A friend, who is also a member of my local church, has recently undergone a great blow to her body and soul. This sister in Christ has been diagnosed with a very difficult cancer that is extremely rare and very hard to treat. She is a young woman with a desire to minister and presently is in seminary study for ministry. Our church has been praying for her from the first news we received of her ordeal. This week she went into a Chicago hospital to begin very intense treatments. We were encouraged again last weekend to pray for her and also to write her. I have found it hard to know what to write but finally sent an email today. In my own halting way I sent the following letter:
From the first moment that I learned of your medical crisis I was deeply moved to pray for you. I have only seen you once, sitting to my left side several sections of the church sanctuary removed from where I was seated, on a “rare” Sunday when I was in church (arriving late as I recall). As you know I often attend vespers on Saturday evening, which has become my normal practice. I was, even that morning a few weeks ago, not sure exactly what to do because of my own viral condition related to CFS. Since so little is known about my illness I hate to expose you to what could be a virus that would add to your compromised immune system. Instinctively I wanted to come up and speak personally but I felt it was better to not do that at the time. I am so unsure about all of this but my response was one of kindness and love I assure you.
I have followed the news of your ordeal closely and, like everyone else at church, know what is happening through the pastor’s reports. I have not had a personal friend face the exact illness that you now must address but I have a nephew who is a cancer specialist at St. Jude Research Hospital thus I am well aware of the nature of your battle. To face this trial at any time is terrible but to face it when you have so much to look forward to in life must only add to your burden and mental anguish. I have asked the Father to grant you his peace and to give you the Holy Spirit as YOUR Comforter in these dark and difficult moments. May you know joy in trial but even more may you know his peace. These words are so easy to write but so hard to think through thus I hope I am not writing without deep and measured care. Each of us faces trials, one way or the other, but so few of us face them as you do, in the midst of so much desire to live for the glory of God and to serve his church, and at such a young age. My heart truly goes out to you as my sister in Christ.
I was pondering this morning, especially as I prayed for you in your suffering of this trial, and came across a ancient text from the church father Cyprian. This was written at the time of a great plague, thus the context is very important to it.
It disturbs some that the power of this disease attacks Christians and pagans alike. They think that if a Christian is immune from contact with evils, then he should happily have full enjoyment in this world and age and be preserved for future joy without experiencing all of the contrary things here. It disturbs some that mortality is common to us as well as to others. For what in the world is not common to us and others, as long as we have this body in common, according to the law of our first birth? As long as we are in the world, we are joined equally with the human race in the flesh, but we are separated in the spirit. Therefore, until this corruptible is clothed with incorruption and this mortal receives immortality