“The Spirit of the Lord told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading!’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.’”
I returned to the chemo lounge this week for my bi-monthly port flush. While many of my cancer contemporaries have their ports immediately removed after their chemotherapy has ended, per the urging of my doctor I’ve decided to leave mine in for the next couple of years. The odds for my cancer’s reoccurrence are greater in that time frame, and I certainly don’t want to have to go through the surgical process of re-inserting the port. It was a painful experience for me (think of knives poking themselves into your neck); accordingly, I’ve decided to live with the inconvenience of my port for a while longer. Thus, the need for a bi-monthly return to the cancer center in order to prevent an infection in that area.
The last time I went there, I became physically nauseated when I made that left turn into the hospital parking lot; this time I did a bit better as I made the usual trek to my usual chair and waited for Nurse Angie (Sarah has since moved to Montana and is expecting her first child!) to prep me, poke me, flush me, excuse me—a process taking about ten minutes. This isn’t on par with my previous five hour stays, so there is little time to absorb my surroundings. But with this brief visit, I did notice one thing—one singular reality that struck me afresh and forced my heart to deal with one of the cold, hard truths about cancer.
As I looked around the lounge at the twenty some faces that filled the chairs with their ample suffering, I realized that they were strangers to me—a whole new crop of cancer patients with whom I had no connection. Some asleep. Some dehydrated. Some reading. Some requiring the immediate attention of the nurses. Very few of them engaging with the process. Most of them keeping to themselves. And it made me tearful… made my heart hurt all over again for the reality of cancer and its debilitating effects. I wanted to hug each one of them; sit alongside of them; strike up a conversation, and leave a little bit of Jesus joy with my passing.
But I didn’t; really I couldn’t. I’ve passed the ownership of my chair onto others, and the hospital wouldn’t take kindly to my just “hanging out to be an encourager” especially since, technically speaking, I don’t have authorization to be there. So I left the hospital feeling sad; feeling lost; knowing that my cancer journey has made a huge mark upon my soul but has, also, left me feeling “hung out to dry” as it pertains to the days ahead. I don’t know what to do with it all, how to process its worthiness, how to take the lessons I’ve learned and how to graciously bestow them upon others… those cancer “others” who might benefit from having a “come alongside” kind of Philip at their side—someone who is willing to “step up” and help with the reading of life and truth and Jesus’ role in it all.
While re-reading the above passage of scripture last night (one of my favorites in all of the book of Acts), I was reminded again about the nature of the learning process—about what it is to be a teacher in the classroom of life and what it is to be student. Really, there are two types of learners when it comes to spiritual matters and otherwise.
The first learner is represented by the Ethiopian eunuch—a person longing to learn the truth, yet unable to fully grasp its meaning because of language barriers, historical barriers, familial barriers, religious barriers, traditional barriers. His upbringing hadn’t allowed him the privilege of first-hand knowledge. Thus, when it came to his understanding and the grasping of truth, he began at a deficit. It wasn’t his fault; it simply was his reality. Accordingly, he could have chosen to settle for current understanding—for the “reading” of the story without ever really engaging with its witness. This kind of thinking represents the first type of learner—a learner that never makes his/her way past the print on a page. A learner that chooses ignorance over understanding. A learner that never progresses past the first grade and that is willing to spend a lifetime reciting the ABC’s (a comfortable education) rather than moving onto writing those ABC’s into a meaningful manuscript (a sometimes less comfortable, more laborious and struggling education).
The second type of learner is also represented by the Ethiopian eunuch—a person longing to learn the truth and who is fully willing to accept the teaching of one more knowledgeable, more experienced—a teacher who is willing to come alongside, to step up into the chariot of elementary understanding, to invest personal energies, and to unfold truth in the light of practical, first-hand knowledge and experience. The student-learner who is willing to receive a helping hand as it pertains to furthering his/her education recognizes that, without the help of another, he/she is likely to remain stuck in earlier perceptions that will never really advance personal education. A wise student is willing to share the chariot with a teacher who has previously walked the desert road and who has leaned into his/her own personal learning as it pertains to all of life.
I have been as both learners on my journey through cancer. A student longing for truth but unable to fully interpret it because of never “having been this way before.” I’ve also been a student willing to allow a couple of teachers to join me in the chariot, because I understood that their previous learning would be invaluable to me in my own quest for truth. Like Philip, they have graciously “stayed near my chariot” and, per my request, jumped on board to answer all of my questions and to gently point me forward toward personal application of truth. I am a better learner and survivor because of their generous investments into my understanding. And I am grateful that when they, like me, looked around the “rooms” in their lives and saw a whole new crop of cancer patients, they didn’t shrink back from God’s calling to “stay near my chariot.”
It is my heart’s desire to walk in that same calling, for I have, like them, have walked this desert road. As I look around my “room,” I want to follow God’s promptings toward a chariot or two where I might invest this heart-hurt of mine—a stepping up and into the lives of other cancer patients who need the benefit of my previous education. A few people who might be willing to allow me some personal investment into their personal quest for the truth. It’s not always easy to find them, those who are willing to move past elementary understanding and into the struggling strains of furthering their education. Harder still, is finding someone who is willing to trust my desert heart with the teaching, but I believe that this is what God is calling me to—to stay near the hurting and to gently offer God’s grace, peace, and understanding for the journey ahead.
We’ve all been called to the same… to the “staying near” to a few chariots where we might be used by God to reveal his truth. Not everyone will invite us into their private confusion. Some are content to live within the parameters of their well-recited ABC’s. But every now and again, there will be a few who will bend to their learning, those who want to further the story and who will need the benefit of your previous desert walk.
They are everywhere… a whole new crop of confused and suffering patients in desperate need of our nearness to their pain. How I pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to listen, and then feet to step up… to stay up until the work of the cross is done. Even so, keep to it friends, and if you’re so inclined, let me know what chariots God is calling you to “stand near” to in this season of living. As always…
Peace for the journey,