I don’t cuss much. My kids have never heard me use foul language, and at work everyone associates me as being the guy who doesn’t swear. Now, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time my mouth was extremely foul and immature. Yet even today I am not pure of tongue. In my heart and mind I cuss quite often – and yes even the “F-word”
- My team is getting ready to kick a game winning chip shot field goal, but it sails wide right…..F#*&!
- I go to the store, get everything for the cookout – except I forgot the steaks…..F#*&!
- Hammer, hammer, hammer (hits thumb)…..F#*&!
- In a rush to get somewhere. Get stuck in traffic……F#*&!
Again, the word may not leave my lips, but my heart is yelling it loud.
Right now, as I type this, I want to yell F#*&!. I received word last night that a buddy of mine from church, just a couple years younger than me is down to hours before entering the Kingdom. Mike had a liver transplant 3 years go due to cancer. A husband, and father to two young kids, Mike was launched into a battle with cancer. Just a few months prior, I had lost a kidney to cancer. Mine turned out to be a non-event. Except for a slower metabolism and more sensitive to the cold, I never had any physical side effects.
As Super Hero Russell once said regarding a challenge in his personal life, he was now a member of a club he didn’t ask to be part of. When you become part of a club or group you typically seek membership. For Mike and I we were now part of the “Young Husbands/Dads With Cancer” club – and we sure as hell didn’t ask to be part of this group.
I was recently watching a Ken Burns documentary on cancer. There was a woman who was interviewed that survived breast cancer in the 90s. She said “Once you have cancer you’re never the same.” She is 100% correct. Even if it turns out to be a mere speed bump in your life, cancer is an uninvited guest to the banquet of your life and you are forever impacted. I recognized this within weeks after my surgery. I knew I would either embrace the fact that my life was forever changed, or try and put up a front that I was unaffected by the event and come off as a tough guy. I embraced the change and have had no problems announcing it to others. Although I would add that it is shocking how many people don’t really care that physically I am fine, but internally I am still searching in the dark.
Mike meanwhile had a fight on his hands. He would come to church with a mask over his mouth. Updates would appear on Facebook that he was doing great, then a few days later he was having a bad day. It was during this time that I contacted Mike. Since we were “club members” I thought it would be fitting for he and I to get to know one another.
Over the next couple years Mike and I would often contact each other, but we never became good friends. At best I was a buddy. But because I too had dealt with cancer, there was an underlying bond that he and I had.
2015 was not a good year for Mike. I guess it wasn’t a great year for me either. But his health was consistently down. In the fall he had a tragic event at home, when his right femur essentially burst in half. It ended up being a compound facture that had Mike in the hospital for several weeks. While he was there I would walk down to visit him during my lunch break once a week. Hospitals don’t bother me. My pastor says I have “nonanxious presence” an extension of incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry is where you (in the body, thus incarnation) bring the love of Christ to people. Nonanxious because I don’t get nervous around those who are hurting. Per my last posting, I guess I get that from my mom. I basically am unaware of the world around me when spending time with people who are hurting.
Mike’s pain was more than just physical. It was existential. He hurt. His whole being was hurt. In our culture of competition and measuring up to everyone else, men aren’t allowed to hurt. But Mike was hurting.
Since his release to go home in December, I would text him every week to see how he was doing. Occasionally I would add a text of “I am proud of you.” I did that very thing this week. And each week I would ask “You care if I swing by for a quick visit this week.” But each week he found himself not doing well and not up for visitors. Always apologizing.
Yesterday my wife texted me to say that on Facebook she saw where he had taken a sudden and fast turn for the worse. This was news to me! I had just received a text from him on Monday! I verified it. Mike was rushed to the hospital Wednesday because of jaundice. He was turning yellow because his liver was failing. At the hospital he went from merely checking on his liver to a furious fight to simply stay alive. Last night one of our pastor’s sent out a note to say that Mike was being moved to a nearby hospice house. In the pastor’s words “The Lord had a banquet ready for Mike to attend” (paraphrase)
So this morning I went to visit him. The pastor and Mike’s two kids were in a small waiting area. I sat with them for about 30 minutes, that is when Mike’s wife came out and sat with us. She said he was resting but I could go in. I know today is going to be a very, very draining day for him. I anticipate others will come by throughout the day. I wanted to make sure it was OK for me to have my own personal time instead of waiting to go in with a group. His wife encouraged me to go
When I sat down I waited to yell F#*&!. Mike was weak and indeed the banquet is being prepared. He opened his eyes and for 20 minutes or so I had Mike to myself. Occasionally the nurse would interrupt us but otherwise it was he and I. Two members of the same club. I held his hand. I left the other for Christ to hold.
I didn’t succumb to the desire to crack jokes and try to alleviate the angst in the room. I wanted him to say what was on his mind. Making jokes is more about the other person trying to avoid the hurt. I didn’t want to avoid it. “Bring it Mike. Tell me how this is BS. Tell me what is on your mind”
He was excited and yet scared. Me, I was sad. Then after the last nurse interruption, in a very clear voice (his voice is very weak from the last 48 hours), he turned to me and with the most sincere eyes said “I wish we could’ve become better friends. Why did it take cancer to bring us together?” I nodded and said “Well, I guess we will just have to continue this friendship another day.” I went on to say that his fight has not been in vain. Men in our church have been touched and inspired by his battle. He is a man worth admiring.
He said he was bothered he would not be able to attend his kids soccer games. In a twist that I had never given thought, I recalled that after his death Jesus didn’t merely raise from the dead, but he was in attendance with people. I thought of Jesus on the beach sharing the meal of fish just after his resurrection (Luke 24). In that quick moment I didn’t see a straight-faced Jesus boring everyone with theological talks – I saw a Jesus on the beach, a fire made from some driftwood, sharing a meal – and laughing.
To avoid clichéd statements like “Oh you will look down from heaven….” I shot straight and told Mike that he would be present for all those games, for graduation and for all that is good. I wasn’t sure on all the details and wasn’t about to give a pie-in-the-sky promise – but because of the resurrection he too would see all that is good.
Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I pulled the words out of my chest I didn’t want to say “Mike, I am going to head out of here.” He cried, and I fought it back. I looked at him one last time and said “Mike, you enjoy the feast the Lord has prepared for you. But do me one favor – leave some food for me.” I stood up and he said “I will, I promise” And with that I left the room
I stopped by the waiting area again and said my goodbyes to his wife and kids. I will probably see them again in a couple days.
That could’ve easily been me. My cancer was contained, Mike’s wasn’t. That is the difference. I suspect in the next few days Mike will be ushered into the Kingdom. His questions will be answered, his pain removed. I will still be here dealing with questions and new pains.
As for Jesus, all I could think about this morning was a line from Tom T. Hall’s “God Came Through Bellville, GA” – All Power To Him and Praise His Holy Name.
Tom T Hall “God Came Through Bellville, GA”