I got to hang with my Uncle Bill for most of the day yesterday. Uncle Bill is actually Beth’s uncle but I have adopted him as my own over the years and Bill and his wife Sharon, are our only family in the Bradenton area. Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months ago and is now under going daily radiation at a local cancer treatment facility in Sarasota.
When we arrived at the treatment facility I noticed about a dozen people sitting in a waiting area that is designed more like a living room/den than anything else. I found a seat toward the corner by myself with a book I have been reading for the last couple weeks. My plan was to get some reading done during the 20 minute treatment and then Uncle Bill and I would head out to a restaurant for some lunch. I’m glad God had something else in mind.
Uncle Bill checked in, carrying his shoe bag, and headed back with a nurse. Because of the intense power of the treatment the patient must be in a molded cast from the waist down to ensure they don’t move during the procedure. Every patient must bring the same shoes they were wearing when the mold was taken to guarantee a perfect fit everyday. I glanced around the room and saw many people carrying their bags. It was like an identifier. Those carrying bags had cancer, those who weren’t were family, friends or medical staff. In just the 20 minutes I sat there I witnessed at least a half dozen patients arrive through the doors carrying their bags. They would approach the desk, check in and then have a seat and chat with the others holding the bags. The people were from Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and even the Virgin Islands. I was blown away about how they were able to carry on normal conversations, even joke and laugh out loud as they sat waiting for radiation to be pumped into their bodies. Their common bond was so strong that the circle around the waiting area just got bigger and bigger and included people in a variety of ages and races. Everybody was included and everybody had a voice.
Then a man came in through the door who looked confused, worried, even lost. He came in clutching his shoe bag to his chest. He approached the desk but I was unable to hear him because he was talking so quietly. After he checked in he chose a chair around the circle and sat down slowly, gripping tight to his shoe bag. He was in his mid 50’s, one of the younger ones in the group. The circle got quiet as everybody paused to recognize this stranger in their midst. After an awkward few moments, he said with a tremble in his voice, “This is my first day”. Immediately he was greeted with words of encouragement, affirmation and hope. Over the next few moments I witnessed one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. A man all alone, bound by fear, worry, doubt, and clutching his bag close to him transitioned to a man who wasn’t so afraid anymore. A man who was no longer alone. He was now in a circle. A circle of people that share his disease, but also share his healing plan. Soon after, they called his name and he clutched his bag closely again and got up slowly from the chair. The rest of those in the circle said words of good wishes and he disappeared behind the door to the treatment area.
I realized that what I had just witnessed is something that I should see more often. Though I don’t work in a cancer treatment facility, I do meet people everyday who are burdened with life and overwhelmed with worry. People who are clutching the baggage of their pain closely. Regardless of economic or social status, we all have our bags. Some might be heavier, but we all have our bags. The church is a lot like that circle. A group of people, different ages, races, backgrounds, all with the same ailment. All with shoe bags. Some have been there a long time, others it is their first day. Around the circle, we are able to be normal, all have a story, a voice and everyday we have the chance to welcome in those who wander into our lives. But you see what is so amazing to me is that it is not merely our ailments that unite us. Much greater it is our healing that makes us one. The church is not merely a circle of hurting, broken and sick people. It is a rather a gathering of people who are all being healed. All on a treatment plan that has a 100% healing rate. This is what allows us to include everyone, anyone, whosoever. We are free to allow everyone a voice, and even laugh out loud in the midst of the seriousness and sickness around us. Yeah, we all have our bags, but they no longer define us and label us. We are all in the process of being healed.