Could we be sicker than we thought?

Imagine you are in a doctor’s office awaiting the results of a test. The doctor walks in the door with a concerned look on his face. In hushed tones he says, “I wish I didn’t have to tell you this. You have cancer.”

What is your reaction in that moment? My guess is that one visit would drastically alter the way you live in the future. Your life would never be the same.

Although Coronavirus may have stopped our country in it’s tracks, it has only served to highlight a more insidious threat…the cancer of racism.

I use the term “cancer” intentionally.  I believe there are some unique similarities that cancer and racism share.

1. Both diseases build slowly over time

Unlike a virus that hits suddenly, cancer builds in our system over time. We can live months or years with the disease without ever knowing it. Racism is not suddenly appearing in the United States. It has plagued our nation for a long time.

My mom is a Native American woman who grew up in the segregated South. She is a positive person who doesn’t dwell much on negative experiences in her life. Maybe that’s why the stories she would occasionally tell me about what it was like to grow up as a second-class citizen stood out so much to me. She endured rejection, humiliation and had fewer opportunities simply because of the color of her skin.

The people who treated her maliciously learned those attitudes from their families. Some of them are still alive and they probably passed down their values to their children. Racism doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It lurks silently beneath the surface.

2. Images force us to embrace the reality of our disease

Similar to a doctor showing you an MRI or X-ray of tumors that are growing inside your body, modern technology has made the realities of racism apparent in a way that we can’t deny.

Videos showing Ahmaud Arbery being senselessly murdered as he was out on a jog and George Floyd being killed by a police officer as he was begging for his life, can’t be ignored. These images sear permanently into our minds. Reality reaches out and slaps us directly in our face. We can’t choose to ignore this any longer.

To all my black friends, I am deeply sorry that it has taken some of us this long to truly listen to your stories. It is horrific! Now no one has any excuses. I hope you will experience us closer to you during your times of pain.

 3.  Aggressive treatment is needed

Many cancer patients change their diet, go through chemotherapy and experiment with different medicines. Why? Because those are all fun options? No. Because the alternative is much worse!

Perhaps being quarantined is serving as chemotherapy for the cancer we are facing. This crisis has taken away the ways we normally choose to cope and ignore reality.

Americans are terminally busy. We almost never take the time to stop, think, feel and pray. We are constantly off to work, the next social event or kids soccer game. Unless something directly affects our lives it is too easy to ignore.

This virus has taken away our normal strategies for dealing with difficult things. It has broken down our emotional immune system and we are left to face what is left.

As someone who follows Jesus, I believe racism is a deeply spiritual issue. That means that it is more horrific than we often give it credit for. It is truly evil.

Jesus knows what it is like to come face to face with evil and have his closest friends walk away. I might not have all the answers but I pray I will be “present” with my black brothers and sisters during this time.

I pray that we will experience true justice and peace as we fight this disease together. For now, my soul cries “How long, oh Lord?!”

When Your Dreams Die

What do you do when all your hopes and dreams die slowly in front of your eyes?

I was making a decent living and surrounded by people I loved. I wasn’t looking for change…but sometimes change finds you.

Secretly, I knew I needed that change. An ache of insecurity followed me everywhere I went. Maybe you’ve felt it too. That persistent voice inside your head that demands attention, like a hungry dog begging for food. “You’ll never be loved for who you are”. “You’ll never be as gifted as the people around you”.

I wanted that nagging voice to go away. I wanted a life of purpose and peace. That’s why the words, “follow me” were so captivating. They weren’t simply an offer to switch my vocation. Those three syllables were an invitation to a life filled with hope.

Listening to Jesus teach made me feel like I was experiencing a beautiful piece of music or like I had just eaten one of the best meals of my life. You know, that odd state of being completely full but still wanting more. Yet, it wasn’t his eloquence that changed me.

He displayed unrivaled power. The first time I saw it was when he turned stagnant water into wine that any sommelier would envy. Over time, I saw him heal more desperate people than I could possibly count. He walked across water, calmed storms and raised people from the dead. I was left speechless by his actions but it wasn’t his power alone that altered my life.

No, my insecurity began to melt away because he had the ability to look me straight in the eye and let me know that I was accepted and loved for who I was. I began to see myself as someone “Who Jesus loved”. It gave me such confidence that I thought I could call down fire from heaven. Jesus responded to that by chuckling and giving me a new nickname, “son of thunder”. There aren’t many people who can walk the line of laughing at your foolishness while still showing you love, but he could.

Some people responded humbly to his uncompromising honesty. Others got angry, so irate in fact that they decided to kill him. Even one of my close friends decided to betray him.

This led to a hasty trial and false accusations. In the blink of an eye, the person I had placed all my hopes and dreams in was being mercilessly beaten, verbally abused and nailed to a cross.

I had a front row seat to the entire scene. I witnessed my dreams fly away with every lash of the whip, insult and scream of pain. The security I previously felt, evaporated like dew on a hot summer morning.

No one else stayed with him except for his mother, a small group of women and myself. I stood next to his mom the entire time. Jesus was disfigured so badly that even she couldn’t recognize him. The sound of her wailing was inhuman, an outward sign of the depth of her suffering.

In the midst of his pain he looked at me one last time and told me that his mother was my mother now. He looked at his mom and introduced me to her as her new son. It was typical Jesus. Even in the midst of excruciating pain, he was showing us how to love.

It wasn’t long before he breathed his last.

I hugged my new mom for what seemed like an eternity as we both sobbed uncontrollably.

Eventually, she managed to get out the words, “John, what do we do now?”

I desperately rummaged through my cluttered mind for answers but I came up empty.

