Starting next weekend, we will kick off with a new sermon series titled “Since You Asked,” where we will tackle some big questions.
Not surprisingly, I have been enlisted to preach on the weekend of July 6-7, wrestling with the oft-asked question, “What do you do when a loved one has cancer?”
Just about everyone at Hope has a cancer story, in one form or another. And, the question so many people ask is, “How do I respond to cancer?”
My wife, Jackie, and I have an existing cancer story, with our daughter, Deanna, being diagnosed four-and-a-half years ago with breast cancer that had metastasized in two of her vertebrae.
I have been enormously aided in thinking about the subject of this sermon and about cancer in general by reading a book that Deanna wrote a couple of years ago titled: Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace. You can find it at Café Hope.
As a professor of religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Deanna is used to wrestling with the big questions of life and combines her academic prowess and deep and profound Christian faith with her firsthand experience of the suffering caused by cancer.
Here’s a quote from the beginning pages of her book to help give you a quick look at her story:
This story takes place in the Minnesota neighborhoods, hospital rooms, classrooms and sanctuaries where I live, love, teach, worship and pray. It is in those spaces—accompanied by those who incarnate the hands and feet of divine love—where I grieve what is lost and slowly embrace what is not. As words return and I learn to talk about cancer, while talking about faith, the conversation pushes beyond the predictable parameters of prayer, the church, even hope in life after death.
Refracted through the lens of cancer, my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and professor looks very different than it did before cancer. Refracted through the lens of cancer, faith looks different too. Through the telling of this story of life with stage 4 cancer, I hope to offer what I wish I had had; a story about talking faith in the midst of cancer, and talking cancer in the midst of faith; a way of speaking that resists conventional language about God’s relationship to suffering, particularly in its cancerous form. The story that follows is no sentimental “God saved me from cancer” tale; instead it is an accounting of faith’s faltering speech in the face of grim prognoses and brief glimpses of hope…
I continue to hope for more in this life—more chances to be gracious, kind, loving. Beyond these basic hopes, new hopes for this life have become important too; hope for continued inactivity of the cancer in my body and the bodies of so many others, for psychological and spiritual courage to live with the disease, for the gift of living long enough to see my daughters grow into adulthood.
In addition to hoping for more in this life, I also hope for more beyond. I hope the promises of God are true; that there is more to life beyond this earthly one; and that in the life beyond there will be no more crying, no more dying, only light, only love, only joy.
It is always illuminating to see how God works in the midst of suffering. Deanna has been asked to do a lot of speaking about her story with cancer, and Jackie and I have attended several of these sessions.
Thus, when I was asked to preach on how to respond to cancer in a loved one, I immediately decided to ask Deanna to participate. But, the more I thought about it the more I concluded that I could not ask her to drive down to Des Moines and participate in seven worship services on a weekend; that is exhausting for someone in perfect health!
So, it was instead suggested that we send our videographer to the Twin Cities to put Deanna on video, following her around in her busy life.
On July 6-7, Deanna will be sharing her story in several segments, and as the preacher of the day, I will be in dialogue with her via the video. I highly encourage you to be there!
I believe that Deanna, and of course now Pastor Nicole, are bringing the mysteries of cancer out in the open and helping each of us understand more fully what it means to be truly mortal and yet filled with hope.
I close with one other passage from Deanna’s book, Hoping for More:
In one cancer memoir I read, the author writes about the scene in the exam room after she learns that she has breast cancer. She looks at the doctor through her tears and whispers, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to have cancer.’ The doctor puts his hand on her shoulder and says, ‘None of us know how to have cancer.’ Deanna then wrestles with this statement throughout the book: How does one have cancer?
So often cancer stories come from two perspectives: being cured, or facing imminent death.
Deanna talks about living in the “gaps.”
She most likely will never be cancer free – it is just sitting there in her back, trying to again create havoc (it happened again a year ago). Yet, she is not facing death anytime soon.
So, she lives in the gaps.
She tries to process what it is like to live with cancer.
To have faith in the midst of cancer.
To find hope when you have cancer.
To experience relationships while having cancer.
She talks about the importance of CaringBridge in her journey (she calls it “the virtual body of Christ.”)
This is what her book is about and this is what the sermon will be about.
How do we have cancer? How do we love and support loved ones who have cancer? How do we find hope in the midst of illness? How do we find life in the shadow of death? What does God say about illness, death and eternal life? How do we respond to miracles, or the absence of a miracle? How does Jesus deal with illness?
None of us have all the answers, but we can ask the right questions and connect our experience with our Christian faith…
PS: For those looking to connect with others who have had cancer, walked alongside someone with cancer or are currently battling cancer, we invite you to check out Hope’s support group, Cancer Connect. The group meets the second Sunday of every month. You can email Kimberly with questions or for more information.