Are there any two words written that were ever more true? Is there anyone that read that sentence and didn’t think, “Yep, it sure does.” It sucks more than the suckiest suck that has ever sucked. Sorry about the 10-year-old mouth, but I think most would give me a pass.
My Mom has cancer.
Those words were hard to even type. It’s not something I ever wanted to say again. Six years ago her ovarian cancer went into remission. Six doses of chemotherapy spread out over three week spans knocked it out. We hoped it was knocked out for good, but we have already established the sucky nature of cancer.
After my Dad told me the news, these are the things I did:
I cried. I sobbed full force, white-knuckled into my pillow. I know cancer. Cancer and I work in a lot of the same places. I can meet cancer at a hospital, or at someone’s home, or in a conversation at church, and I seem to know what to do. I’m not saying that I’m altogether comfortable with cancer, but we’re familiar. This time though, I wasn’t ready. I thought we had an agreement. Cancer isn’t supposed to bother me at home, but like I said, Cancer sucks.
I hugged my wife, because it was her turn. We seem to take turns being strong in moments like this. It is strange, but I seldom recall a time when we were both crying at the same time. Someone told me once that I’m supposed to be the spiritual leader of our home. That’s bullshit (again, sorry about the language, but my emotions are pretty raw). We are partners. Sometimes I’m strong and confident and fearless and protective and all that stuff. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m fragile and raw and broken. Sometimes she kicks me in the ass, and says, “Get up. Suck it up, and get after it.” Sometimes she holds me, strokes my head, and lets me just be broken. It seems like she always knows when she needs to do either, and I love her for this.
We went to our friends house. We have good friends. We have the kind of friends with whom we can play “Cards Against Humanity,” and hold nothing back. Nuh-thing. We share the big celebrations like weddings and births and C-League Volleyball championships (Go Spiking Vikings). We share the mundane stuff of life like carpools, Tuesday dinner, red wine, and school plays. As soon as I was able to stand, I needed to see our friends. We’ve already buried two parents together, and they know more than anyone that there are somethings that even my lucky rocket-ship underpants won’t help. At their house, the conversation went something like this:
“I just found out that my Mom’s cancer is back.”
Sometimes friends have the perfect words for the moment.
A couple of weeks passed before we were able to tell anyone beyond our very small circle. Finally yesterday I emailed the prayer chain at our church. I’m not sure why I was resistant. Sometimes I feel like a character in Harry Potter, afraid to say the name of You Know Who for fear that speaking it’s name will give it power. Or maybe I can’t let go of ill-gotten notion that as a pastor, I shouldn’t be vulnerable. There are people in the church that are in need of care, and I how am I supposed to care for anyone when I’m hurting?
The text I’m preaching from on Sunday is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and starts with these words, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” You’ve got to be kidding me. (I typed and then deleted a certain expletive in between the words “be” and “kidding me” about five times. I decided to go with leaving it out, so you can re-read that sentence and put it back in, if you so choose).
Rejoice always? That’s going to be a hard sell.
That, however, might be the point. Rejoicing always isn’t about skipping along in a land of rainbows and gumdrops. Praying continually is not about kneeling, folding my hands, and closing my eyes to the world. Giving thanks in every situation isn’t about denying the parts of life that just plain suck.
I rejoice in the life my Mother has lived, and I rejoice in the life she continues to live. I rejoice in her strength. I rejoice in her faith. I rejoice that she just called me from Sam’s Club to ask if I needed a new top coat. “Yes,” I said as I paused from writing this very blog. “My overcoat is blue, and it would be nice to have a black one for funerals.”
You see, I deal with cancer all the time. Truth be told, we had no deal. I knew all along that cancer goes where cancer is not welcome. I’m not rejoicing in its return. Yet in the midst of all things I give thanks.
I give thanks for a Mom who gives me more than I could ever imagine. I give thanks for her partner, my Dad, who taught me that its okay to take turns being strong. I give thanks for my brother and sister, for getting the teal bracelets and doing all the things I can’t do because of distance. I give thanks for my own partner, for being strong enough to hold me up from time to time. I give thanks for my daughters, who teach me every day about grace. I give thanks for my friends, who right now are probably thinking, “I thanked your Mom last night.” I give thanks for my church, who didn’t get an invulnerable pastor. They deserve better.