It may sound strange, but on this first day of Advent as we are all looking to the manger, I can’t help but also look toward the Garden of Gethsemane.
Stranger still, for me, the Garden of Gethsemane looks less like a collection of flora and fauna and more like a 10ft by 10ft room with a skinny window and white walls covered in Harry Potter quotes and framed Pokemon cards. And for me, Good Friday wasn’t in the spring but, rather, on Friday, September 20th, 2019, and my Cross, the cup that I begged the Lord to take from me, was a stage 2/3 cancer diagnosis. At 33. The same age Jesus was when he was betrayed.
The weekend of my diagnosis, when I couldn’t sleep and those closest to me were all sleeping soundly in my house, I curled up on my folded-out futon in my office, in my garden, and I felt just like Jesus when I looked up at that ceiling and cried out to God asking why He had abandoned me.
Just then, an idea flashed across my mind, no doubt in hindsight a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Call 211 Big Bend, a 24-hour support phone line. I rolled over, grabbed my phone in the dark and hit the three numbers and waited patiently. After a few seconds, a sweet nursing student named Kathrine answered. I quickly explained to her that I had just been diagnosed with cancer and I was feeling very alone and, you guessed it, hopeless.
After an hour of her validating my feelings and walking me through breathing exercises to bring my anxiety down, we ran out of things to talk about. So I turned the conversation from me to her.
“So, Kathrine,” I said, clearing my throat and wiping away some residual tears. “I don’t want to be alone and so I can’t hang up with you, so! Tell me about you! Why did you decide to volunteer for 211 Big Bend?”
Upon this request, I could tell Kathrine was shifting in her seat a little bit, clearly uncomfortable with this unconventional role reversal.
“Well,” she began cautiously, “I guess I just…” She was clearly struggling. “I guess I just like helping people?”
“Of course,” I said, kind of disappointed.
“Okay, actually…” she offered, acknowledging my dejection. “Do you want to know the REAL answer?”
I straightened up on that futon. “Of course!”
“I decided to volunteer for 211 Big Bend, and to also go to nursing school, because when I was four years old I was diagnosed with a very rare, aggressive, cancer.”
My jaw fell open.
“The nurses, doctors, and counselors I met during treatment changed my life. I wanted to do exactly what they did for me for other people.”
I kept silent. Stunned. Of all the middle-of-the-night volunteers that could have answered my call, I got the one who had beaten cancer. As a child, no less.
“That’s… that’s amazing,” was all I could eek out as tears collected in my eyes.
For the next hour, Kathrine and I chatted about what I could expect in treatment, and she proclaimed a truth, a HOPE over me, that has continued to carry me through, even to this very moment where I am looking back at six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy and also staring down two major surgeries and five more months of chemo.
“Today isn’t the day of your diagnosis,” she declared. “It is your first step toward remission.”
And suddenly, the fear and anxiety I was feeling started to slowly be replaced with hope. Hope for healing and remission, sure, but also hope in a God who hears the cries of his children in their gardens of anguish.
My diagnosis was my first step toward remission and today, the first day of Advent, is our first step toward Resurrection.