Friday, March 23, 2012

A Year In The Life Of Melanoma Prayer Center

One year ago today Melanoma Prayer Center opened on Facebook. As usual, God didn't hand me a script and say "this is how it's to be." No. I'm not that lucky. I had a mission in mind and that was to be a spiritual resource and prayer support for people with melanoma, their families, and their medical teams, and for melanoma research. Which meant I had to learn all I could, for my one brain, about melanoma and I had to learn where the better resources are. And I had to continue learning people.  I had to learn that setting myself up as a spiritual resource for a very diverse group of people meant I had to draw on everything I've learned as a pastor about relating to the hurting, the sick, and the dying.  I had to draw on my time as a volunteer hospital chaplain and as a volunteer Hospice chaplain. I had to learn to be open and honest in a format that's not face-to-face about the facts of life. And death. And everything in between. And do it in a culture that is often far less than honest.

I had to get comfortable talking about my own melanoma in every context imaginable which meant shedding some of my personality. I'm an introvert. And I'm not someone who is comfortable sharing personal stuff. I'm not, by nature, comfortable hearing personal, intimate stuff about others. I had to get it through my head that "who I am" isn't important because this isn't about me. I had to grow into who I am meant to be because this is about other people.

I've had to relearn things I already knew, but relearn them to fit the world of Facebook. Facebook is a blessing, but it can also throw curve balls. And a ministry to a group of people from various walks of faith or possibly no faith, as well as with different stages of this disease, isn't always easy. But it is always a blessing. To me. My 21 year old College Kid tells me there's no such thing as true altruism...all altruism is rooted in selfishness.

Melanoma Prayer Center certainly is. While it has a stated mission, the first mission in my mind was to diminish that which sought to diminish me. I'm a prayer warrior in other realms and I could bring that gift against melanoma on behalf of others and on behalf of research.

Along the way, in this past year, I've learned a lot from the people God has brought my way via MPC.

God's love for us is unfathomable! His timing is beyond perfect and He has a way of working in our lives that's individually tailored to suit each child. Even when things aren't what we want and hope for, or even pray for, God knows how to handle each child of His. I've had a ringside seat to more than people realize because there's more that goes on than the obvious comments and posts people leave. I get the messages and emails. I get the notes through this blog. I even get phone calls.

I've learned God is definitely NOT one-size fits all and MPC isn't either. Folks may not see the prayer requests, but often, needs that are communicated to me in private are reflected in the prayers and words of encouragement. Often things I pick up on when I zoom through cyberspace are reflected. If one person is going through something, literally thousands are going through something similar and can relate. So take the wheat and leave the chaff each day when you look at MPC. Some prayers aren't going to fit where you are, the music choice for the day may not be exactly what you need. But they do help someone else. If your needs aren't being met, please let me know. I really do take requests! I've written notes because some one said they needed something about a particular topic. Prayers are often tailored to particular people or particular legs of the journey.

I've learned we're all special to each other and, may I repeat, we're infinitely special to God. The melanoma community is a supportive, loving community that seeks to help each other and be there for each other. In our own ways. And we learn each other. We all have something unique and wonderful to offer, we may just need a little help plugging in. Remember: someone needs what YOU have to offer! Promise! You are where someone else is moving to and you can help pave the way! And we all need to know we are not alone!

I've seen tremendous advances in research and treatment options and the determined-to-live human spirit that will do anything to kill the beast and live another day. I've learned we live with a determined disease and we have to be honest about that. We have to know our enemy. But we also have to know our God.

I've learned MPC is for all people of all faiths or no faith. I am who I am and I'm a Methodist (mainline Christian) pastor, but I do my best to make people comfortable and I hope people don't think I shove my beliefs down throats. That's not what MPC is about. It's about hope and comfort and building community and pointing people to the help and resources they ask for and need. The mission has grown and evolved. It is what it is needed to be at any given time for any given person.

I've learned we are definitely all over the map! Some of us have gotten a melanoma scare. Some are recent diagnoses, anywhere along the staging spectrum. Some are the family and/or caregivers. Some are experiencing a season of NED, some are dealing with active disease, some have advanced in their staging, some are in the death process and are dealing with their coming death. I'll level with you, it's not easy to write and admin a page that tries to say something each day that will speak to each person, somehow, where they are. Some days I don't. Days when I deal with death can be particularly difficult for some people.

Whether we die from melanoma or not, whether we die today, next year, 50 years from now, we will all die. Our culture wants us to ignore that or pretend we can have plastic surgery forever and if we "look young" we'll stay young and cheat death, but that's not the honest world I live in as a pastor. And it's not the way the universe works. This journey we are on demands honesty. Burying heads in the sand is dangerous.

I've learned honesty is easy, but it's not always well-received, and in all honesty, it's not always easy. And that may not make any sense. It's not easy to become a friend with someone and be one of the people they talk to as their disease progresses and life moves toward death. Sometimes I'm the only person they talk with about that (or so they tell me). It's not easy to hold their heart in that thin place but it is a blessing beyond belief. And it's hard as hell when I learn of their death.

I've learned our hearts are big places. Far bigger than we can imagine. We can rejoice together over one warrior's great news and, at the same time, cry with another warrior when their news is horrible. We can stand together because we are one.

And we stand, where we are, who we are, with God standing with us giving us strength, hope, comfort and compassion. All of which is to be internalized and all of which is to be reflected and shared with others we meet along this road. For MPC is not all about me at all. Hopefully I get lost in it.

It's about God, first and foremost. It's about Him using a very imperfect person to rally the warriors to remind us that He is definitely with us. And it's about those of us who travel the road where melanoma resides. Without those who lift each other up, MPC is nothing. It doesn't matter if you "like" the page or not, and it doesn't matter if you "like" a particular post or not. What matters is that you let it remind you that God is Love and to share that love by praying for others and yourself against melanoma.

Prayer is our first line of defense. Never apologize because "all I can do is pray." Apologize if you don't pray. Don't apologize for needing prayer and saying so. Apologize if you think you don't need prayer or if you think you "shouldn't ask for prayer because so many are so worse off."

Prayer is the greatest tool God has put at our disposal. Prayer moves God's Throne. He tell us to pray! He wants to hear our prayers! God empowers our prayers with His holy and mighty power...that's where the power in prayer is...it's in God. Don't deny God's power in your life or in the lives of others! Rely on it. Grow in it. Use it every chance you get!

And be grateful!