Last weekend tipped me over and I am still trying to get back up. I am recovering well from the first stem cell transplant, but having my daughter hurt and being completely incapable of taking care of her has hit me hard. What could I do to help her on the day she broke her leg? Nothing. She was cared for by Paul, family and friends while I was in the hospital.
For someone who was taught to be highly independent and self-sufficient, this was emotionally startling. I am not used to being completely out for the count, helpless or totally reliant on others. I am happier when I have my bases covered and when I can help someone else in need.
Or am I? Can you see a lesson coming? I can. Cancer is teaching me at a very deep level to both give and receive service, and the purpose in doing so.
I have learned the lessons of independence, but like every good thing, it can be taken to the extreme. Taken too far, independence is an inward focus. It is pride in my own abilities. It is ingratitude for the contribution of others. It ignores my reliance on God. It is self-satisfaction that no outside help was required, but is also smug justification to avoid service for others.
Fortunately, total independence is out of the question. We had help coming into this world and we will need help thriving here. This weekend helped me to see the divine purpose of interdependence.
Leo Tolstoy tells a short story about Simon, a shoemaker, who went into town to collect on money owed him. He would use the money to buy sheepskin to make a winter coat for his wife. Unsuccessful in collecting the money, he headed home empty-handed. On his way home, he met a man who had no clothes, food or shelter. He invited the stranger into his home, gave him clothes to wear and food to eat – to the great resentment of his wife. He reminded his wife of God, and she relented to have him stay. Michael the stranger became a master shoemaker under the direction of Simon. Several patrons came wanting shoes, including a woman who had twin daughters, one of whom had a crushed foot. Simon, his wife and Michael learned that this woman had rescued the twin girls as babies. Their father had been killed by a falling tree and their mother had died of sickness the same week, crushing the infant’s foot as she died. This gracious woman had taken the girls and loved them as her own, even through the death of her own infant son. Only then did Michael reveal that he was an angel, sent back to earth to learn three truths before he could return. He shared his observations:
“I know that God does not desire men to live apart from each other; and therefore, He has not revealed to them what is needful for each of them to live by himself. He wishes them to live together, united, and therefore, has revealed to them that they are needful to each other’s happiness…
I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love.” What Men Live By, Leo Tolstoy
I am completely overwhelmed by the service and love that has been showered on our family since August. Love is Karen and Brian, who opened their home to me and Esther and James, who opened their home to Megan. Love is Sharon, who anticipates every need. Love is my sister with 5 kids offering to take Megan, completely doped up on Oxycodone and in tremendous pain, into her home after surgery. Love is my friend Kristin coming to care for Megan and staying overnight when my sister caught the flu the very next day. Love is the whole Hudgens family pitching in to help her for an entire week, day and night. Love is Jayson and Michelle helping her next.
Love is Roger fishing Neal out of our pool when he saw him drowning. Love is Tami moving to Mexico and taking care of 7 boys every day. Love is Montse taking Neal to the doctor when mom and dad are both out of town and Melanie and Cliff making a steam tent. Love is SanDee and Tim making sure your children have friends. Love is Angelica and Cecia, self-designated angels to the kids until I return.
Love is Nancy’s flowers and Kristin’s gifts and their great concern and care for me and for Megan. Love is Jenn sending a picture of your child in an email every week from school. Love is Janalee bringing a cheesecake in her carry-on luggage all the way back from New York. Love is big sister visits. Love is Georgia’s favorite shirt and massages.
Love is food and company from Jane, Linda, Robin and Lisa and all of my dear friends from my old neighborhood. Love is music from Ann, Brian, Michael and Aunt Diane. Love is a warm blanket and a pair of fuzzy slippers from SueAnn and Neal. Love is a book from Bill, Shelley and Dad. Love is Esther’s constant friendship. Love is a pair of pajamas from Mom. Love is your visits, emails and phone calls.
Disease can be a blessing. If there were no illness, we would have fewer opportunities and reasons to provide comfort and relief, to become better listeners and more compassionate people. Acts of charity strengthen our relationships, enlarge our hearts and help us find true joy.
It is said that many prayers are answered through the service of others. Our prayers have been answered by you. I see the wisdom in God’s plan for the nurturing of His children – as we care for one another, we all grow. You have taught me a greater way to give; to be more attentive to the needs of others, to take the time to sit and listen, to reach out with greater compassion, to serve without being asked. I have seen you do these things and I will work to follow your lead. Because of your service and sacrifice, I am learning to expand my own heart. Thank you, all.