Friday, April 20, 2012

Keeping The Dream Alive In Melaland

When I was a little girl, I'm sure I had dreams but I don't remember what they were. I went through a phase in first through fourth grades where I wanted to be every "-ologist" known to man. All at the same time. Somewhere around the age of nine or ten I discovered the written word and found I enjoyed writing. While I was the bane of my English teachers all through school because I never understood the parts of speech, I loved to write. On my own time I wrote poems, plays, and short stories. I can't say that I ever dreamed of being a "writer" though. Maybe because I already was one.

It was around this time, when I was between nine and ten, that my mama's younger sister-in-law, my most favorite person in the world, Lou, was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I spent a week the summer I turned eleven with her and her family (my uncle and their two young sons, 3 and 6 months) and witnessed her spells when her blood sugar went whacky. But Lou had this spirit that just drew people to her and at nights their tiny apartment living room would fill up with her friends. I had taken my notebook of my writings with me. I didn't leave home without it if I was going to be gone a while. A week was "a while." Lou was the only person to ever see that notebook. She taught ESL in the DC area and she actually appreciated my work and made me feel like I could write. One evening, to my horror, she shared with her gathered friends that I was a writer. She mentioned a particular poem, but she talked with pride about me and my writing. Pride. And her friends thought that was grand. I loved her all the more from that evening on.

Somewhere around the time I turned twelve, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Even when we received word that she was in the hospital and it didn't look like she would be leaving, I just knew she'd live. I'd been praying from the moment I heard she had cancer, and since I was Carol and I was special to God, well, God was not going to let me down. Even if it came down to the absolute last second of her last breath, God would work a miracle and Lou would live and leave the hospital and all this time would become a faded memory in time.

That didn't happen. I turned thirteen in September, she died in October, and she would have been thirty-two in November. I was at that age where my parents "didn't understand me." Lou did. Now she was gone and to say "God let me down" would be a gross understatement. There was so much I just didn't understand at the time.

Her death set me on a path though and helped shape me into who I am now. One piece of the path was I now had a focus. I was going to go into cancer research and find that damn cure if it was the last thing I did. In tenth grade biology I fell in love with genetics and became convinced that the answer to that elusive cancer cure would be found there. When I enrolled at Meredith College I already had a declared major of Biology with the plan of getting my Masters in genetics and research. I didn't have a plan beyond that but to find that cure for cancer.

Life was stepping in at Meredith but I couldn't see it. Wouldn't you know it, but Religion was required at this Baptist college. I'd been active in my home Methodist church all my life and held just about every position in MYF, even while I was angry enough at God to spit nails. I'd even been part of the Administrative Board with the grown-ups and sang in the adult choir. I was a very good practicing hypocrite. One of the best. I knew my Bible and had maintained an extremely active prayer life, even through the worst of my "glory days." Really. For four years. Guess what? God was big enough. Still is. Always will be.

I loved my Religion classes, hated the Biology ones. Hated Meredith. Was ready to get married. Left Meredith after one year and went back home to plan my wedding and go to Chowan College, majoring in Religion. What? Really. God was laughing hysterically by now, which was OK because we had made up and were now on good terms.

So here I am now, many years later, a Methodist pastor, with stage 3b melanoma, and I find I'm living the dream.

So what has me thinking so much about life's dreams? Bruce Wilkinson's fantastic little book The Dream Giver: Following Your God-Given Destiny. God brought it into my life this week, at the right time, and I recognize where I am and where my church is. I'm looking back and piecing together my life and seeing where God has woven together threads that I thought were frays.

And He has done in spite of me. He has taken giants that were and are in my life and knocked them down to size and used those giants to lead me and sharpen my focus and dream. Some of the giants are still there, I must be honest. Fear, panic, dread are still there. But you know what? So's the dream. And so am I and so is God. I can still live the dream WITH those giants. I don't have to wait for the giants to go away and disappear because they aren't. Not this side of heaven. I'm human for as long as I'm here. Before reading this book, I thought I couldn't live the dream and live it with fear at the same time. God is bigger than the fear, He's the Author of the Dream and as long as I keep putting the dream back in His Hands and follow his lead, I can live the dream with fear by my side because God is also at my side and He's bigger than any fear ever will be.

And I can live the dream with the giant of melanoma present in my life. That's a specter that isn't going to go away while I'm alive. And that giant is the fount from which much of my fear springs from. And it's OK. I'm bigger than melanoma. It's only a part of my life. It's by no means the sum total of me.

So what "dream" am I living? Well, I'm involved in cancer research and finding that blasted cure. But not in the way I thought I would be in high school. That way didn't fit me. I'm not a medical-minded person and I hate needles. I'm not that person and that's the person I would have to have been to go into research the way I first envisioned. I'm a prayer warrior. I'm a person that talks to God, a lot, and I'm not always nice about it. I'm blunt honest. I cry. I get angry. I'm damned persistent and I say "hell" and "damn" and I know as long as I'm honest God can handle my language because that's as rough as I get and He knows when I'm done and calm down I'll apologize. As a teenager grieving Lou I didn't sugarcoat my prayers and God was big enough to handle me and not strike me with lightning and I learned He can handle honesty...it's not being honest with Him that He has a problem with. So I pray for cancer researchers. A lot. Melanoma researchers in particular. A lot. I pray for those fighting melanoma. A lot. I see answers happening. A lot. Not because of me but because God is rallying pray-ers and answering the prayers He's receiving. A lot. He can't answer prayers that don't get prayed. And I've learned and relearned that the prayers aren't always answered to my specifications but God knows what He's doing even if I don't.

Being a pray-er with melanoma has opened doors where I can use my love of writing. Life is pulling together and good comes from bad. And because we don't live our lives in segments, church spills over into melanoma and melanoma spills over into church and family is in the mix and the dream is there and being lived and God is over it all. Whew!

You know something funny? My melanoma world is the only world where I actually write. I don't write my sermons unless they are for a wedding or a funeral. But it all overlaps nonetheless. After all this time God is honoring the dream He gave me. It took a little book to open my eyes and help me see how.

Every one of us has a God given dream. Every one. I do so believe that. And it's a grand dream and it's a dream only you can fulfill in the way you were meant to fulfill it. You have a lifetime, just like the rest of us, to live it. So don't let fear or giants or cancer or particularly melanoma or anything else stop you. The mountains are going to be there but they are not bigger than the God Who placed that dream inside you. The fear isn't bigger. The melanoma isn't bigger. The dream is meant to be pursued and lived with the giants watching. Push through them. Pray them down to size. Expect surprises. Expect God to work. Wherever you are God can work. If you're in the hospital hooked to tubes and needles undergoing treatment, God is still at work using you and He still wants you to live the dream He gave you, even if it doesn't look like what you first dreamed. The thing is, you have to want that too. God may give us the dream but He never forces us to live it. That's our own choice.

God is God. Everywhere for all time. The state of our health and the places we find ourselves are no obstacles for the God of the Universe. And He still is the Author and Creator of us and our dreams.

As I write this, I think Lou is looking at me, reading what I write and being proud.

Her death helped shape me as much as her life did. Cancer didn't have the last word then and it doesn't now.

And dreams don't die just because cancer may become part of our own life. Our dreams may look different than they once did, but they can still be pursued and lived. Cancer doesn't kill our dreams. It doesn't have that kind of power unless we give it that power. And we don't have to do that. At all. Ever.

And I am forever grateful.