Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cancer-Based Love

I am usually a pretty friendly person. I make an effort to be nice to everyone and I am mostly successful. I try to love and not judge, but sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, there are people who just grate on my nerves.

Not long ago I met a man who, to be quite honest, drove me a little insane. I noticed him on the first day of one of my courses at school. He was an older gentleman, and by older I mean older for college. He was probably around fifty and he liked to talk, a lot. Whenever the teacher explained anything, he always had a comment to make or a story to tell that somehow, in his brain at least, related to what we were studying. Every day we heard story after story about his life, and don't get me wrong, they weren't bad stories I just didn't want to hear about them during class time. This gentleman was not in the least bit unintelligent, however, I began to feel agitated every time he opened his mouth because I knew something longwinded would come out. Even when his comments were helpful to my understanding of the subject matter, my annoyance far out-shadowed my thankfulness.

One day, I noticed my class seemed strangely quiet. I scanned the room and unsurprisingly the gentleman wasn't there. I felt a little thrill. For once, I wouldn't have to listen to those stories! The next day, the gentleman didn't return. Nor did he come on the following day or for the rest of the week. I began to feel hopeful that maybe he had dropped the class. The class discussions had changed quite a bit and I can't say I minded that he was no longer there to dominate them.

This Monday, my teacher announced to the whole class that the gentleman had officially dropped the course. I wasn't sad. I wasn't disappointed. I had secretly been hoping for this. But then, my teacher told us why.

The gentleman had cancer and would be needing treatment and operations right away.

And suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I felt like an entire elephant family had just planted itself on my chest. My whole body ached and I thought my heart might explode out of my ribcage and spray on every person in the room.

I had always considered myself a nice person. I had always thought that I tried to love everyone.

But I hadn't succeeded this time. I hadn't loved this fellow at all. Even when he was kind to me and had helpful advice, I couldn't get past my own judgement to listen to it. I had rejoiced in knowing I wouldn't have to deal with him in class anymore.

This gentleman has cancer. This gentleman that I didn't love has cancer and I was happy to have him gone. Can I still call myself a nice person?

No. I can't really say that about myself anymore. Or, more accurately, I can't call myself perfect. I can only call myself human and infinitely flawed.

The problem is that I could only see as far as my limited perception. I could only see my annoyance. I could only understand my frustration.

"If I had only known, I would have responded differently. If I had only known, I wouldn't have felt so annoyed, I would have just loved."

Those were my thoughts after initially hearing the news. Yet, I can see now how infinitely flawed those thoughts are too.

If you only love someone when you find out they are suffering, it's a weak love, a guilty love, a conditional love. That's not the kind of love God asks for and it's not the kind of love I am okay with giving anymore. God asks us to love our neighbor as ourself. He doesn't say love your neighbor if you find out your neighbor has cancer. He doesn't even ask us to love our neighbor because the neighbor might have cancer. God says to love your neighbor. That's it. No questions asked. No conditions. Just love him.

The most beautiful and terrible thing about being human is that you can't ever really know what's going on inside of someone else. You can't ever fully understand the journey that other people have traveled on to get to where they are. You can only see them as they are. And if you judge everyone by your first impression, never truly understanding the intricacy of the joy and pain that knits all of humanity together, you miss out on one of the most spectacular commandments: unconditional love.

I can't go back and change my actions or my attitude toward this gentleman. I can only pray for his life and continue on with my own having learned something of infinite value.

I know now that I can't go on loving in conditions. I can't go on judging first and loving later. I have to love first, and love unconditionally because if I do that, the judgements I would have made in my lack of love, will no longer exist.

If there's anything I want to teach the world from my unfortunate mistake this time, it's just to love your neighbor, always. And I don't mean love your neighbor because you never know if he might have cancer, I mean to love your neighbor unconditionally. Because, in the end your love for your neighbor shouldn't depend on if he has cancer or not.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What Do We Really Deserve?

Have you ever had something happen to you that you felt like you didn't deserve? Has anyone ever treated you poorly without provocation or have you ever been given something extraordinary that you didn't feel like you earned in the slightest?

