Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gift of Presence

Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land, there is nothing that can shake me, she has said she won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand.
Psalm 23: 4, Bobby McFerrin’s translation

Psalm 23 and I are old friends—more than any other Scripture, it was my comfort during chemotherapy. The beauty of holy words, however, is that new meanings can always be found. Just recently the basis for comfort became clearer to me.
The fact of God’s presence is the foundation of the fearlessness claimed in verse four. Because God is with me at all times, even during treatment, I do not need to fear. God is a companion, the one with whom I break bread, even on days when I can’t keep down food. There is no place I can go that is outside the presence and persistent friendship of God.
            Even though I’m in remission, I need these reminders. Four years after beginning chemo, the panic still rises a weeks before my regular checkups. When people ask how I am, my stock response is, “I’m fine until they tell me otherwise.” I feel fine, but I have learned that my sense of well-being is not finely tuned enough to detect the presence of cancer. So I wait for the tests. And I get a little crazy as they draw near, playing “what if?”—a game I cannot win.
            Somehow, I never play a version of “what if?” that has happy outcomes. “What if I’m still clean?” never comes to mind. Instead I imagine variations on “What if it’s back?” I have a friend who prefers to play the game “Wouldn’t it be great if . . . ?” and to surround herself with positive thinking. She is clearly a better person than I am.
            I am trying to learn to breathe deeply, to remember the reality that I am in God’s hand, that I am not alone. I manage it sometimes. Before my last outpatient surgery, I remembered something that Charlotte had said in a sermon. I was able to walk into the cancer center thinking of her words, “God is already here before me. I am not alone.” I know from my own experience that God is also in the chemo room, the examining rooms, the hospital ward. I know—through the companionship of my friends, those with cancer and those who support us—that God does not leave us.

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