporate. The plan has been disrupted, and it’s all unknown territory now. When terror threatens to overwhelm us, it’s important to remember that while we may not know the ending of our immediate situation, we can be sure of the direction: Heavenward. 

What does this look like, to continue to walk heavenward when your world is slowly crumbling around you? It looks like prayer, continual, complex prayer, to the One who holds the ending in his hands. It looks like stepping forward in hope when all of life seems hopeless, because you believe in an unseen reality. For me, during that year of my sister’s diagnosis, it meant all my emotions, all my fear, all my fury, had a place to go. And that place was Godward. It meant I had to learn to live one day at a time, to take each twenty-four hours as a gift rather than a promise. God’s grace is sufficient for us, sufficient at each point in the journey, enough for each moment. This is a difficult way to live, moment by moment, receiving grace bit by bit – but it is the only way to truly live. When life is turned upside-down we can be certain of our direction, and know we are walking hand-in-hand with the Almighty.

We may not know who can help, but we know who to ask. The problem, of course, when our life changes overnight, is that we have to learn new ways of coping. We simply do not have the resources to deal with a failed career, a mental illness, a pandemic – because we’ve never encountered them before. It’s easy, perhaps, to see this lack as a fault in ourselves, and to retreat in shame and self-protection. It feels safer to keep our pain a secret and adopt a stiff-upper lip, rather than run the risk of being hurt further. When life becomes uncertain, so do we. We might feel we can’t tell other people about our vulnerabilities, our fears, our struggles, because they won’t understand or they won’t know how to help. Yet as Christians, we are commanded to reach out our hands to our fellow-believers, those called to love their neighbor and bear each other’s burdens.

What does this look like, to reach out your hands when you are unsure whether you’ll find reciprocation? It looks like acknowledging that God has called and placed us in community, whether we like it or not. It looks like being wise about who we tell, but also stepping forth in trust. Not necessarily trusting that your Christian brother or sister will say or do the right thing, because they too are human, but trust in the God you both serve. Asking for help, receiving aid, giving kindness – all of these bring glory to our Father, shining like light in a dark universe. It was difficult for me, the year my sister was in hospital, to realise that God had given me the church for such a time as this. It’s hard to find words in the midst of grief and fear, frightening to accept help when it feels like bravery is all you have. Yet when we do so, we provide God’s family with the opportunity to love selflessly and like Christ, without expectation of repayment. 

We may not know peace, but we know the God of peace is working. It’s often tempting as Christians to feel as though we’re failing if we’re not at peace during troubled times. To begin to suspect that we must be doing something wrong, because a pandemic, a diagnosis, an estrangement, is causing us worry and distress. We can speak of walking heavenward and reaching out our hands to others, but living it out can be a daily struggle. The year my sister was diagnosed, I learnt that being stoic or unflappable is not, actually, the goal of a Christian. It sounds like the right objective, admirable even, but achieving it would exclude God. Jesus came to help the sick, the flailing, the fearful. Just as stone statues do not grow, unmoved people do not develop. Our goal as Christians is not to be at peace at all times, but to grow in Christ-likeness, to emerge from tragedy with our faith strengthened. This is only possible if we seek peace and capability outside of ourselves, in the One who saved us and is carrying us, and is working even when we are not.

When the Big Words come: Pandemic, Loss, Brain Tumour, life can lose all direction, leaving us isolated and fearful. God calls us to reach out our hands heavenward and to the people he has given us. To constantly redirect our trust and our hope to the only One who will not fail us. It’s a difficult journey, but we can rejoice because God is working and has promised to use it to grow us. It’s his peace, not anything we can generate within ourselves, which matters. 

                                                                                                                                                                                    – Emily Maurits

Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour: a Memoir

Perhaps there are certain prayers which should never, ever be prayed.

 As a teenager, Emily prayed a desperate prayer: Save my sister, Lord, whatever it takes.

Now, in her final year of university, Emily has already witnessed illness tear apart the lives of those she loves. Yet when her younger sister, Jasmine, is diagnosed with a brain tumour, her entire world is turned upside-down. As she watches Jasmine go through surgery after surgery, she struggles with what this means for her future, for their relationship, and for the prayer she prayed so long ago.

   This is the story of two sisters, the brain tumour which tore apart their lives, and the God who used it to save them.

Two Sisters & a Brain Tumour (D.O.L.L, 2021) is available in print and ebook at Koorong and The Wandering Bookseller as well as Amazon and other major online booksellers.