Editor’s note: Kate Merrick, her husband Britt, and their family faced a life-changing cancer diagnosis, long and painful treatments, and the death of their daughter Daisy. In the midst of the suffering, they chose to be present with God and with each other and find the beauty in the pain.
Pivotal moments pave the way for pivotal choices. And Daisy’s death was one more pivotal moment in our crazy flow. I not only changed my email address and stayed off social media but went completely dark on the blog as well. It appeared that going off the grid was not only to be for our overseas health emergency, but for as long as it took to grieve, as long as it took to get our breath back. Presence took on a whole new meaning, and our friendships and family ties were more precious than ever. Our withdrawal was considered radical by many, so to communicate why we would choose that lifestyle, Britt sent this email out to everyone at our church:
The last few years have been most difficult for my family and me. Among other challenging things, my eight-year-old daughter daisy love died on February 16, 2013. Our three- and-a-half-year battle with cancer was happening during a time of expansion in the ministry of Reality with our church plants in San Francisco and Boston and campus launch in Santa Barbara. All of this left us quite exhausted, and when daisy was diagnosed with cancer for the third time on Easter week of 2012, the elders granted me an indefinite leave of absence to take care of myself and family.
Late that summer we went to Israel for three months to seek experimental cancer treatment for daisy. Just prior to and during that time, the lord was speaking to our family about living a different way. About being less connected to technology and the rest of world and more present to God and each other. In Israel, we went off the grid, so to speak, and left behind our phones and internet connections and social media and the like. We were discovering what, for us, was a better way of being. living in the moment and not worrying about posting updates, returning phone calls and emails, checking in on the rest of the world, and constantly being entertained. Instead we gave each other and God our full attention. We played games as a family, took long walks, relaxed, played more, and prayed more. Our kids, Isaiah and daisy, were so thankful to always have our full attention and not compete with iPhones and text messages, and Kate and I were so happy to be present to each other and God in a brand-new way. And though it was challenging at times, we relished the isolation and obscurity that living disconnected in the Middle East afforded us.
When we came home from Israel we knew things could not be exactly the same, as we would happily reconnect with friends and family and I would return to the ministry at Reality. But we also knew that things could not be the way they were before with the constant connectivity of technology and the way it removed us from being present with those around us and with what we are doing. We have been trying to chart a course that is both faithful to the ministry the lord has entrusted us with and faithful to the more present, less-connected way of being he has been teaching us. It has not always been easy, and there is much to it. I have a flip phone that does not get text messages or go online. We have no internet connection at our house. We are not on social media. There are tweaks and things to figure out along the way, but it is going well and has been life-giving.
Part of what God has been teaching us in being present is to live more simply, to live smaller and faithfully with those he has put us near. For me, with the platform I have had, that means being willing to decrease and embrace obscurity and crucify ego. Also, the lord has given me a fresh love, devotion, passion, and focus for the local church I am a part of. My goal is to be faithful to my local church and the community, and for me to do that, I have to be solely concerned with living with and preaching to them and not others. This is where my sermons no longer being online comes into play. My sermons will only be made available online to those who attend our local church who will have access through our website via a login password they received at church. I apologize if this upsets anyone who has enjoyed or been helped by my preaching ministry over the years, but this is what I need to do within the limits and joys of my own weaknesses to be faithful in being present where I am.
It was a new day, a new season. It was a chance to push the reset button and jump into today, however that looked in work or community, relationships or Sabbath. With our Israeli experience behind us and our new normal in front of us, we needed to leave room for adjustment. We left room to take it slow, to keep our notifications off, to allow life to be savored, not drunk from like a fire hose.
The souvenirs of that time served me well, even the silly ones. I still get emails in my inbox from two places that I’ve never unsubscribed from: Kosher Gift Baskets and Torah Educational Software. Somehow, creepily so, while we were in Israel we started getting these solicitations. But the funny thing is, I like getting them. I get about one a week, and every time I see one it reminds me of our adventure in the Holy Land, of solitude and listening and Sabbath and with-ness. It reminds me that life is fragile, that people are important. It takes me back to the holy holidays we observed, to the ancient ruins we explored, to the Garden of Gethsemane and the God-Man who sweated drops of blood. Those emails murmur, Nothing’s changed since then. Life is still just as lovely and brutal and precarious. Your moments are every bit as valuable today as they ever were.
These days, life is so different. I’m stunned at what I see when I look back. I survived living in a foreign land under desperate circumstances. I survived caring for my Daisy girl. I survived giving her over to God. And I survived the subsequent grief. I feel like a different person in so many ways, new layers I’ve put on, new memories, skills, and wisdom. Gosh, I’ve lived a lot of life so far. When I back up even further, I see an even more radical picture of what God has done in and through me. My past twenty years of being a grown-up — of ministry, career, family, survival, love, death, loss, and spiritual breakthrough — were nothing like I had expected. It wasn’t the script I had written for myself. In many ways, those things were so much harder than anything I thought was possible, yet I see that each season of life meant something. Each was purposeful. And each had opportunity to be fruitful, to yield buckets and buckets of shiny plump fruit.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes knew what he was talking about. I could not possibly have seen the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end, that much was true. But even in the darkest hour, there was beauty and light. It’s like God was lovingly nudging me. One step at a time, lovely girl. That’s it, now another. Just hold My hand, and when we climb to the top you’ll see it all laid out. It’s something to release control of life — flying free, no parachute, no net. And even after everything I’ve been through, this passage is a balm to my heart as I write, and I hope it is for you too:
God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. — Ecclesiastes 3:11
Let go. He’s got me. He’s got you.
You know, I had plans for my life before that fateful day. And caring for a dying girl wasn’t one of them. But God handed me just that. I realize now that caring for a precious and suffering girl was, in fact, my real life.
That it was meaningful, prayerful, powerful, beautiful. Every gentle word spoken, every story whispered, every tear dried, every thermometer swipe was my real life.
So much of the time, when the life we want gets interrupted, we tend to see it as a diversion. A wrench in our plans, a waste of time. We see the interruptions as unfortunate and exasperating and dull. But I have learned that God says differently. Bumps in the road aren’t a diversion from real life; they are real life. Children don’t keep you from your real life; children are real life. Aging parents are real life. Education and exploration and employment are all real life. Feeding your loved ones. That’s real life. Caring for your community. That’s real life. Worship, prayer, communion. That’s real life. And while we may have had dreams or expectations otherwise, those things would be the exception and not the rule.
Let’s enter into the real life of right here, right now.
What does your today look like? What have you been seeing as a diversion? What are you antsy about and eager to be past so you can get to the important stuff? What are the expectations you hold on to that don’t leave room for small, ordinary moments? Are you nurturing a fledgling relationship or mending an old one? Are you elbow-deep in washing cloth diapers? Are you in the space of gathering those around you? Are you in a space of growth, or creativity, or change? How about the pain of getting free from addiction? The pain of loss?
God has made everything beautiful in its time, and times have a habit of changing — so look for what’s beautiful right now.
Excerpted with permission from Here, Now by Kate Merrick, copyright Kate Merrick.
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You’re here now. This is real life right now. Is it a pivotal moment for you? What pivotal choices are you making? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full