Staring Into the Dark

(by Eric)

A few of us first met Travis in 2010.  He's a family medicine doc like me, and had just come to Uganda to lead Serge's team there.  He's instantly likable.  Intelligent and perceptive, with a heart that greatly loves God.  He's just a couple years older than me, with a wife and three young kids.

Travis has cancer.  A medical anomaly, he was found to have advanced colon cancer several years ago.  He had to leave the field and move back to the US.  He has been through chemo and surgery.  From what I can tell, God has drawn him more to himself during this process.  I'm sure it doesn't always feel that way for him.  And now the cancer is back.

I first met Sarah in 2004 in rural Honduras.  She was getting ready to start medical school, but was already repairing hernias.  She is only person I have ever met who fell asleep taking the MCAT and still got into medical school.  She came and spent time with us in Kenya.  Then she finished her surgery residency and became a post-resident in Zambia, where I had spent two months as a medical student.

Sarah is vibrant and sharp, with an infectious energy.  I was so excited when I learned she would be in Zambia, knowing that she would be a great blessing to the people there.

Now Sarah has stage IV breast cancer.  She might be younger than I am.  She has started chemo.  Surgery is not currently an option, given the spread of the disease.

God, how can you allow this to happen?  I get that nothing can separate them from your love.  I even get that you may heal their hearts and their relationships through the sickness in their bodies.  At least, I sort of get it.  But the question remains:  God, how can you let this happen?


Sunday morning at church.  We were singing.

Confession:  My mind wanders terribly during worship songs.  I know this is the case for everybody, but I'm fairly convinced it's more for me.  I analyze everything to death, and plus I'm a musician.  So, I guess I have a hard time not being distracted by the very things that help other people to focus.  

But we were singing about Christ our refuge.  We sang about weak being strong, and Christ being the Lord of all the storm.  About our hope being built on nothing besides Christ.

And praise was flowing from my heart.  Why?  Because of my friends with cancer.  Bad cancer.  Scary, life-threatening cancer.

Because I'm reminded that I need a refuge.  Because we are weak.  Because we are in a storm.  Because all our other hopes are failing us.


My teammates poke fun at my tendency to write in a melancholic tone.  And I can laugh along with them.  But I can't seem to stop writing that way.  Because Jesus is the light of the world.  If you stare into the dark, it ought to be transformed by his presence.  If it's not, then it's all for naught.

I can't always find his light.  But sometimes I can.  And that's usually enough for me to continue in the hope that, seen or unseen, his light is always there.  I can stare into the dark precisely because I have hope.

Much of the time, it doesn't feel that dark.  I don't really feel like I need a refuge.  I feel like I can hope in myself, and I'll probably be just fine.  I don't look for the light.  And so, I'm distracted by the chord changes, the timing of the powerpoint slide changes, and just about anything else.

And the point is this:  I'm wrong.  In moments like that, I need the Light of the world just as much, if not more for my self-deception.  Travis and Sarah can't hide it.  Much of the rest of the time, we think we can.  We cover it up, and we play a game to our detriment.  We miss out on praise.

What Travis and Sarah and their families are going through is, in many ways, unique from me.  In other ways, it is an unmasked form of something that is universal.

"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." - Luke 12:2

"the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." - 1 Corinthians 14:25

This is very good news.  This must be very good news.  Let us live in the light.


Linda Viner McAllister said...

I have written to you, or rather commented here, once before.. your words are compelling. My dear friend Julie Thiessen and her husband Jesh and dear little munchkins are soon to join you, so I popped in to see what is happening in your 'neck of the woods.' and read your commentary, on good friends , with cancer.
My son, who had a traumatic brain injury at 17, and experienced a miracle , of healing , and long story, too long to write here, also saw Jesus, while lying dying on the ground outside our home. Jesus spoke in a loud commanding voice that he 'GET UP and GO INSIDE' or we would not have found Mark, our son, in time to save his life. Fast forward ahead, to many more miracles for Mark, now married, with two degrees, and two beautiful children. He has few friends, lots of acjquaintances, but only one or two friends who 'get him',... who are willing to walk with him thru the heartbreak that brain injury leaves in its wake. Extreme fatigue, memory issues, lack of understanding social cues, and the extensive list goes on and on. Mark's best friend Tyler, one who 'gets' Mark and loves him, was diagnosed with cancer on his honeymoon 4 years ago. Mark and a small community of like minded believers prayed for God to heal Tyler. Melissa , Tyler's new wife and childhood sweetheart all believed that God would heal... and even changed churches, when the current church they attended said, "God doesn't heal now... that was only old Testament days stuff. WEll, two years after his diagnosis, and chemo and the other things we do to heal cancer, Tyler was declared cancer free. They coldn't operate on him so it was chemo or? and the doctors said, " What can we say, "It's a miracle." He was fine for a year, and then...sadly...it returned. We watched him get weaker and weaker, and watched the particular heartache for our son, who loved his friend like a brother. Tyler died two days ago. His wife is 5 months pregnant.
We are finding that we have to mine deeply in the dark places of our faith mine shafts, to find hope.. and hope is there if we look. There is no way to make sense of this...no way to put it in a box,and say " of yes, that's what God is doing" ..no way to let it sit peacefully. But there is a way to go on... We know that we WILL see Tyler again one day. That he WILL meet his child , son or daughter, one day! That he is not in the horrible pain any longer. That God promises to comfort the broken hearted. That He will, if we look to Him , show us the only way to go on. Thank you for your words, they are deep and thoughtful and have given me comfort.
Take care of Jesh and Julie, they are tremendous people. You will love them dearly. As I do...

Eric Selle said...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.