Life, Cancer and God

I expect to pass through this world but once.

Any good therefore that I do, or any kindness that I can show

to any fellow creature, let me do it now.

Let me not defer or neglect it,

for I shall not pass this way again.

-Stephen Grellet

 

When I left New York to cross the Atlantic by ship on January 3rd, I was both excited and ill at ease.

I’ve been absent for a bit, my peace disturbed, and I have struggled to understand why. I’m working on finding my center and I will finish what I started but I needed time to sort things out.

Sitting on a ship in the middle of the North Atlantic is peaceful and inspiring, yet you can’t help but feel a sense of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of this world. The forces of nature are beautiful, terrifying and more powerful than anything man has created.

I was struggling on two fronts; questioning my faith in people and my faith in God. Not long ago two significant and seemingly unrelated events occurred. The first involved allowing a toxic person back in my life and the second involved a simple act of kindness; a gift. Both events were show-stoppers, awakenings of significance.

In the first case with respect to my faith in people, I am reminded that despite my best efforts and intentions, I can fail spectacularly.

For a long time, my ego wouldn’t allow me to acknowledge it. Realizing I can fail despite my best efforts and commitment is a humbling lesson. Loving someone cannot make them love you nor can it change their behavior. More importantly, I realize continuing to love someone who is incapable of returning the affection, is not a continuing failure on my part, it is my choice. For the time being, I’ve made my peace with it and accept the consequences of my choices.

All of which brings me to the more significant event which occurred one evening not long ago.

After a nice dinner with friends, in the restaurant parking lot, a friend casually reached into his car and handed me a copy of When God Meets Cancer by Lynn Eib. I was immediately intrigued by the title since God and Cancer are rarely mentioned together in a positive discussion. Usually it involves an old tired argument concerning the existence of God which, in oversimplified terms, postulates that cancer in children (or the innocents) is proof that God doesn’t exist (or worse, God is not a kind and loving God but rather a vengeful God). Having spent many hours in a cancer hospital observing children from the ages of 2 to 20, I have a very different belief and experience. I’ve watched a two-year-old sit peacefully in his father’s lap for over two hours, never squirming or tugging at the tubes dangling from his tiny body. I witnessed a sixteen-year-old girl who had lost her hair and was all skin and bones make the rounds in the waiting room encouraging other children and adults with kind words and offers of assistance. There is a peace and sense of trust in every child I encounter- God is most certainly present in their lives.

Lynn Eib’s book sat untouched on my coffee table for weeks. My head trash told me I was going to read some good old-fashioned admonishments about committing my life to Christ in order to be “saved”. Since I am not overtly religious in any traditional since, I was put off by the title- maybe even scared that I would discover a fundamental flaw in my belief system and in my plans and intentions for how I want to live the rest of my life. As usual, I was wrong; dead wrong.

Lynn Eib is a recognized Christian author, married to a pastor, and has a commanding knowledge of the bible. She is also a cancer survivor and works in an oncology practice and is charged with spiritual counseling of the patients in the practice. She also runs a prayer group in her spare time. Lynn can quote scripture verbatim while I struggle to remember a single verse in its entirety. In the end, I discovered that we are of like mind and despite my ignorance of bible verses, we a share a common belief that, with the proper attitude and perseverance, cancer can never defeat you.

Whether you live or die, is not the measure of success- how you choose to live is.

A win could be as simple as reconciling with an estranged family member or telling your child that you love them and having them understand or learning that your friends are going to welcome a new life into the world.

I found myself nodding in agreement as Lynn summarized what she believes is necessary to battle cancer and win. There are three critical elements: the heart, the mind and the soul. The heart needs the proper attitude which she calls acceptance; defined as dealing with life with reasonable expectations. The mind requires peace- the negative loops need to be broken and trashed, not recycled. The soul needs hope- hope in the face of whatever circumstance you find yourself. Having hope does not mean you have unrealistic expectations, it means you have faith in something greater than yourself. Hope sustains the soul above all else and offers light in the darkest of times.

Lynn’s book is inspiring. She cites multiple examples of people who beat the odds and survived well beyond expectations or found joy or peace at the end of a troubling life. She does not “preach”, nor does she hide her faith and beliefs- one of which is that everyone facing cancer (or any serious illness) needs to be part of a “congregation” or prayer group. She is an absolute believer in the power of prayer.

At first glance, I came up short on having a congregation and a prayer group. I am woefully ignorant of scripture, I do not attend church and I am not a member of any “congregation”, much less an organized prayer group. I do believe in a powerful and loving God and I try to follow the basic principles espoused in the bible and I am firm believer in the power of prayer.

I am sure there are enough billable hours in this single issue for Lisa to acquire a new beach house, but when I finished Lynn’s book, I realized I have been living my life in the manner she advocates despite my ignorance of scripture and inability to apply it directly in my challenges. The reality is I am constantly reminded I do have a congregation of people who pray for me. I had to open my eyes and my heart to see that we do, in fact, reap what we sow, and I am very grateful for all of the support I have been given.

As you may have noted, I tend to deflect. I struggle to accept anything from anyone. I find more satisfaction in giving than in receiving. I will suffer before I allow anyone or anything to suffer. It is in my DNA. What I have come to understand, with the help of Lisa, is no matter how selfless this may appear, it is actually selfish. There is a time and a place for allowing people to care about you and for you- the decision isn’t mine to make and never was. Just like the little boy sitting in his father’s lap, I am surrounded by family and friends who love me- this is where my peace is. The most disturbing part of this circle is that I allowed one person to disrupt the most important and supportive relationships in my life.

I came to the end of my voyage with a better appreciation for the way God works in our lives and more confidence in the daily choices I make in how I live my life and spend my time and efforts. I made a mistake and it cost me my peace for a while but I’m ready to get back on the horse and ride.

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