Posted by: Norm | May 14, 2014

An Intimate Fellowship Among the Wounded

My daughter Kimberly’s, best friend was  diagnosed with cancer in March of 2011.    It is a situation that has gripped Kim, her husband and their friends for over three years now..  This is a letter I sent to her on the day she called me and told me of the diagnosis, trying to help make sense out of it all.  Tammy, Kim’s friend, has just experienced a very difficult three weeks.  We have prayed often, looked hungrily for reports of her situation.  Her husband has been the man God and Tammy need him to be.  We’ve wept with them.  What follows is simply one father’s response to a daughter’s  suffering and that of her best friend of many years.
I know your friend Tammy’s diagnosis and suffering is hard to take.  When we love deeply, we grieve deeply.  I’ve always contended grief begins with the diagnosis, not the death.
So what you are feeling is the natural response of love, respect, tenderness and compassion I would expect of you.  And I expect it because I’ve seen it before in you and I also, many years ago, I asked God to give it to you.
First, by our very nature, we are curious human beings and our curiosity launches spaceships, discovers remedies for disease and a million other things when we ask the question, “Why?”  If it weren’t for that curiosity, we’d still be somewhere sleeping in caves and hunting/foraging for food several times a day.  Our curiosity and our desire to discover answers to the smallest and greatest of life’s challenges have held us in good stead over the centuries.   “Why?” is a question that meanders through all of life, not just the heart-breaks. That you are asking shows you are a part of a suffering humanity.
Second, a very small “Why?” may emerge when something tragic happens thousands or even hundreds of miles away.  We on the West Coast did not feel the catastrophe of September 11, like they did in New York City.  I have this on good authority from a priest and friend of mine whose plane flight was cancelled for three days in Boston.  And, as long as it’s a tsunami in Japan, we are separated from the personal horror.  Even the pictures nowadays of any disaster seem to lose meaning because we’ve seen so many of them.  We notice, but we go on with things on Thursday pretty much the same as they were on Wednesday.  We lift up a prayer, perhaps, but the tragedy is not personal enough to make us drop what we are doing and have questions.
Then there is the “Why?” that comes with a personal sense of unfairness.  We believe if we do the right things, treat people fairly and believe in God, we ought to be exempt from the more hideous challenges of life; the cancer, the murder of an innocent, the DUI guy that takes out most of a family, earthquake or drowning in a family pool.  And when they come, to us or a loved one, it’s unfair and we demand the right to know why us, why my friend, why now?  We take it so personally because we have basically been good and done what we believe is required of us.  Jesus told his friends the rain falls on the good and bad alike.  Peter told loved ones, fellow Christians, to not be shaken by the persecutions among them, in a culture bent on stamping out the early church.  Your baptism does not separate you from tragedy.
Several years ago, I read a short blog by someone suffering with an illness.  I could tell they had done some processing of the whole “Why me?” question.  He simply came to this conclusion, “Why not me?”  Why should I think that I am so special in the eyes of God that misfortune cannot strike me?  Am I so selfish to believe harm should be given to another, other than me?
A woman in a church I served who had a disease that only six other people in the United States had.  She was gone from our midst for long stretches of time due to the radical complications and pain associated with the illness.   Our people rallied to her, loved her and cared for her family at times she could not.  I remember standing in her presence one day in the sanctuary.  An aquaintance  came to her and said, “Fran, I wish I had your faith.”  This dear suffering woman replied, “And I wish you will never have to go through what I’ve been through to get it.”
I am reminded of Henri Nouwenn, the author of many good books on suffering.  My favorite was always The Wounded Healer.  The title itself begs the question, doesn’t it?  It was his contention we do not reach our greatest potential or usefulness in ministering to others until we ourselves have been wounded.  I don’t know what all of his life was like, but he ended his life in Montreal caring for aged priests; emptying their bed pans, wiping the saliva from their chins and feeding them on their death beds.  Before that he was a professor at Princeton, I believe, and a much heralded author.  It was his choice to go to Montreal to suffer with his brothers.
Tammy, and you loving people around her, have been ushered into an especially intimate fellowship with the Father.  A place unseen and unknown to all of you until now.  It is in this fellowship you each will do a portion of your doctoral work in mercy, grace, compassion and perseverance.  Because we spend most of our lives avoiding or denying the right of tragedy to enter our lives, we tend to keep such fellowship at arm’s length.  It is this denial that is breaking down in each of you now and you are being offered a glimpse at a reality far beyond what most people want to know.  In her suffering each of you will meet Christ the Compassionate, Christ the Sufficient.
My love, do not fear the mystery that is now yours; the fellowship with the unknown.  Embrace the disorder, the calamity, the tears and the “not knowing.”  I pray for you all; especially Tammy and Dean.
I’m sure we’ll talk of this again.

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