I received this in an e-mail today and had to share.
Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings
When you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change.
Tony Snow | posted 7/20/2007 02:30PM
Commentator and broadcaster Tony Snow, who died on July 14 after a 3 year battle
with colon cancer. Following his initial surgery in 2005 and chemo-therapy,
Snow joined the Bush administration in April 2006 as press secretary.
Unfortunately, on March 23 Snow, 51, a husband and father of three, announced
that the cancer had recurred, with tumors found in his abdomen-leading to
surgery in April, followed by more chemotherapy. Snow went back to work in the
White House Briefing Room on May 30, but resigned August 31. CT asked Snow what
spiritual lessons he has been learning through the ordeal.
Blessings arrive in unexpected packages-in my case, cancer.
Those of us with potentially fatal diseases-and there are millions in America
today-find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while
trying to fathom God’s will. Although it would be the height of presumption to
declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and
The first is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the why
questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We
can’t answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more
to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.
I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is-a plain
and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and
stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of
our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.
But despite this-because of it-God offers the possibility of salvation and
grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to
choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator
Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send
adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you.
Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear
partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get
To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life-and
that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We
accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs
even within many nonbelieving hearts-an intuition that the gift of life, once
given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special
privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to
live-fully, richly, exuberantly-no matter how their days may be numbered.
Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of
simple, predictable ease-smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see-but God
likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in
predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension-and yet don’t. By
his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and
stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and
joy we would not experience otherwise.
‘You Have Been Called’
Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear
away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side.
“It’s cancer,” the healer announces.
The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa.
“Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler.” But another voice
whispers: “You have been called.” Your quandary has drawn you closer to God,
closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter-and has dragged into
insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our “normal time.”
There’s another kind of response, although usually short-lived-an inexplicable
shudder of excitement, as if a clarifying moment of calamity has swept away
everything trivial and tinny, and placed before us the challenge of important
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You
discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft.
Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief
teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and
epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating
trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his
sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.
There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue-for it is through
selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we
ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.
Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the
prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for
Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the
cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our
We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us-that we acquire
purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us
partway there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also
gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that
people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while
loved ones accept the burden of two people’s worries and fears.
Learning How to Live
Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God’s arms not with
resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how
to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and
authority of love.
I sat by my best friend’s bedside a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him
away. He kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the Book of Common
Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his family, many of his old friends, and at
least one priest. Here was a humble and very good guy, someone who apologized
when he winced with pain because he thought it made his guest uncomfortable. He
retained his equanimity and good humor literally until his last conscious
moment. “I’m going to try to beat [this cancer],” he told me several months
before he died. “But if I don’t, I’ll see you on the other side.”
His gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn’t promise
us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity-filled with life and love we cannot
comprehend-and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us
toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.
Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we
be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and
strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in
things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things
When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer
warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the
receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it.
It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back
of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just
know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us
up-to speak of us!