In December my Grandmother passed away, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday. On her birthday weekend in January, her entire family—joined by many friends—gathered to celebrate her life. At the memorial service, the eldest of the nineteen great grandchildren, Linnea Peterson, who I’m also proud to claim as my daughter, offered a tribute to her Great Grandmother. This is what she said:
As the oldest of the great-grandchildren, I felt called to give a tribute to Great-Grandma Swanee from a great-grandchild’s perspective. I’m going to structure what I say around a hymn that I’ve learned and come to love at Tverberg reunions, one that I think Great-Grandma particularly embodied. It’s called Borning Cry. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s is a hymn about a life lived in God’s word and promise, from the perspective of an onlooker. The onlooker is God, but it took me several years of singing the hymn to realize that. Before I figured that out, I often imagined the onlooker as a parent, a grandparent, some sort of older relative. With Great-Grandma’s deep investment in all of our lives of faith, she fit the image I had of this onlooker. Let me show you how.
The hymn begins,
I was there to hear your borning cry
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized
To see your life unfold.
Welcome to Grace blog, a new forum on issues related to my new book, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace, and the conversations the book has generated. Since being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer three years ago, I’ve been learning to talk about life with cancer and how it sits alongside experiences of grace. As a religion professor, I work on talking about faith and cancer beyond the predictable—and often inadequate—claims that cancer is part of God’s plan or that the hard times make us strong. To be sure, I’m a Christian (of the Lutheran variety) and I get paid to talk about God for a living. But becoming a cancer patient (which I’m not paid to be) has pushed me to go deeper, to describe a world where God is loving and compassionate even in the midst of an ocean of pain. This is no easy task. But I keep at it, attempting to make meaning in the wake of the chaos cancer creates in our lives.
Even as the vocabulary of grace I draw upon is rooted in Christian tradition and practice, my wrestling with the whys of human suffering in light of divine love has not thus far been simply an in-house Christian discussion. My neighbors, friends, co-workers and even family members of other religions (and even no religion at all) have deepened and enhanced my experiences of grace, particularly since the diagnosis. I hope that this blog will dialogue among any and all who contemplate the grief and grace embedded in our lives.
That this blog is entitled “Grace” and not “Cancer” or “Life Sucks” is critical. What the title indicates is that even as I live with cancer, the moments I want to focus on are the ones that show me life is bigger than any diagnosis, larger than the uncertainties that accompany a life-threatening illness, and inclusive of more than what cancer or other awful circumstances can ultimately steal from any of us. It’s simply the case that even when life is heavy with grief, it also often reflects glimpses of grace. And those glimpses are worth talking about.
So in the coming weeks and months, this blog will include excerpts from my memoir, Hoping for More, as well entries that go beyond the book to other sightings of grace not just in my life but also in the lives of others as well as in the wider world we inhabit together.