How can I walk with a friend facing cancer? Be a whisper!
In this journey, if I'm honest, we (Shara and I) feel like at times that we've stood at the gates of Hell and could smell the sulfur. There are elements of this cancer fight that are crucibles. And, in this battle, we've learned that friendships are forged in the crucible of this war. I'm at war...my family is at war...but not just us...other warriors have entered the battle by our side.
Enter the Sutz family stage left!
I'll never forget that on one of my first rounds of chemotherapy. I was sitting alone and you would not have wanted inside my brain. I was fighting through all the firsts of this cancer fight. I had so many questions and so few answers. I was listening to Cory Asbury and if I hadn't been wearing a mask, every nurse and team member in the Infusion Center would have known I was so scared that I was U.G.L.Y crying. Then, as if sent directly from God, Theresa Sutz taps me on the shoulder. I recognize her from church. She talked to me. She saw me. She was a beacon of all the LOVE and HOPE God has for me - as if my Father himself had tapped me on the shoulder. This was just the beginning of her stepping into the trench with me and letting me know that I was not alone.
If you know my story, then you might know that I wasn't just in a fisticuffs with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer...to a certain degree we had lost our church family...we felt cut off from the community we had served for 5 years. Not entirely, but in a significant way, we were put in a position as a family to choose to be professional with integrity over turning to the one entity that God had promised would be there for us. This is where we can lose sight of the big picture! And we had lost sight. This was the first LIE that we began to believe.
We were so hurt...that the tears in our eyes blinded and blurred a reality we were not seeing. The church had not abandoned us, because God moved people from that community into a bigger focus of our lives. Collin and Theresa Sutz and their family...were a wake-up call from God, and their love lifted the fog in our lives to see clearly what was TRUE. You see, if I am honest, with trauma and hurt comes a fractured picture...you see what your pain is projecting. While elements of this hurt were true...there was a presence in our lives, who even visits often to this day, that whispers into our ears and magnifies our hurt and our vision. A whisper that has my ear...while another is trying to whisper in the other. One of these is powerless and full of deceit. The other is bigger than I can describe. This led to a discovery process that we're pushing through. Here's an element from that discovery:
Principle #1 We must change the destination of our thoughts or they will most certainly lead us to a place that lacks any peace, joy, or HOPE.
Theresa and her family showing up in our lives was a fog lifter. It took me to some stories that I needed to be reminded of. If you are a person of faith, then you're probably familiar with the fact that God promises to anoint our heads with oil, cause goodness and mercy to follow us...but that table he's putting in front of us...is in the presence of the forces that war against us. The war for our minds. Those enemies whisper untruths and lies, but they're so believable, if we don't guard ourselves against them. They penetrate all aspects of our lives: mentally, externally, spiritually, professionally, and especially our relationships.
The best of us can aspire to "take every thought captive" and demand that it is obedient to the truth. But, I have found that if I go into "lone wolf mode" that is exceptionally difficult to do, for me impossible. I am convinced that lone wolves die. God is a good father who orchestrates people into our lives that destroy strongholds of myths and lies within our hearts. Their love, their actions, their words...become tangible realities, truths, if you will, of who God is and his infinite love for us.
On the outside, I can look strong, and my intentions, my heart is to be strong. (So can your friend that's a Cancer Fighter!) The truth is that I have Elijah moments. (And so do they!) Which leads me to a second principle:
Principle #2 Our Father shows up in Elijah moments.
If you went to Sunday School or are generally familiar with the Bible, you might be puzzled. You might be saying, "Wait a second...Elijah was a prophet, a mouth piece for God and his faith was like a warrior without fear." And I would have said those things years ago too...but we'd both be wrong!
In 1 Kings 19, it tells us that Elijah faced an enemy and ran for his life! The very words in the story were: "and he was afraid..." I love this story because we see that Elijah had some big expectations from his demonstration on Mt. Carmel. He demonstrated that he worshipped the one, true God. He was looking for a real turnaround in his circumstances. When they did not change according to his plans, he felt an all too familiar feeling that I share with him in moments of my journey: He was convinced he was alone!
So, when we have fear, we have some good company. But, I'm not writing this to make us feel good about having fear. No! That would be like saying that JRR Tolkien was obsessed with jewelry in his hobbit novels and that he despised rings. Of course, that would be absurd! That conclusion misses the entire narrative of Tolkien and so, that drives us to look at another character in this Elijah story. He's kinda a BIG deal!
This character in the story, meets Elijah where he is at, seeking shelter under what is no more than a tall bush. This character feeds Elijah food to restore his strength. Then, this character asks a great question: "Elijah, why are you here?" Elijah responds with his perspective that loosely translated says, "I did what I was supposed to do, it should have worked, but it failed...and now I'm all alone and I'm going to be murdered soon." Of course, the other character is God. Look at how he responds. He asks Elijah to go to a mountain. Then a great wind comes, and God wasn't in the wind. Then, an earthquake comes, and God wasn't in the earthquake. Then, fire, and yet again God wasn't in the fire. But, immediately after the fire, Elijah hears a gentile and quiet whisper...and his FATHER was there in the whisper.
In life, God pursues us the same way. First, he's there. He is with us. He sees and knows. But, then he shows up in these small, quiet whispers. Theresa and Collin were truly whispers from God. They were just willing to love us. They took action that to them might have seemed small. But...in their actions, the voice of the God of Angel Armies was whispering to me. His message to me was the same as to Elijah. He spoke truth over the lies of the forces that were waging war with me. In the middle of that whisper was this HUGE truth: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
To this day, Theresa will encourage me with scripture, worship songs, and so much more. Collin also took action in helping me in my search for work, something that involved risk. Whenever they see me they asks for an update on me and bring comfort and love to me through their friendship!
How can you help a friend or loved one who is a Cancer Fighter?
By being willing to be a WHISPER for God in the midst of their storm. When I've been in the valley...God WHISPERS through the storm with so many lives touching ours and I find peace and HOPE knowing that I AM NOT ALONE.
A wise man once said, "We get to choose where we live." (Wise man: Petie Kinder on 6/13/21)
We don't have to saturate our minds and hearts with lies. We can surround ourselves with WHISPERS that God put all around us. But, let's learn a last and final thing: Elijah heard God's whisper...and he set out on a journey that can only be characterized by complete trust in those words. The Sutz family and so many others that I am eager to share stories about became whispers to us...but each day that puts the ball in our court...we need to choose our location, our mindset...and we must continue to FIGHT and take ground in this battle. The war going on for our minds.