“I don’t know mom, but we will get through this together.”

We were two different generations, genders and backgrounds but we shared a deep bond…our dreams had died right before our eyes.

In the midst of our sorrow and confusion we clung to each other and the example he gave us.  We didn’t know much else but we knew that Jesus loved us. Somehow, that was enough for now.

For Finn

Three year-old boys aren’t supposed to die of cancer…but in this broken world sometimes they do.

Recently, our family attended a memorial service for a super hero named Finn. Finn’s parents (Dan and Brandi Lee) are very special to my wife and me. We had the opportunity to mentor them during their time in college at Syracuse University. We even had the amazing honor of being in their wedding.

Now we were in a crowded church for a different type of service. As I sat in silence, a question came into my mind, “What if Dan and Brandi Lee came up to me right now and said, ‘John we need you to say a few words’?” What in the world would I say? How could I possibly convey anything that would be worthwhile? What follows was the first thing that came to my mind. My words truly don’t do justice to their love, their faith or the struggle of their courageous boy but it is the best attempt I have at speaking from the heart…

“Jesus wept”.

Those two words are more than just the shortest verse in the Bible. They give us a picture into the heart of God. Jesus didn’t need to cry. He knew he was about ready to raise his friend from the dead. Yet, he looked at all the people in pain around him and experienced the grief of losing someone so close to him and he cried…not just a tear running down his cheek. He bawled his eyes out! 

For those of us here who are following Jesus, it’s not just OK if we weep today. It is a sign that we truly have the heart of the person we claim as our King.

So today we choose to weep.

We weep for Finn. No three year-old child should experience the ravages of cancer. We were not intended to have our childhood ripped away by a devastating disease. Three year olds should be playing with cars, not worrying about colostomy bags. They should be outside soaking in the rays of the sun, not going through rounds of radiation. They should be hopping around their house, not shuffling through a hospital. Young lives were not designed to be shattered like this. I believe Jesus isn’t apathetic toward Finn’s pain. Something tells me that as Finn suffered, Jesus wept. As we think about Finn’s strength in the midst of this horrific battle, we weep too.

We weep for Dan and Brandi Lee. How many of us would have the courage and grace to endure what they have gone through as parents? Place yourself in their shoes for a moment. They were already under the intense pressure of raising three boys, one of whom has special needs. Add on top of that, a cancer diagnosis for their youngest. They gave everything they could over the last couple of years emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. They emptied themselves in order to find healing for their child. In the end, their child was still taken away. How many of us here could still muster the faith to sing, “It is well with my soul”? Dan and Brandi Lee, the level of sorrow you are experiencing is like walking through hell. Jesus knows. I believe he weeps with you. We weep with you too.

We weep for ourselves. Finn was courageous, independent, optimistic, wise and loving. Boys with those qualities grow up to be men with those attributes. As we look around at our world today, who wouldn’t want more men with that type of character? When we lost Finn, we lost someone extremely precious. We didn’t simply lose a boy. We lost a future leader and inspiration. Jesus weeps with us in the middle of our grief too.

The Bible tells us that because of Jesus we don’t have to mourn like people without hope. We cling to the hope that Jesus brings today. For that very reason, we are able to enter into our grief without fear. We serve a king who cried and today we cry too.

*FYI, If you don’t know Dan and Brandi Lee personally, I’d highly suggest visiting their blog. This will give you a firsthand look at their journey. You’ll also get the opportunity to meet the avocado-loving super hero that inspired this post.

A note to the girl on campus, crying outside the gym

I saw you curled up in a corner outside the gym. It’s a spot where only someone desperate to escape the crowds would go. The window you were sitting next to is deceiving. You probably couldn’t see in, but I could see out. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else even noticed.

There was an undeniable look of pain on your face and tears were rolling down your cheeks. At first this startled me. I felt like I was peering into a very private moment.. Then, a sense of compassion hit me. I wanted to stop my workout to go outside and make sure you were OK. If it wasn’t for the fire alarm door standing in the way, I would have done it.

Then I began to think of what else I could do to help. Only one thing came to mind…pray. I don’t want to seem weird but it seemed like you could really use it. I also made up my mind that if you were still there in another minute or two, I would make my way out of the gym to where you were. It only took you about 30 more seconds for you to pick yourself up and move on. The gym is a complicated maze to escape. Even if I left when I first saw you, I probably wouldn’t have made it to you in time.

When you got up, many emotions filled me. I was sad to see you in pain. I was worried hoping that you would be all right. Interestingly enough, one my primary emotions was anger. I was angry at that door for separating us. There was someone in pain who I couldn’t reach because a barrier stood in the way.

I don’t assume you would want to talk with me even if I was able to make it past that door.   Still, it made me think of all the obstacles that stand in the way of me seeing and reaching out to people in need. Sometimes it’s self-centeredness. It is easy to look in the wall full of mirrors in the gym and stare impressed (or depressed) at what I see. Similarly, when my focus is on myself, I don’t consider what is happening in the world around me.

Other times, the fire exit doors are things like busyness or the next “important” thing on my calendar. I’m sure there are times when I miss people in pain because I’m too caught up in making it to the next meeting on time. It turns out, you taught me a very important lesson.

Most likely, you and I will never meet. I’ll probably never get to tell you this face to face but I want to let you know that at least for a brief moment in time, you had someone praying for you in your pain. Whether you realized it or not, you were not alone.

The same thing is true now. Even in the midst of your sorrow, you have someone who you can’t see who knows what you are going through. Unlike me, His love is unconditional and He can break through any door to meet you where you are. I pray that no matter what dark time you are walking through, you will experience the hope, joy and peace that only He can bring.