I’ve been at the hospital a lot this week.
I’ve sat in pleather chairs waiting for updates, balanced the waves of hope with the churning current of grief, and told an amazing woman breathing through a machine … what an an honor it is to know her.
One of my village is dying of cancer.
It’s an extremely rare form of cancer - the less than a dozen people have it kind of rare. She was diagnosed nearly 15 years ago. Back then they gave her six months to live. Her God and her stamina fought back, beat it down so that when I would meet her nearly eleven years later, I couldn’t even tell she was sick.
I had been invited into the same church small group she attended and soon my husband and I found ourselves at Halloween parties, midweek beach days, and bunco nights.
My village grew and solidified.
But while I was on maternity leave I learned her cancer, the cancer that had never gone away but merely remained dormant, was now on the attack again.
In a text, I told my friend I didn’t understand why cancer has gone after some of the holiest women I have ever known. I prayed for the Lord to draw near, to heal, to make His voice louder than the darkness.
I wept and celebrated her courage and resilience all at once.
A few weeks later, our small group participated in a church-wide teaching based on Pope John Paul’s: Theology of the Body. He taught that Christians have missed the whole point of our body. Gnosticism, culture, and even church teachings have often put us at war with the true purpose of our bodies, when in fact God gives us a body for a reason. It is not to be treated as “shell” we toss to the side when we die. It was meant for the relationship and glory of God
This teaching had great impact on many of us, including my friend, who’s body had spent a decade and a half warring with her. Now it was committing the utmost betrayal: it refused to be healed.
“I get how God is glorified by healing a body. That makes sense. But I don’t understand how a sick body glorifies God,” she said to our group.
“Oh but I do!” I told her.
My friend knows all about the aunt who changed my life at 17, and then died of breast cancer on my 24th birthday. My aunt was one of those holy women.
“There’s something to how you live your life when you are sick that is just beautiful,” I told my friend. “I don’t know...people go on and on about God healing and how it’s such a witness, but there was something sacred in how my aunt wasn’t healed. I would never say God’s glory wasn’t found in her illness. Because it was. And it was something to behold.” I exclaimed.
She nodded. We made eye contact. I could tell it mattered to her that I felt so strongly about a woman who had died from cancer being a great testament to my own faith.
But how I wish I had said more.
I wish I had told her that HER BODY was glorifying God. That there is something significant to a dying person choosing to spend their time with you.
I tread lightly here, because sickness, and death, and praying for healing, and actual healings are very tender spaces for many people, both in the church and out.
But I wished we had looked at Jesus.
There’s a story of Jesus watching people give to the temple “offering plate”. Plenty of people gave a lot, but then a woman walks in and drops two copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
Jesus uplifted this women in front of everyone. This woman who gave all she had.
This woman’s story is about money, but I believe the same is true of our bodies. There are those who give out of their bodies all they have.
At the following week’s study, my infant daughter was getting fussy toward the end of our meeting. I mentioned craving a bagel.
“I have time,” the friend with cancer said. “Want to go get one?”
My mind raced through the idea of taking a colicky newborn to the bagel shop and her crying through us trying to hang out and I just didn’t have it in me, so I told my friend no.
“I’ll just get something at home,” I said.
Oh how I wish had I told her yes…
But maybe not.
Because an hour later, a blonde in a minivan made her way to my porch with a bagel and cream cheese.
“Just dropping it off Heather. I can’t remember if you’re eating dairy, but I got the cream cheese anyway,” she said.
Humbled doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.
I felt loved. I felt valued. I felt seen and heard and all those things a person craves deep in their soul. It was that moment when I realized so many others had also seen me and loved me and helped me in the last several weeks.
She was dying. She was in pain. But she gave me a little of the precious little she had.
This kind of beautiful moment does not happen when a sick person is healed. They are then like the wealthy people in Jesus’ story. They give in abundance.
But Ruth Ann has given to us all she had.
So when her husband blessed me with a brief moment at his wife’s side in ICU, I told her thank you. I told her it has been honor to be a part of receiving so much from someone who had little.
Her offering will forever remind me of God’s love...and what is more glorifying than that?