Friday, February 7, 2014

To My Friend:

This is August.
Isn't he adorable?
A friend of mine from high school received some terrible news a couple of weeks ago.  His five-year-old son was diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma.  I can't even begin to imagine what hearing that must feel like.  I don't ever want to know. 

I'm praying for their family.  But sometimes it's not enough to just pray and keep it between you and God.  Sometimes people need to know that there is someone really reaching out to God on their behalf.

I wrote this letter for my friend.  But maybe it could help others, too.  So here it is.

Dear Andy and Andrea,

I am so sorry to hear about August's diagnosis.  I have had to take my son to the emergency room a couple of times in his four years.  Once we thought he may have broken his finger when it got caught in the van door.  The other time he got the Incredible Hulk's head stuck in his nose.  Yeah, you read that right.  FYI, if your kid ever gets the Hulk's head stuck up his nose the Emergency Room staff will stare blankly at you for a full minute because there is no ICD-9 code for admitting that particular injury.  Anyhow, as ridiculous as those two trips to the hospital were, they were also completely agonizing because my boy was hurt, crying, and in pain and I was completely helpless to do anything about it.  I cannot even imagine what you must be going through. 

I heard that donations were being collected for your son and your family.  I so badly wanted to be able to contribute, to show you my love and support.  I wanted to buy every toy imaginable for your son to keep him happy and occupied during his stay at the hospital.  I wanted to get special little treasures for your daughter so she would know that she is not forgotten and that, while much of the focus is on August, we remember that she is going through this, too.  I wanted to get a gift card for a spa day for Andrea so that she can take a little time to relax and recharge herself before continuing to be a pillar for her family.  I wanted to get you, Andy... well, I don't know what I would have gotten you.  A gift card for coffee?  I don't know.  Men are hard to buy for.  I would have come up with something great.  The point is, my heart was there, but my wallet has moths flying out of it. 

I wanted to come visit you in the hospital and bring you cookies and comfort food and hug your kids and tell them that everything would be okay.  I wanted to hug the two of you and let you know that I am there for you.  Really there for you.  But the truth is, if it wasn't for Facebook, you would just be that guy I went to high school with.  Aside from seeing you driving a fire truck in parades down Titus Avenue, I really haven't seen you in person in 20+ years, and Stranger Danger is real.

This photo breaks my heart.

I wanted to give you all the distractions, all the love, and all the support that I could.  But the only thing that I really have to give to you that will make any difference at all is my prayers.  And I have been praying.  Not like some people say, "Oh, I'll pray for you, sweetie," and they never really think of you again.  I've been fervently praying for your boy and for your entire family.  I'll continue to do so until the day I read the Facebook post, "August is cancer-free!!!"  I am praying for you.  Everyday.  Because that is all I have to give that is of any true value.

The past few days as I pray for August's continued healing and asking God for a scripture, Psalm 23 keeps popping into my head.  I keep pushing it out because that's the one that is so often recited at funerals.  Why would God give me a scripture like that when I'm praying and believing for total healing?  But it was persistent, so I decided to take a closer look and study it further.

I am so glad I did because I received a revelation, and a verse that has always seemed like a depressing funeral dirge to me is really an anthem for life.  I'm sure you've heard it:

Psalm 23
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

That was the verse that got me; verse 4.  It's great.  It sounds awful.  You're walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  That's gotta suck.  Who wants to walk through Death Valley?  There is no possible way to make that sound like a good time, it's true.  But that sentence also holds so much hope. 

Think about it.  You're walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  You're walking.  You're not standing, or sitting, or laying down or dying in the valley of death.  You're not setting up camp.  You're not making plans to make it your permanent home.  You're not staying there.  You're walking!  And not only are you walking, but you're walking through.  You're not wandering aimlessly.  You have a destination.  You're walking through it, and you will come out the other side.  Those green pastures are waiting for you.

Then there's that shadow of death.  I don't know about you, but that gives me the heebie-jeebies.  But it's not death we walk through, because Jesus defeated death.  It's just the shadow of death.  Well, not JUST.  Any kid can tell you that shadows can be super scary.  But the thing about shadows is that you can't get a shadow without a light.  Total darkness casts no shadow.  There is light.  There is hope.  Focus on the light, and you will find your way out of the shadow. 

