Cancer – 24 hours

In Matthew 6:34 Jesus tells his followers, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” As a husband who is watching his wife live through cancer, I am learning the truth about this. It started Wednesday afternoon when Rita went in for her ultrasound check-up. The procedure was supposed to be a routine step along the road to radiation treatment. In a moment it all changed. The medical staff saw something and ordered tests. We were going to have to wait 3-5 days to find out if this was a bump in the road to recovery or a major change in direction.

That was Wednesday. The sun set and the sun came up. I started the 500 mile drive from my meetings in Kansas to Denver. 8 hours, alone in my car, switching between NPR, the best of the 1980’s, and silence. Then the call came, about 24 hours after the first call. They had fast-tracked the biopsies. Instead of 3-5 days, it was 24 hours. The news was good! They didn’t find any cancer.

In an instant I moved from fear to joy.

For anyone who has been touched by cancer or loves someone battling this disease you are well acquainted with moments that seem to spin on a dime. One moment everything seems to be going well and then something unexpected happens. A moment of joy turns into anguish.

I am slowly learning the wisdom of living in the present. Too often I have put important things off until later. I have let the business of life get in the way of loving, caring, and spending time with the folks most important to me.

Take some time today. Call that friend or family member you have been meaning to talk to. Let them know how important they are. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

Cancer and Roller Coasters

I thought I had finished writing about cancer, then today happened. Rita went in for a check-up. It was supposed to be routine. Today they were going to check her lymph nodes and tomorrow she was going to be “mapped” in preparation of four weeks of radiation beginning in early May. This wasn’t an appointment to be concerned about. As a result I am in Kansas and Rita is in Denver. Then Rita texted me, “they are going to biopsy the lymph nodes and some breast tissue near the scar.” This is how it begins. They are “concerned” so they are choosing to be extra precautious. I am grateful for their concern. I am pleased they are double checking everything.

It doesn’t end there. I want assurances. Answers. I want this to be over.

A friend emailed me. His reflection is that physical roller coasters are more fun than emotional ones. I agree.

I am a person who wants assurances. And cancer is not terribly predictable. The medial staff do their best, but things happen.

I do know how this is going to turn out. We get results in 3-5 days. I am prying that everything comes back negative.

In the midst of all this there is an emerging silver lining. Rita and I are learning to live for today. Beyond this moment not much else is promised. We are discovering the power of prayer. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and people we have never met are praying. Both of us feel those prayers in real and unexpected ways. Words cannot begin to express our gratitude. In quiet and unanticipated ways God has shown up. Sometimes it’s in a conversation, a kind word, a touch on the shoulder, or a hug.

The tag line for the program I run is “See the Face of God in the City.” Over the past few months God has proven to be real. I have seen God’s face in the people I have encountered.

It’s about the Assumptions

We all have assumptions. To be honest they are a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes the assumptions of others can feel a whole lot like judgment. Other times I am glad to have people assume good things about me. I am discovering that it is important, particularly in faith communities, to figure out what the assumptions are. These tend to be the non-negotiable items.

For example, I regularly field calls about DOOR’s statement of faith. Do we believe in the gifts of the spirit? Is the Bible the inerrant Word of God? What is our understanding of sin and punishment? These are just the easy questions! I understand why people ask. They want to know if DOOR is going to reinforce their understanding of God or challenge it. Responding to questions about our assumptions is a little like walking through a mine field, you never know when something is going to explode in front of you!

There are some assumptions we are very public about. Our belief that God is already present in the city working in and through the people of the city is one of those assumptions. For years I was convinced that it was my duty to bring Jesus to places where Jesus wasn’t. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that Jesus isn’t present.

My time at DOOR and in urban centers across the country has given me the unique opportunity to reexamine and challenge my assumptions. There is something amazing that happens when we open ourselves to the possibility that God is more than our assumptions and statements of faith.

At this point someone points out that Scripture is clear and that Jesus is the only way. This is usually code langue for “my understanding of Jesus and Scripture is correct.” The problem with this is that it doesn’t take into account the person doing the interpretation, cultural differences, and western reimagings of Jesus.

Here is where I respect my more Pentecostal friends. Allowing the spirit of God to freely work in and through us will challenge our assumptions and make space for a God who is dangerously surprising!

Cancer – the body

A number of weeks ago I wrote about being furious with God. Some have wondered how an ordained minister of the gospel can feel this way. They feel that being angry with God is wrong; that anger is a significant step towards turning my back on everything I believe. This journey into cancer has not been easy. Watching someone I love face one surgery and now another tests everything I hold dear about my faith. This isn’t easy. My Christian faith and vocation has shaped our entire marriage. In 1986 Rita and I married after I finished my pastoral internship. On our second wedding anniversary we packed our truck and moved from Canada to Fresno, CA to go to seminary. While in seminary I interned in a United Methodist Church for three years. After seminary I was called to Denver to work as an associate pastor. After three years I moved on to DOOR, and for a number of years I pastored while running DOOR.

I do not think it is an understatement to say that my faith has shaped everything about the past 30 years. This has also been true for Rita.

To come to a point of anger and frustration with God was not part of my life plan.

God also has a way of showing up in the most unexpected ways. This week I have been reflecting on the Apostle Paul’s image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

For the past 10 weeks my faith in God has been shaken. But I am part of this living organism called the Body of Christ. Both of us our finding out that when our faith is shaken to the very core there are other parts of the body that pick up our unbelief and believe for us. We have given witness to this as friends have brought meals cooked with love. Others have given us a space to vent. Prayer warriors have prayed and others have sent emails reminding us that God is present. Those who have faced cancer have shared stories and gently reminded us that God will never leave us.

To all of you who have prayed, sent emails, brought meals, or just let us talk, know that you have been the hands, feet, and heart of God in my (our) valley of the shadow of death.

Boxes

The other day at our Atlanta board meeting the chair asked each of us to share how we experience the face of God.   This is one of those questions that I should be ready to answer in an instant; after all, it is the tagline to the program where I have been working for most of my adult life.  As I was listening to the reflections of other board members my mind kept going back to when I first started working for DOOR. At that time, the God I wanted other people to experience was measurable and contained.  I knew the kind of people God approved of and those who were outside God’s will.  Well, to be more precise their actions were outside of God’s will.  I was very good at explaining how God loved the sinner and hated the sin.  My life, work and seminary experiences had all helped me to know exactly what types of actions, lifestyles and political leanings were sinful or at least outside the will of God.  Looking back, this theological certainty had an arrogant unloving quality.

When it came time for me to share about how I experience God I found that I had a new one liner, “God has no respect for the boxes I try to put God in.”  God has never come to me for a list of who to vote for, what to condemn or which lifestyles to judge.  As a matter of fact, much of my faith journey for the past couple of decades has been about reevaluating what I was so sure of.

When I compare the person I was in 1994 to the person I am today, I am glad that I have flip-flopped on many burning issues.  A faith that is dependent on condemnation and looking for sin around every corner is life-sucking, boring and frankly unchristian.  I am starting to enjoy serving a God who has no respect for the boxes I want to put God in.  It is fun, adventuresome, occasionally humbling and always stretching to follow a God whose idea of who is part of the family seems to have no limits.