As the orchestra came to the end of the overture I knew I was going to have to make a dash for it.
Really God? Now? You're kidding me.
The tickets were a gift from a friend and we were front and centre, just five rows from the stage. It was every music lover's dream.
But not this time.
Oh, I love musicals with a passion, it was just my seat slap bang in the centre of the row that wasn't so dreamy. You see 18 months before I'd been diagnosed with cancer, rectal cancer. I know, it's not sexy and doesn't come with a pretty pink bow, just chemo, radiation, surgery, and a lifetime membership to the 'where's the nearest sprintable bathroom' club.
That night felt like the first time in over a year my dress hadn't been a hospital-issued gown with a bow fastening at the back. I had on my new maxi dress and the buzz of the theatre renewed my joie de vivre. Except now, as the conductor's dandruff specks caught the light on his tuxedo and the heavy velvet curtains swung back revealing the opening number, I knew my time was up.
I was going to have to make a run for it.
'I'm so sorry.'
'Would you mind, excuse me.'
I shimmied my way past indignant theatre-goers, over-emphasising my English accent to politely smooth the way, before pushing through the doors out into the lobby. Hiking my maxi dress up around my thighs I half-ran, half-walked to the nearest bathroom, clenching as best I could.
Grateful I made it without any major explosions I sat there relieved and continued my rather one-sided debate with God. Maybe debate is too polite a word – let's call it what it was, a rant of biblical proportions.
I'm pretty sure you're there, God, but sometimes I wonder if you're as good as you say you are. Are you? Good, I mean?
Can't I even enjoy one night at the theatre?
The last year has been so, so hard.
How long is it going to be this way?
And I'm not even going to mention what our kids have endured.
Hello? Are you even listening?
I bet you're off taking care of someone way more spiritual than me who sits with you and her coffee each morning and doesn't scream at her kids on the way to church.
Is this what love looks likes?
I wish I could tell you an abundant peace descended from on high as I fumed, venting my frustrations and doubts from the safety of that bathroom stall, but they didn't. There was no sudden revelation of his love or deep sense of his arms wrapped around me. Just the flush of a distant toilet chased by the sound of the hand dryer and fading footsteps of someone heading back to the show.
There's nothing like the sound of public bodily functions to keep a girl tethered to this world, but for some reason that didn't matter. No, I didn't feel a peace, but I knew he'd heard me. I've read enough Psalms to know I'm not the first person to throw their pain and anger at him, and I'm sure I won't be last.
At least we were still talking.
I've learned screaming at God is never bad. He's big enough to handle it and I'm sure he'd rather I turned to him than anyone or anything else.
Having already lost both my mum and sister to cancer I knew venting at God wouldn't push him away any more than doubting his love could make it any less real. So, as I made my way back towards the music and tried to focus on what I knew to be true, not what I feared might not be; that God is good even if life isn't and he meets us in our questions even if we can't hear his answers.
I never made it back to my seat.
I perched near the doorway ready for the inevitable next swift exit and let myself be transported to another time and place through song and dance. The stage came alive with something bigger than me and maybe that's how it is with God. Maybe as we give him our raw unedited doubts and fears he transports us somewhere new. Another time and place brought alive by our wrestling, strung together by what we refuse to let go of – that life doesn't have to be pain free to be full.
Niki Hardy was diagnosed with rectal cancer and describes herself as a 'cancer thriver'. She now offers encouragement, resources and a large dollop of reality on her website, or find her on Instagram (@niki.hardy)