Today Marlene went for her two-year breast cancer checkup. The results were excellent. At the two year mark, there is no sign of cancer. Two years ago this month she had her first biopsy and would soon have her second. Those were anxious, trying, frightening days. As I have told many people, cancer looks different on the other side of the pastor’s desk. Pastors deal with cancer every week because there is always someone in the congregation who has cancer and there are many loved ones with cancer. So we think about it and talk about it and pray about it often. And we know what to say and how to say it and we know how to give hope and point people to the Lord. But cancer looks different when it enters your family circle. No longer is it a theoretical disease that happens “out there.” Now it has come in through the front door and changed everything.
And of course, you wonder how you will respond when it happens. I can say that for all my preaching and praying and writing, I was just as unprepared and just as frightened as anyone else in the world. Marlene was stronger than I was, a fact that won’t surprise those who know both of us well. She persevered through that long, difficult summer and into the fall when her mother died and we left Oak Park and moved to Mississippi. I’m happy to report that just as we had excellent medical care in Chicago, we now have excellent medical care here in Tupelo. That is a singular blessing from the Lord.
Thankfully, they caught the cancer very early. That’s also a blessing. And the treatments have produced the desired result. The doctor here has told Marlene that the cancer could come back, sometimes it does, and they can’t predict the future. I take that as both a medical and a theological truth. Recently Marlene spoke with a friend who has also dealt with cancer. “You never really get used to it," he said. "Even when you are in remission, it’s always in the back of your mind.”
The doctors tell her that she is doing fine. And they say stay on your medicine, don’t miss a checkup, and have a good life. There are no guarantees, and several times recently we’ve been reminded that everyone dies eventually. No one gets off planet earth alive. If Jesus tarries, we too will die someday, if not of cancer, then of old age or stroke or a heart attack or in an accident or something will happen and then we’ll be gone.
I am reminded of the words of my former secretary in Oak Park, Shirley Banta, who is now in heaven. “Have a blast while you last” was her motto. That’s good advice for all of us.
Celebrate God’s goodness.
Stay near the ones you love.
Learn to say “I’m sorry.”
Don’t hold back.
Take some risks.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
Don’t let little irritations make you sour.
Remember you won’t be here forever.
Live by grace.
So two years have come and gone, and I shake my head when I think of
all that has happened in the last 24 months, most of it utterly
surprising to me. I am glad God knows what he’s doing because most of
the time I feel like I’m just along for the ride. Meanwhile I am
grateful to God for the gift of my wife and for the good news we got
today. And we are both deeply grateful for those who prayed us through
these last two years. We owe you more than we can say.