The scales were tipped and I was feeling guilty

Party

I just got home from a party given by friends, Kyeonghi and Bernard, of the Buffalo church we attend.

Thirty-five people showed up, many wearing hilarious wigs in honor of my (still) hairless days. It was a blast. Most are young and full of “we are hard-wired for fun!”

Later

I sat in the dark of my apartment explaining to David that I was having some internal dissonance.  (Poor guy – he has to endure therapist phrases and he probably just wants to say, “Can we simply call it confused feelings?”)

“Maybe it wasn’t all so bad after all (my cancer treatment).  I’m kind of feeling that I may have made a big deal about nothing so terrible.”

David’s response was straightforward, “Yes, it was a big deal; trust me.”

Maybe I am going through something like the aftermath of child bearing. The relief of new life causes a kind of amnesia of the pain you thought you would never get over.

But then again, I wasn’t satisfied with that analogy. Something else was going on. I stared at the basket of cards from friends from Juneau and other places.  I looked at the books and gifts sent and reminded myself of the countless phone calls from family and friends and the many emails even from David’s clients and colleagues who had never met me but wanted to encourage me.  People read my blog and were unbelievably kind in their responses. Friends traveled to visit me or house me.

The kindnesses that I received from my health providers and just random folks I would meet in the hospital – all of these memories were flooding me with that “internal dissonance” thing. The level of kindness far exceeded the level of suffering.

Because I was feeling unworthy of this amount of kindness crazy thoughts were entering my head in an effort to make sense of it. “I must have communicated to everyone that it was worse than it was. Did I tell them I was dying?  Did I let on like I was bedridden and hospitalized most of the time?  Did I say that my head was in a bucket 24-7 during chemo?  Did I intimate that surgery had complications or that radiation could only be endured with drugs, prescription and recreational?  In short, did I exaggerate this whole thing in spite of the fact that my doctors were telling me I had a high risk disease and treatment would be intense?”

I thought of the support of my sweet daughters, their husbands and my grand boys and my courageous 88-year old mother who looks after my 91-year old father.  It was beginning to feel like too much.

Too much support.

Too much love.

Too much guilt from all that love and support.

Too much God – is that even possible?

The scale was tipped in favor of love – far outweighing the trials of cancer treatment.  I was overwhelmed with undeserved love.

Of course it was undeserved.  Christianity 101 tells me that.  None of us get what we deserve.  God help us if we do. It just can’t be about deserving. I don’t even want it to be.  It gets back to that fair thing I talked about in my last post.  After all, do I deserve all this support and some other person in a hostile dangerous place who is being horribly persecuted for their religious belief or ethnic heritage deserves being alone, feeling forgotten and wondering why God is silent.  Does she or he deserve that treatment while I am showered with love and support from friends and family?  Of course, not.

What to do with all this

There is something else going on.  What are we ultimately meant to be thankful for? Please don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the support of friends, family, and health care providers who, in part, sustained me through this ordeal. But I know that right now at this moment countless people of Christian faith and other minorities in faraway places and prisons are suffering, even dying, alone and unnoticed.  What sustains them?  It can’t be, “God loves me this I know for I have so many friends and family telling me so!” Equating God’s grace and blessings to family and friends and medical support just do not cut it for the multitudes deprived of basic human rights.  I once read John Stott, the late theologian and vicar of All Soul’s Church in London, say something to the effect that he could not worship a God who had not suffered pain, abandonment humiliation and forsakenness. Thank God we have that God in Jesus Christ. His suffering appropriated something profound, cosmic and eternal for which anyone of us can be blessed, whomever and wherever we are. Now, I am venturing into territory that I cannot speak authoritatively.  But someone can and has.  His name is Ziya Merkal.  I read an article of his in Christianity Today back in 2008.  I printed off a copy, put in a manila folder and over the years have reread it many times.  Here are the links to two articles by Ziya Merkal , “Bearing the Silence of God” ( the one I carry around) and “Standing with the Desolate” (recently read this on line). Please read them.

After listening to my angst in the darkness of our apartment after the lovely party thrown in honor of my end-of-treatment.  My husband said, “Dona, just be thankful.”  Good words spoken by the champion of support, love and perspective during one of the toughest 9 months of my life.  But David was quick to point out that the apostle Paul said it better in I Thessalonians 5:18,

“For this is the will of God, that you be thankful.”

