First, the clinical stuff: I had an infusion of Zometa on Thursday and, while yesterday it seemed I was going to get by with a lighter case of "Zometa flu." today has proven that hope false. I have lots of achyness in my bones and joints and considerably less energy. But, I know that these symptoms will last two or so more days and then they will lift. Yesterday, I began a new 21-day cycle of Revlimid, after seven days off; that drug brings its own (by now, predictable) side effects, primarily queasiness and a persistent drag on energy. The blood work I had on Thursday shows that Revlimid has diminished nearly all of my "counts" and, therefore, my immune system is more compromised. The goal, of course, is to diminish "Frank's"/the cancer's strength and to compromise his/its ability to do damage to me. Seeing my blood counts, the infusion nurse said: "It would be a good idea to avoid crowds; there's a lot of stuff going around."
"Avoiding crowds" brings me to the reality which is more present to my awareness than cancer and its treatment: the ending, last Sunday, of my time as pastor at the wonderful First Baptist Church of Asheville. One of many reasons (not the only one) I concluded that I needed to resign from my role and responsibilities there was the ongoing incompatibility of continued treatment and the legitimate demands of a busy and energetic church. The need to "avoid crowds" is one simple example of that complex truth.
On Sunday, the church and I had the opportunity to thank each other, to acknowledge how significant it had been that we had the opportunity to spend 13+ years on the journey together, and to express confidence in the future God has for us all. Most of all, we reminded each other of our identity as God's children, in whom God takes great delight.
I have had T. S. Eliot's words in "Little Gidding” on my mind this week: “. . . to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from." Echoing Eliot, Natalie Sleeth has, in her “Hymn of Promise” taught us to sing:
In our end is our beginning,
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing,
in our life, eternity,
in our death, a resurrection,
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
Both cancer and the culmination of my time at First Baptist are, to say the least, significant endings for me. Cancer makes it impossible to negotiate around awareness of my mortality--the consciousness of the looming end of death. Leaving the pastorate means an ending--at least a radical reorienting--of vocational identity, and there are hard losses in that ending.
I am learning, though, how true it is that endings are also beginnings. We die, in all the ways we die, to live. We lose to find. We stop so that we can begin again, differently, more wisely, more freely, and more joyfully. I have been, and am still, in a long season of endings. I am grateful for the beginnings which come to life in such a challenging time.