This has been a summer for reunions. I graduated from high school thirty years ago, and the invitations went out as scheduled. It’s actually been kind of fun to reconnect with people from so long ago.
I received another invitation via Facebook. In the 1970’s I belonged to a very active Baptist youth group in Evergreen. We took these huge, weeklong backpack trips to fabulous peaks like the Crestone Needle and the Maroon Bells. Being Baptist, it was all about studying the Bible as well. We had some remarkable Bible studies, often lasting hours into the afternoon.
It was easy to feel close to God under the towering base of the Crestone Needle. It’s a fourteener in the Sangre de Cristo range, and we spent a week there when I was fourteen. These trips and Bible studies were hallmarks of that group, and I made some terrific friends.
Very few that I kept up with, oddly enough. Who knows why some friendships fall by the wayside and others stay with you, it’s certainly nothing personal. A few of these friends endured. Some of you heard about the death of Olympian Pat Porter, his twin Patricia and her husband and I have stayed friends for decades.
So I received this curious invitation from one of these youth group members. Lauren was the middle in a family of three, and she decided to host a 1970’s youth group reunion at her house near Colorado Springs. She has an older sister named Sheryl and a brother named Carl, all in the same group.
I didn’t think much of it, until I got this post on Facebook.
Okay, my hubby says I’m allowed to pull “the dying woman card,” so here goes. While I realize that any one of us might be transferred into eternity at any moment, with my stage IV lung cancer, I’m still in the yearbook as “most likely to succeed in going next.” (By God’s grace I am feeling way better than I did at diagnosis 4 months ago, and only He knows whether He will supernaturally–or otherwise–heal me this side of Heaven.) But I’m still on a trajectory to take up residence that side in the next 6-12 months. SO-O-O… if you can possibly join us Aug. 12th, I’d love to have the chance to see you. Besides, it’ll be fun! And if you can’t, then that’s that, eh?
I was flabbergasted. Then, I laughed so hard my abs hurt. “That’s that?”This, I could not miss. Sherry was dying of lung cancer? And I’m laughing? Off I went to Monument. About twenty of us descended on the Shaw’s house, and gracious, did all these ‘youths’ look old. (I, of course, looked like the same goofy seventeen year old I always have.)
Carl sells cars and plays guitar. He had put together a hilarious video of old pictures and narrative, roasting the youth pastor who successfully instilled in us a raging fear of marijuana, premarital sex, and neglecting Bible study. He sang several touching songs, and I noticed the thread of caring through the video that connected him to his sister, Sheryl.
Sheryl is a lovely woman. She’s 54, with strawberry blonde hair and a diminutive build. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer right out of the gate, and hadn’t smoked a day in her life.
When I got to the house, it was already full of Conference Baptist alum. The Shaws were mingling, and Sherry moved energetically from group to group, adjusting her nasal cannula and oxygen condenser from time to time.
I mingled with other ‘kids’, even connecting with a couple of former crushes. It’s hilarious to see what happens to that hot high school boy after thirty years of beer, Broncos games, and a divorce or two.
Eventually Sherry and I connected. She had heard about Chris’s story, and like many newly diagnosed patients, had all kinds of questions. We had an enchanting talk. Sherry is also a teacher, and was overflowing with enthusiasm about new brain research and how it impacts the reading skills of elementary children.
I watched her closely as we chatted. It’s curious to try and ‘read’ people, to try and make a guess and where there motivation actually springs from. As I got to know Sherry better, I realized that words of praise were rarely far from her lips.
But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14
Naturally, Sherry wanted to know what things we had tried with Chris, what seemed to work for him. I cautioned her, like I caution you, that hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with some form of cancer every year, and every single person is different. Sherry’s story is not Chris’s, and mine is not yours.
Having said that, there are commonalities. I think that one of the reasons so many cancer families cluster around me is that desire for reassurance. That should they die, the people they leave behind will be OK.
Of course that’s not true. We are never OK. Sherry is a beloved mother, sister and friend, and will be missed as terribly as we miss Chris.
Of course it is true, especially for Christians.
I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
and your shepherd’s rod
makes me feel safe. Psalm 23:4
Cancer has a way of pointing us to certain places. I have found, as a Christian, this sort of death is a constant reminder that there is something better, that we don’t really belong here. Not for long, anyway. My children and I endure, and actually are OK, because we have this perspective.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
each day of my life,
and I will live forever
in your house, Lord.Psalm 23:5
Sherry and I continued to chat, and a special sort of energy, began to bubble around us. She was funny, and laughed about the goofiness of the situation. About how happy she was to actually get automated telephone services, so she could push buttons instead of talk into the phone. (She gets winded)
She liked her oxygen condenser to a pet goat that trailed her around, and thought about painting the canisters goaty colors. Again, she spoke about ‘relocating to heaven’ in the most gracious and peaceful of terms.
I set up her Caring Bridge account as we talked. As I did, her family and friends came in to the study to check on her, one by one. Sherry was being loved well, right in front of me. What a privilege to be one the outside this time, and to see people caring about each other, loving each other well, just as Jesus asks us too.
Sherry’s prognosis is dismal. According to the survivability charts, her chances of being here in five years are in the teens. That sort of data would give anyone pause. Christians make a mistake though, when we let measurable data rule our lives.
(I once listened to a Christian leader I like a lot say “Statistics don’t lie. If people only knew the statistics…….Then what? Like God isn’t bigger than statisitics?)
Let me clarify. God gives us minds, and science, and great drugs, and all of these things I truly believe are gifts from God. Sherry is sorting through all of these things, and will make a decision that is right for her.
But what is truly the ‘right’ perspective? One that’s above it all. One that reaches into that frightening place that is created when someone says “You Have Cancer.” One that realizes that there are other forces at work, and our God is bigger than a statistics chart. One that knows that ‘relocating to heaven’ actually is the better place to be, and your loved ones will be there soon.
One that’s like the Sacred Space of Sheryl Shaw.