Cancer sucks. We all agree. No one knows that more than my friend, Dave, and his family. Earlier this year, Dave and his wife, Audra, found out that their teenage daughter, Gabby, has colon cancer. While it has been a year of ups and downs, Dave and Audra had an experience recently that shook them – and blessed them. With Dave’s permission, I am sharing here what happened. My prayer is that it moves you the way it moved me. Here it is, in his own words.
Yesterday, Audra and I went to a black Pentecostal church in Brooklyn. There’s really no sense in watering it down – it wasn’t a “predominantly black church” and it wasn’t a “minority church” – I’ve been to churches like that. Heck, I pastored at one twenty years ago. Yesterday I saw no other white people, no Hispanics, no nobody. That church is BLACK. And yet they invited US to speak to them and to be with them– a goofy Italian guy and skinny lady who is one shade away from Casper. If your teeth were her skin color you would see no need to whiten them. And they loved us like we’d been among them our whole lives.
They didn’t invite us because we look like them, that’s been established. We don’t listen to much of the same music as them (theirs is better, I’ll readily admit), our folks have not had the same historical struggles as theirs, we don’t live in tough parts the city any more like many of them (we did for almost 10 years, a long time ago). We probably don’t vote like most of them, and we don’t do church like them. Fact is, there are lots of things we don’t have in common with them.
Why’d they invite us to come out and share with them? There’s a specific story there – I worked with their event planner 20 years ago. She was and is an eminently competent person. Pardon my language (please, seriously), but out in the business world my partner developed a term for people like her – SGDs. Sh*t Getter Doner. An SGD is the kind of person who is almost always underpaid because you couldn’t pay them enough. Every one I’ve come across has been a woman. They rarely have a big title or an impressive pedigree, but you know within 10 minutes of meeting them that the place would fall apart quickly if they weren’t there, and it would take 3 people to replace them, and even then the rest of the company would still long for the days when everything just ran well. So, I knew Oresa 20 years ago. We weren’t close, but we are extended family in the sense that everyone who went through the meteoric rise and fall of a dot-com company together is.
Oresa and I kept loose tabs on each other through Facebook like we do with a thousand other people, and I began to learn a little more about Oresa the person. Some years after our dot-com went bust her son was violently killed. He was a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time due to no fault of his own. A young man with all to potential in the world, senselessly gunned down for no good reason. How did Oresa respond? She poured herself into her church and started a group called Not Another Child to combat violence in inner cities. Most impressively to me, she found a way to move on, not as a hollow shell of a person, but as a vibrant, magnetic person filled with joy and purpose. Damaged, but unbroken. Still full of infectious life. So I got in touch with her a few years ago. I told how her impressed I was by her resilience, that she was an inspiration to me as I’m sure she has been to many. I told her I didn’t think I could ever handle anything like that the way she did. I didn’t know I might have to find out if that was true.
As you probably know, earlier this year my daughter got really sick. Turned out she is more than really sick. She has a cancer that is supposed to kill her. We were initially told no juvenile had lived more than two years after diagnosis. Audra and I kept this information to a very tight circle for a week or so, and then we decided that we were going to need all the support and all the prayer we could get. We decided to do this thing open book style. Honestly, it’s just who we are too. We know we need help, and we know that we might be able to help someone else along the way on our journey. Suffering is redemptive, at least it’s supposed to be. I’ve lost count of the silver linings we’ve seen through our ordeal. God is good and wants to use our hardships to bless the world. Those truths may be hard and counterintuitive on multiple counts, but I believe they are true nonetheless.
When Oresa read about what was going on with us, she got to work. She’s an SGD. She’s part of a group of women that pray through their lunch hours on the phone together every day. That is hardcore. We want everyone on Earth on Team Gabby, but people like that are first round draft picks. When she told me they were praying for Gabby every day, I couldn’t believe it. We don’t know these people. But they are warriors – they do war. And we are in a war. A war for our daughter’s life.
So, Oresa coyly invited us out to speak at Love Fellowship Tabernacle on less than one day’s notice: “Do you know anyone who might want to come speak to our church about their experience with cancer?”
Gee, I might know someone.
We didn’t know they were doing a Cancer Support initiative. Everyone was wearing some pink (except us – lol). Many of them were wearing T-shirts (over dresses or under sport coats, in most cases) the church was selling to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They honored the cancer survivors in their midst. There was boisterous gospel music, there was poetry slamming, there was rapping, there was dancing, there was more call-and-response action than I’ve ever seen in a church service. There was some speaking in tongues, a little drunk in the spirit-shuffling like I’d only heard tale of on some of the old funk gospel records I like to collect.
