Earlier this week I had lunch with a dear friend, one of the bravest ladies I know. A breast cancer survivor, she discovered last year that the cancer had snuck up on her again. I’m sure she had her share of long and hard discussions with her Maker following that discovery. While I was not privy to those deeply private conversations, I do know for a fact that she would come out of her prayer closet invigorated and more determined than ever to lick the disease.
One full cycle of chemotherapy later, she learnt that the drugs weren’t achieving the desired level of cancer cell deaths. This was news she didn’t need. Chemotherapy is financially draining even under the best of circumstances. She had been blessed to have been picked for a drug trial that first round. How would she be able to afford newer and stronger drugs with her limited resources? God blessed her with yet another chance to go on a new drug trial. And so we rejoiced! Then, at one of her regular progress check-ups, she was told that the cancer count had gone down. We rejoiced even more!
Oh, her joy has been so infectious. Looking at her, with her full head of hair, twinkling eyes and ever-ready smile, you would not know that she was fighting for her life, or that her vision has been severely compromised by the chemotherapy. She is so full of life and joy because her roots of hope go deep. In fact, she’s planning a Christmas dinner for her children, their friends, and those of her nephews and nieces who are currently in Singapore. The only poignant moment in our conversation came when she wistfully said that she so much wanted to do this because she didn’t know how many more Christmases she would have.
Do we know how many more Christmases each of us will have? Some of us, like my friend, are blessed with timely reminders of the fact that this life is a temporary one. And so she has launched herself into this adventure of living life to the fullest because she knows where her hope and her final destination will be. She epitomized for me the “passionate patience” that Luci Shaw wrote about in her book The Crime of Living Cautiously (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).
I particularly like the oxymoron implied in “passionate patience,” a phrase Eugene Peterson uses several times in The Message. I have to ask myself, Am I passionate in my patience as I wait for God to act for me or through me? To direct me? To speak to me? Or do I lose the spark in the waiting? (The Crime of Living Cautiously, 37.)
Many of us are so caught up in the daily struggles of our existence that we lose sight of Life itself. I don’t make light of all that you and I need to do in order to maintain a roof over our heads, feed our families and ensure that our children have a good educational head start. But, like my friend and Luci Shaw, I have begun to see that there is more to life than the daily grind. Perspective is everything, isn’t it? Jesus could have seen, at every turn, the multi-headed beast called “sinfulness” and been totally defeated by despair. And He almost was at the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41, 42). But His obedience to the Father and ownership of His mission gave Him the courage to go on. If we can see a bigger overarching story to our lives, it gives everything we do and everything that happens, a different perspective. Henri Nouwen put it so well when he said:
If I were able to trust more, to open myself more easily to be more vulnerable, then obedience would not be so hard. I would be able to say… “If I am still asked to do something I do not like to do, perhaps I must be open to the idea of God’s preparing me for something greater and more important than anything I can imagine.” (The Genesee Diary, New York, NY: Doubleday, 1981, 119.)
There is an ultimate purpose to all the “madness” and so we can take to the white waters of life in our puny rafts and whoop with joy as we crest the next wave or rapid. And even if the raft should occasionally overturn, we’ll have the faith ballast to right it again and continue the ride, soaking wet yet filled with joy and a sense of adventure.
Both Soo Inn and I lost our first spouses to cancer, and you would think that we’d know better than to open ourselves up to the very real possibility of similar loss and pain. But here we are, married to each (for better or for worse), and in for the ride of our lives with a God who holds our future firmly in His loving hands and guides us surely over the rocks and swirling waters. It hasn’t always been easy and we have to constantly remind ourselves not to swing from a bland acceptance of life’s ills to an adrenalin-driven compulsion to fill each waking moment with activity. It comes back to the “passionate patience”. Passionate? Hmmm, yes. Patience? Well, that’ll take another eCommentary to unpack! (*grin*)
Why am I talking about death and dying when it is Christmas that we’re anticipating? Well, the joy only makes sense when we remember that Jesus came in order to die for our sins. And the death only makes sense when we remember that He rose again. That’s why Luci Shaw says we can go on this “Adventure of resurrection, a new life given into God’s hands.” (The Crime of Living Cautiously, 24.)
I don’t know how many more Christmases I’ll see, but I do know I want to make this one count. And the next one, and the one after that…