Monday, June 18, 2012

My Melanoma Theology

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines theology:
1: the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God's relation to the world
2a : a theological theory or system <Thomist theology> <a theology of atonement> b : a distinctive body of theological opinion <Catholic theology
3: a usually 4-year course of specialized religious training in a Roman Catholic major seminary

What follows is a look at my personal study of God in relation to my melanoma. Almost four years down this road I'm on, and will be on for the rest of my life, be it months or years. This is not reflective of where I was four years ago. I barely remember that person. And it is mine and mine alone. There will be readers who don't agree with me on much, if anything. There may even be some who vehemently disagree with me. There will be others who nod along a little or a lot. This isn't meant to provoke anyone, stir up arguments, give anyone ammunition against someone else, it isn't even meant to raise a chorus of "Amens!" It's simply offered as how God is moving in me and using what I give Him to work with, which is a 52 year old person with a lot more questions than answers and one who's constantly seeking to give this leg of my journey meaning. I'm the type of person that I have to do that. Not everyone is. Some people can go with the flow. My flow has to have purpose or I can't go with it. 

I don't believe God "gave" me melanoma in any way, shape, form, or fashion or semantics. I don't believe for a second that God "chose" me for this. I don't think this is God's "will" for me either. Or His "plan." Personally, I think He started out with a "plan" and I've gotten in the way of it so many times over the course of my 52 years that we're now on "Plan Triple Z." And because God is always light years ahead of me, He factored in all those times and my free will (which has been really "free-falling" at times) and has had to expend way too much time and energy getting me back on track. I think I'm only, just now, getting around to the original "Plan A."

Plan A, all along, has been a close and getting constantly closer walk with Him. Seeing God everywhere I look. Learning to hear His voice above all others. Trusting His wisdom even when it conflicts with my own "wisdom" and desires. That's Plan A. 

Plan A was born with a mole. God's Plan A included me listening to the mother, and also the father, and later the husband, but mainly the mother in my life. She was always the most constantly nagging voice about that mole, particularly in my teen years. And my twenties. Shoot, even my thirties and into my forties. I've learned now that I should have recognized God's voice in there from the beginning, but I didn't. God's Plan A for me, all along, was not to have melanoma. Melanoma was not God's will for me. God's will was for me to take my family history into account. God's will was for me to be obedient to my parents and have that mole removed. I was the one who said, "Leave me alone. It's just a mole for crying out loud! It's not going to kill me or anything!" That was my voice. God's voice sounded like Bettie saying, "It's going to give you trouble one day. Please get it removed so it won't."

The day I heard the voicemail from the doctor at Duke Urgent Care, where that mole was removed when I was 48, tell me I had melanoma and he had made me an appointment with an oncologist at Duke to see what we were dealing with, I didn't say "Why ME, God?" I've honestly never said that. I had all the ingredients for this recipe: I didn't follow God's directions on how to do this His way and made a really lousy "cake" as the sunburns as a teen, mole, and family history blended together in a really awful way. I understood the "why me?" On the other hand, and I don't know if this will make sense to anyone but me, I was surprised that "Carol Taylor" got melanoma. I thought I was special. I had watched that mole change dramatically and I had done a lot of praying about that mole while I hid it. I added "in Jesus' name" to those prayers as if that were a magical incantation that was supposed to assure an answered prayer and melanoma not be in that mole. I even went so far as to pray, many times over the course of a few months, that "OK Holy Spirit, You're here with me and we agree that there's no melanoma in this mole that's doing weird things. You promise where two or more are gathered and we're two and we're gathered...so...in Jesus' name, I claim no melanoma. Amen!"

I was guilty of piecing together Scripture, out of context, and making God promise what I wanted Him to promise. And He didn't. He's not obligated to keep promises that I make and attach His name to. He's obligated to keep His promises as He makes them and understands them. And I have learned, as I have witnessed and trusted, that He keeps the better promise. My ideas tank next to God's reality. The anchor holds.