We saw the sunrise (in Mosul) and we said, ‘Oh God you are good!’

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

― C.S. Lewis

This post will not be a cancer-related one unless cancer is used here metaphorically as we take time to consider the malignancy of some suffering in this world.

Have you ever heard a story that left you in awe or perhaps confused as to how to make sense of it?  You knew that what you were hearing was swelling with profound meaning but because you had never experienced anything close to such a thing you felt inadequate to try to give words of meaning to what you heard; as if you might risk exposing a small-mindedness or an arrogant superfluous-ness.

I am about to share a story with you but it will be the last thing I will write for fear that I will be tempted to comment or explain. Some stories are stand alone and they work their meaning for each individual in unique emotional or spiritual ways. And that meaning can be transformative in some way. Offering a commentary can perhaps rob the story of its mystery of inspiration for a particular individual in a particular way.

I have been a subscriber to two different websites that track and follow the persecution of Christians in areas of government repression or radical Islamic insurgency.  Release International (a UK-based organization) and World Monitor Watch (a ministry of Open Doors) inform of persecution of individuals or whole communities. Their information is based on sources that are close to the situation and are supported by a few secular media organizations.  These stories of persecution have become so numerous, common place and seemingly intractable that unless you are looking for them they are not reaching your typical news source.

Recent news coverage of the fall of Mosul, Iraq to radical Islamist insurgency forces has made all the major news sources. What may or may not be explained in the telling of the takeover of the city by ISIS (the Islamist insurgents ) is the terror that 3000 Christians are experiencing as they desperately try to escape a possible death, abduction, or worse as they become a target of hostilities. We are aware that this is happening in Syria as thousands upon thousands of refugees flee to Jordan, Lebanon or any place that they can get to. And yes, these terrorized refugees are Muslim as well as Christian. Civil war is no respecter of religion, age or defenselessness. However, in both countries (Syria and now Iraq) thousand year old enclaves of Christians are being targeted for extinction, extortion or forced conversion.  Entire communities, towns and cities of Christians who have lived peacefully for centuries as minorities in Syria and now in Iraq, have fled.

Typically the web sites I go to for updates don’t share personal human interest stories. They typically tell the facts and ask for prayer or some form of advocacy.  I pay special attention, however, when a personal story is reported.  The following is part of the full story of the Christian flight from Mosul as reported in World Monitor Watch and it left me so humbled and in awe of God’s work in the hearts of Christians in the midst of great adversity.

“A family with four small children, three to nine-years-old, living in the most dangerous area of Mosul – similar to the Green Zone in Baghdad – said after ISIS reached Mosul on June 6 they planned to leave early Tuesday morning around 7 am. But on Monday evening – while they ate dinner – two homes next to them were hit with RPGs and set on fire.

“We left the food and ran,” the wife said. “We didn’t even stop for our shoes, we fled in our sandals! We just made sure to take our I.D.s and important papers. The children were very scared.”

An older woman spoke of the long trip leaving Mosul:  “We saw many people crying, and very angry. But we were singing praise songs in our car. We saw the sunrise, and we were saying, ‘O God, You are good.  Thank you for this peace we have, we didn’t sleep all night, and still until now, but we are not angry. When we are rich in God, it is very special in these kinds of hard times.”

At one place where they were stopped waiting to pass, she saw some young men who were very angry. She went over and said to them, “Do you believe in God?” When they said yes, she asked, “Can I pray for you?” So they said ‘yes, please pray for us’. So she prayed with them there. “And I’m still praying for them now,” she added.

The church leader joined in: “Pray that we can return quickly to Mosul, because the future is unknown for us all. What kind of jobs we can get here is limited, and of course students missed their final exams, which are now postponed. How can we live, find work for an income? The church is helping us temporarily with living expenses, but we can’t stay here forever.  If we cannot return, we will apply for residency here in Ankawa. We believe God will care for us, as Jesus said He does for the birds of the air!”

“God is good, all the time!” he added, with a big smile, gesturing to the children tumbling over each other and playing in the tiny hallway. “We pray things will get better, so we can go back to Mosul.”

Upon leaving, the church leader gave a final plea: “Pray for peace in Iraq.  We have had enough of wars. Nowhere is safe here.”

Lord we join our fellow believers as we pray for peace for everyone and the end of terror.  (Psalm 10:17-18)  Amen

(Sorry dear readers, I did just leave a commentary.  I couldn’t help it.)