Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Cousins Have Cancer

"Embrace the Clouds"
Just after a flash flood at Whiskeytown Lake, California
Photo © 2009 Angela Magnotti Andrews

My cousins have cancer.

For the past two months, I've woken up wondering if today will be the day that I hear the news of their passing. I wonder if their funerals will overlap and if I'll have to miss one of them--if I'll have to choose which family I will honor with my presence.

Then I get mad at myself for thinking such morbid thoughts. Condemning voices harass me: "Don't you believe in the supernatural? Have you so easily given up? I thought you were a woman of faith."

I am. I am a woman of great faith, and these are the grim realities a woman of great faith faces at times in her life.

I've been trying to write this post for several months, but thinking like this in the privacy of my own mind is a lot different than putting it out there where you can read it--and worse, where they can.

I want nothing I say or do to cause them any further pain. Not that I really believe I could harm them by expressing my feelings. I know both of them want me to be honest about my pain. Still, morbid and sad have long since ceased to be my chosen genre. So, I've hesitated until now.

Now, I don't want another moment to pass without sharing how their lives have impacted mine. Each of my cousins has walked this path in a distinctly different way, though both have demonstrated an unwavering faith in the goodness of a loving Father who is not at all to blame for their conditions.

One Cousin

One cousin has made his life an open book. He talks freely about what cancer has done to him and how it has affected every aspect of his life. He openly shares the negatives, but he chooses primarily to dwell upon the positives.

No one wants a fast-track education in what truly matters, but Nick Magnotti has taken this lump of lead and turned it into gold. And he's been breaking nuggets off and passing them out for free to whomever will take them.

He has fought vigorously and surrendered gracefully, and he has always kept the main thing the main thing. With every breath he is given, he declares the goodness, the kindness, the mercy of the One who made him, and he has poured himself out in a spiritual act of worship in a way that few of us may ever have the opportunity to do.

Because of Nick Magnotti, the word cancer will just as likely bring a smile to my face as a grimace. Because of Nick Magnotti, I cherish moments with my children more than I once might have. Because of Nick Magnotti, I fear death less than I once did.

My Other Cousin

My other cousin cherishes her privacy and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the atmosphere around her is one of hope. She has refused to entertain defeat, and she has fought this battle on her own terms. She has given her family members the privilege of speaking their hearts, sharing the ups and downs with frank honesty.

Meanwhile, she has conserved all of her physical and emotional energy to give life (literally) to both of her girls in every way she possibly can. She has foregone treatment, jeopardizing her own life, in order to safely carry two precious beings to full term while cancer was growing just as rapidly inside her.

After a nine-year battle, and after countless victories and as many setbacks, she recently decided to cease all treatments. Her vigorous spirit continues to defy a disease which has taken so much from her. Through it all, there is so much cancer has never been able to steal. And it is these things which have so inspired me to become greater in my own life.

Because of Thelma Hartmann, I think twice before backing down from my own fears--fears that I know I will pass on to my children if I don't deal with them immediately. 

Because of Thelma Hartmann, I think twice before sharing my struggles with someone. She has taught me the value of being discreet, of managing the atmosphere of faith around me, of determining just what I will allow to enter my "air" space.

Because of Thelma Hartmann, I know to my core that Life prevails even when it appears to be losing ground.

Both of My Cousins

Both of my cousins are facing the end of their lives far sooner than any sense of justice deems proper. Their miraculous recovery is always possible. Every morning as I brace myself for what I will learn on Facebook, I realize that I'm just as likely to hear an outstanding report of breakthrough as I am to learn of their physical demise. But sometimes you can just feel a dread thing coming, and it's hard to shake. It's hard for a woman of faith to know what to do with that sense of impending doom. 

At these times, I do the only thing I know to do.

I release them into His loving care. I feel my feelings and then let them go, for they are just feelings. Deep inside my heart I know that Thelma and Nick are safe in His hands, that death is not an enemy to fear. Indeed, it is as much a friend to us as the birth canal is to an infant.

What is Faith?

The last thing I wish to spark within you is some form of pity or sympathy. Rather, my purpose in writing is to share the every day struggles of men and women of faith. So often we're led to believe that doubt, fear, and disease are evidence of a lack of faith.

I disagree. Fear and doubt are feelings and thoughts, and disease is a complex manifestation of things we do not fully understand. Feelings, thoughts, and complex problems will always present themselves to men and women of faith.The question isn't whether we are free from doubt and fear and disease, the question is what will we do when presented with such feelings, thoughts, or complexities.

I've learned not to ask the question, "Why?" Instead, I ask the question "What?"

What am I going to do in this moment?

I am going to celebrate the gifts of life in all their forms.
I am going to celebrate the people I love in every way possible.
I am going to embrace the clouds, so that I will be ready to celebrate the silver lining that follows.
I am going to choose Life at every opportunity.
And I am going to honor the ones who pave the way so I can walk in greater measures of faith.

Faith is the seed of an action or a response. In the absence of fear and doubt, in the absence of sorrow and pain, in the absence of trouble, there is very little opportunity to know whether you have faith or not. Therefore, I do not despise the opportunities presented by my cousins who have cancer. Though I pray daily that they will recover fully, I hope none of us will ever recover from the valuable lessons we've learned as they've labored to maintain faith throughout their struggles.

My Prayer

I pray you will not shrink back or wish for a life without trouble. I pray you will not run and hide from your pain and miss the comfort of the Comforter when He comes. I pray you will not shove doubt and fear under a rug in your mind. I pray that you will know the full measure of your faith and its capacity to grow within you in the face of pain and loss.

Will you please pray the same for me today?

Thank you,