Sunday, May 6, 2012

Melanoma NEVER Wins! It ALWAYS Loses!

SCRABBLE is my game; always has been. Growing up it was me and my Daddy at the Scrabble board. Sometimes my Mama and/or younger brother would pull up a chair and attempt to play and give us some competition. But we eventually weeded them out. Daddy and I would have tournaments on up into my teen years. We were cutthroat. If I beat him I knew I had WON! It didn't happen much but when it did, well, I can spell "g-l-o-a-t."

When my children came along, learning Scrabble wasn't an option. They're nine years apart, girl and then boy, and they were different people, so there were some differences in raising...but not when it came to playing Scrabble with them. There wasn't but one way to play and that was my way. Oh, and they started young when just learning to spell.

We played by the rules but if they got stuck and couldn't figure out anything to do with their tiles, and I do mean anything, I'd help them. When I helped them, I worked with their tiles as if they were my own and looked for the best word they could play and for the absolute most points. Even if it cost me a triple points square that I had planned to play on. Even if I could use all seven of their tiles and they got all those points plus the 50 bonus points. I taught them how to play the best game of Scrabble they could and to play to win.

Despite that assistance, I never ever let them win. I was still a cutthroat and if someone, even my child, wins against me, it's a win they've won. It hasn't been handed to them. They knew that. As they grew, the time came when each actually won a game or two (or more) against me. The first time each won they were suspicious of me and I remember each one asking me if I let them win. They couldn't believe they had beat me on their own. No help from me either. They fought and they fought hard. They used what they had to the best of their abilities, stuck with the game through the good tiles and board and through the rotten. They persevered. And when they won, it was glorious and I was proud.

But you know what? When they "lost," I was proud because they still fought hard to win. They gave it all they had right up until the final tile of the game was played and any points on unused tiles were deducted and final scores were tallied. They did their best not to let Mom beat them again. Watching them plot, plan, strategize, and being determined to bring me down made me think of them as winners. Who cared what the score said? My kids were winners because they played like winners and they saw the game through to the end with their heads held high and they knew one day they'd win. They knew that even though it may take a while, they would, one day, bring me down and be triumphant over me.

And that was just Scrabble! And that was just me and my two children! Can we step back, just a moment, and imagine how God must watch His children come up against something like cancer? Like Melanoma?

I'm stage 3b and haven't had to enter that fight for my life but I've watched plenty who have. Many are stage 4 and fighting for life. All people who are stage 4 are at different places with their own melanoma journey. Some are on trials and treatments. Some are fighting the tumors with surgery. Some mix chemicals and surgery. There's gamma knife and radiation. Some have been through these things and are doing well. Some will be engaging the fight for the rest of their lives. Some lives are drawing to a close.

Every day approximately 24 people in the USA alone rest from their battles. That means thousands more are, every day, in the process of laying their battles down. They are people of all ages. Literally. They are people of all races. Literally. We tend to pigeon-hole what melanoma looks like. Look in a mirror. It looks like you. Trust me when I say that if you ever get melanoma and fight the fights my friends have fought and run the races they've run, you will NOT want to be referred to as a "loser," as someone who is losing their battle to melanoma. Has lost their battle.

If I ever hit stage 4 and fight that kind of fight and run through Heaven's Gates of Praise because of melanoma, nobody had better say I lost my battle. I will come back and haunt them. God willing!

In 2 Timothy 4: 7-8a, Paul writes, "I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.  At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me" (Common English Bible).

He fought. He finished. He kept the faith. He won. Say that again! He won. Paul had a champion's wreath waiting for him because he fought, he raced, he finished, he kept the faith.

He fought and raced with God at his side helping him every step of the way and when life wasn't going in Paul's favor, God taught him how to persevere and keep fighting and racing to the very end.

Paul fought a lot of things and endured much. Those of us who fight melanoma to the very end do too.  Paul raced his enemies; sometimes he was a step ahead of them and sometimes they caught up with him and it wasn't pretty. But Paul never threw in the towel. He never quit. Even when he walked to the executioner's block, his head was held high to the very end. He had fought proudly and he had raced wildly. And he won. He won because he kept the faith right up until the end of his life.

All his opponents couldn't kill his faith. Even when his body was killed, his faith saw him through and his faith made him a winner. Nobody has ever called Paul a loser. Nobody has ever said Paul lost his fight or his race. His life is celebrated and remembered and he is heralded as a giant of the faith. In the face of adversity... raw, dire adversity, Paul wasn't deterred. He stuck with God and God stuck with Paul and when Paul was greeted at Heaven's gates, he was handed a champion's wreath, a victor's crown. A symbol of his victory.

Nothing is said about Paul losing to his enemy.

Because Paul's enemy didn't win. It lost. Big time. His body was mortal and it could be killed and it was. Paul's faith couldn't be touched, his spirit was immortal, and Paul will never taste death again.

So why do we say people who die of cancer lose their battle? It's not right and it's not fair.

They fought the good fight. With honor, dignity, and they persevered through much.

They ran the race set before them and they ran it through Heaven's Gates of Praise and were welcomed by God.

They kept the faith. Cancer gave it the best shot it could and tried to kill their faith and couldn't. It could only kill that which will die one day anyway. And I do NOT mean that flippantly! Just honestly. None of us are guaranteed time of any quantity or quality. Not here on this earth anyway.

And God Himself handed them a sign of champions and winners and victors.

How dare we say they "lost?" Cancer could not and did not follow them into eternity. Cancer failed to do the one big thing it wanted to do and that was kill their faith and ruin their relationship with God. Cancer lost the battle against our warriors. Not vice versa. Let's get it straight.

We grieve. We mourn. We cry. But we don't do it over losers.

We do it over winners. That is their undying legacy: The fight. The race. The faith they kept. The crown they won.

And I am grateful!