It is 4:30 in the morning, and I am in a hospital room with Ryan and Joel, awake. It reminds me of all the other times I’ve been here, with the world frozen, nothing important happening but the three of us together in a hospital room. Everything happening outside this room can wait. It won’t wait long. In a few hours I will go back to my other children, and my friend who is staying with them. We will clean the room where we’ve been staying and make lunch and put together airplane snacks. But, for right now, there are no decisions I need to make, no one who is waiting to hear back from me, there is no one I must reach out to at this early hour. There is just the almost silence, interrupted by the whir of machines, Ryan’s gentle snoring and the occasional whimper from Joel that tells me he’s not really sleeping, but he’s not insisting on being awake yet either.
I remember so many early mornings awake in the hospital. Over and over again, I would wake up between 4 and 5 am, and God would give me something to say and time to write. This is how everything began, over four years ago: dire circumstances, colored more by the expectation of a living and active God about to move, than the grief I knew was “supposed” to be framing my vision.
I have spent the last two days working to get ready to go home, interrupted by quick trips to the golden gate bridge, the academy of sciences, and the hamon observation tower with the kids and my friend, because we didn’t really know when we were leaving anyway and it was the last few days of our time in San Francisco, and no matter what happens with Joel, my children are still children, and they run and play and laugh and that is beautiful. Admittedly, the field trips were foolish and left us more tired by the afternoon than we should have been with so much to do and so many decisions to make, and such weighty emotion waiting for me each night, when I have left them and come to my quiet, stark oasis with Ryan and Joel. During the day I am physically drained and at night I am emotionally drained, and it is almost too much, but isn’t. The one relieves the other somehow.
Last night Joel and Ryan and I crowded together into his hospital bed and took photos and videos and sang the same worship songs that have been on my “Joel play list” for over four years now. We sang “Your Hands” just like we sang endlessly the first week we spent in the intensive care unit with him, we sang “Hope Now,” the song I returned to again and again one-year-in when Joel had “run out of medical options” for the first time and was “about” to die, we never even got to the songs that have been added to my list since then, the ones like “furious” that have held the weight of my heart and reminded me that God is even bigger than this hope that roars inside of me, daring the darkness to just try and thwart the plans of the Almighty God, and see how He will defend us! (I went ahead and hit play on that one just now.) These songs remind me that God has been leading us, every step of the way, showing us who He is, teaching us how to walk with Him.
In this hospital room the interminably long last four years with all their ups and downs feel short, so short, (and even though you would not believe it, sweet.) This fight is really ending after all, and it was the blinking of an eye. I feel like I have caught glimpses from the corner of my eye of the picture God is painting, I have heard whispers in my spirit, and could almost discern the words, I have remembered the melody of a song whose lyrics I can’t quite recall but I know that the theme is always life and glory. I will finally see the finished work, and I am excited to see it, even though I know people don’t understand.
I’m sure my expectation looks like denial, but seeing Joel dying does not make me any less certain that he will be healed. In some ways I feel more certain, not because the same doubts don’t come to me, but because I know they will not be entertained much longer, because this chapter is almost finished and we will have an ending, one way or the other. So the doubts and fears, that make me re-affirm that “even if I’m wrong” this is where I stand, become less and less powerful. People’s conciliatory words of comfort, meant to reassure us and help us accept Joel’s death, don’t sit well with me. They aren’t offensive because I know the heart behind them is good, but they are weak words, because it is so obvious to me that death is the given, I don’t have to work to be ready for it, or accept it. It is coming whether I would accept it or not. It has been coming slowly for so long. I don’t have to work to understand that Joel is dying. It is obvious. Heaven is amazing, and so I’m not worried about death, it will come regardless of where I stand and wait, but now death is circling close enough for redemption to finally feel closer. This is the part of the story where a daring rescue can thwart death’s intentions just in time, perhaps when it looks like it is already too late. I want to watch for that. I don’t need to focus my eyes on death, studying it and its slow progression, its course is clear already, but there is a glory that is coming and its journey to us is wild and quick and frightening, and I want to be watching for that glory, I want to stand trembling in Awe before God and His power, not sure that this thing we’ve asked for is something we can quite manage, but trying anyway. Death is the given, but the life that is possible now for Joel, the miracle that could come, now that death is so close, is something worth pursuing, worth risking everything to see with my own eyes. There have been many words spoken to me that remind me that this is all I want, to see God’s glory here, in this life, for my son, and that maybe just maybe the chapter whose words I can see come to an end just a page or two from here, ends with that glory. Those impossible words of expectation are what comfort me, and remind me I’m not the only crazy one!
I can’t help but think of all the false-alarms we’ve had, all the times I’ve written similar words about Joel not having much time left, but those words before were based on expectations placed on him by his medical prognosis at the time. This time I don’t have to be told Joel is dying, I see it clearly. His temperature is low now. I no longer hope we can get him off oxygen. I see him now and know that the long phases where Joel stares blankly into nothing will come more and more often now and last longer each time. I used to hate all the false-alarms, all the times I would declare that either God will save Joel or Joel would die, knowing I had said that before, and in the end that stark fork in the road had never quite materialized. I don’t resent all those false-alarms now. They were practice for this moment. I know what it means to have Joel on pain medicine around the clock. We’ve done that already, the grief of that moment isn’t new, so it will not startle me when it comes. I know how it feels to stand in this place already, this time I just have to stand a little bit longer than before, but I’ve practiced my stance so many times that it feels comfortable now.
This may be the last early morning I spend in a hospital room typing away while Joel and Ryan sleep. When we go home he will be under hospice care in our home. I suspect we will not admit him to the hospital anymore. For better or worse Joel’s fight with cancer is about to be over, and even though it looks foolish, I am excited, because I’ve already lost what there is to lose of Joel, death would just mean I can’t hold his body while I long for what he used to be, but a miracle now would mean finally getting the chance to know this boy that I love, and watching as the world is introduced slowly to a man with a calling and a destiny, rescued from death for a purpose that makes the devil tremble.


