She called me to tell me that her cancer had returned. Truthfully, neither one of us thought it had gone anywhere, but we didn’t mention it. Instead, we just held the moment together. Paused long enough to breathe in and out a time or two and then continued in our conversation. Inwardly, I was gasping for air … careful not to fill the moment with my fret. It wouldn’t have been fair to her, to her news, her disappointment, the painful reality that was about to unfold for her … again.
More chemo. More testing. More spreading of the disease she’s fought against so valiantly in the eight months I’ve known her. I don’t really have the words to give to her. She doesn’t need empty promises or half-truths based on sentimental notions. She certainly doesn’t need false hope or a casual toss of faith-speak in her direction. No, she needs more. Something solid, real, tender, and truthful. A safe place to place her trust. A refuge in which to plant her seeds of pain. A retreat from the cruelty of blood draws, intravenous drips, and the stale taste of poison in her mouth.
She needs a friend, and she chose me. Silently, I struggle for the right words, questioning my qualifications. How can I mend this one, love this one, help this one through the struggle this go around? There are so many of us, Lord. So many cancer friends.
- One who’s just finished her chemo.
- Another one just getting started.
- A mentor beautifully gracing the stage of her Stage IV.
- Another fourth grade mom swollen with lymphedema.
- A farmer who buried his daughter—my friend—and who now wages the cancer battle himself.
- One of my “ancients” struggling in isolation from the rest of them, from me.
- Several of us in a holding pattern—caught between our last year and the year to come. All of us quietly wondering if maybe the cancer’s just napping beneath our scars.
Yes, so many of us walking the ribboned road. Trying to be brave. Trying to hold the banner of hope high so that others won’t worry. Trying to be friends, be comforters, be supporters, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need to be touched by truth. It’s a weighty responsibility, yet one gladly accepted by most of us. One I willingly accepted just over a year ago.
Every time I want to quit, want to pull away and pretend that I am someone without a story, I look down at my wrist and think on that word. That charge. That privilege given to me—to be trusted with so much. When I go there with my thoughts, I almost always go to my knees, and I say “yes” all over again to the story that is mine, come what may.
Cancer will always be coming for someone. Fifty percent of all men and one-third of all women will personally experience the disease at some point in their journeys. Cancer doesn’t seem in a hurry to retreat, so neither must I. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
To stay. To stand closely to cancer. To straddle the fence with one foot in the path of healing and one foot in the path of pain, with faith as the sturdy post in between. I will not leave the wounded behind. I will wait with them; walk with them; wonder with them; weep with them. It’s what I choose to do, because I believe it’s what my Father chooses to do every time his children come crawling to the threshold of heaven extending their personal pain in the direction of his heart.
God never fills those moments with his fret. Instead, he offers something solid, real, tender, and truthful in return. He offers his presence. A staying, standing-close-by promise of personal involvement. Why? Because he was the first one ever entrusted with a story. A cross. A red ribbon embedded into his brow, tied to his hands, threaded through to his side, cascading downward to his feet. A ribbon that threads through to our hearts and that pulls tightly on his every time our tears shed their witness.
When we need a safe place, a refuge, a retreat, a friend … we have one in Jesus. Every time he thinks about us … looks down at his wrists and reads the truth written behind the scars imprinted there … he goes to his knees on our behalf and says “yes” again to the story that is his. A weighty responsibility to be sure, a worthy gain for all eternity.
Oh to be like Jesus … even a little bit!
There will be no quitting today, not for me. Just more of the road in front of me and more of the ribbon behind me. If you need to, grab on friends. I’m heading in the right and good direction. I’m heading home. As always…
Peace for the journey,