The idea of deserving is interesting to me. When we do good things do we deserve to have the same amount of good repaid back to us? When we mess up do we deserve to get our own lives messed up? What we do we really deserve and who decides it?

A few weeks ago my friend made a comment about a woman who got an abortion. She said, "Well we all know where she's going. She'll be getting what she deserves."

Those words shocked me. But what shocked me even more was the certainty with which she said this. In her mind, the woman who got an abortion was, without a doubt,  going to hell. She was getting what she deserved. That's it. End of story.

But is that really it? Does that have to be the end? Would Jesus have looked at that woman who got an abortion and said, "What you did was terrible. Good thing you're going to get what you deserve!" Would Jesus have left it at that? Or, would He have lifted her up, pointed her to his Father, and forgiven her? 

The truth is, Jesus died just as much for my white lies as He did for that woman who got an abortion. What if we all got what we really deserved? What if Jesus looked down on all of us with no compassion and said, "Well I sure know where you're all going!" and walked away without looking back.

What would that mean for my life? What would that mean for yours? What if we all truly got the punishment we deserve?

I can only be grateful that the story doesn't have to go like that. It doesn't have to go like that for me or for you or for that woman who got the abortion. I can only be grateful for compassion, for forgiveness, for love. I can only be grateful that we, as humans, have been given the capability to embody these things, even if we must do it in a flawed and infinitely imperfect way.

Not a single person on this earth is entitled to life. Life is a blessing. Each minute of it is a blessing and you can spend it rejoicing in someone's iniquity, or you can show that person forgiveness, you can show that person the light of God.

Before you comment on what someone else deserves, remember what you also deserve, and remember who took the punishment for you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Greatest Blessing You Never Asked For

Why me?

How many times have you spoken that phrase or screamed it inside your head? I've lost count. Up until a few months ago those words were stuck in my heart by the superglue of misery. In high school, they were as much apart of me as breathing was. Every day, I found something wrong with my life and would mutter to myself, "Why me? Why is all of this happening to me?"

I said this when the boy who told me he loved me had a summer fling with another girl, I said this when I lost my best friend, I said this when my parents told me they were splitting up, I said this when I was accused of being a bully and when I got arthritis in my toes at age seventeen. I said this when I sprained my knee, when loved ones passed away, when the boyfriend I'd been in love with for years broke up with me, and pretty much any time my life wasn't going just how I wanted it to.

"Why me, why me, why me?" I'd repeat over and over in my head.

But lately I've been thinking, why not me? Why should any of this not have happened to me. Where would my life be if everything had gone exactly how I wanted it to during the time of my struggle? 

Not here. That's the answer. I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be in the amazing place I am. I wouldn't be writing this blog or going to Africa if I still had a boyfriend to devote my time to over the summer. I wouldn't be nearly as interested in serving others if I hadn't first been accused of being a bully. I wouldn't know half as much as I do now if even one of those things hadn't happened to me. 

I asked, "Why me?" because I could only see as far as my own head. I couldn't fathom that there was a bigger plan for my life. I only knew my plan and my desires. I was looking at the world through clouded eyes, through flawed eyes, through human eyes.

But I know now, that there's a bigger picture and if I got to choose everything that happened in my life, I would never really learn or accomplish anything. I would have nothing to be thankful for because I'd feel entitled to everything. Life would not be a gift. Nothing would be a blessing.

There is something incredible about not getting what you want. There is something fantastic about understanding that you cannot control every circumstance. There is something amazing about realizing that every challenge, every struggle, every heartbreak, could be the greatest blessing you never asked for.

I always used to think that the pain I went through would destroy me. I thought it was going to break me and never realized the amazing place it could take me.

What if we all said "Why me?" for every beautiful thing that happened to us instead of every struggle? What we asked God how we could be so lucky to have so many moments of sheer happiness? What if we asked why we had too many blessings to count instead of why we had to deal with a few moments of hurt? 

I am serving in Africa this summer because of incredible circumstances, and incredible doesn't even begin to describe it. How can this be happening? How can I be so lucky? What were the odds of my sister winning a t-shirt contest? Why am I so blessed? 

Why me?