Finally, a more lighthearted post…about cancer!! I wrote this for a magazine, but it got REEEE-jected. So it goes up here, where all my rejected but favorite pieces go:
As many of you know, a few years ago, I planted a church in Washington D.C. For our opening service, I had it all planned out: we would launch on Easter Sunday, a perfectly symbolic day for a new work of God. We would serve lamb for lunch, again, very appropriate given the day. A sister from our church would share her powerful personal testimony of how she had lost her father to violent crime, and how God restored a sense of peace and forgiveness to her. And I planned on wearing my good tan suit, which I bought specifically for that day.
It was going to be awesome – more than that: perfect. I was especially excited about the suit, as all my other suits were stereotypically black or dark blue.
But even before we started the service, we were on shaky ground. My youngest daughter had attached herself to my leg, complaining about anything and everything, making it somewhat difficult to focus on the event at hand. Also, a decent number of people had shown up, but still far fewer than I had hoped. A few tentative butterflies fluttered around in my gut, but I swatted them away with the stupidly bold confidence that only church planters possess, and managed to convince myself that it was still going to be awesome.
After praise, I introduced the sister who would share her testimony of how God healed her and her family from a terrible personal tragedy. I invited her up to the stage to share, and…nothing. No one came forward. The sound of crickets would have been a welcome relief. But she was still in the kitchen, helping to roast the lamb for lunch, which was proving problematic. The butterflies mounted their counterattack, but I bravely soldiered on, knowing that I still had my sermon and my awesome suit.
So instead, I launched into the message and very nearly pulled it all off, when I heard this quiet but insistent beeping in the background. I tried to ignore it, but when I could do so no longer, I blurted out, “What is that sound??” And at that precise moment, as if scripted by a team of ham-fisted comedy writers, the fire alarm began blasting throughout the entire building, the result of the Easter lamb that was over cooking in the oven upstairs. I shouted above the din that everyone should head outside until the fire trucks arrived.
Killer butterflies fluttered victoriously over my bloated corpse.
At that point, my only goal in life was to get through this miserable day so I could go home and just totally forget that this day had ever occurred. I blew through the rest of the sermon, didn’t eat a bite of that damnable lamb that had so effectively sabotaged the service, and drove home with my family like a bat out of hell. And my daughter, who had been so whiny all morning, began to look more and more miserable with every minute. And the moment that we pulled up in front of our house, the poor thing threw up all over herself and the inside of the car.
Totally. Not. Awesome.
My ego then was as fragile as fine china, and a debacle as described above would usually send me into an emotional tailspin for days, if not weeks. The memory would haunt me. But curiously, it didn’t, and it doesn’t. I hadn’t even really bothered to remember that moment until now, and the memory of it makes me laugh more than anything else because it was legitimately funny. Not at the time, mind you. And the reason that it only dealt me a glancing emotional blow is because at that time, I was too busy helping raise two very young girls. While my wife had breast cancer. While she was pregnant with our third child.
I know that sounds a bit delusional, but there is a curious effect to real and intense suffering, and that is that it puts everything into perspective very quickly. Sure, the launch of the church could conservatively be called a fiasco, but relative to the other struggles my family faced, it was truthfully not that big of a deal. I had far bigger fish to fry, or lambs to roast, as it were. Now, that event definitely still stung, but it did not crush, which is a subtle but crucial difference. In light of my family’s situation, I could accurately see the failed launch of the church for what it was: a molehill on the road of life that we would surely survive.
One of the hidden blessings of suffering is that it allows us to shrug off blows that would normally paralyze us. This may not seem all that great of a benefit, but if you think about it, it is a rare and powerful form of emotional fortification, and that is nothing to look down upon. Such strength is rarely found, and hard earned. But as a result of my past few years of life, as long as you don’t tell me that my family is in mortal danger, I can usually face any news with at least a crooked kind of smile. As delicate as it was previously, my ego is now as tough as a piece of rawhide that has been chewed upon by a big dog, but has defied disintegration and is even tougher as a result. It would take a helluva big dog to chew me up now.
Hm. The last couple of sentences above may have been why this piece was rejected by more reputable magazines.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how the rest of the story goes, my wife survived her cancer and gave birth to our third child, a completely healthy little boy. And that really WAS awesome.