Facts and Figures update:
I have an appointment locked down at MD Anderson cancer clinic in Houston, TX on March 17. This is good news because the path forward can begin.
However, that appointment is conditional: I need the second opinion biopsy results sent down to Houston ASAP – otherwise, they will have to push my first meeting back.
Things that I’ve learned this past week about the Lord and my frailty.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
I have been so humbled by the outpouring of emotional, spiritual and even tangible support from dear friends and family. I suppose this is what I should expect … but the intensity, volume and deep expressions of love have been off the chart. By nature, I try to be positive, keep the stiff upper lip and soldier on (because that’s what a “mature Christian” is supposed to do, right?). But there’s the other part of me that knows it’s healthy and important to honor your emotions (and I’ve felt them all: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, blame, sadness). So everyone who has expressed encouragement and prayer for me have been like “midwives to me” helping me to labor through this disease.
This is new to me – and I don’t mean the cancer. You see I’m the one with the white hat who rides in at the right time; I’m the one who offers the scripture encouragement; I’m the one who reminds of the precious promises; I’m the one who who prays over the suffering … and I found that I took pride in what I thought was the position of strength, the position of knowledge or the position of power. (That’s not a very nice thing for a pastor to admit, is it?) This cancer has revealed an important truth, showing me in naked reality – not in concept or theory – that I am no different from anyone. Brothers and sisters: you helped soothe the terror, you believed in my victory before I could understand the battle, you calmed me down, you propped me up, you helped me remember that fear is a liar, that – as our Lord promised – that “even though I have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death” our Good Shepherd is with me … and so are you. Some of you have been through the same valley – or much worse – and you help me by saying: “See? I got out. You will too!”
Never in my life has the Body of Christ become more beautiful, more alive, more generative, than right now. And I cannot contribute a thing – and I think that’s part of the lesson. Whether we met at Raytown, Bolivar, Appleton City, Iola, Overland Park, or Roswell your unique imprint on my life has made me a better man and shepherd, and now you’re teaching me the most important lesson so far: that you’ll be there for me when I’m completely helpless. And truly – I can offer you nothing in return. But, I’m sorry, I still need more. I still need the all-important intangibles of prayer, love, encouragement and clarity. I may not admit it, but I will need talking down off the ledge, I may grow weary, I may grow frustrated – possibly lose hope. And you’ll come through. You always come through.
What more can I say? Thank you. I love you. Thank you for being there for me, Brenda, Hudson and Olivia.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32
A few years ago, I read of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who had developed a spiritual discipline of meditative prayer where the disciple focuses on a passage of scripture where a narrative is expressed. Perhaps it’s the Wedding at Cana, the woman caught in adultery, David vs. Goliath … the possibilities are limitless. What the disciple does is to use their imagination and insert themselves in the story as if they were there. It’s important to really enrich it: what do you see, smell, feel, taste, touch, hear? What’s the dialogue?
The other day, I was so weary of this whole business. It was all I thought of. I thought of lymphoma when I woke, all day long, and when I went to sleep. To start over, all over again.
I woke that morning thinking, “I just want to get away from myself.” I felt I needed to try Brother Ignatious’s method again. I went to John 1:35-32 – literally – a quite pedestrian narrative of the Gospels.
“Behold,” said John, pointing. “The Lamb of God!”
It was hot that day, the dust swirled around our feet in that little town of Bethany. The smell of roasted fish and herbs was floating in the air. It was almost lunchtime.
Andrew, the brother of Peter, looked where John was pointing: It was Jesus – who waved at his cousin, our mentor. Andrew looked at me nodded towards John and we told him we had to go. We thanked him for his time and efforts but we had to follow Jesus. John said, “I get it. You better get moving.”
And we started following Jesus.
“Hello, guys – I’m Jesus, son of Joseph. And you are …?” and we made introductions.
“What can I do for you?” He said with a smile.
“We want to follow you.” We said at the same time, looking at each other.
Jesus just laughed and just gestured down the road. We followed.
“Let’s pull over for a minute – this lady has some fish and I’m starving!” Jesus negotiated a price and we sat down on a picnic table. (Bet you didn’t know they had picnic tables back then!). Andrew went to fetch some water while Jesus began to devour the fish – it was a little dry but he seemed to enjoy it.
He offered me a piece. “You want some?” His eyebrows arched?
“No thanks, Lord.”
“Suit yourself. It’s pretty good!” He paused. “What’s on your mind, Sean.”
I thought of all the noble things I could say. Praises. Psalms. Thanks. But I was weary.
“Lord … I’m so tired of thinking about this – and I’ve barely begun. Lord: Why do I have cancer?”
“Sean,” Jesus put the fish down and matter-of-factly said: “I wanted you to have it. I gave this to you.”
“You wanted me to have it?! You gave this to me?!” I burst into tears – both in my imagination and on my living room chair. “How can you say that? You really wanted me to have this sickness?!”
Jesus leaned forward. He smiled just a bit. He took my - which looked like child's hands - into his own. I stared down in disbelief. “Look at me,” he said.
“Why, Lord?” I again cried.
"Sean, look at me." He said again. For what seemed like a long time, he looked into my eyes with love and tenderness.
“Because no one else could do this but you.” He said. “I need to borrow your body. Will you let me?”
I knew what he meant. He wasn’t saying that I and only I could handle this. He meant that only I could live my life to display his glory with this disease. He was trusting me with the time I have left in this world, with the relationships I have in this world, with whatever influence I can utilize for him.
“Okay, Lord Jesus. I love you. I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will! I know I can count on you!”
Other things were said, but they are private for now. Maybe forever.
I don’t know anything about this disease or how I got it. Maybe my imagination went too far. I don’t care because it doesn’t matter.
I DO see God using this disease for his own purposes and plans. My Lord doesn’t have to justify himself nor is he obligated to tell me. I am pleased to offer what little time I have on this orb floating around our local star to demonstrate his glory and strength. It is His perspective that matters, not mine. It’s a profound privilege to live for Jesus. After all, every one dies. But if I have everything to gain and nothing to lose by applying His promise to my life, I nothing to fear. For, as another disciple said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Either way, I win. For the disciple, shouldn’t that give us all great peace?