Sooner or Later, We All End Up at the Foot of the Cross

Understanding that we need to bring all to the foot of the cross is a grace.

James Tissot (1836-1902), “What Our Saviour Saw from the Cross”
James Tissot (1836-1902), “What Our Saviour Saw from the Cross” (photo: Public Domain)

Ever since this project started, I’ve wanted to save this one story for when I wrote on the Crucifixion.

I have a friend who came to visit me when I spent 45 days at Children’s hospital in D.C. with my youngest son. She brought hot cocoa from Starbucks for me, knowing the fare at the vending machines wears thin after about two hours of stress eating.

Post-partum and separated from my husband and other children by the need to keep a watch over our youngest, I felt sad, alone, isolated and like my whole life was waiting for something I feared with all my might (open heart surgery for my son), and yet needed to have happen. She knew I felt like all of life was spiraling out of control. She knew this anxiety better than I did. She cared for and still cares for her own daughter, who must endure a condition requiring constant monitoring every night of her life.

I’ve always been in awe of her courage and fortitude to be so vigilant, so conscientious. I specialized in being distracted, having created a panic chart on the dry erase board for the nurses, “HOW PANICKED SHOULD I BE?” with frazzled smiley faces indicating the degree of stress I felt or thought I maybe ought to have. She handed me my drink. She’d not yet seen my son. “Whoa,” she peeked in the crib and said, “He’s Down syndrome hot.” It’s very painful to snort hot chocolate through one’s nose, but it was the first full laugh I’d had since we got checked into his room.

Then and now, every single night, my friend surrenders her daughter to God as she hooks up the machines that will keep her child alive through the sleeping hours. Her daughter’s autonomic functions stop when she falls asleep, unless there are machines keeping them going. If my friend ever nods off before her daughter, her daughter will die. I have long thought my friend knew the foot of the cross as I’ve never fully grasped. She holds onto hope, rather than fear. I learned to think of it as holding onto the nails, rather than the hurt.

After my friend’s visit, I tried to stay calm. I wasn’t always. Every night leading up to my son’s surgery, I had to surrender to God the waiting through the night. Once I screamed at a doctor when he told me to get some rest. He took my son in his arms and said, “You have to trust me. I know how precious life is.” The doctor said it to me, but God was speaking through him, as from the cross. We have to trust Him. We know Christ on the cross is revealing how much we are to love, how much to forgive, how much God desires mercy, how much God is willing to pay for our souls; all of His love, all of His mercy, all of His precious blood. We have to go through this point, through the Crucifixion, to get to Easter. There isn’t a short cut. We have to die to ourselves to fully live. There isn’t an alternative that brings happiness, joy and eternal life.

What I learned then, and continued to learn from all the little crosses presented since that big one, is that each cross we encounter is an opportunity to participate. We can find ourselves at the foot of the cross every day, offering whatever it is we face. Here are my children. Here is my friend’s marriage. Here are my siblings. Here are my parents. Here are my students. Here are my friends. Here are my finances. Here are my fears. Here are my failures. Here are my frustrations. It’s just, it was easier to see what to do, though no easier to offer, with the physical stuff. It took (and still takes) trust.

My dad and my grandfather both used to say, “Sooner or later, you find yourself at the foot of the cross, bawling like a baby.” And I know this to be true. Understanding that we need to bring all to the foot of the cross is a grace.