Leaving Salem

Marvin had spent more than two weeks in the hospital trying to clear up a clogged lung. When the final test results arrived, he had more than respiratory issues. He had cancer. Marvin wasn’t surprised. I visited him as he recovered from the minor surgery that placed a plastic tube into his chest. This tube will deliver the cancer-killing chemicals to his malignant lung. And while the treatments will not cure Marvin, these will give him a few more months.

“Look here chaplain,” he greeted me holding the end of his newly inserted chemo-line. “They can plug me right in to the cappuccino machine now! I don’t even need a cup.” We had a great laugh, and since it was early in the morning, we spoke of lattes, espresso, and how decaffeinated coffee was a waste of otherwise good water.

“Let me tell you a story,” my friend said. So I pulled up a chair. On previous visits, Marvin had begun to weave the tapestry of his life for me. He had recounted a number of very bad decisions. He spoke of terrible mistakes. And he shared regrets over a life of addiction and squander.

“I was hung over one Sunday morning when my friends came to get me to help them find a lost canoe in the river. We went down to the river, and like fools, plunged in without a thought. It wasn’t long until they were all asleep on the bank, exhausted. But I kept looking for that little red canoe. By myself in the river I got caught in a vortex, and it sucked me under the water. I fought for what seemed like an hour, but I know now it was only for a few minutes. I could see daylight, but couldn’t reach it. I knew I was going to drown. It was then God spoke to me: ‘Son, go on down,’ He said. But I kept fighting. He spoke again, ‘Son, go on down.’

“Finally, with water filling my lungs I gave up and let the vortex suck me down into the river. I popped right out on the surface and just feet from the bank and lived to fight another day.” Marvin just looked at me for a long time. When he broke the silence he said, “I guess it’s true. God looks out for fools and drunks; because I’ve been both of those.”

Marvin will not be cured, but he sure is getting well. He’s healing. There is a difference between the two, you see. A cure is a quick fix, an alleviation of suffering, an elimination of symptoms. A cure will help the body and might add days to life. But getting well, healing, being made whole – this is deeper. Getting well allows one to transcend their sufferings. It empowers the sick to live, even if their disease is never abated. Getting well may not help the body, but it can restore the soul. Marvin is getting well.

Jesus encountered a man not unlike Marvin. The man had been an invalid for nearly forty years, living a life of limitation. Jesus asked him one question: “Do you want to get well?” The man immediately began speaking of his powerlessness, his useless body, his lack of assistance with his disease and with a cure. Jesus ignored these protests and told the man to rise and walk. He was cured, but as the story unfolds, he was also made well. He leaves the pages of the New Testament testifying to the transformation that had overtaken him; a transformation that reached far beyond the physical.

My buddy Marvin left the recovery room testifying himself, about a restored faith in people, in himself, and in his God. I refused to entertain the notion that he was “terminal.” At that moment, with a new diagnosis of cancer and difficult days of treatment ahead, he was very much alive and well.

I hope I get a few more visits with Marvin before his Ultimate Healing. I want to hear more of his stories. I want to learn, once again, of the relentless pursuit of God’s grace. And I want to scrape together the clues of how we can all be healed. “God looks out for fools and drunks.” Amen, Marvin. He sure does.

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