These women are everywhere. And they are awesome. They are courageous. They have dignity and strength. One of my favorite t-shirts simply says...
I am a REAL survivor!
Not some weirdo who eats bugs and runs around scheming against one another to win big money. These survivors have looked death in the face and they have not blinked. Part of my early adapting to Joni losing her hair was watching these beautiful women come into the infusion suite at the cancer center. For those of you who have been blessed with never having to learn the terminology the infusion center is a room full of reclining chairs where you come for your chemo cocktail drip. Not exactly my idea of happy hour. But I came to the realization that, amazingly, this was not a depressing place. They arrive wearing scarves, headwraps, turbans, hats, and wigs. But what struck me in the early processing of this disease is that most of these women had discarded the shallow worldly perception of beauty. They had embraced a new beauty. The beauty of dignity and authenticity. Some were sassy with big earrings and bold makeup. Some were elegant. Most were casual.
The veterans quickly realized that Joni and I were chemo rookies. With genuine friendliness and concern they showed us the unfortunate ropes of chemo. You don't get the horror stories in this room. No examples of people who had “what you have” and suffered terrible side effects. This is a room full of hope and comaraderie. These “princess warriors” are remarkable. They lead by example and by encouragement.
You can do it. I have.
You will make it. I did.
You will want to quit. I wanted to.
Don't give in. I didn't.
I reflected on this sorority of cancer sisters. We felt love. We felt acceptance. Financial status did not matter. Clothing was irrelevant. Careers did not matter. What are you driving? Who gives a rodent's derriere? Size of house? Could not care less. Advanced degrees? Only mattered if you were above 98.7. Everyone was equally committed to one task. The focus of this room was giving support and comfort to those trying to slay a giant named cancer.
I started to think about how we do church in America. If I asked a large number of people to answer the questions above about their experience at church I would likely be dismayed. Based on the hundreds of emails and responses I get to my books I would suggest that many do not feel loved and accepted. I have personally observed that financial status sometimes does matter. I have been saddened to watch how clothing matters to some as well. Career? I'm afraid so. Advanced degrees? Oh, yeah. Why do these trivial things matter in the church and not in the cancer center? Maybe we have not as clearly identified the enemy in church. In the cancer center we named the place after the enemy. We hate cancer. The sisterhood and their not always so valiant knights are committed to slaying that beast. In the church we seem to forget we have an enemy just as deadly. That enemy is sin. We don't really hate sin as much as we should, do we? If we hated sin as much as we hate cancer we concentrate on stopping it. And I must remind you that we would attack sin...not the sinner. No one at the cancer center hates the person who has cancer in their body. We hate the cancer. So the concentration is removing the cancer and encouraging the patient to heal. But at church we too often attack the sin and the sinner. I wonder what the recovery rate would be if we reviled patients for getting cancer? I am sure it would be much lower. It was not Joni's “fault“ that she has cancer. It is just a fact and we are seeking a cure. It is not necessarily your brother and sister's “fault“ that they are sinful. It is just a fact and they need a cure. Jesus used the medical metaphor beautifully.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. 'For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matt 9 NIV
I have read that passage a hundred times. But now it makes so much sense. Maybe we need to rethink our mission in church. And narrow our focus. Because it seems to me that if we can emulate the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors we could start a revival. Because cancer makes you realize what matters. And realizing what Christ did on the Cross should makes us realize what mattered to Him. Hating sin. Not sinners. Jesus clearly loved them. But our mission should be passionately hating sin and helping others conquer it. Do we? If we do then we should all daily head to the spiritual version of the infusion room. Sit down and let the Holy Spirit infuse our heart and spirit. That infusion will kill the sin in you and me so we can encourage and help others to attack sin. The reason is simple. We hate the sin and we love them.