I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and, on this site, I will provide updates as I have them. I will also treasure messages of encouragement and promises of prayer. I am trusting the words of Juliana of Norwich:
God did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be disquieted; but he said: You will not be overcome. God wants us to pay attention to those words and always be strong in faithful trust, in well-being and in woe, for he loves us and delights in us, so he wishes us to love him and delight in him and trust greatly in him, and all will be well.. . . [The Lord says most comfortingly]: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.
A wonderful Jesuit theologian and preacher, Walter Burghardt, described contemplation as "a long, loving look at the real" [Church, 1989]. In many ways, my Lenten discipline this year is to focus on, and face, "the real": what is actually and persistently, sometimes troublingly and sometimes delightfully, real in this season of transition. "Real" isn't the same thing as tangible; it isn't restricted or reduced to what we can observe by means of our five senses. Some of the realest things we know come to us via the sixth sense of discernment or intuition; faith, hope, and love are real, even though not empirically provable.
However, the "real" includes and doesn't deny the specific and concrete particularities of our circumstances. Among the real things I am dealing with are, of course, "Frank" (my name for Multiple Myeloma), the limits he/it imposes, and the changes he/it makes necessary. For six weeks, I have been dealing with a severe and painful rash which resulted from a negative response to Revlimid, a drug which, as I have said, I really need to be able to take. I resumed the drug again about three weeks ago, and, with the help of antihistamines and cortisone cream, I have been able to take it without making the rash even worse. And, the good news is that the rash is finally starting to recede. About a week ago, I came down with the flu. I shouldn't be surprised, since the ongoing chemotherapy keeps my immune system somewhat suppressed. The weakened immune system also means that recovery takes longer than it used to take. Again, though, there is good news: the simple fact that I am recovering, even though slowly, means my body has the capacity to deal with that kind of challenge.
As I have lived with these physical complications, I have been frustrated yet again with the undeniable limits to my energy. Since I left First Baptist Asheville, I have kept myself busy with a number of projects. In many ways, I took the pace at which I moved in the pastorate into these early days of transition. Not smart, to say the least.
I don't think it's possible for me to trace any kind of cause-and-effect relationship between years of overdrive and the emergence of cancer in my body. And, I have to be careful not to blame the victim (in this case, to blame myself) for the disease, something I am tempted to do simply because having a harsh explanation sometimes seems preferable to having none at all. I do know, however, that constantly living on adrenaline and anxiety, reducing life to work, and ignoring distress signals from both body and mind are foolish; they deny the "real" and they are failures to cooperate with the wholeness which God intends for us.
Ironically and unexpectedly, "Frank" is actually my Lenten guide: he is making it necessary for me to face the "real." He/it has spoken-up as "frankly" and forcefully as he usually does to demand that I fashion the pace and patterns of my life in more realistic ways. I am determined not to waste the wisdom which this sojourn in the wilderness offers me. A limited life is not a diminished life; it is a human life.
The "real" includes some very positive things. I am enjoying my work with the Center for Healthy Churches. This month and next, I am teaching a doctoral seminar on leadership at Gardner Webb Divinity School. I have gotten my teaching schedule for the fall at Mars Hill University, and I am excited to become a part of that community of teaching and learning. I am preaching occasionally, and I have a few writing projects in their incubation stage. The "real" includes my deep sense of gratitude that, when not sidelined by the flu, I have enough energy to do these things.
Even more, the "real" is the presence of God. In Jesus, God experienced what it is to live with human limits. God "gets it." I am determined that, during this Lenten season, I will, at last, get it too. I am grateful, even though it isn't easy, to have this opportunity to take a "long, loving look at the real."