Sunday, August 21, 2011

Healing Heartbreak, Binding Wounds

[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3, Book of Common Prayer

Cancer is heartbreaking, whether it happens in our own body or in the body of someone we love. Even with relatively non-dangerous cancers, like my Stage 1 bladder cancer, there is the heartbreak in knowing that life will never be the same. I will be regularly checked for the rest of my life. Missing a scope means potentially missing a cancer that could become aggressive and angry at being ignored.
Wounds come from our surgeries, from the removal of tumors and affected body parts. We may carry the literal scars of those surgeries all our lives; we may also experience the psychical scars of post-traumatic stress disorder, of grief for our loss. While we don’t usually speak of chemotherapy or radiation as wounds, we know that our body is not whole. 
Modern medicine and pharmacology have done wonders in cancer treatment, even though it’s still barbaric. I have no doubt that twenty or thirty years ago, my Stage III ovarian cancer would have killed me. Few medical practitioners, however, have the time or training to help us with our broken hearts and our wounds. Fewer of them have been there themselves, and a male doctor can never know what it means to lose a womb or a breast.
Therapy is a helpful tool; I began meeting with a therapist, herself a cancer survivor, a few months after I finished chemo. I needed someone who understood—as good and kind as my doctor and nurses were, as supportive as my priest and my other friends were, I needed to be able to express the things I couldn’t to those who knew me. I remember what a relief it was to talk about death, openly, without fearing a friend would misunderstand or worry. In the women’s cancer support group I joined, too, I found understanding that only another cancer patient could offer.
Ultimately, however, only God does the healing and binding. Various tools may aid in accomplishing this work: the support of others, being in nature, time passing (especially without recurrence), prayer. God is not bound to use one or another of them, but we can trust that God is at work.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Looking for the Face of God

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you; hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.
Psalm 102:1, Book of Common Prayer

            I grew up singing hymns, many of them great tunes coupled with dreadful lyrics. There were also some exceptionally lovely hymns, with a theology and melody I can still appreciate. This verse from the psalms brings one of them to mind; Edward Mote wrote the words to “The Solid Rock.” The third verse begins, “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.” I cling to this idea—God does not turn away or hide the divine face from us, but darkness can obscure it. (Somehow we never have a problem thinking God has hidden from us when everything is going well.)
            Like most of the country, we’ve had odd weather here in my village this summer. I’ve seen the most amazing cloud formations presaging a storm, dark mounds with sunlight—glorious and bright—just behind them. The sun didn’t go anywhere; it was simply obscured.
            Many things can veil the face of God for us: sheer pain, weariness, lack of nourishment (because during treatment nothing appeals or tastes good), boredom because of enforced rest, and fear all come quickly to mind. Perhaps the sympathy and understanding expected from friends and family, whom we count on to be the hands and feet of God, isn’t there, or wears out when our disease refuses to remain in remission and continues over years instead of months.
            Then it’s tempting to believe God has turned away from us, that there’s some heavenly hide-and-seek game going on. But God doesn’t play games. God is utterly and completely for us, always not only by our side, but also on our side.
Here’s all I know—there’s something big going on. I’m just a small part in it, no more important than the cardinal that just landed on the tree outside my window, but no less dear to God the Unhidden One, either.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The No's of God

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long.
Psalm 86:3, Book of Common Prayer

            The hard truth is this: I can call upon God all day and all night, and I believe God hears me. But sometimes the answer is still no.

            • No, it’s not just a big benign tumor; it’s cancer.
            • No, that shadow isn’t scar tissue; it’s a second cancer.
            • No, you’ve got tumors in your bladder again, and again, and again, and again.
• No, you didn’t get the job you’d applied for, the one that would pay your health insurance.

            I’ve never claimed to be flexible; I’ve always been a person who prefers having things her own way. Living alone is a guarantee for the small things like when dishes get done or how much clutter is tolerable. Although my part-time job allows me some flexibility, I don’t have final say over my schedule or my work. And that’s certainly true on freelance projects, where I am told no far too often for my liking.
            The important thing is not to stop calling out to God. Getting my own way isn’t nearly as important as being heard. I try not to gripe too much to my friends—it gets old, and it’s the same old, same old: the bladder cancer is back; the freelance work has again dried up. I suppose most of us have a few repetitive concerns. I know parents, for example, whose children—at 8 or 28—are their constant concern.
            Hanging onto the belief that God cares about me and my problems is a matter of faith. It isn’t always easy. I have to keep backing up to what I know—the angel told his parents that Jesus would be Emmanuel, God with us. Writing in Romans 8, Saint Paul affirms that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway? Paul had first-hand experience with some of the dividing forces he mentions: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Yet he remained convinced that we have God’s love in the midst and through all of this.
            Surviving cancer isn’t always easy, and there are likely to be resounding nos along the way. But we can continue to call on God all day long, knowing God is there, listening.