Words for the Ones Who Are Next

By Madison Garrett

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I woke up this morning to the news that Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a glioblastoma, the same aggressive brain cancer that my dad is currently fighting. And I woke up today to a newsfeed and a television full of statistics, life expectancies, and details on the aggressiveness of this disease. MY DAD had to wake up to the same thing and be slapped in the face over and over again by the very thing he is fighting as articles are plastered all over the internet declaring McCain’s case to be a losing battle, hopeless, victory-less. I don’t get angry often, but it infuriates me that the narrative of my dad’s morning has been written by people who do not know us, who do not know John McCain, who do not know the intimate effects of this disease, and who do not know the tenacity that we have inside us, the capacity that we have to fight, and the power of the Lord who is on our side.

I write this as a deep breath, as a pause, as a reminder for me and for my dad and for whoever is next that THERE IS HOPE. There is hope admits the howling chronicle of hopelessness. I write this for you and for him and for Senator John McCain –because we are not statistics and we are NOT life expectancies. We are PEOPLE who are fighting with every fiber of our being to keep going and keep believing– and no matter what happens, we will win.

I hate that I have to write this.

I hate that there is a next.

I hate that three of my dearest friends from high school have at one point been that next.

I hate that I became one too.

I hate that I know what it’s like and I hate that you now know what it’s like.

I hate that the words “You have cancer” probably slipped from a doctor’s mouth today and maybe you had to hear them for the first time.

Maybe you never thought you would hear them.

Maybe life is suddenly different and darker and heavier than you thought it was before.

 BUT You. 

You who are next and didn’t know you would be next and never wanted to be next…

You are fierce.

And this has no power over you.

I know it seems like it does, but you don’t have to let it.

You have the choice to wake up in the morning, pull that worn out, stubborn armor over your heart, and step out in faith in a story you didn’t think would be yours.

And I want to apologize.

I want to take away the pity from people’s eyes and I want to guard your heart from the people who do not understand. I want to relieve you of the anger that bottles up in you at the word “fair” and at the Bible verse “for I know the plans I have for you” — because the Lord may declare it but it certainly doesn’t look or feel like prospering and it doesn’t look like a hope and a future.

Yes, the Lord has plans and yes, they are GOOD. But, to those who are next, that’s not always the best thing to say. Usually, that makes the diagnosis sting a little bit more –because SURELY these aren’t the plans and cancer isn’t the plan and this brokenness isn’t the good and the great and the more that God intended for me.

You need to know that you are stronger. Much stronger than you feel right now. Much stronger than you ever imagined that you would need to be. But you are. I know you are. Cancer is not a test to determine how strong you are or to make you stronger. Strength is a byproduct, not a catalyst and certainly not a reason.

I wish I could take this from you.

And just to remind you?

You don’t have to have joy right now. You are free and ENCOURAGED to cry and weep and mourn and rage and feel exactly what you feel right now. Nothing steals the comfort of the Lord faster than the belief that we have to be joyful. Nothing quenches community like the idea that you have to be strong, upbeat, and carefree all the time. Life has changed now; it’s okay if you do too.

You and I? We do not have the luxury of fear. We cannot give it any place in our life or any residence in our heart. Hope does not belong beside fear and hope is all we have room for right now.

You are fighting back now. And it’s breathtaking. Do not let cancer steal your joy or your power. It doesn’t deserve it. Goodness knows cancer has enough power without stealing yours as well. Cancer is a word that never seems comfortable in my mouth and I will never let it get comfortable; I will always kick it out and replace it with the most beautiful words I know: JESUS. Hope. Faith. Belief. Recovery. Victory. Abundance.

Hope is a verb and an active one. Cling to it. Cling to belief. Cling to the people who show up and don’t leave, no matter how ugly your cries or unexpected your anger or vast your heartache. Love can and will surround the change if you let it, if you let people into your broken places and broken bodies and let the brokenness blossom into an unexpected abundance as you suddenly see more love than you ever had eyes for before.

I hope you never hear the words that change everything.

But if you do, I’m right there with you.

Hang on.

You are loved. You are seen. You are held. You are known. You are loved.

The story is not over.

For here I am, both in the midst and on the other side, saying “it’s okay! I’m here. Feel what you feel. You are still fierce and there is still hope even when you feel sad or forlorn or angry or lost. Feelings do not take away from the truth: there is light even when it is darkest. The Lord walks in darkness. The Lord glows in darkness. He is not safe; no one said anything about safe, but He is here and on His throne and THAT is good.”

There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is just how you choose to handle it. I may choose to handle it one way, but I never ever want you to feel inferior, incapable, or incorrect for the way you choose to survive.

You are loved. You are seen. You are held. You are known.

And the story is not over.

You can still hope.

The Lord sees and hears. He is the God who sees. He sees our tears and our heartbreak. He sees the way we fall to the ground under the weight of a new reality. He hears our groans and prayers. They do not go out into the void unanswered or unnoticed; instead, He keeps every one of them, holding them close to His heart, catching every tear in a jar, not letting a single one go to waste or fall by the wayside. He keeps those prayers till the time in right; He treasures them and He will not let them go to waste. He will not let us go to waste.

Forget the statistics. Forget the news. Forget the frantic Google searches and the doctor’s guesses. Forget everything but the fight. Forget everything but the Lord, the one who changes stories for the better, the one who writes victory into every heartbreak, the one who doesn’t write ashes into endings.

There is hope and it is like a flame or a song bird or an anchor or a hug and it is HOPE that keeps us going, that keeps us walking, that keeps us clinging to the Lord, that surrounds the change, that schedules vacations months in advance, that begins writing lectures again, that looks up movie trailers because it is confident that more life is in its future and resignation is not worth it. It is hope that believes in a better ending.

It is hope that says no to the statistics.

It is hope that believes in the Lion.

Madison Garrett

Madison Garrett