Tuesday, August 3, 2010

August 3, 2010

The power of the human body to overcome even some of the harshest assaults is amazing and yet, for some people, even the smallest of things can bring them down.  Maybe it is survival of the fitness but I would like to think not.  I have known some amazingly strong and fit people brought down by some of the ugliest diseases out there.  I watched a friend in Florida die a slow, agonizing death from AIDS.  I’ve held the hand of a dying elderly man while he took his last breath as lung cancer consumed him.  I still visit his grave every chance I get.  I snuck in a 90 year old lady’s favorite lemonade to her hospital bed and drizzled it on her lips just days before they were to draw her last breath.  And I have sat with countless people who have lost a loved one from an accident or illness.  As a professional church organist and soloist I have provided musical reflection for over 400 funerals and memorial services.  I have officiated at nine of them.

I remember one of the bed-side experiences I had with the man I mentioned earlier that passed of lunch cancer.  For a few years before his body gave up the fight I had the honor and privilege of sitting in his house and talking with him.  We talked, we did a little bit of gossiping, and we prayed.

When I walked in to his hospital room that final day, his loving and adoring wife at his side, she said he had not woken in several hours.  I had just received the call that he was there an hour earlier and raced over to the hospital.  His room was darkened but not in some macabre fashion – it was – well, appropriate.  The door was kept closed and there he lay, perfectly still with the exception of his chest raising up and lowering with each labored breath.  I took his hand and kissed his forehead and low and behold he woke up.  He muttered, “Kurt, thank you.  I love you”.  And then I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “I love you, too, and it’s OK if you want to leave us now.”  Within the hour he was gone.  Was he waiting for permission?  Possibly but I think it was just a wonderful way for God to write that chapter in his life. 

But his story is long and wonderful with many colorful characters.  He admitted that the lung cancer was his own doing as he continually smoked right up until his diagnosis.  He said he often felt like a fool because he knew better but kept it up anyway.  He battled alcohol for years and was sure either that or his family’s genes would take him from this world.  He often said he was never surprised to hear the words ‘lung cancer’ because he gave himself that diagnosis years ago when he started smoking.

This story is getting long, I realize, but I want – no I need – to tell you an important conversation I had with him one afternoon.  I drove to his house and parked in the driveway.  It was summer and his wife had planted wonderful flowers all around the front of the house.  When I walked in the house the usual smell of moth balls was replaced with the scent of banana bread (anyone who knows me will tell you that I have this thing for banana bread!).  She had a hug in one hand and a slice of bread in the other.  I joined my friend in the living room where he was seated in his chair that overlooked the back yard, the big stone fireplace right behind him was decorated with pictures of family and friends.  They had no children but were blessed with hundreds of young people they were honored to call theirs.  The heritage was apparent.

I sat down and asked him the same question I did every time I saw him, “my friend, how is it with your soul today?”  (a popular  Wesleyan spiritual question for all you die-hard Methodist’s out there!).  His response caught me totally off guard.  He said, “I am healed, my dear friend, I am healed”.  Of course I knew this didn’t mean the cancer – he had one lung removed and a small portion of the other one and to my knowledge, the lung does not have the talent to regrow. 

I asked him how is it that he is healed and he said, very simply, “because it is my will”.  We sat for awhile, not speaking, watching the flowers and the birds in the bird feeder.  We talked about people in the church, about the music from Sunday that he heard on the church recording.  He asked if I would sing a song so I sang, “On Eagle’s Wings” for him and his wife.  He cried.  He said he wanted me to sing that at his funeral and I gave him my word.  It was that winter, in January, with ice and snow on the ground, gathered around his grave, that I sang “On Eagle’s Wings” for my friend for the last time, just as I had promised.

There’s a reason for this story.  You see, medicine is a tremendous gift to humanity and it is great to treat so many things but let us never forget that the HEALING comes from within.   That’s what he was talking about when he proclaimed he was healed.  He was ready – he had come to peace with all the things in his life and he was ready when that day came because he was healed on the inside.

A band aid protects a cut but does not cure it: your body does.  A cast immobilizes a broken bone, but it does not mend the bone: your body does.  Chemotherapy and radiation can attack cancer cells, but they do not cure cancer: your body does.

“Cancer treatment focuses on destroying a tumor.  Your response to that treatment will determine the outcome of your illness.  Unchecked stress, depression and fear reduce the success rate of medical treatment because they block the internal healing mechanisms needed to win the battle against cancer.  Conversely, your positive state of mind, your will to live and your excitement about your future stimulate your healing abilities.  That is why research has repeatedly shown that patients who received a psychological intervention on top of their medical treatment live twice as long as those who received medical treatment alone.”  (Dr. Claude Lambert, MD, Copyright © 2009, peopleovercomingcancer.org)

My mother is healed.  Oh we don’t know what the MRI will show at the end of this month.  And even if it is clear we are told we have a long, five-year window of tests every 6 months to make sure we have actually conquered this one.  Remember, this is a rare and aggressive cancer – a fact my mother has not forgotten for one single day.  But I have seen a tremendous healing in my mother these past couple of months.  True, the last two weeks scared the crap outta me and I seriously thought for a few days we might actually lose her – but I didn’t realize that just as the treatments had started moths earlier, my mother was already healed on the inside.

My mother looks healed today.  The burn marks on her neck are all but gone when just two weeks ago it hurt just to look at it.  Her energy levels wax and wane but the highs are higher now than they have been for awhile.  We actually took a car ride today and she walked around a store for the first time in three months!  She is back to swallowing her medication, something she couldn’t do for several weeks.  She’s even trying food but we’re not there…yet.  She’s been doing an outstanding job of avoiding people with possible illnesses, using a face mask and always, and I mean ALWAYS washing her hands whenever she touches anything another human hand has.  She has fought this fight with both guns a blazin’.

I have been wanting to ask my mother how this has changed her life but I haven’t yet – although if she’s reading this, I hope she begins to think about it.  If something this traumatic DOESN’T change your life then what’s the whole reason for surviving it in the first place? 

Maybe you aren't dealing with something that feels or sounds as traumatic as cancer or Alzheimer's - but of all those ‘negative’ things that have happened in your life how have they changed you?  I always said that everything small and large that has happened, every person and every event that has come in to and out of our lives, is now a thread in the fabric of who we are.  But what would happen if we removed one of those threads?  What would happen if that particular event never happened to you?  Were you able to be changed and transformed by that experience – or simply consumed by it. 

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

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