Life and Death

I can still hear the doctor’s voice, repeated in my head. “If your biopsy returns with evidence of cancer, you may have anywhere from two to ten years to live.”

A few days later, I received a voicemail from the doctor’s office requesting me to come in for a consultation. I didn’t get the message until the office had closed, and I listened again to the message.

I’ve had two panic attacks in my life. 

The first time I ever had a panic attack, I was delivered some crushing news by four men whom I had once considered to be my closest friends. I began to hyperventilate, and stumbled outside and fell into a snowbank, unable to breathe. I thought I was having a heart attack, but I realize now that it was just an emotional bomb detonating in my brain.

The second time was in 2014, when I received an email that a “storm was coming…” and that my life was about to change forever, followed by a series of accusations against my character. Some of the grenades were full of smoke, false alarms. Others were time bombs with fire and shrapnel and unconfessed sin. My sin was about to be exposed, and my whole world was about to cave in.

The panic attacks were not false alarms. They were real threats resulting in concrete pain. All of the things I once held dear had become eviscerated in a slow unraveling of my deepest shame. I could blame no-one, and collapsed into a plea of guilt.

It has taken three years to rebuild the foundation of my life. The infrastructure of the first half of my life had been shattered, and like pieces of a puzzle coming together – grace has been recapitulating a story that is still being written.

I’m finding grace in unexpected places. In a vintage typewriter with errors in ink; whiteout. In a criminal record with sins exposed; expunged. In divorce and remarriage with baggage in blood; forgiveness. It’s true, grace sneaks up on us from behind, and in the dark.

So when I heard the recent announcement that I might have cancer, I presented an attitude of fearless indifference. But that night I could not sleep. I tossed and turned for hours. Two to ten years? 

“Dear God, “I thought. “I am not even close to being ready to prepare for my death.” I began to think about all of the things that I have yet to accomplish. I want to walk my daughters down the aisle. I want to see their children grow strong and proud. I want to give them a last name that they can be proud of, not defined by google or Siri or MLive – but by the saturation of redemption! I ache for the reconciliation of relationships, and the restoration of my spiritual gifts. I miss the local church. I miss the Lakeshore Revolution of Love. I miss the eXodus. I miss singing in a circle with my best friends. I miss studying the Text in community. I miss preaching. I miss dreaming. I miss hope and wonder and resurrection and free hugs and love winning and river baptisms and colored chalk on the sidewalk and homeless hallelujahs.

To be reminded of your mortality is a sobering thing.

In his book, The Holy Longing, Ronald Rohlheiser writes about a restlessness at the epicenter of the human heart, aching for a revolution. This “fundamental dis-ease” strikes us like eternity in our hearts (Ec. 3:11), and our ability to channel this energy into a focused purpose is directly related to the health of our spirituality.

Rohlheiser says there are three phases of our spiritual journeys:

The 1st phase is the struggle to get our lives together.
The 2nd phase is the struggle to give our lives away.
The 3rd phase is the struggle to give our deaths away.

I pray that God will give me the opportunity to collect the pieces of my first phase, and with His grace create a mosaic of art and beauty. I pray that my life will be an offering, and my death will be a sweet-smelling aroma offered to my loved ones.

To those who knew me best, and loved me anyway. 

The results of the biopsy came back negative. But the voltage to my heart has awoken me to a spiritual war that I am willing to engage, again. I am unfinished. The last chapter is still being written. My autopsy will reveal a heart that refused to quit, even after the resignation of my mind and body.


4 thoughts on “Life and Death

  1. Blessings to you, my brother. While it is not always the case that being broken makes a person wiser, kinder, stronger, more forgiving, gentler, and more generous—it certainly offers the opportunity for that growth.

    (p.s. You have a typo: “isle” should be “aisle.”)

  2. I will never forget the freedom and knowledge God brought to my life through “love winning” at Exodus. Even in times of passivity, lack of knowledge and sometimes sin in my life, I have seen God use me for His glory. He used you Jay, he used your passion and understanding for His word and love for others. Was it perfect, no, was there great sadness in my heart, yes, do I believe in the power of God to set us completely free and redeem our past, you better believe it!
    Thank you for your honesty in this broken journey of this life. Love Wins, every single time.

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