Culturally, we have compartmentalized religion. Religion or "Faith" is something you might do in connection with an institutionalized system of beliefs. If you do not adhere to a collective system of beliefs, then you can consider yourself non religious, which is culturally safer. Religions often carry deeply negative connotations, yet "spiritual" seems innocuous since it can disconnect an individual to any negative histories tied to religious institutions. We can easily agree that we arenonreligiousl as we daily try to figure out why we are here and how we can live in such a way to be fully human.
Yet, the areligious guise of cultural spiritually is actually deeply religious as we still seek to worship something. Cultural leaders are preaching from their pulpits (movies, advertisements, news sites, neighbors...) telling us and our children "you can be anything you want to be... just believe in yourself... do whatever makes you happy...you only live once... you deserve it."
The iGeneration was born from the late 1990's to 2012. Parents have given this generation more freedoms, instant gratification and escapes from discomfort and boredom. Many from this generation have followed the cultural religion of self, and as a result, we have seen massive increases in mental illness (Ted Talk). And for children born after 2012, we have yet to name that generation. I can't help but wonder what will come next, as I saw a parent quell a crying one-year-old in a stroller this weekend with a video on her cell phone.
In this email, I will not go into the chat on Wednesday. I simply want to ask unsettling questions. What appetites are we creating when we pursue our children's constant happiness? Are we pursuing their happiness or our own happiness (aka "happy baby means happy parent)? What happens when we aren't happy? Do we flourish when we live for ourselves? What happens if my son actually can't make it to the NBA (my genes) or will not become the president (my bank account)? What about the children 15 minutes away at MUSC's cancer center? What is life truly about and what does it mean to be truly human? Is there really such a thing as trustworthy truth that transcends beyond an individual? What if that truth can also transcend beyond horrible things people have done in the name of that truth? Can that trustworthy truth transcend our own broken relationships, broken bodies, and broken dreams?
I would like to share an email I received this morning written by my sister-in-law. For brief context: 6 1/2 years ago this family of 5 was serving as medical missionaries on the Congo/Ugandan border serving families with sickle cell anemia, AIDS, malnutrition, infant mortality... They moved there when their oldest was 5 and their youngest was 3 months old. In 2012 they returned for 6 months, only to still be stateside 6.5 years later. What we believed was a parasite that upset my brother's health turned out to be stage 4 colon cancer... He is currently undergoing barbaric chemotherapy for the 4th time. How does their email intersect with the tough questions I just shared?
Six years ago today, Travis underwent surgery to remove the cancerous part of his colon.
We call this our cancerversary.
While this journey has been difficult, we are thankful that Travis is one of the miraculous outliers and is here today to celebrate life with us.
I was recently listening to the Wendell Berry poem entitled "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" and when the last line was uttered, I balked. That was it. That was Travis. That was us.
In the poem, Berry speaks to living a life "that won't compute." He rallies his reader to "Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing...Plant sequoias...Expect the end of the world. Laugh...[and] Be joyful." But it was his last admonition that gave a name to what we do every two weeks:
Travis was thinking over these words when he and the kids were having their ritual "hot tub conversations." The hot tub has been tremendously helpful for decreasing the chemotherapy pain and increasing focused time with the kids. There are three rules of the hot tub: 1. No peeing 2. No fussing. 3. Ask any question you want.
That night, Travis asked the kids what questions they had. It was quiet. Then Lilli said she felt kinda bad even asking the question, but Travis reminded her of rule 3. She said that she knew that Jesus went to the cross because of his intense love for us.
But if Jesus knew that after his death, he would resurrect and be, once again, with the Father and with us, then did that knowledge make his love any less?
Travis paused and then explained it this way:
Every two weeks, he has to ride in a car to a place that he hates. He even has to take medicine to calm him down just so he can go through the doors and sit in the chemotherapy chair. He hates the chemo drugs as they go in his body. He dreads the nausea. He gets anxious about the muscle and joint pain that is coming. He has foreboding about the other terrible side effects that come every two weeks. He wants to run away from every single part of the process.
But each time he walks through those doors and sits in the chair, he reminds himself that he is doing this chemo for Amy, for Lilli, for Patton, and for Aidan. He knows that in order to be with his family, he has to endure the pain that his body will receive. He has to experience a death in order to experience life. Every two weeks.
He practices resurrection.
So, to Lilli, he shared what the author of Hebrews says: that Jesus "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (12:2).
He practiced resurrection.
It is because of that love that Jesus was willing to go to his death. He dreaded it so much that he sweated blood. And it was for the joy of being with the Father and us that he was willing to endure the pain. That future joy is what defines the current hope.
Today, we pause to thank God for His nearness in these 6 years of fighting cancer. It has, and continues to be, an uncertain path.
Last month, the NIH called and said that the T cells from Travis's lungs did not respond to the immunotherapy, so he is no longer on the trial. They will keep his cells and we continue to pray for a breakthrough. That very disappointing news came the same week that I was in a terrible car wreck (I am ok), we celebrated birthdays (yahoo!), found mushrooms growing under our dishwasher (what?!), and did chemo (whew).
This week, we received the encouraging news that Travis's CEA (cancer marker in the blood) is down to 9. That is incredible! We pray that in the next two treatments, it will continue to decrease. After chemo 12, Travis will have a scan and reassess.
In honor of today's cancerversary, we are sharing with our friends at Christ School Bundibugyo, by joining the 365 Club. Here's a link to the video and siteif you would like to celebrate in this way with us.
Thank you for continuing to pray for the miracle of complete healing.
With steadfast joy,
Amy and Travis