Returning for the Essential

“Stopping by the Woods,” © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2017 Lynn Abbott

One early winter morning in 2007, I eagerly answered the persistent buzz of the doorbell. The delivery driver smiled, and brought in my new chair–a beautiful, Christmas-y red, wing chair.

For weeks, I had eagerly awaited its arrival.  After all, a comfy chair becomes nearly a necessity when you are extremely ill.  And ill I was.

I thanked the driver profusely for setting the chair in place.

Before leaving, he stopped in the entry and quietly said, “You’re one of mine, aren’t you?”

I gave him a puzzled look.

He nodded, acknowledging my confusion.  Then, he removed his ski cap, and proudly displayed a head of newly grown, albeit very short, hair.

I suddenly smiled in recognition and also nodded, noting my own knit cap. Thus, launched a discussion of what one of my dear friends once labeled, “camp chemo.”

Not only did the driver and I compare hair growth, but we also shared our own brand of medical humor.

We’d brushed with death, walked the cold valleys, and sounded the depths of our souls. And yet, we’d survived.

A word, a knowing smile and a warm, compassionate touch of hand to shoulder communicated more than a year’s worth of dinner conversations. In those brief moments, a man from another city in another part of the state became my brother.

Without a doubt, chemo makes it impossible to ignore the illness.  A cancer patient stands out.

And even though some wear wigs and do their best to put a good face on things, the battle within still rages.

Perhaps, my experience with this “anything-but-invisible” illness is the reason I feel such an empathetic connection to the ten lepers described in Luke 17.

We’d brushed with death, walked the cold valleys, and sounded the depths of our souls. And yet, we’d survived.

Dr. Luke begins their story begins en medias res. We learn nothing of their previous history.  We simply recognize that they endured unimaginable suffering.

There was no hiding it. They stood out, and in fact, were quarantined, living on the outskirts of the community.

Fortunately for the ten, however, Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Yes, He knew what awaited him there.  As I read the Gospels, it becomes clear that He journeyed with a heavy heart.

His mission, although motivated by the deepest of love for you and me, would require everything from Him.

Yet, on this journey, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, He stopped to give grace and healing.

Luke tells us that as Jesus entered a village, the ten leprous men called to Him from a distance.  Leprosy was the death sentence of its day…slowly, wasting away, these men were set apart and their lives irretrievably altered by their disease.

They lived outside normal.  Nevertheless, they had made the best of things: they became a community, a collection of lepers.  And that day, they buoyed one another as they made a bold request.

I can relate to that.  Cancer impacts people in a similar way.

And although cancer patients do not suffer in the same way as lepers nor are they generally isolated from the rest of the population, their symptoms certainly set them apart, signaling immune systems under attack.

Cancer, of course, results from damaged or rogue cells whereas leprosy begins as an infection.

Yet, left unchecked, both cancer and leprosy lead to death.

The ten lepers that day on the road to Jerusalem, however, were as fortunate as my delivery friend and I.  Their encounter with the Healer–Abba’s Passover Lamb–forever changed their lives.

Indeed, just before Passover—a time of national thanksgiving for Israel’s deliverance from the tenth plague of Egypt—Jesus  miraculously delivered these Jewish lepers from yet another angel of death.

They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13).

Jesus didn’t hesitate.  He simply said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

On His final Passover journey, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, Christ stopped to give grace and healing.

At first glance, that seems an odd response.  But in Jewish culture, the priests were required to judge whether or not something was clean or unclean.  The lepers had been designated as unclean and as a result, quarantined outside the city.

The priest would officially declare them “clean.”  Yes, Abba often uses people and human institutions to touch lives.

For me, my physician gave me the official release from chemo. He confirmed the miracle of my healing.

In faith, then, ten lepers made their way to the priests.  They believed that Christ had made them whole.

As they went, they were healed.  I can only imagine their tears of gratitude and relief; their shouts of joy and celebration.

I suspect a good many of them broke into a run.  They probably couldn’t wait to be declared clean and to reunite with their families and friends–to love and be loved during their season of national thanksgiving, the Passover.

But one stopped.

One leper returned to the place where he and his friends met Jesus.

One celebrated the Healer, first and foremost.

One leper recognized Abba’s Passover Lamb.  One worshiped the Healer who in mercy and grace had delivered the unclean from death.

There would be time to find the priests.  There would be time for the important celebration with family and friends.

But Jesus was there.  Right then.

And the one leper returned to express his deep gratitude to his Savior.  The healed stopped to thank the Healer.

First. Foremost.

In January, I complete a total of 11 years of cancer treatment.  I survived both the disease and chemo. Soon, I no longer will be required to take a daily dose of preventative medication. You can well-imagine that I look forward to 2018 and my return to “normalcy.”

Yet, as I began preparing for Christmas last weekend, I listened to a favorite Christmas song and meditated upon the grace, mercy and forgiveness I have found in Christ.

You betcha my heart filled with gratitude.

You see, I am not only a cancer survivor… I am also a sin survivor.

Without a doubt, the human soul is damaged.  Our hearts have gone rogue.

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way…” writes Isaiah (Isaiah 53:6a).

It’s true. We all suffer from spiritual leprosy, spiritual cancer.  Some are just better than others at putting a good face on it. Even so, the unchecked disease promises the same outcome.

Yet, on the road to Calvary, the Savior thought of you and me.

You see, I am not only a cancer survivor… I am also a sin survivor.

And you and I are healed when we place our faith and dependence in Him.

We cry, “Master, have mercy!”

Without hesitation, the Passover Lamb suffered to grant us a clean bill of spiritual health.

“You are one of mine,” Christ says.

And that is why as I decorated last Saturday, I thought, “There will be time later for gifting. First, I must return to thank Him.”

In the midst of this season’s busy-ness, in my hurry to enjoy life’s blessings, I don’t want to miss Him.

I don’t want to miss His light in the midst of life’s trees, in my hurry to respond to all that clamors for my time and attention.

Rather, I wish to pause. Stopping in the woods, I will choose to rest in His presence.

My heart will whisper gratitude for Abba’s mercy and grace.

I will remember His Passover.  I will thank the Lamb of God and celebrate both my clean bill of physical and spiritual health.

Most importantly, I return once more to exalt the Healer, the One about whom it is written, “by His stripes, we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).

Yes, this season, I pause to worship Him. First and foremost.

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…As a result of the anguish of His soul… By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities,” ~Isaiah 53:4, 11