On Monday, I spent some time at the cancer center–I needed some blood work to prep for my surgery yesterday. I arrived in the waiting room and sat down next to a couple that looked like they were in their late sixties. I pulled out my book and began to read, but I had only started on a paragraph or two before their conversation with the woman next to them broke in. I couldn’t concentrate as the man seethed a bitterness to her… to all of us, really, who were close.
“What?” he practically shouted, “I work hard all my life and retire for what? For this? For cancer?”
His wife put her hand on his leg, a gesture to calm him, but he continued his rant, “I was gonna enjoy my retirement. This is not the life I had planned.”
“Well,” she patted his leg, “You gotta take what comes.”
“Ha!” He pushed her hand away. “Well this ain’t the coming I wanted. What about my retirement? I’m ready to tell them to take these treatments and shove them.”
Her voice rose a bit, “I’m surprised you made it this long.”
The woman to their left asked him how long he’d been fighting cancer, and he replied, “Nine weeks of treatment and it don’t do nothing.”
His wife responded to her, “It’s in his liver and lymph nodes and lungs. They don’t know where it originated.”
“Well, I was a chewer,” he admitted, “But at my job they didn’t allow you to smoke or chew, but I chewed any way. Chewed every day I worked, and I swallowed instead of spit. That’s probably where it come from.” He sighed, “I done had open heart surgery twice. This ain’t the life I had planned. Round and around and around we go. That’s how it goes.”
His wife said quietly, “The doctor is good and all, but they just ain’t fixin’ you.”
There was an awkward silence, and I felt every gamut of emotion run over me. My internal wrestling match began as fear chilled and then indignation ran hot. I wanted to scream, “Do you NOT see me sitting here? Do you think THIS is the life any of us had planned? Cancer at 24 then 34 then 35 then…?! You want to complain… well, let me tell you…” I could have gone on and on in my mind, “And how about my friends who have lost wives, parents, children to this disease to other diseases? And what about those whose lives are hard in other ways? What about this person and that person and…” My brain seethed.
As quickly as it came, the indignation slipped away as the Spirit moved my anger to compassion. I’ve been there. It’s so easy when you are suffering to be blinded to everything around you. It’s so easy to get into our own little bubbles and think the world revolves around us. It’s easy to forget that everyone around us has their pain and struggle and suffering, too.
There are as many different types of grief and suffering in this world as there are people in it. We all carry something, and no one (no one!) has the market on suffering.
I found my heart broken for this man, for my friends, for my family. The answer rang in my mind, “Do you think this is the life any of us planned? Well, let me tell you… let me tell you about my Jesus, my suffering Savior.” That is where I need to go. Where we all need to go. I sat there and prayed for God to open up a door for me to speak, but their eyes never turned in my direction and the moment never came…
Then across the room I heard an elderly man talking to one of the cancer center volunteers, “Oh, I’ve had a lot in my life. There are things in this life that are more painful than cancer. But oh! I’ve been blessed.”
She smiled at him and said, “What are some of your blessings?”
He listed off his life, his family, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “Look, the sun is shining today.” He pointed out toward the parking lot. “I have so much, and I have my Jesus.”
Tears welled and I was blown away by the contrast. “If a person can be grateful,” the volunteer said, “That’s a blessing in itself.”
The nurse came and called my name. As I stood up, the man looked up at me and the familiar shock at my age registered in his eyes. He looked questioningly at me. I nodded, smiled and waved. He returned the nod and wave, but not the smile.
This life is hard. This life is full of unplanned things.
And yes, gratitude is a blessing in itself. But it’s more than that.
It’s not about the gratitude.
It’s not about the gift.
It’s about the Giver.
I am grateful because my Jesus gives me the strength to walk this suffering. To walk wondering if I am carrying, literally carrying, death in my body is hard, yes. But He carries me.
And we, my friends, we carry each other.
I have prayed for you today. If you are reading this, I’ve prayed for you. I’ve asked God to be with those of you who suffer and give you measures of strength. I’ve asked Him to show you Jesus in your sufferings. I’ve begged Him for peace for myself and for you in whatever chaos you find yourself. And I’ve thanked Him that He is worthy. He can be trusted. And that He is the Savior. Our suffering Savior.
Thank you for walking this road with me. May we suffer well together.