Down by the Station (Terminal) Early in the Morning

My stepfather had a nickname for me: Madam District Attorney. I like to think this was a compliment to my interest in justice. Growing up with two younger half-sisters, one of my favorite complaints was “THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!”

Or maybe he was referring to my insatiable moral curiosity. Why is it right? Why is it wrong? Why can’t I… (fill in the blank)?  Why did God let that happen?

That last question was birthed in my heart at the age of five, when my three year-old sister, Patty Ann, died of water hemlock poisoning. I can still remember, sitting cross-legged on my bed, late at night, across from Patty Ann’s empty bed. It was dark, but I wasn’t afraid. I was full of questions no one allowed me to ask. All my tearful mother would tell me is that Patty Ann was in heaven. “She is an angel now.”

That was NOT enough for me. I sat on that bed, in the dark, but not alone. I knew “He” was there in the room with me, listening. So the questions poured out. Why did You need another angel — couldn’t you have just created another one? (Don’t feed kids bad theology! It takes years to get it out of their systems!) Where was her guardian angel – why didn’t she stop Patty from eating the poison? Why did You make poison hemlock? Why did you take Patty Ann and not me? Is it because I would make an awful angel?

I don’t remember getting any answers that night, but I do remember being able to go to sleep. (See, the Prince of Peace has always been with me.)

So, you can see, it’s only natural for me to think about all that I’ve shared with you in the last three posts – and ask why. Why did I receive the precious gift of Peace when so many others must walk in blind faith and struggle with dark emotions when a cancer diagnosis becomes part of their lives?

And Why have I experienced such an amazingly positive response to the cancer drugs? My daughter recently read about a 29 year old woman who died within a month of taking Ibrance. Why aren’t the “miracle drugs” miracles for everyone?

I can imagine you saying, “Don’t ask why, it might jinx it!” Or, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Or, “Why ask why? Just enjoy your good fortune.”

But I don’t believe in good fortune. I believe in the God of miracles, the God of Love, the God of Peace, and the God who is my Friend. My very Best Friend.

I know He doesn’t have a problem with my questions – He made me a curious, questioning person. As I’ve prayerfully pondered my experience with cancer, I have brought Him all my whys. Here’s a sample of our Q & A sessions.

(By the way, just in case you get the wrong idea, I do NOT hear God speaking, at least not with my physical ears. I hear Him when I read His Word. I hear Him in the recesses of my soul, in the way thoughts come to me, thoughts that make sense. I hear Him when I read books and articles that just happen to touch on what I’ve been pondering. I hear Him in the comments and kindness of others (as I have heard from some of you, in your emails and comments). Here is what I have been hearing.

Q: Why did the 29 year old woman die while taking Ibrance and I am feeling better than I have in years?

A: There is a time to be born and a time to die. (Ecclesiastes 3:2)

And another Scripture verse: ….my days You listed and determined (before I was born) even before the first of them occurred. (Psalm 139:16)

Oh. I get it. God already knows the date that will be chiseled on my grave-stone, just as He knew from all eternity, the date that is now carved on that young woman’s stone. Her “time to die” happened to come to pass a month after she started taking Ibrance. Mine hasn’t come to pass yet.

Years ago I began a needlepoint project and then set it aside unfinished. (You know from past blogs the way I think: I’ll get back to it tomorrow.) I haven’t the slightest idea where it is, but I remember it with fondness. The uneven embroidery stitches spell out, “God isn’t finished with me yet.”

What I am beginning to understand is just that: God isn’t finished with me yet. He still has things for me to learn, to do, and to become. There was a time (for me) to be born and there is a time (for me) to die, as there is for every living person.

That time came for my sister Patty Ann when she was three years old. She has been in perpetual JOY for the last 68 years.

Q: Is that fair? (That she didn’t get to live a full life? Or that I had to?)

A: No comment. (I get that a lot; but it’s always a kind, gracious silence.)

The question — Why does anyone have to die, anyway? — is one that also receives a no comment; but that doesn’t stop me from pondering it. This is what I have come up with so far.

I think it’s wrapped up in a word they once used for stage-4 cancer, but now avoid if at all possible. That word is “terminal.” Think about the word “terminal.” How is it used in normal everyday life? There are train terminals, bus terminals, airport terminals. Doesn’t this make you wonder….

Q: Why do we say a person is “terminal” when they have a fatal disease?

It is time to reach for one of my favorite books: the Webster’s Dictionary. The word “terminal” means: related to, situated at, or forming an end; a limit; a destination — like a terminal in a railway station — it’s the train’s destination. It’s where the passengers are going!

We all have a destination. We walk separate paths on this journey of life; there are twists and turns and mountains and valleys; but none of those mountains or valleys is our final destination. As long as we are alive, we are still on our way to that destination – a place He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world. In other words, folks: we are all “terminal.” Death is nothing more than the gateway to our final destination. That is something to think about.

Q: If this is all true, then why take the Ibrance? Isn’t that just trying to delay the inevitable?

A: This time the answer came quickly to my mind: God uses the things of this world to “work all things together for our good.” (Romans 8:28) It’s not fate. It is like a universe-size moving puzzle. We move pieces – quite often stupid moves. God moves pieces. But the “end game” will always be a glorious masterpiece of God’s handiwork in our lives. (At least that’s God’s plan. Sadly, we can reject His plan. That’s something to think about, too.)

So I will gratefully take the “miracle drug” Ibrance. Until it doesn’t work anymore. And that day will come, since cancer is “smart” – it adapts, mutates, and eventually makes the “miracle drug” ineffective. Fortunately there are other drugs on the list. I will trust my oncologist to guide my treatment. But I know, I KNOW, it is all in God’s hands – there will come a time when there are no more drugs to try. There is a time to be born and there is a time to die.

All this pondering is helping me with my never-ending questions. I hope it helps with some of yours. One suggestion I would give to help the pondering process: always begin with Catherine of Siena’s common sense point-of-view, one she repeated each time she took her questions to God. “You are God, Lord, and I am not.”

Last Q: Why did I get cancer?

A: No comment. (I knew that was coming.)

Until next time,

“Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”


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3 Responses to Down by the Station (Terminal) Early in the Morning

  1. Julie Onderko says:

    Betty, Very encouraging! Thank you for having the courage to share.


  2. Wonderful, thought provoking post! God Bless!


  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you!


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