Thursday, March 25, 2010

Listening For the Roar

Carolyn and I have been friends since we were twelve years old. We met in seventh grade study hall. Carolyn was much cooler than I was. She could chug chocolate milk faster than anyone, and I mean anyone, in the school and if we could make her laugh while she was doing it, she would snort milk out of her nose. Enough said. You can understand the attraction.

Three and a half decades later, Carolyn is probably still cooler than I am, but usually I don’t admit that. She is more than a friend now, she’s family. We grew up together, and her family took me in as one of their own, as if with four teenagers they needed one more, and she is without a doubt one of the rocks in the foundation of my world. She’s one of the few people that knew I wrote poetry in Jr. High and would still hang out with me. She didn’t advertise it, but she stuck by me.

When you grow up in Tornado Alley like we did, spring thunderstorms and tornadoes were no big surprise. Oklahoma has the most incredible electric storms in the spring, and one night when we were about 18, there was a big one. Tornado warnings were blasting over the sirens and the television news. Carolyn’s house didn’t have a basement, so we cleared out a centrally located coat closet and stood at the back door, where we could see the T.V. and watch the sky at the same time.

Tornadoes don’t come while it’s raining, so as the sky cleared and the eerie yellow cast loomed over head we began to get scared. Carolyn was really frightened. We listened as the weatherman listed all the warning signs of an impending tornado, most notably the roar. Carolyn was intent on listening for the roar. The sky had her complete attention. So we stood there, poking our heads out the back door, waiting.

I think it must have been a tornado siren. I’m not sure exactly what she heard, but suddenly we heard Carolyn scream “It’s the roar!” She pushed us out of the way and dove into the coat closet, slamming the door shut, leaving her entire family to perish in the tornado. We were laughing so hard we couldn’t recover. It took several minutes to convince her to open the closet door. The suggestion of a roar had been enough to engulf her in fear. I, of course, will never let her forget it; what are friends for?

Two weeks ago I got a call from Carolyn’s mother. It was one of those calls you never expect. Not on a Thursday night when you are packing your family to head out for spring break, or doing anything else for that matter. You always remember what you were doing when you got those calls. Carolyn’s 25 five year old daughter, Jessica, had cancer -Invasive ductile carcinoma in the breast, the bad kind, triggered by three different hormones. I thought of Jessica, a young wife and mother, and Jessica, the adorable little blonde baby girl, and Jessica, Carolyn’s only child. It was definitely, without a doubt, a roar. Now I was the one diving into the closet, slamming the door shut. I couldn’t bear the thought of our Jessica losing any body parts to cancer, or having to undergo chemo therapy, or any of the other unthinkable possibilities. I didn’t want to come back out. I pray daily for a list of people in our community battling cancer and I didn’t want to add one more to the list, especially not this one, not another one I loved.

It was Jessica who stood firm, who didn’t cower in the face of the potential threat. Her stance was clear. After the initial shock wore off her position was simple, “Cut off whatever you need to. I am going to be here to raise my son.” I spoke to her the day after her surgery, and she didn’t have a complaint. She was grateful to be home and survived the surgery with flying colors. She is the bravest woman I know. Like me, she had seen the example of strong faith lived out in the lives of her grandparents, and the steadfast devotion to family lived out in her parents and extended family. She is already encouraging nurses and friends to go and get mammograms. We talked about how God could use this hardship in her life to bring light to others and she was already aware of that. Jessica wasn’t listening for the roar: she was focused on the light.

Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus allowed his disciples to learn to follow him by letting them experience life threatening circumstances. He knew we would need an example to follow.

“The boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.” Matt 14:24-32

Peter had the faith and enthusiasm to ask Jesus for a miracle, but he let the roar of the waves around him drown out his faith. He took his eyes off Jesus and he sank. Roars come our way in all shapes and sizes. Cancer, unemployment, and emotional wounds loom over our hearts and minds intent on distracting us from the source of our salvation. We must help each other take courage, and not give in to fear.

Today is March 25th, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the remembrance of the Savior’s first appearance on this earth. It is Thursday; two weeks after Jessica received her diagnosis and two days after her surgery. It is three days before Palm Sunday. For some of us, it will be the day we hear a roar. Let us pray for one another on this day, and every day, to have the courage to stay focused on the light as we pass through the wind and waves battling around us. And let us give thanks for those people whose love and encouragement has formed the foundations of our lives, who remind us to open the doors we slam shut in fear, who become our family. Amen

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