Monday, March 28, 2011

Taking Courage

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
Psalm 27:14 New Revised Standard Version

            Anyone who’s dealing with illness knows about waiting. We wait in doctors’ offices, we wait for test results, we wait for a surgery or procedure to be scheduled. Ultimately, we wait for healing.
            In the midst of our physical weakness, we’re admonished to be strong—and I’m not talking about Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong program, helpful though it’s been for many. Chemotherapy may make us weak physically, but our spirits are to remain strong.
            I am drawn to this verse, though, because of the third phrase: let your heart take courage. Allow it. Cancer and other serious illnesses can rob us of our courage. I’m going to die, I’m going to die ran through my mind after diagnosis. I knew I’d die some day, of course, but had planned on many more years of good health. I felt like one of the Very Small Animals in Winnie the Pooh, a not-very-courageous creature.
            Let your heart take courage. Allow it to be brave. My Webster’s dictionary says courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Wow! Doesn’t that just about sum up what we need to manage cancer? I learn that courage comes from a Latin root, meaning heart; I am directed to that entry for more study of word origins.
            I’ve lost courage frequently, had no heart for what I was being asked to endure. My gynecologic oncologist was optimistic; sometimes I asked him to tell me again how this was going to go. He would review the reasons we had for hope, and then move on, leaving me alone in the examining room, trying not to be afraid.
One evening during chemotherapy, the friend who called daily asked what I needed. “Courage,” I said, with a quaver in my voice. In an inspired moment, he asked what the Wizard of Oz had given the cowardly lion. A medal, I remembered finally. And I had a medal! It has sat on the table or my desk ever since, something I can hold to remind me to take courage. Maybe you also have a talisman—many people hold a rosary or a special stone. Some look to a beloved icon. We need all the help we can get in surviving cancer; items and practices that others might consider silly can be lifegiving for us.
Let your heart take courage.

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