Unxpected Blessings

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

that do?

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!


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