Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cancer and Community

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately, largely because I’m in a rough patch right now and have experienced incredible support from the community around me. Let me share with you a few glimpses of that community:

A few Sundays ago the communion thoughts really hit home—the young woman leading us talked about her struggle with her mom’s cancer, tying that in to the passage about Jesus grieving with Lazarus’ family before bringing him back to life. Her prayer started with, “God, I’m sick of cancer. And I’m sick of death.” That did me in. I wept for basically the entire rest of the service. At the end of the service, a woman I barely even know stopped me and said, “I saw you crying. Are you okay, and can I give you a hug?”

From there, I went straight to small group. For our devotional time, we each shared something we hope to accomplish in the coming year. We had such a mixed bag of emotions in the room: excitement and anxiety about moving, worry about raising support for fulltime mission work, stress of finishing college and applying for grad school, happiness about reaching a significant milestone in thesis-writing, uncertainty about jobs and income, joy and fear about having a baby, stability of no major life transitions coming up, grief over loved ones losing their battles with cancer . . . That night, we all came from vastly different places emotionally, and despite our own individual emotions, we were able to be fully present with each other in all of the wonderful, terrible, happy, unsure feelings swirling in the room. Even now, I’m sitting here trying to put into words the amazingness of the genuine community that took place that night. We didn’t try to make the tone of the group homogenous. Someone who was happy didn’t ignore or minimize the obvious grief of others; and vice versa. We were transparent and raw. The masks were off, and we were able to throw wide the doors of our hearts and invite the group to enter into the good, the bad, and the ugly inside.

The women in that small group had a lunch date a couple weeks ago. That morning I sent an email to let them know that I’d be coming from a prayer vigil for my boss/friend Charles and therefore might be late or emotionally unfit to come at all. But I ended up going, and one of the girls commented, “I read your email and thought, ‘Then it’s even more important that you come be with us.’” Yes! In true community we don’t have to hide our emotions—or avoid said community if we’re going through unpleasant emotions—but instead can bring our puffy eyes and rubbed-raw noses and experience love and support.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a seven-year-old boy, Liam, who died of leukemia. Liam’s death and Charles’s worsening cancer have messed with my faith. Charles is such a faithful servant, doing incredibly good things for the kingdom; Liam, in the face of his illness, rallied an army of people to participate in his well project and give life to communities of people who don’t have access to clean water. Literally thousands of people have been praying for Liam’s healing for over a year, and for Charles’s healing for over two years. Why wouldn’t our all-powerful God step in and heal them?

Randy, who did Liam’s eulogy yesterday, said many pertinent things, but I’ll just share this one that especially hit home for me. Randy asked Liam’s parents if they felt like God had sat this one out. But, to his surprise, they answered, “No.” God hadn’t shown up to heal Liam, but God had shown up in countless other ways—through hugs and encouraging calls from friends; through kids who sent care packages and their own artwork to Liam, who also loved to draw; through compassionate, competent doctors and nurses who cared not only for Liam but for their whole family; through thousands of dollars donated toward Liam’s wells; through the countless ways their community of family, friends, and friends of friends who have showered them with love and support. Randy went on to assert that God doesn’t just work cancer magic, and God isn’t a god who is at our beck and call to do whatever we want, exactly when we want it. But God is so very present—and God’s power is so very prevalent—in the ways we rally around each other.

That reality has been so true for me in this season of grief. Liam died, and Charles doesn’t have much time left. God didn’t wave a magic cancer wand for either of them. That reality is awful, and I’m pretty upset with God for not providing healing in the way that I thought God should. But in the midst of all this pain and anger, God is providing me with healing through the supportive calls, emails, hugs, “I’m thinking about you”s, and offers of help from this incredible community of people around me.


  1. O come, Emmanuel.

    I'm so glad we're friends. Love you.

  2. It does seem that so many hard things are happening all at once right now. I'm sorry for all that you are going through. I know it hurts, bad. Praise God for community and for the comfort we can all share. My faith has been rocked in recent years as well, but I have come to accept that I will never understand all these things. I just pray for God to provide the peace that passes understanding. I pray this for you as well. Love you, friend!

  3. Mollie - Amen to that. I too love you and am so glad we're friends! Thanks for the hug this morning.

    Amber - Thanks for your encouragement and friendship. I'm sorry that you know from your own experience how hard all of this is. It's amazing how grief brings people together and adds a whole new rich layer to a community or individual relationship. Love you, too!