Such an ugly word. A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss. A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family. Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight. Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had. Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.
Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me. We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears. Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can. I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can. God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing. It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed. If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action. Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me. One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see. Sometimes there is hope. That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?
Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church. He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home. His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant. He has not yet found a suitable donor. Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December. The cancer returned. Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline. He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town. He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night. In Houston. In the summertime. He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are. Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life. Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work. Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much. We can’t take away the cancer. We can’t take away the fear. We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though. We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances. They are not big spenders. They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks. And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog. I may never do it again. But I know these people. I have served with them. And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives. Will you join me in helping them? You can give online at GiveForward. (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain. This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either. He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth. He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.
It is often difficult to be generous. It is hard to give freely of our time, our resources, our hearts.
It is often difficult to trust. It is hard to open ourselves to others, leaving ourselves vulnerable to betrayal.
It is often difficult to see the abundance that is in God, and perhaps this is why it is so difficult to give it all away.
The widow whom Jesus noticed giving up her last coins in the temple could see this abundance. She saw how beautiful and full living in God’s life could be. She saw what we must open our own eyes to see: that we can only be generous and trust God with our lives when we see that our life in God, this kingdom of God here on earth, is abounding in life and love and joy.
Yes, we live in a broken, fallen world, but we don’t have to wait for the end of all things for God’s rule on earth to begin. Something occurred in creation when Jesus was raised from the dead. Something began at the resurrection that begins to bring God’s new life to this earth here and now. Paul speaks of us, among other things, as a new creation in Christ. I am not a theologian, so I do not pretend to understand how this happens or even exactly what is occurring.
Yet perhaps part of what this means is that we are called to bear witness to the perfect life in God, the perfect life of Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21 & 22. We are called to live life in a way that bears witness to the perfection that we as well as all of creation will become, and perhaps simply living a witness kind of life is the way in which we are right now bringing God’s kingdom to fruition in our world.
When we act, as followers of Jesus Christ in the world, as if the limitations of this world set the boundaries for how we can act, then we are…failing in our witness to the cosmic redemption that has been accomplished in Jesus Christ ~ Jonathan Wilson, author of God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation
So let us live lives full of generosity and trust, opening our eyes to the abundance of life around us. The very same abundance that is ours in a witness life in Christ.
Art Credit: The Widow’s Mite by James Tissot
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent. This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away. It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus. Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences. When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence. You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you. But it is a dangerous grace. This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished. It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin. The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread and Wine)
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent. It is a long journey, these forty days. It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone. God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross. As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us. This body of Jesus that is our grace. This grace that brings fire. This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
~ How Firm a Foundation
Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.