Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prayers answered, questions raised.

My friend's husband does not have pancreatic cancer. The tumor is benign. When I saw him last night I felt like I was seeing Lazarus back from the dead. This week has been hellish for them... the days between finding the tumor and the biopsy.

I have a confession. I did not handle this well.

I have way too much experience with pancreatic cancer for one lifetime. And I love my friends so much it was unbearable to think that they might have to go through it.

I am a woman of great faith, but truly I could not wrap my head or heart around this. Like Jesus at Lazarus' grave... I was weeping, even while there was a tiny part of me that knew I should be trusting God. But frankly, I couldn't see how God could make this right. I petitioned him even as I could taste the terror in my mouth.

Lord, I want to believe. Help thou my unbelief.

And even now, when the crisis has been averted, I wonder about all those whose tumors are NOT benign. My husbands brother suffered horribly... and left a couple of kids and a wife.

The Lenten sun is glaring. I cannot hide. I have found a place of fear that I didn't know I had. God, may your light heal me. I pray.

And thank you, Lord. Thank you.


John Michael Keba said...

When my mother died, several people from my work place at the time came to the panachida sung for my mother at the funeral home, the night before her burial. They were amazed by how packed the place was - but that was mostly family and parishioners. One engineer, however, also noticed, which I hadn't, that the guest book was filled also. That truly suprised him: He asked, with an obvious and sincere confusion that I can still picture, "Was your mother famous?"

I asked around and found that many of the people who had come to visit my mother had been patients on the hospital floor she had walked for a quarter century as an LPN. Amazingly, to me, word had gotten around through some mysterious grapevine of her long illness (colon cancer metastasized to the liver) and death. Others were simply people who knew her outside the church and hospital.

This is not a "my mother was a saint" story. She had quite the Irish temper, and add that to being married into a pigheaded Rusyn family... well, use your imagination. But she was the embodiment of Mathew 25:34-40, and in away, I guess she was famous.

She was "taken" from us when she was just 69, and pain management then was not what it is now. My sister and I even thought about taking "mercy" into our own hands. But she died in the hospital she served for so many years. My sister is still angry over her death (and over the death of her husband to cancer).

But I will always see that filled guestbook, and think "Servant, well done, and I am glad you are home now." There is one other story I wish to tell (and then I will relinquish control of the comments section!). One day, midway through my mother's illness, a visiting priest came to see her. I was not there, my sister told me about this. She left the two of them alone and waited in the lounge. When the priest came out of the room he walked up to her and said "I went in to comfort her, and have come out with my own faith strenghtened."

Suffering is part of being human, and I do not think we can truly know love without knowing suffering. The true tragedy is not that some people suffer: It is that some people turn away from those suffering others.

That you suffer so over your suffering friends is a ripple of love in a world growing stagnant with indifference. Do not lose hope, for we know in faith that enough ripples will make a wave.

I like to think that both my mother's life and her suffering added their ripple of love to the world. I was caught up in it, eventually. As was my niece, after her own lonely bark of doubt and anger was swamped by it. Now our own smaller ripples are worrying away at my sister's formidible seawall of anger.

If we allow the suffering of others (and our own) to remain just suffering, then life truly is meaningless. Our task is to unfailingly turn suffering into an instrument of love. Please do not despair, Rachel. It is a great mystery, I know, but we have ample proof in the Cross that is all means something.

Rachel Nguyen said...


Thank you for this. I am grateful for the story of your mother... and for your reminder that we are called to love in the face of suffering.

In church yesterday, I fell apart a little. It was like the emotions of the past week came crashing down, even as I was celebrating the joy of my friend's positive diagnosis. Why, then, was I still so messed up?

During the week, there was a moment when I perceived a choice before me: The warmth and courage of trusting God, or despair. I chose despair and felt the door to God close, ever so slightly. It was my own doing.

I am still sorting this out. In a way, I feel as though I need to make a confession. (Just two weeks after my last one... is that some kind of record?) But maybe I just need to spend some time with Jesus to gain some perspective. I look forward to the Maundy Thursday vigil... for even as he probably has other things on his mind, he always seems to make time for me.

John Michael Keba said...

Rachel, I despair too when confronted with evil of this world, but I am blessed with the memory of my mother's suffering and how she faced it. That is why I shared it with you. And not just my mother's - I have my experiences as a hospice volunteer (which I became because of my mother). In fact, if you want to get a handle on these very personal struggles with suffering friends, find a local hospice and volunteer to embrace the suffering of people you do not even know. It is one of the great paradoxes of life that the true cure for despair over suffering is an immersion in it for the sole sake of bringing love to those in pain. You'll still feel pain yourself, but the despair will go away.

If you think confession will help you, go! This is a serious matter, and not a case of a ten year old boy desperately making up sins in order to have something to tell the priest! :-)

John Michael Keba said...

Of course, the other way to handle suffering is to ignore it as much as possible! Just don't read about Dives and Lazarus, though. :-)

Mary Beth said...


mid-life rookie said...

This is much later, but I want to add that trusting God does not mean we don't grieve for the pain our loved ones suffer (physical, emotional, and spiritual)or our own loss. Trusting God means knowing God is with us even when life sucks. To cry or "break down" is not lack of faith - it's being human with the emotions God gave us. I hope all of you are doing well now.