(Your Cancer, Your Tragedy, Your Problems)
The goal of life is not to live long, live healthy, get wealthy and leave all of it to great-great-grandchildren. But isn’t that easy to forget in our busy, goal-oriented lives?
Tragedy close to home
The school buses behind the hearse were a sobering sight. Though the vehicles from Wake Christian Academy said “activity bus,” the funeral was not an “activity” anyone had anticipated. The gravity of the situation stifled the noise on those buses to a silence they had never known. Even cars unaffected by the buses’ path pulled over in reverence to let the entourage pass. At each stoplight, Raleigh’s finest stood at attention, saluting the grieving students and the hundreds of cars’ drivers in the line that went for miles en route to the cemetery where Madison’s grave awaited.
My son’s classmate, Madison Pearce, did not survive when her car crossed the centerline and hit a truck head-on last Saturday, seven weeks before her seventeenth birthday. Being a small class of 2015 with only seventy-seven students, there was not one who did not know Madison: her smile; her unconditional love; her ability to light up a room. She was the captain of the cheerleaders – whether on the sidelines or just in life. She seemed to personify letting Christ shine.
“Things can change in the blink of an eye,” one of her last Tweets had said. Every student and parent from the school couldn’t agree more…now.
The pastor who spoke at the funeral was Madison’s uncle, Reverend Ben Pearce. He fought the tears just like everyone in the room. I loved what he shared in what must have been the most difficult speech he has ever made, “Don’t let her death be in vain.”
I think in a way, he was saying, “Don’t waste this tragedy.” John Piper had similar sentiments in his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” which I summarized in the post-script below.
Go ahead and think about what happens when we die, because, we all are dying.
“Mom, it just makes me realize that you never know when you say goodbye if it will be the last time you see someone,” my fourteen-year-old said he learned.
“She is the lucky one; she is in heaven with no more tears, no more pain,” my seventeen-year-old resolved.
As I watched Madison’s parents in the visitation line, I saw them hug each person. They comforted the long line of teenagers whose hearts were broken like their own. “She was so excited to have you singing in Chorale with her again,” the mom comforted when she saw my son. “Oh, I remember your name! You are the ‘smart’ one,” she said to another, repeating words to the teens that Madison must have told her.
The scheduled visitation hours were from 6-8pm, but people stayed – even the grieving family – until well past midnight. They gave as much comfort as they received while the crowd grieved together. Pastor Doug Bookman often says that God does His best work when we are at the end of ourselves. As I saw strength in that family to stand for so many hours: smile, cry, smile, cry and still have something to give to the next person in line, I couldn’t help but see God at work. They were at the “end of themselves” long before the line had even formed.
A friend recently mentioned how wrong it is that people quote, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” because of course He does! He knows we can’t handle it – except through Him. When we cry, “I can’t handle it!” maybe it is just our final battle getting to the “end of ourselves.”
“My tears have fed me day and night; while men have said, ‘Where is your God?’” David wrote in Psalm 42. How real. Tears are real. Grieving is real. It’s what we do with it that could “waste” its purpose.
Bitterness knocks at the door. Answer with trust.
Resentment and anger take their shots. Kick them with praise.
Depression tries to check-in; Tell it that gratitude has already taken that room.
Drugs and alcohol invite to numb the pain; Remind them they only prolong it.
Despair tries to suck us into the black hole, but we can remember what even Madison knew, as her Twitter account quoted a song earlier this year:
“All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”
Heaven is not the consolation prize; it’s the destination. Don’t waste the journey.
P.S. John Piper in his article Don’t Waste Your Cancer, was quoted by a guest pastor, Scott Kellum, at a small church near our lake house. The words were too good not to take notes. The notes were too good not to share. Whether it is cancer, death of a dearly loved one, or another form of storm that hits our lives, the words aptly apply: “Don’t waste it.”
The below list was originally posted as Don’t Waste Your Cancer, but it could be, “Don’t waste your problems,” “Don’t waste your tragedy,” “Don’t waste your hurt,” or “Don’t waste your today.”
When we truly believe that there’s nothing outside of God’s hands that happens in a believer’s life, this list is incredibly poignant.
Don’t Waste Your Cancer (from John Piper)
- You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
- You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. (The blessing comes in what God does for us, with us, and through us.)
- You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your “odds” rather than from your God.
- You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
- You will waste your cancer if you think that beating cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ
- You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
- You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepening your loving relationships with others. (Some dig a hole and start pulling in dirt on top of themselves, blocking everyone out.)
- You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. (Grieving is perfectly legitimate, but not as if we have no victory.)
- You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. (Today’s the day to make it right with God.)
- You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
Feel free to go back and read that list again, making the substitution of the deepest struggle in your own life, which may not be cancer. “You will waste your…[past hurt] if you…”