As a child, I listened to the story of Saul's conversion and transformation into Paul. The story made it sound easy; well, maybe a little scary too. Saul is on the road to Damascus and God comes to him. Paul's transformation overtakes him. He does not have to choose to be transformed.
Cancer is like that too. You don't choose to have cancer. It is something that happens to you. What I missed in the story about Saul is that he got to choose how he would respond to his transforming experience. He could choose to accept his transforming experience or he could have fought against it and denied it.
I was given this story several weeks ago. A man has lost his right lower leg. Each day his therapists and doctors come to ask if he is ready to try on his prosthetic leg and learn to walk again. The man turned them away each day, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger. "I just want my leg back." He cannot walk forward clinging to his demand to have "my leg back".
My sister, Margaret, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 and died 4 years later. I witnessed her acceptance of this gift and how it transformed her. How do you explain to yourself that this may be the last day of your life? Is arguing with your significant other, cutting off another driver in traffic or fussing about an e-mail how you want to spend your last day? A diagnosis of cancer brings that question right up into your face.
Margaret set her priorities and I think that they were good ones. With her limited time and energy, she loved her children and husband, she reached out to her family and she looked for God.
Some of her decisions were unpleasant. Yes, she wanted to see me but if I came for a visit, I needed to leave my dog at home. She wanted my full attention. Nor could she take care of ME as I grieved over losing her. She had her own hard work to do.
I watched her strip away the unimportant things in her life. She simplified the questions of what was important. Will this question or decision matter in a day, a week or a year?
Shortly after Margaret died in 1993, I gave a First Word message about her life, death and transformation. I ruefully commented that I didn't want to get breast cancer in order to experience transformation in my life. Margaret has been my mentor for my own life with breast cancer. How will I spend this day, week or year that God has given me?