Welcome To The Journey

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Yet, I am.

My father has small-cell lymphoma. I have a parent with cancer. So what? That makes me, what, normal? Within the middle of the bell curve? It’s still hard to hear when you’re in the hot seat. I’m used to other people’s parents having and dying of cancer. I’m the pastor. I stand on the other side of the pulpit, read scripture and prayers, and try to put suffering, illness, and death into perspective. Now, I’m talking to myself, listening to the voices in my head, and I don’t like what I’m hearing. The words I’d usually say to someone like me ring hollow at a time like this.  Something’s not right. It’s not that I don’t believe the words. I do like the Psalms of Lament. The minor prophets are all over my nightstand.

I’m perpetually nauseous.  Sleep is fleeting, and daily life feels more like clothes that don’t quite fit.  I’m uncomfortable being me. There are cracks in the façade. I wonder if people will see through the preacher’s exterior who acts like he got it all together and answers life’s most pressing questions.  Here’s the Good News:  I’ve never had it all together, and I don’t know the answers to any existential questions.

On a good day, I can guess. On a bad day, I will admit that I don’t know anything. The more I do this job, the more I realize how little I know about the God I worship. God’s business is above my pay grade. I’m okay with letting God be God. Now that the father who loved me, nurtured, and helped me become who I am today (for good or ill) is on this journey; what does my dad’s diagnosis have to do with my relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus? It’s early in the game. I’m not too fond of platitudes or lying to myself. I want to be authentic with the world, my congregation, and my dad. Scripture and prayers may not make this all better. Sometimes we will have to sit in the valley of the shadow of suck. We will have to name it as such and not be afraid of offending those whose sensibilities cannot deal with Christians who say to hell with a stiff upper lip.

This diagnosis unmoors me from the manageable relationship I’ve created between myself and my father. I do not know the rules of the road any longer. There is a void between us that years of watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh have made it hard for us to have regular conversations. We talk about family, friends, and the church, but it’s all superficial, and this breaks my heart. I miss my dad and he’s not even dead yet. I’ve missed him for years. Part of me hopes lymphoma might give us part of our old relationship back. I hate to say that, but it’s true. I’m not hopeful this will occur. Now, I don’t have the time to dwell on hope. A boy can hope, can’t he? Probably not.

I will focus on being present here and there, in my home and his home. Here, my congregation needs Rev. Richard. There, I’m called to be a son to my father, love my mother, and do what only children do; be present. Presence, that great Eucharistic word, somehow rings true. My duty as a son is to check my religious identity at the door. I’m not a preacher; I’m a son in a semi-dysfunctional relationship with his father in early 21st America, wrestling with a cancer diagnosis and trying to stay sane in the meantime. I’ll manage to be a United Methodist at all other times. If, as the expression goes, the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise, I’ll write another day.

–Richard Bryant

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