There are 13 comments for this post.

  1. Sarah Sykes on March 8, 2014 7:32 am

    On Wednesday I showed my son Isaac (2yrs) and pic of Joel. I told him Joel is very sick and needs Jesus to heal him. Isaac does not very often ask me to pray. Only twice before. But on Wednesday he asked me three times to pray for “Baby Joel.” I was amazed. Yet I should not be, as the Holy Spirit speaks in a language even a 2 year old can understand clearly. We’ll be praying again today!

  2. Julia McReynolds on March 8, 2014 8:08 am

    Standing with you in faith for that glorious miracle! I can clearly see that God has been building your faith through all that has come before. That is one thing I always pray about for you. God is full of compassion and also a God of glory and might! Our hope in Him does not disappoint. Praying to see His glory at work in Joel’s life!

  3. Stacey on March 8, 2014 8:53 am

    I have been following your blog since the “My Last Days” was published. And yes, I have been of the thought that denial was strong in your life. But always praying and hoping and contending with you for that miracle. I no longer see it as denial, instead I am challenged to question my own faith and belief in how big our God truly is. And so this morning I too am excited to see the miracle in store. Thank you for such a raw and beautiful glimpse into your hearts and lives.

  4. Tim on March 8, 2014 8:59 am

    Safe travels today. You’re in our prayers.

  5. Cindy on March 8, 2014 10:15 am

    Praying for your travels today.

    As we pray for a miracle for Joel, realize you are the miracle and with your faith and writings, you reach people in ways you cannot know or potentially understand. God is at work through you.

  6. Heather Wilson on March 8, 2014 12:12 pm

    I have been praying with you and for you all these past several months. I share the prayer page I’m Praying for Baby Joel” when updates come in. I look at the photos you post of all your beautiful boys – and you looking wonderful expecting your fifth child. I pray and cry and pray and cry – but never ONCE have I ever thought you and Ryan were in denial! All I see and hear in your words and Ryans are prayers of loving parents who love God, their 4 sons, and believe that God knows their needs, their wants, their desires of their hearts… He is a LOVING GOD, a JUST GOD, and HE LOVES YOU ALL – SO VERY MUCH!!! Standing in faith and in prayer with you, Green family – God be with you as you take your sweet Joel and his brothers home to family and church support! Love, Heather

  7. Dee Brady on March 8, 2014 12:49 pm

    Your faith is inspiring. I am praying for a miracle for Joel. Nothing is impossible for God. I am in San Francisco and heading to Mass. You count on my continued prayers.

  8. Kayla on March 8, 2014 2:05 pm

    I have been a silent follower of your blog for a couple of years now. I started coming originally because I saw an adorable little boy and his family who needed prayer to overcome cancer. As the time went on, I continued to pray, of course, but I also saw much more. I saw a family who trusts in God so much, for better or for worse. I saw a family who loves God in the small, happy details, and the large, difficult times. The way your family consistently leans on God has truly been inspirational to me. I’m not entirely sure why I am choosing to comment today, after being a quiet lurker for so long. I suppose I wanted just to let you know that I have prayed for Joel all this time and I will continue to pray for him until Joel is either healed here on Earth or he is healed in heaven. Joel, and your entire family, is an inspiration to my own faith. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words along this journey.

  9. Amorette Helm on March 8, 2014 3:48 pm

    Your strength never ceases to amaze me! I know that strength comes from the strong relationship you have with Papa God! Phoebe prayed for Joel the night before last and said, “You are the King of Kings, The Lord of Lords and Jehovah Rapha…heal Joel and make him grow big and strong!” We will continue to pray and believe for his miracle. I also continue to pray for strength and peace for you guys while you walk this journey with Joel. Tons of love to you guys! ~ Amorette

  10. Jim Rutherford on March 8, 2014 5:57 pm

    As I was praying after the MRI results, God said “Didn’t I tell you 80 years?” Still praying, still believing!

  11. Melanie Davis on March 8, 2014 9:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I am hoping and praying with you for the devil to tremble.

  12. Tara on March 9, 2014 5:52 pm

    I am standing with you in belief that our Lord will heal Joel! The best is yet to come!!!

  13. Amanda on March 9, 2014 7:27 pm

    Your family is so strong and so brave. I hope that God continues to walk with you and Joel and that you all find peace. I will pray for you and your son. Thank you for reminding me what is truly good about life. Much love Amanda Leitzel

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