Look at that portrait of my sister Ruthie and her husband Mike, taken in the hospital the other day. Would you imagine that they were dealing with a Stage Four cancer diagnosis? Look at the light in their faces. That’s how they are.
It occurs to me that the way I’ve been writing about how Ruthie’s dealt with her cancer might make her seem unreal, or that she’s in some sort of denial about the gravity of her condition. It would be inaccurate and misleading to think that she’s got an entirely sunny disposition about all this. There have been lots of tears in this past week, with more to come. I honestly do believe that for Ruthie, nearly all of her sadness has been in thinking about the hurt her condition is causing her family. Our cousin texted me last week and said that if Ruthie makes it through this crisis, it will be because she decided that her dying would inconvenience too many people, so she might as well live. I laughed at that, because it’s true.
I talked to her last night for the first time since I said goodbye on her front porch last Saturday. Her breathing is very labored; she has lung cancer, after all, the particular cruelty of which is exacerbated by the fact that she has never, ever smoked. And she’s exhausted from her treatment and from a nonstop stream of visitors (she likes seeing folks, but if you go by, please be kind and stay only a short time). But her spirits were so light. She told me that she’s reading as many of the comments on these blog entries as she can manage, and that she’s especially encouraged by stories of you readers choosing to reconcile with your families and those from whom you’re estranged, because of her suffering. It tells her that in some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit is working through her suffering for the greater good.
“I know I’m standing right in the middle of God’s will, where He wants me to be,” she said, with complete conviction. Obviously she’d rather be somewhere else — on the beach in Florida, say, with Mike and the kids — but Ruthie has accepted that God has asked her to walk this terrible walk, and she’s going to go forward with faith, hope and courage, come what may.
She is not walking alone. She has a small army walking with her. And just look at the face of the brave man at her side, and rejoice that God has given her such a companion and helpmeet.
If you want to do something for Ruthie, pray, yes, but also forgive someone, ask someone for forgiveness, choose to be kinder to your spouse, your children, make a firm decision to turn away from selfishness, and to love others in a real way. And then write down here what you’ve done so we can all see, and give thanks. She’s reading these threads, and takes courage and inspiration from these stories. It helps her know that her suffering has meaning, and in some way is bringing light and healing into the lives of others, even those she’s never met. I’m stuck here in Philadelphia, unable to help in any practical way, but I can tell you how awesome my sister and her family are, and share with you how they’re handling this crisis — and, with your help, be the conduit of good news that gives her strength to carry the battle forward. We have to carry each other.
Dear God, I love them so much.
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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book "Crunchy Cons." Archives of his previous Beliefnet blog, "Crunchy Con," can be found here. He and his family live in Philadelphia.