Last Monday, I was at Duke’s Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic for an appointment near the one-year anniversary of my stem-cell transplant. Over the last month or so, in ways which have surprised me, I have been reliving the hard and surreal experiences I had in Durham last summer. My mind and heart have been residing in “then and there” and “here and now.” It has been challenging to live simultaneously in both places and seasons.
It has also been a gift, especially to have the opportunity to strengthen my claim on the possibility of “new birth” and “new life” which the stem cell transplant gave and continues to symbolize. In a recent post, I wrote about how meaningful and hopeful it was for the Duke transplant team to call the day I got back my previously-harvested stem cells a “second birthday.” On the back of the T-shirt they gave me to celebrate that milestone, there is a large cancer ribbon and the words: “Extreme Makeover: Stem Cell Edition.”
I’ve felt called and I’ve been determined to make use of cancer and its treatment as an opportunity to be “made-over”—to cooperate with the ways in which this experience may be a crucible of transformation.
Sometimes, the process feels like being “worked over” or “run over,” more than “made over.” The difficulty of it, and my occasional resistance to the necessary changes it brings, can be daunting. For the most part, thought, “Frank” (my cancer’s nickname) and the Holy Spirit, in an unlikely but effective partnership (they have vastly different methods!), are teaching me at a pace with which I can keep up and in a way that nudges me forward into new and renewed life.
Last Monday, close to my “second second birthday,” I got an initial round of “baby vaccines” (and I will have “boosters” in a couple of months). When the high-dose chemotherapy I received last year wiped-out my immune system, I lost any residual benefit from childhood immunizations. So, my now toddler-aged immune system needs to be immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough, and a whole range of other infections that young children typically experience.
I am wondering about what “immunizations” I need to receive for the living of my “new life.” From what spiritual and emotional “infections” do I need protection?
And what about the whole idea of “protection”? That word has long-been a muddler for me; it confuses as much as it clarifies.
I don’t believe that we can expect unbreakable protection from problems, perplexity, and pain. Trouble comes to us all; some of it we bring on ourselves, and a great deal of it comes apparently at random, from the broken and unfinished creation.
I do believe, though, that we can experience, in our practices of silence and prayer; in our encounters with the Divine, with beauty, and with goodness in both worship and creation; and, especially, in the wonders of genuine love, enough occasional refuge to rest and sufficient temporary shelter in which to regain hope.
An interactive, reflective, and active trust in God’s love and mercy shields us from—immunizes us against—the fear that we are alone, the anxiety that life is meaningless, and the threat of joylessness.
Whatever else it means that God raised Jesus from the dead, it means that even the most abject forsakenness gets taken up into the arms of Holy Love, that Purpose courses—sometimes deeply hidden but nonetheless real—beneath the stream of history, and that we live, always, in the glad dance and sacred laughter in which we and the world began.