from an article originally posted August 19, 2014…
There are a few things I’d like to say to you this morning. A lot of what I want to say is salty and ugly, but I will do my best to use the nice words and not the ones that often get dropped too easily around my house. Cancer, you are and always have been an unwelcome guest in the home of me. But I thought we could work it out, I thought we could fight on Tuesday, you would see I kept house poorly and you would leave. We planned on that. We worked on that. I fought to not hate you as you took unwelcome residence in my body.
But you kept staying. You kept leaving your mess all over the place. You did introduce me to so many kind faces that worked to gently ask you to leave without doing too much damage to the house of me. So many told me to fight you, but I hate to fight. Summer teaches me that as I’m constantly begging kindness on all the little people around me. Fighting just isn’t how I’m made. You have left corners of me broken that will never again be the same. Yesterday I heard of all the scar tissue you’ve left in my lungs. I feel that damage as I wheeze through bedtime kisses. You jerk-faced ninnymuggins, Cancer, you.
But you keep staying. I’m beginning to despair you will never leave. I’m not sure the right attitude to have towards you. I want to weep one moment, and I want to live bigger than I’ve ever lived the next. Before you, I lived comfortable, if I didn’t feel good—and I mean a little not good, say a muscle strain—I wouldn’t do anything. Now, with you, I’m learning my feelings have little to do with living or not living.
Yesterday, a nurse saw you on a piece of paper and told me I must be in a lot of pain. I didn’t know how to answer, you have been such a companion for two years, I forget what it feels like to not have you clinging to me. I want to hate you, cuss you, throw you out and forget we ever knew each other. Trust me, I’ve taken every brand of pill to do that. But I’m so damned hospitable, you keep on staying.
So here we are. The truth is you are in my bones, my bone marrow, my blood-making place. I didn’t want you there. I asked for you not to go there. But you did it anyway.
Here’s what you will never do, you unhappy house guest. You will never separate me from the Holy Spirit. See him there with you? He’s watching ever single cell. He sees you. He’s the one giving me all this peace that confounds you. You will never take my joy. You will never keep me from a moment of living next to my people. And I know you think you are the one killing me with all your fast-growing cell business, but you are not the boss. The day I breathe my last is exactly, exactly numbered. You don’t get a say in that. And when that day comes, and it will come, my people will be kept. Kept so beautifully, I’m sad I won’t get to see that unique, specific grace that will meet my people.
I don’t want to credit you with the lessons and gifts I’ve received from cancer, but I will say God used cancer to teach us things we may not have otherwise learned. So here is my backwards glance at you, with a small smile of gratitude. Cancer has taught us to see the little moments as the giant moments of life. Cancer has taught us the beauty and freedom of sharing tears. Cancer has taught us the importance and the beauty of our community. God has taught us the deep leaning on one another when the heartbreaking news comes. It has taught us to run away, every chance, to find adventure and to live and love as big as we have the strength to love. We once hoarded vacation, forgot to run away, we didn’t think we could do it. But now, now we know it gives us strength for the hard living that is asked of us. the deep exhaling and embracing rest has brought us strength and a nearness to Jesus that our going, going, going could never do. And then, even then, God has taught us love greater than our strength.
This long goodbye afforded by cancer has taught us what to never take for granted. Jesus has used cancer to look at ministry utterly differently. To see our value in knowing Jesus more than serving Jesus. We knew that before, but we didn’t practice that before cancer. We delight in the giftings of others and take joy in stepping aside from places we were once strong. And, in that stepping aside, you have shown us what a healthy church looks like. You have shown us the brokenness in ministry, and the beauty that brings to life and ministry. Having it together is simply a farce. Cancer stripped us of that farce of strength we once pretended at.
Cancer, you will not stop me from loving. You will not stop me from looking for grace, you will never keep me from enjoying the goodness I have and know in Jesus. I live with this never-moving connection to a loving God. And cancer or no cancer, I get to tell that story as long as I have breath to breathe. And that has mattered. Getting to tell the greatest story ever told has been my pleasure. Cancer could not stop that story from being told.
Today I may be awaiting an impossible conversation with my doctor. A conversation where we will argue over the degree of life he wants to take from me with the killing poison that will make big living hard. We will wrestle over the right treatment to deal with my unwelcome houseguest and managing the pain it brings. It’s an ugly dance, but it’s not without its joys.
I am not left hopeless. No, when cancer finds a new corner, I need to give myself a moment to weep and struggle, and look for grace to meet me. It’s a muscle I have grown. I have been given heaven, eternity, peace, but that doesn’t mean the swallowing of terrible news isn’t a brand of awful I hope you never experience. No, I’m no happy Christian faking life is only bliss knowing Jesus. No, it’s hard. Dreadfully hard some Mondays.
Today I sent my girl off to a new school. Today I’m left with three kids instead of four. Today the coffee is strong, and the sun is shining. I think I’ll run away to a park we love. There will be tears behind my sunglasses. These days of bad news somehow makes my children seem tiny, small, vulnerable, but I know they are not. God is growing in them strength to face the impossible in corners I cannot see. My friend has promised me breathtaking grace will meet my people, and I believe her—how I believe her.
So Cancer, I see you. There are people here that think talking of my cancer gives it power. Rubbish! You have none. I know that to be true. The news on the paper broke my heart, but it will not break my spirit. There is a park adventure to find. There is truth to seek in living. And there are people, so many people that need hope. You cannot stop me from telling the story of that hope. You are a weakling, an ugly weakling that has taken residence in the wrong lady. I will not stop. Nope! I have a story to tell... And it’s a beautiful story.
There is life to live today, join me. There are hurting hearts that need to hear of the goodness of Jesus. Even when life is hard, let’s go tell that story. We have children heading into school, life, growth; they need our prayers today. We have a lot asked of us with each breath; let’s press deeply into Jesus and find the best of life. There is much that wants to steal our joy, rob us of today. For me it’s cancer; what is it for you? These unwelcome guests…well, they exist. Pretending they don’t is simply a lie. How do we meet the hard in our story, live it honestly, then head out into life and live? Live in the grace of the greatest story ever told. And guess what? It wasn’t just a story. It was the truth. Jesus lived the life I could not, and died the death deserved to bring me to today. And that, that is breathtaking. The tears behind my sunglasses won’t keep when I think on that big love. No; when I think on that, hope is restored. Do you know that story? Not as a story, but as the very essence of life? Do you have the Holy Spirit and the comfort knowing Jesus brings today? If you don’t, ask me. It’s my greatest delight to share that story. The greatest gift I have ever known, a gift I cannot keep to myself, but one I long to give away.