I learned that God didn't suspend the Laws of Melanoma for me. He could have. But honestly, He suspended them for a few decades. He gave me every chance in the world to not get this and I made the choice and said "no" to removing the mole while I could BC...before cancer. Ironically I ended up having the mole removed anyway, along with a chunk of flesh that I would have kept had I done it when God and Mama, and God through Mama, first started bugging me. Not to mention that had I dealt with this on God's original timetable, I would have kept my 27 lymph nodes and not be living with lymphedema on top of stage 3b melanoma.

God's will all along, for me, had been no melanoma, but when I refused to listen, eventually God allowed it and didn't stop it. Instead, He opened the doors I needed opened to have it removed in the best available place that put me in the best system for me...the Duke system, where I've remained these close to four years. 

Plan A didn't include melanoma. Plan B incorporated it into my life because I ultimately, and unknowingly, rejected Plan A. And remember, this is just my growing understanding of my personal story. It's not meant to fit anyone but me.

God allowed this. He didn't cause it. He didn't give it to me. It wasn't His will or plan. But, and follow me here, when the plan changed and I didn't obey His will (getting the mole removed long ago), and melanoma became part of my life, and the plan now had to incorporate melanoma, His Will then became using this disease in a way that will bring me closer to Him and help me hear His voice clearer above other voices and trust His wisdom as I travel melanoma road. His Will became to use this to His glory and not allow melanoma the last word (as if it could ever have that anyway).

And, He's doing that. I can finally and confidently say I'm living into God's will and I'm definitely part of a plan and Plan Triple Z is circling back to Plan A. I've learned a lot about prayer and God's promises, with a lot left to learn. I am so that child looking through a mirror dimly. But the important thing is that I'm looking and growing. It's easy to get stuck and think we've got God figured out and we know "this" and we know "that." Been there! Still visit there!

I've learned I was so superficial, even as a person of faith and as a pastor, before melanoma. And I've learned that I am special. We all are. I'm so special that God decided to not suspend the Laws of Melanoma for me any longer than He already had, but while allowing melanoma to do whatever it will do in my particular body, He's going to open doors and He's going to redeem it, transform it, and use it to accomplish His will over melanoma. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this disease is serving a Godly purpose because God decided I'm special enough to use in such a way as to use it redemptively. 

And I'm good with that. We all have storms in life. Storms, by nature, aren't fun to be out in. Some can last rather long and be deadly. They can be damaging. That's their nature. But storms actually have a purpose in the natural order that God set in place. Forces of nature don't take notice of where humans have set up housekeeping. They do what they are designed to do and there are reasons for them. Earthquakes have purpose. So does fire. And while I, personally, don't understand "melanoma" to be from God's hand, it is a "storm" that can come into a life. While its purpose is to kill the body and bring as much chaos, pain, and damage as possible to a body, God can also use it to draw us closer to Him and find Him to be a faithful shelter in the storm. God can use it to increase our prayer life and draw us into His promises as they are and not as we may wish them to be.

Melanoma, as all storms, are temporary. We are vapors that are here today and gone tomorrow, grass that grows and withers, flowers that fade. Our mortal bodies are just that. Mortal. Melanoma makes that truth hit home like nothing else! Carol Taylor's body won't last here forever. That was part of the plan no matter what. Plan A makes allowances for our mortality because Plan A looks beyond this earthly body.

Sometimes we have to try on several "plans" before we circle back to Plan A. I always knew, theoretically, that I wouldn't be here forever. It wasn't until melanoma that I grasped that and actually applied that principle to me.

But I've also had hit home time and time again, that being a person of faith isn't about looking beyond this earthly present and doing nothing but longing for that heavenly home. That cheapens the journey. We're here for a reason and that's to point to God. And that's also a big part of Plan A that I'm beginning to truly understand as I never did BC. Melanoma has no reason to want to point to God, but a person of faith with melanoma does. It's not about me. It's about God's will being done in my life and that means every part of my life.

I have to see God using this. I have to look at this theologically. There will be people who can't bear to bring God into the picture because they can't associate Him with melanoma in any sense. I have to. I'm not always comfortable with where this takes me. I've stretched in ways I never thought I'd stretch and I'm not known for being pliable. I've gone so far out of my comfort zone that I'm not sure I even have a comfort zone anymore.

But that said, God has blessed the journey and I can't ask for anything more. And the journey goes on.

Gratefully so.