When the Call Seems Too Difficult to Answer…

We’d come to this consultation hopeful and eager. Yes, my sister has cancer, but every indicator thus far suggested that Cecele is an excellent candidate for treatment and survival. My sister is a fighter, so this scenario seemed the only possible scenario to her and to the rest of us. In my mind, this appointment was a necessary step toward treatment.

After the doctor introduced herself and reviewed my sister’s medical history, she invited Cecele to a seat very close to her and her computer screen. She wanted Cecele to see what the scans had shown. “You have a beautiful brain!” the doctor remarked with a smile. Needless to say, we were all thrilled with that bit of news. Our cousin succumbed to brain cancer this past July, and none of us were ready to revisit that battlefield. Then, as the doctor clicked further to a full body image, she pointed out two very small, but bright colorations. One tiny dot indicated metastasis, while the other slightly larger smudge revealed a completely different cancer. As the doctor’s words spun around in my head, I stared at my sister. “This is the first day of a completely new life,” I thought to myself, “a new and difficult life.”

I admit that I missed what the doctor said next because my sister’s future passed before me like a motion picture. The past several days had been grueling as test after test moved my sister from a persistent cough, to possible asthma, to a tumor and on to cancer. This turn of events presented a hurdle that none of us were ready to leap over just yet. During the next few minutes, tears washed away our hope and left us standing in the wake of an unwelcome reality. After acknowledging that this was not what she’d planned for the rest of her life, my sister asked what this diagnosis meant. Her question gave the doctor the opportunity to share something positive. My sister’s age and health put her on the positive side of the odds. Though the road ahead will be rocky and uncertain at best, it also offers plenty of room for a serious fight. As the doctor went on, hope returned to Cecele’s face and to the rest of us in spite of the possible outcome. When we went on to her next appointment for radiation planning, my sister assured her second doctor that she’d already cried and was now ready to take action.

Throughout all of this, Cecele, her son and daughter, their families, her siblings, friends and our extended family have sought out prayers from everyone we know. Email has kept us in continued contact with prayerful souls as far away as California, Hawaii, Germany and Croatia. Each development invited more prayer. This final diagnosis has elicited story after story from cancer survivors who insist that it was their faith, hope and determination which pulled them through in spite of terrible odds. So it is that my sister is getting her house in order with a smile and the suspicion that she’ll have to update this paperwork down the road, long after she wins this battle with cancer.

I asked my sister for permission to share her story with you because today’s scriptures focus upon some very difficult calls which also drastically changed lives. In the first reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10), God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh, a large and sinful city, to urge its inhabitants to change their lives for the better. What this reading doesn’t include is Jonah’s initial response to God’s call. Jonah runs away because he doesn’t want to be a part of reforming non-Jews. In Jonah’s mind, God should have gone ahead and punished these evil-doing foreigners. In the end, Jonah discovers that he can’t run from God and that God’s plans always end well. Indeed, the people of Nineveh repented and renewed their relationships with the Lord. In the second reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31), Paul offers no consolation to the reluctant as he declares that life as we know it is changing. My sister can certainly attest to that! The readings end with Mark’s gospel (1:14-20) when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him. As the gospel tells it, these four fishermen willingly embrace Jesus’ invitation. Two millennia later, we recognize the wisdom of this choice as their story ultimately ended very well.

Cecele doesn’t know the end of her story, and neither do we. Still, whether God calls us to the mundane routines or to the most difficult battles of our lifetimes, we take action. We do our best as we hope for the best because, according to God’s plan, all of our stories will ultimately end very well.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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