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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Allysa's Story: Suffering from Imperfection

We met in the elevator. She was wheeled into the same waiting room as myself by her grandmother, Elaine. Not much of her hair was left and not much was left for her to smile about either. Her skin was so pale and thin, you could see the viens in her forehead. Hidden behind thick lenses, where the dimmed eyes of a child. No doubt darkened and I suspect, damaged by her treatment. She was feeling sicker than usual and neither Elaine, or her granddaughter, could force a smile. It was the kind of scene you would turn away from if you could. A special kind of horror, a terror every parent hopes never to face, is a child battling cancer. Some unbelievers would use this situation to find an excuse to hate God. Nothing can convince some He isn`t evil. Even if, they are sure He isn`t real. In fairness to them, we offer little in the form of an explanation. If we are really honest,  these kind of struggles are the hardest for believers to make sense of.

Humanity, as audacious as it can be , shyly turns away from suffering every chance it gets. It`s a constant reminder of the fragile reality of our imperfection.  It`s easier to ignore heartache when people remain nameless. We justify ourselves by whispering little nameless thank yous to God for sparing us from the  "curses" like caring for a sick child. Or we just pretend there is no order to the universe and that a loving God couldn't exist amid the tragedies. I couldn`t turn away from this sweet little eight year old. This day, heartache had a name. Heartache`s name was Allysa. For the first few moments, all I could think about was her parents and what they must be going through.  Then, briefly I pondered what my parents maybe feeling as I fight my personal battle with this disease. I found grace in not finding the answers to those questions. Yet, I still asked God to help me understand. What was and still is inescapable was the vision of my own daughters, sitting in her place.  In my mind, I could see them in the wheelchair. I don't even want to suffer the thought.

 She was exhausted from treatment, pain, and nausea. Kneeling down, I introduced myself and offered her a spearmint. "It helps with the nausea," I said. She refused the mint, but replied weakly with her name. She didn`t seem too interested in talking, until I asked "what is your favorite song ?."

"It`s inappropriate," she said as she whispered the title in my ear. Determined to get a smile out of her, because the bible says in Proverbs 17:22" a merry heart does good like a medicine", Sir Cletus can`t mix a lot did his very best at Baby Got Back. God only knows, if I'll ever find a more useful moment for this goofball personality He created me with .

Transformed from the laughter, her sad cold eyes eventually warmed up to a glow. It was a most beautiful transition, like winter turning to spring. She reached  for the spearmint I had offered earlier. Placing it in her fragile little fingers, I asked her grandmother if could I pray for her.  After we prayed together, I really got to know Allysa and Elaine. I tried to bring as much laughter their way as I could, while fighting back the flood of tears that would freely flow the moment I was alone. Overwhelmed by a sense of loss, coupled with the separtion from my daughters during my treatment, I found myself being thankful this wasn't my child. An idea that left me confronting the truth about my own selfishness. In my pityful gratitude, laced with my own personal, convenient, and comfortable desires, I had momentarily forgotten every child is a gift from God. Allysa's parents are lucky to have her. I was very fortunate to have met her.

 I found out, she can`t make up her mind on a favorite color since "they are all so pretty". She thinks Batman is cooler than any other super hero. She is wicked smart. When it came to her treatment and medicines, she had to help her grandmother keep track of important information. I witnessed her, respectfully but correctly, arguing over the details about her treatment. Showing me Allysa`s cheerleading photo, Elaine told me how this little dancer had preformed with the big girls at some of the Celtics` games. How differently she looks now. A shell is all that now remains of the body that houses the same beautiful soul of this princess, a daughter of the one true King. Since she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October, she`s lost 20% of her body weight. During the conversation, I found out Allysa had been abandoned by her mother and father. If that was all someone knew about Allysa, they might convince themselves God doesn`t care. I`m betting every thing, even my whole life, that He does. Before you make up your mind about God, you need the rest of the story. The truth is, we don`t have it and we never will, this side of heaven. Still, at least, there`s more to this particular story.

Allysa, was abandoned by an unfit mother. After spending time in a foster home, her mother decided she wanted Allysa back. Later, the courts would return her to her mother only to remove her again. Eventually, she and her brother, were adopted by her foster family.  It`s highly unlikely she would have ever been diagnosed in time or received the proper treatment had she not been abandoned. Despite looking like hell, (the origin of this disease) Allysa's hair will return. It`s likely she`ll make a full recovery. Upon finding out my cancer doesn't respond to chemo, she rolled her eyes and informed me how lucky I am . "I only have four treatments left and the prognosis is good ", she told me sophisticatedly.  As surely as, I know this is God`s grace in action, I know someone would ask, what about those who don`t recover? Wouldn`t it be better if they had never been born? Why doesn`t God just make things perfect to begin with?

I`d tell you, "He did" if I thought my theology would satisfy intellect or logic. I`d offer a doctrine if it afforded anything that would sooth the emotions of nonbelievers who really care, or believers who really don`t understand anything more than God can`t be understood. In fact, I`d hope you`d never allow anything I say or write draw you into a belief of what you perceive as Christ. Yet, I would still be unable to hide my relationship with and would point you to the one who gives a peace beyond all understanding. Knowing full well, only His spirit can overcome the hate and contempt we have for a creator we do not and cannot fully understand.

Atheist turned theologian, C.S. Lewis, wrote "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering and you find that you excluded life itself." Nothing says more about the human condition than suffering. Contrastingly, Buddha teaches  "the root of suffering is attachment". Perhaps that's why so many children are abandoned. If detachment from people is the cure, I'm destined to suffer only the teachings of Christ. Suffering brings out the worst and best in all of us. It will draw us to, or push us away from God. Jesus is the only God, who shared and endured our suffering and continues to do so. Rejoicing in suffering is a biblical concept. While everyone is running away from suffering, we are taught to run towards it. It's there, in the sufferings of our Lord, we find the cure for what ails mankind. It`s not as crazy as it sounds. In the last four months, I have experienced things and met people that would have never been possible without this cancer and I`m so thankful for it. Life begins in suffering, so you could even say, suffering is natural and perhaps needed. Think of it this way. If the temperature was always perfect, we`d never know the satisfaction of warming by a fire on a bitterly cold night. A refreshing cool dip in the pool would yet to be discovered. In a perfect world, there`d be no underdogs to root for. There would be no winners, because, of course, there could be no losers. No obstacles equates to no challengers and absolutely nothing to aspire to. No heroes. Without the human need to be comforted, there would be no Allysas to turn away from. Meaning we`d never know what it means to show compassion or feel empathy. In a perfect world, void of human needs, there would be no desire to meet her or anyone else. If God had prevented suffering to enter into man`s fallen world, would we even be able to define our humanity? Beauty can only come from ashes if something gets burned in the process. Void of the human experience, what would we become? It`s scary to consider, considering how short we fall with them. Sparing this world from suffering would have prevented sacrifice and denied the birth of Hope. For Hope is born from suffering. Suffering isn't desirable but men rarely desire what is best for themselves. Doesn't a world without suffering sound a lot like a perfectly bland existence with no chance to taste heaven? Suffering brings the hope for heaven. I wouldn`t miss that for the world. Would you ?
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