Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings
Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings
by Sheri Zook
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 print edition of Daughters of Promise. To see more content from this issue download a digital copy here.
In the thick and thin of January, when I thought I could not face another day of it, my son caught me crouching in the pantry with a large spoonful of peanut butter and honey halfway to my mouth. “Son,” I said as firmly as I could under the circumstances, “go and play. Mommy needs a moment to gather her strength.” That is how my long winter went, sustenance and rest caught in odd places, licked from chance spoons and peanut butter jars.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, just before the holidays —soon to be subdued and apprehensive holidays. We had been through cancer as a family before, but I am not certain that makes it easier. She faced a year’s worth of triple treatment: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
One of the women who cared about my mom and me , and knew howto listen to hard things, was my friend Anita. Sometimes she came to my house wearing the one piece of clothing in the world that I coveted: a webbed scarf, knitted in a dragon’s wing pattern, deep turquoise with flecks of every color woven through it. Anita’s mother had made it for her; it was not the kind of thing you can go buy at Walmart. I loved seeing it wrapped around her like a talisman of peace.
The week after Christmas, I got a surprise package from my friend Heidi in Canada. I unwrapped a beautiful turquoise store-bought scarf with flecks of color all through it. “Hey,” my son said, “That looks like the dragon’s wing.” I laughed in delight, and wrapped it around my shoulders. I thought perhaps the Lord was rewarding me for something: my patience in trouble, my surrender in tough things, my hope.
Throughout this time, our family had been praying for a foster baby, and when a call came in early January, we decided to trust God’s timing and say “yes”. We were told that she was headed to respite care, and that we would have her at least for the weekend. We were not new to fostering. We had faced difficult placements and difficult good-byes, and we went into this one with our eyes open.
No one tells you the cues of a foster child – you learn them slowly, as you listen and as you do it wrongly. Night times were the worst. Our newest addition appeared to be nocturnal, waking frequently as she was used to sleeping tucked up against a loved adult. At first, I was the wrong adult, and she screamed at me; later, I was the right one, and she screamed for me. My own baby would then wake, hearing her new sister, and cry for comfort. My husband and I tag-teamed our way through those bleary wee hours. Our new baby slowly taught us she was soothed by sleeping with a light blanket over her face; and I, worried about oxygen, sometimes covered her with the lightly woven mesh of a turquoise scarf. She was not the only one who slept beneath a dragon’s wing; at times I needed its covering myself.
If winters took medals for awful weather, fluctuating temperatures, and the nurture and cultivation of germs, this one took the gold. Each of my children hovered on the edge of sickness, missing school here and there. When more students were sick than not (an unprecedented record), their school decided to close its doors for a day. My biological baby developed an ear infection; my foster baby started projectile vomiting. My washing machine stopped working and several inches of water pooled in the basement from all the rain. During the winter, my own cough worsened - a racking, hacking, aching cough that took my breath away. Three weeks into it, I broke down and went to the doctor, who told me I was bronchiospasming and prescribed the appropriate medicine. In the night I awoke, draped in a scarf that was not healing me, to coughing fits so violent that afterward I sat on the edge of my bed fighting desperately to inhale, feeling that my room had been vacuum packed and all the air was gone.
Meanwhile, my mother got her first chemo treatment, and my sister arrived from Israel with my honey of a niece, but I stayed away for the sake of all those germs. If chemo made my mom neutropenic (her white blood cell count dropping too low to fight infection), any contagion would be too great a risk. I wanted to throw in the towel except there was nowhere to throw it. That is why I was crouching in the pantry, festooned in turquoise, fortifying myself with a chunk of peanut butter and tasting strength and mercy. I figured it was the least sinful of the choices that occurred to me, certainly better than eating the entire bag of New York mints, also within reach.
Resolution in my life comes slowly, when it comes at all, but at last our tide began to turn. My husband hotwired the washing machine and drained the basement with bucket after bucket of water carried outdoors. My friends sent food and comforting text messages, despite sickness in their own troops. We made it to the doctor. The baby stopped puking (and oh, she was sweet.)
And that scarf. That dragon’s wing scarf. I think Jesus sent it on purpose right before my crazy time – not a reward, but a preparation. I clung to it and wore it in season and out of season, matching and not matching, praying “shelter me in the shadow of your wing.” The scarf did nothing to fix me, but daily it reminded me of His promises. I wore it on the night the baby came, and on the nights I sat up with her, I wrapped it around everyone I rocked to sleep. “In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” (Psalm 57:1) I had always imagined a sparrow’s wing when I read those verses, but now I saw the wide folds and glistening armor of a dragon’s wing, and I felt the unmatched power of Jesus.
I wore it when I kissed my foster baby goodbye after three weeks of care, and when, two days later, my husband went to the emergency room with the sharp chest pains of pneumonia, and when, another two days later, we said no. “No, we are sorry, but we cannot take her back again. We are so terribly sick.” Months later, I still cry for this loss; I know she is eternally covered by love, but I do not know where she is or what became of her.
I wore the dragon’s wing scarf until I could feel it around me whether I was wearing it or not. I’m wearing it now. If there’s one thing I have learned about the provision of Jesus, it is that He does not shelter me from enduring the hard things. He shelters me so that I can endure hard things and not be destroyed.
Shari lives in northwestern Pennsylvania with a few of her favorite people. In this peaceful setting, she bakes cakes, grows herbs, and corrals children. You can read more of her work at sharizook.com, Confessions of a Woman Learning to Live. If this story struck a chord, she’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.