Even though I read for a living, I couldn’t pick up a book about cancer for months after my diagnosis. I was living cancer 24/7. No need to spend any additional time reading about it.
But once it started to sink in that cancer defined the parameters of my new life, I sought out books that would help me understand the contours and dimensions of life saturated with cancer.
I read earnest accounts of strong and courageous people knocked down by cancer; meditations on personal journeys of faith in the midst of cancer; expletive-laced narratives highlighting the awful attributes of cancer; and prescriptions for the correct language usage when discussing cancer.
I appreciated the writings of others struggling to live with this disease. At the same time, being a religion professor who thinks long and hard about the big questions of life, I longed to read more about wrestling with those big questions in light of cancer. What I read about faith and cancer often pushed toward a sense of resolution I couldn’t relate to. When I found narratives that were wholly unsentimental and irresolute, faith often was not a prominent theme.
What I finally realized I wanted to read was the kind of book Anne Lamott would write if she had cancer (which, thankfully, to my knowledge, she does not have). I longed for something like Lamott’s wry, honest accountings of her failures and successes; of life’s challenges and unexpected gifts of grace; of the wonder, humor, and chaos of human relationships.
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.