They did a dance to celebrate Gabby’s healing. Yes, they did. We’ll NEVER forget it. It was a celebration, but all through it there was a thread: We’re clinging to you, God. We’re believing you, God. We NEED you, God. We know you are in control, God. We trust you, God. If there is one thing I miss about inner city ministry, it’s people knowing how badly they need God… and the untamed joy that results in absolute surrender to him.
When Oresa asked us to come out, I had a few conflicting thoughts. First, I was excited. I love to speak. I love to teach. Any opportunity is exciting, and the more people, the more exciting. Two minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 2 hours, whatever. But I was also a little reluctant:this will be testing the limits of my comfort zone. What if I say something stupid or insensitive because I am nervous? It’s been known to happen. My inner knucklehead is alive and well. In the end, it was just desire that made any misgivings fade away. Desire for my daughter to be healed. Those prayer warriors have been praying. Audra and I believe, as Bishop Walker emphasized multiple times yesterday, that “the prayers of the righteous availeth much”. Prayer gets things done. And we have some things that need getting done. We want those warriors praying more, and we want more warriors praying. We went first and foremost because Love Fellowship Church is an army, and we are in a war. So it was a little selfish, but it was the kind of selfishness God honors and rewards, I think. The kind of selfishness that causes a bleeding woman to crawl through a massive crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment in hopes of being healed. Bishop Walker preached on that passage yesterday. It was awesome. Just a touch. We just need one touch. We’re desperate, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
So, we had an amazing, unforgettable day with some people who are very different from us in a lot of ways. But the not-so-shocking reminder I got yesterday is that the things we have in common overwhelm the ways we are different.
The first thing is Jesus. We’re told every tribe and every nation will be together in heaven. There will be perfect diversity AND perfect unity, and to whatever degree we taste that here on Earth, we are tasting the goodness of heaven. Where Jesus is preeminent, divisions dissolve. Conflicts fade. Anybody truly filled with the Holy Spirit is going to get along with anyone else truly filled with the Holy Spirit, because the same Holy Spirit that is in both of them controls them, and cliques and divisions fade away and seem silly. We tasted that yesterday. We were with the saints, and in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew. There’s just children of God.
The second thing is our humanity, and specifically our pain. In the end, we all mostly want the same things: a healthy, happy family, and other fulfilling relationships. Sure, we’ll take money too, but health and relationships make life worth living. Cancer is no respecter of persons. It hits everyone – black, white or other; male and female, and yes, young and old. It’s robs away health and it robs away family. One of the many silver linings of the disease impacting Gabby is that our painful situation has brought out the best in everyone we come in contact with. We have seen generosity, compassion, and empathy like never before, and we’ve seen it every single day. We see the beauty in people through our suffering, and the goodness of God (and all of the people he created in His image) shines through even in the middle of the war. I hope you never have to go through what we’re going through, but I wish you could experience the love we’ve experienced from the community and the church, from family, friends, and strangers around the world. It’s beautiful and humbling.
Why’d I write this? Some of it’s my own way of processing, but more than that I’ve been feeling like there is so much negativity, hurt, violence, and blame out in the world today. The atmosphere is toxic. Some are more to blame for that than others I suppose, but most of us are to blame a little. We complain, we lash out; we point fingers when we see things that upset us. We give those we affiliate ourselves with every benefit of the doubt, and we demonize those on the opposite side as if they are beyond redemption and there is nothing decent or honorable in them. I do it sometimes too, and there’s probably some legitimate truth and wisdom in all the noise we hear (and create) out there. It’s not the point.
My point is that the world is filled with expressions of God’s grace, but we need to look for them, and when we see them we need to shout louder about those wonderful things than we do the terrible things. The magic of doing so is that it will result in there BEING more wonderful things and less terrible things. When God blesses us, when people bless us, I want to shout it, and shout it louder than anything I ever complain about, so I am “shouting” now. God is good all the time and his people are wonderful most of the time. He blessed us immensely yesterday, and his people blessed us immensely, too. There can be joy after hard times. Oresa is proof. But there is joy in the middle of hard times too. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
Thanks, Dave, for being an expression of God’s grace.
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