Dear Members and Friends of Church of the Good Shepherd (COGS), United Church of Christ of Ann Arbor, MI:
I am in awe of you.
I'm not one to try to find the silver lining in having breast cancer. Cancer sucks. I'm not one to wax romantic about all the lessons I have learned about life because of cancer. The primary lesson I have learned is that cancer sucks. I'm not one to try to make people feel comfortable about my cancer. Cancer sucks and it really doesn't do anyone any good to "Hallmark-ize" my experience. I would feel unheard, and you would feel deceived.
Because we all know that cancer sucks.
I didn't want to get breast cancer at 42 and I often wish that my journey didn't take this crazy detour. I wish that the last five months would have been different. I wish I didn't have to have a serious surgery with a hard recovery. I wish that I wasn't going to have to face further treatments that will last for months and years. There is not a doubt in my mind that if given the choice, I would have chosen NOT to get breast cancer.
But I did get breast cancer. And you, all of you at COGS, responded with profound care and concern.
I have been deeply touched by your dozens and dozens of cards and notes. I have been nourished by your terrific and generous meals. I have been lifted up by your prayers and love. You provided rides for my son, ran errands and did yard work. Indeed, you have been church at its best.
I am touched by all of this but I am NOT surprised. I am moved by your responsiveness and tender care, but I expected it. Because I know you.
And that's not why I am in awe of you.
In the 19th chapter of Gospel of John, Jesus was on the way to the cross and he saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved. He said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." The gospel then reports that the disciple took Jesus' mother into his home as one of his family members.
Jesus was on the way to his death, and when he saw the people he loved most in the world, he asked them to take care of one another fully. Fully. Not partially. Not only when it was convenient. Fully and completely. And it was only after this that Jesus knew, "that everything was completed (CEB, John 19: 28a)." After that, he was able to surrender.
You see, to minimize the disruption of having your pastor on medical leave, I worked with lay leaders to get structures in place. I helped plan worship, get Stewardship and Budget season going. I worked with our administrator, Liz, to be sure she had everything she needed for my medical leave. But I never said, "You are each other's family." I never said, "Remember you are family."
It never crossed my mind to remind you to take tender care of one another.
But that is exactly what you did..
You took care of church business as you always have and always will.
You dealt with the inevitable bumps in the road with cheer and humor.
You were patient and kind in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity.
You reached out to one another with food and prayer and presence.
You made music and prayed and preached and worshiped.
You wrote budgets and put siding on the the church building and made coffee.
You sat with the dying and comforted the grieving.
You were family. Not perfectly, but faithfully.
I am in awe.
And I am not surprised.
Here is your mother, your father, your son, your daughter, your grandparent and your friend in Christ.
Thank you, God, for your church.
Above image was created by Liz Bergren, office manager of COGS and graphic designer/artist.