"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."  I always love a good shepherd analogy in the Bible.  It's great stuff.  We tend to think of the shepherds as those sweet faced little boys in the Nativity at Christmas time with wispy curls and maybe a pan flute.  The truth is, shepherds were pretty bad ass.  They slept outside watching over smelly sheep that needed protection from animals like wolves and mountain lions that could just as easily eat the shepherd.  And when the mountain lions would come, those shepherds would beat the crap out of them with a big stick!  To death!!

Yeah, God's got your back on this one.  I like to picture him beating cancer to death with a big ugly stick and yelling, "Not my baby!  Not today!"  Because that's what's happening.  It's what you're doing every time you hold your sleeping boy's hand.  And I just wanted you to know, that it's what I'm doing, too.

I look forward to seeing that Facebook post that confirms what we already know, that you're boy is healthy and cancer-free.  :-)



"Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you."
                                                                                                  Acts 3:6

Monday, January 20, 2014

Betrayal and the Beast

This is the only line of this
famous poem that I know.
In seventh or eight grade my English teacher gave us a chance to earn some extra credit by memorizing a poem she handed out and reciting it after class.  I hate speaking in front of people (even if it's just to one person), so I passed on the extra credit.  My friend Lillian, however, was always a go-getter and wasn't about to let an extra ten points slip through her fingers.  Good for her.  So I put aside my fears of public speaking, total failure, and my general feeling that I am unable to learn anything and helped my friend memorize the assigned poem.

She was a little nervous when she stood in front of the teacher to recite the poem, so I sat at a desk in the back of the room to provide moral support.  She spoke passionately, made it through the entire thing with only one slight hesitation and victoriously received her ten extra points.  I remember the teacher asking me if I was going to go for the extra credit as well.  "No," I said, "I'm here for moral support.  I can't remember the poem."

Well, that was a lie, because 20 years later I can still rattle that poem off without a hitch.  I wonder if I can still get my ten points?

You know you read it.
No matter.  I was thinking about that poem today because Facebook is exploding with poetry.  If you "like" the poem that is posted, the poster will assign you an author and you have to post a poem written by that person.  I have intentionally not "liked" any of the poems because, aside from my seventh grade extra credit, the only other poems I know by heart are written by Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, or Shel Silverstein.

I wrote down the words to the poem and, since we live in an amazing time, I decided to look up the author on my iPhone.  It's a wonderful time to be alive, isn't it?  I was hoping I would be able to impress people by rattling off a poem by one of the greats like E. E. Cummings or Tennyson.  I was horribly disappointed.

The "poem" that I had accidentally memorized, the one that has been seared into my brain for the past
two decades, was a song written by a country singer named Lisa Angelle and was apparently the theme for the TV series Beauty and the Beast that ran on CBS from 1987 to 1990.  Apparently, my English teacher was less concerned about us learning classic literature and more concerned with hearing the title song to her favorite prime time drama!  It was a freaking THEME SONG!! A Theme song from a show about a disfigured, sub-terrainian noble man-beast who falls in love with John Connor's mom!

Terrible!  Just terrible!  I feel betrayed.  And even worse, I've gone and listened to the music that goes along with the "poem" and it's just awful! How will I ever get this horrible thing out of my head?

I know, I'll hum the theme song to Bewitched and then the theme to I Dream of Jeanie.  That always works. 

How did this pass for literature in my English class?  I've said it before and I'll say it again; My parents deserve a tax credit for the public education I received. 

The lyrics, written by memory with my personal, jaded commentary:

The first time I loved forever
Was when you whispered my name
And I knew at once you loved me
For the me of who I am.
                                                                      (Oh, please!)
The first time I loved forever
I cast all else aside
and bid my heart to follow
be there no more need to hide.
                                                                      (Big mistake, Sister!)
And if wishes and dreams
are merely for children
and love's a tale for fools
I'll live the dream with you.
                                                                      (Living as a foolish child.  Good call.)
For all my life and forever
There's a truth I'll always know
When my world divides and shatters
You're love is where I'll go.
                                                                     (Yeah, riiiiggghhht.)