Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Everyday Saints: Faith and Cancer

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“Unified and fearless, we charge ahead into a fun and adventurous life as a family. We are kind-hearted and fervently loving toward each other. We serve others to enrich their lives. Jesus is our strength and our song.” – The Jones Family Mission Statement

A year and a half ago I felt kicked in the gut. A dear friend’s sister-in-law – a young mother, wife of an Air Force pilot – had cancer.

Bad.

I raged at the universe that night. Since entering my thirties, I’ve entered a macabre new stage of life: the mortality of peers stage. A respected college acquaintance dying on an Ohio highway, leaving her husband, five children, and faith community behind; a church planter friend of several of my friends in my small home denomination who came home from the gym to find his pregnant wife dying after their home had been robbed.

My rage sits oddly beside the fact that I really enjoy conducting funerals, even when they’ve been tough. It sits oddly beside my curiosity in the anthropological side of death – burial rituals of southeast Asian tribes or funeral practices of the earliest Christians, martyr’s bones decked out in valuable jewels or the (to me) mysterious folk practice of North Americans who leave balloons and flowers, not at graves, but at sites of death.

It’s the same rage that made me literally stamp my foot when a favorite old cantankerous codger died at the nursing home where I worked for a while.

But this isn’t about my rage.

It’s about Lori Jones’ peace and faith.

Lori has been enrolled in hospice – and un-enrolled. She’s been through multiple kinds of chemo, of drugs that required special special permission to try. And while she uses words like peace and faith, I keep thinking of the word grace.

I think it’s because her peace and faith become grace to the rest of us.

The daughter-in-law of a now-retired United Methodist pastor has, in the middle of treatments for her terminal cancer…launched a website.

MissionStatementA really good one.

And isn’t that part of what a saint does or who a saint is? Someone whose spiritual virtues become grace to us in our trek of faith? Lori’s peace, Lori’s faith, are now a widely available grace to others. As I think of everyday saints in this new year – people who I want to emulate in the best way possible – I look forward to sharing about people like Lori. Recently, reflecting about resolutions, I posed this challenge to Facebook:

Think of one person you admire. Think of one thing they do that sticks out to you. Now think of your average day. How might you do that thing or a version of that thing in the stretch of an average day?

Write that action or quality and post it on your mirror. Honor them this year by beginning to practice your small embodiment of that action or quality.

Resolutions are individualistic. Qualities and virtues are found in community.

We need to mimic the Christlike qualities we experience in other people, whether it’s someone who died 500 years ago or someone down the street. While we hear a lot about brokenness and sin and humility, we damn ourselves to missing out on the promises of God if we don’t highlight and celebrate virtue, fruits of the Spirit, and transformation.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand faith or patience or hope or joy when we see it mid-narrative, embodied by a real person with a real biography and real struggles, not just as an abstract word flourished on an inspirational poster.

Or, in Lori’s own tested and battle-worn words: “I am a 34-year-old mother of three (6,4,2) married to a wonderful husband (Mark) who is an Air Force pilot. I was diagnosed with metastatic Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) when I was 32 (BRCA1 +). Since then, our family has been through so much together! We have resolved to live life without fear!”

Because just a few days before her diagnosis, the Jones family had come up with the family mission statement above: “Unified and fearless, we charge ahead into a fun and adventurous life as a family. We are kind-hearted and fervently loving toward each other. We serve others to enrich their lives. Jesus is our strength and our song.”

I pray you note something in someone’s life this year, 2016, that you see and recognize as beautiful and worthy of copying. I pray God gives you the grace to, in some small way, introduce it into your own daily rhythm of action and response and being. Whoever that may be for you, whatever their quality – the consistency of a beloved grandparent, the generosity of a friend, the quiet prayer of someone you’re attempting to minister to – I hope it finds a home in your heart.

And maybe you need Lori to be one of those people for you. Maybe you know someone who needs to be sustained by some grace, and Lori’s peace can be a measure of that grace.

She’s put together a practical website designed to help people navigate a tough cancer diagnosis.

It’s also an inspirational website, displaying the timeline of her treatment, diagnoses, ups and downs.

It’s an intensely personal website, updated with current challenges and treatment decisions, yet very much a testimony to the God of heaven and earth.

And it’s a formational website, a place where Lori occasionally writes short devotionals on a variety of topics.

To read a devotional reflection written by someone with terminal cancer – now that is grace indeed. This is not a website – or a story – of platitudes. It’s a site and a story of deliberately chosen adventurous fortitude, by God’s grace.

While the web address is www.peaceincancer.com, the name of the website – without irony or bitterness – is simple: This Ideal Life…

May it be grace for your journey, whatever this year holds.

 

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Elizabeth Glass Turner serves as the Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent. Elizabeth holds an MA in Theological Studies and has written for Ambrose University College & Seminary, Good News magazine and others. She also has an essay in “The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes.”

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