Ruthie Leming's Bright Sadness

What if you woke up one morning from surgery to learn that you have Stage IV lung cancer. What do you do? If you were my sister, Ruthie Leming, who faced this crisis in the spring of 2010, you would keep calm and trust God.


You are 40 years old, married to your high school sweetheart, and the mother of three beautiful daughters. You are near the end of your second decade as a middle-school teacher, a career that has given you great personal satisfaction, and earned you the love and respect of your entire community. You are healthy, happy, and whole.

And then you wake up one morning from surgery to learn that you have Stage IV lung cancer.

What do you do?

If you were my sister, Ruthie Leming, who faced this crisis in the spring of 2010, you would keep calm and trust God.

Ruthie’s cancer was very, very bad -- and in women as young as she, and who had never smoked, very, very rare. Nothing about it made sense. But from the very beginning, Ruthie believed that there was reason in this catastrophe, even if none of us could see it. And in that was her hope.

Gerald Miletello, the doctor who would be her oncologist, broke the news to Ruthie in the recovery room. He was startled by her reaction. “She was very accepting, she was not angry,” Dr. Miletello remembers. “Ruthie just turned this over to her doctors, and to God.”

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Later that day, in her hospital room, Ruthie and her husband Mike told their children the news. The sisters screamed and sobbed, but Ruthie, steadfast and serene, told them, “Girls, we are not going to be angry at God.”

Ruthie did not know why God allowed this cancer to enter her life. But she knew that He was with her, and always would be. That was enough.

Days later, sitting with my little sister on her front porch in the south Louisiana countryside, she observed that her diagnosis came on Mardi Gras day – the eve of Ash Wednesday. “I guess this is my Lent,” she mused.

Lent is the sorrowful Christian period of prayer and fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday, and ends with Easter. Ruthie, a Methodist, meant that her cancer fight would be a period for her to reflect and draw closer to God. She intended to use this time as an opportunity to bring good from cancer’s evil.

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