I recently sat with my wife in the waiting room at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. We were there to meet with Dr. Lupe Salazar to receive the results of Julia’s latest PET/CT scans. The goal: to determine if the cancer was progressing. This drill is an example of our “new normal” since the diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer on Mother’s Day weekend in 2009.
Julia and I talk a lot. In fact, there is no one I would rather visit with on a daily basis. But in oncology waiting rooms, we often find ourselves quiet. Cancer clinics have a way of making you measure your words. And as you consider and feel the weight of why you’re there, common conversations often yield to silence.
Of course, the iPhone is never far away, and in the silence of one’s thoughts the urge to tweet can become irresistible. Here’s what I wrote that day: “Seminary course suggestion: spend three afternoons a week for a semester in a cancer clinic with your mouth shut watching and listening.”
I was moved to write those words because of what I was witnessing in the waiting room all around me. Emotions such as concern, despair, anger, and bitterness were obvious as I studied the faces, watched the body language, and listened to some of the spoken words. But there were also clear examples of hope and joy as individuals and families came and went. Amid all this, I was gripped by the fact that one of the front-desk assistants spoke to us freely about the “bad day” she was having and how unfortunate it was given that it was not yet noon. Clearly the fact that the couple dozen people in the waiting room were fighting cancer was lost on her — at least for the moment. The cancer patients in that waiting room could just as well have been waiting for haircuts. Alas, for this employee, it was just another day at work filled with mundane tasks of checking in and scheduling people.
The pastorate is all about God and people. As pastors, we have the wonderful (and terrible) privilege of shepherding people to God in Christ every day. Cancer clinics are an indispensable resource for pastors as we strive for faithfulness in our calling, because they keep us grounded in the greatest realities in the universe...