I wrote a few poems for one of my closest friends, Sheila, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer. While I know nothing about poetry and have never written a poem in my adult life, my feeble attempts have been a bit of a blessing to Sheila. They are my simple and humble gifts to her.
It’s been a rather curious experience, putting words to what I think my friend feels. They’ve become somewhat of a vehicle for processing, not only for Sheila and me, but others as well.
What I didn’t bargain for is the feedback from casual acquaintances and people that I haven’t met. Some of these folks are in combat with cancer, others have loved ones with this diagnosis. They resonate with Sheila’s experience.
According to the Internet Free Dictionary, bargain for is an idiom that means to prepare for, or expect something. I certainly didn’t expect to meet strangers suffering in similar ways. I wasn’t prepared for more pain and sadness. Would it be safe to say that we’re all just plain heart-heavy over this cruel invader named cancer?
I also didn’t bargain for the weight of watching Sheila travel this unplanned and unpredictable healing journey.
Some days I resonate with that angry voice shouting in the Old Testament book, Lamentations. Here scriptures paint a picture of an irate, dejected, and desperate soul grieving over the brokenness of his homeland, Jerusalem. In the foreground is a man hurling insults at God, pronouncing him the enemy over his current state of affairs. In the middle ground stands the wayward and decaying metropolis. The speaker despairs over the ruins, long ago his beautiful home. While I’m not prone to hurl insults at anyone, I connect with these rants and rages. Simply put, I’m furious that my friend bears the burden of a cancer diagnosis. How dare cancer do this!
Throughout Lamentations, the speaker accuses and the city’s struggles are revealed. Once teeming with vibrancy and productivity, Jerusalem finds itself in critical care. Once optimal functioning was Sheila’s modus operandi as well. Healing prayer ministry, hosting large groups, and mentoring young adults regularly filled Sheila’s calendar. Long, delightful days of kids and grandkids highlighted her schedule.
Now a suffering Jerusalem is an unwelcome metaphor for the toll cancer takes in Sheila’s day to day. Fatigue overrides mundane tasks. The calendar is void of engagements and entertaining. Family visits need to be shortened. Discomfort persists where chemo resides.
But as the poet Robert Frost wisely informed, “All metaphor breaks down somewhere. That is the beauty of it.” Unlike Jerusalem, Sheila’s journey with physical brokenness is not the result of waywardness. And unlike the complainant of Lamentations, I don’t name God as her enemy.
Because Sheila knows God is for her.
And cancer is the enemy that she never bargained for.
In the third chapter of the ongoing lament, the indignant one comes to the end of himself. He declares what Sheila has understood all along. In the frame of her struggles, she sees beyond the horizon.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.