Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Me at my Darkest


Do you ever wonder if the work you're doing is meaningful?  For me the question comes up all too often.  It is easy to get lost in the monotony of grading papers, sending emails, and reminding kids, to "please get on task," again, and to forget the purpose of it all.  So much work goes into what I do every day.  I am pouring my heart and soul into this.  But is it worthwhile? Teaching kids to find characters' different Points-of-View.  Helping them to memorize new words.  Making sure they are able to tell a good story.  Does any of it matter in the end?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a bracelet that reads "I loved you at your darkest," as a reminder of how Jesus feels about me.

The typical response I get when I tell someone I teach Middle School is, "Oh.  I can't imagine doing that."  In some ways Middle Schoolers are delightful.  I enjoy them every day.  They are old enough to not need me to wipe their noses, but young enough that they get excited when I bring out a game or put on some Disney music.  But in many ways, my students are at their darkest.  Their little awkward bodies are changing.  Did you know that Middle School boys have 1000x more testosterone running through them than adult males?  The world around them is constantly shifting.  Their lives are controlled by teachers, parents, more dominant peers.  They are questioning who they are.  They are wondering if they are loved.  Sometimes the way that comes out is making jokes at each others' expense--talking someone else down in a desperate attempt to build themselves up.  That often means that they forget nearly everything.  They throw things.  They make messes.  This can be frustrating when you are the one who cleans up after them.  They have the immaturity of children, and the angst of teenagers.  Being patient, kind, and gentle with them is a choice I have to make over and over again throughout the day.

Looking at my bracelet I am reminded that I am doing important work.  I am doing the--sometimes exhausting--work of loving people at their darkest.

The C-Word

No, I'm not talking about that C-word.  I am talking about something much worse:  cancer.  Reading that word today it feels so different than it once did.  I used to hear "cancer" as if it was a word spoken underwater.  Cancer was this blurry thing that happened on TV, or to people's distant relatives.  Cancer couldn't touch me.  It couldn't come near the ones I love.  It was off in the distance.  I didn't give it a second thought.  Until cancer forced me to pay attention.

Grandpa and Grandma with some of their grandchildren last Christmas.

First, cancer attacked my grandfather.  It was a few years ago.  He went through chemotherapy and everything was okay.  Until it wasn't.  See the thing about cancer is it can linger.  One day you think it is gone forever and the next you might find out that it has launched a full-scale attack on you.  "Grandpa isn't doing well," my dad vaguely said, "He's not doing well at all."  Chemo didn't work the second time.  The cancer has spread.  We don't know how long he has to live.    When I last visited my grandpa, he didn't look like my grandpa.  My grandpa has a light in his eyes.  He sneaks me popsicles.  The man I saw was pale, and thin, and hairless:  a picture of suffering.  Walking, talking, everyday life was painful for him.  He spent much of his time in the bathroom battling nausea.  But he still called me darling, still told me I was beautiful, and still made me laugh.  My grandparents are active.  They love to travel.  They golf together.  My grandpa takes photographs.  My grandmother paints.  Aside from this, they love each other.  I'll often see them holding hands or snuggling or teasing each other.  My grandfather once said about his relationship with my grandma, "Whatever we do, we like to do together."  I don't know what she'll do when he's gone.

Philip and I wearing purple for my brother, Joey who has pancreatic cancer.

The next victim was my brother.  My wrestling, red-meat-eating, veteran brother.  An unlikely candidate for a deadly disease.  He is all height, beard, and muscles.  One day, he felt a grapefruit-sized lump near his stomach.  We first heard that it was benign, but they were going to remove it just to be safe.  Then I got the call from my mom.  She said it.  The c-word.  It felt like the world became a silent film.  Like I couldn't hear our conversation.  I could only see it written in white font on a black background, and it flickered every once in awhile.  Nothing about cancer makes sense.  You hear things like, "They found more lymph nodes with cancer in them,"  and even though you have no idea what lymph nodes are, your mind instantly goes to death.  Everything means you might lose someone close to you.  Even if that someone is a perfectly healthy twenty-six year-old.  Or, rather they were perfectly health.  As I watch Joey suffer from a distance I see him maintain his sense of humor, dignity, and quiet eloquence even through great adversity.  I believe he is going to beat this!  Will you believe with me?

Callie and her sister, Becca.

Finally, cancer did the most unfair thing.  Like a sharp frost that withers a white rose, it went after the most perfect, innocent, untouched thing it could find.  Cancer found Callie: my friends' two-year-old little girl.  I have known Scott and Tabitha since high school.  We have attended and served at Ross Point Camp together for many years.  One time when Tabitha was a counselor and Scott was a camper, they asked me to walk them to campfire so that they would be "chaperoned."  On a worship night at camp, Tabitha held me for hours as I wept.  Years later we watched Scott and Tab get married at Ross Point camp, and dreamed about the day we would do the same.  Callie is one of the few little people that gives me baby fever.  Her demeanor is so laid back.  She is always smiling.    She enjoys the presence of anyone that she meets.  The last time I saw Callie, though, something was different.  She was grumpy.  She was tilting her head to the side.  She was stand-offish.  Her parents attributed this to a normal part of toddler life:  teething.  Because who would suspect something more serious?  Then they had to hear something that no parent would ever want to hear:  Callie has a tumor in her neck.  It turned out to be, you guessed it, cancer.  The community of support that has risen up around them is a testament to how amazing and loved this family truly is.

I wish I had something profound to say now.  All I can cling to is what I always cling to.    My hope is in Jesus.  God is bigger than cancer.  I can't make sense of this.  But I believe that one day we will be in a place where there is no suffering.  Where there is no pain, no disease, and Jesus will wipe away all of my tears.

If you want to support Joey or Callie as they fight the good fight--first pray!--second, here are links to their Go Fund Me pages:

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