Winning against Cancer: Reflections on Death and Stuart Scott

I remember in college being excited about watching Monday morning’s Sports
Center.  Stewart Scott was usually on as one of the top broadcasters and I loved the catch phrases he would use.  “Boo-yah!” “Cool as the other side of the pillow.”  Rich Eisen does an awesome job summing them up in this highlight reel.

Yet, what caught me was the quote from Scott’s ESPY award speech.  “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

As a pastor, as a Christian, I never like hearing someone say that they ‘lost their battle with cancer.”  Stuart Scott seemed to be a man of faith and walked, the final days of his life, as one who goes on to live.  Another quote points to this.  This quote comes from ESPN magazine back in 2010 while discussing Tim Tebow’s scriptural eyeblack.  When asked if he would be offended if someone wrote “There is no God” on their eyeblack Scott replied, “Dave, if that [is] what you want to do, I don’t care.  But Tim and I and billions of other believers in the world know you’d be wrong.  I’ve seen the workings of God many times in my life…If you don’t believe in God, watch a child be born.  Then if you still say you don’t believe in God, that’s okay.  The thing is, I think He’ll watch over you anyway!”

I just did a funeral from someone who passed away from Alzheimer’s.  At any funeral when someone has gone through a long battle with illness and disease I remind the family of what Scott echoes.  You never lose when you have faith.

During the committal service at the graveside this is what the United Methodist Book of Worship reads, and something I love, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting.” But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We will all change, we will all die, but it is through the salvation work of God through his Son Jesus Christ that we can go on to live.

I remember distinctly the pastor of my church as a youth (Bruce Jones) announce, “Mr. ______ just won his battle with cancer.”  It caught me off guard at first but then the reality sunk in.  As people of faith, God’s love wins.  No disease, illness or tragedy ever has the last say.  Scott seemed to understand that, echo that, and live that out in the last part of his earthly journey.

To him I say thank you.  Thank you for reaching a millions with that quote and I pray that they will know the faith and the grace behind it one day for themselves.

Let us pray, “O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.  You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking.  Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity.  Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death.  Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.  And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us form your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.”  (UM Book of Worship)

9 month old & new to the faith

My son turns 9 months old tomorrow. Fatherhood has been one wonderful, scary and exciting adventure since conception. I have learned more about myself and my wife within these last 19 months than I ever thought. Once you think you know yourself. Once you have an idea that you can grasp the world around you, God changes it all.

Tonight I was giving Dean a bath. Since he is a day away from 9 months he is getting really independent. He is doing an army crawl (not a real crawl, his belly is still on the ground). He is pulling himself up on anything that he can grasp. These two things he has learned and is trying to perfect. He still has a lot to learn too.

One thing he needs to learn is that water is fun but dangerous. This is what he knows of water; he is placed into it every night, it is wet, it can be cold or hot, it scares him when it is goes over his face, it is fun to splash in, it makes him pee, his toys make noise when they are placed under it, and it is fun to drink. Some might think that he knows quiet a bit about water but he is missing some key rules.

Rule one: Water makes things slippery. He is learning this rule as he tries to do the other fun things he has learned while in the bath, crawl and stand up. This leads to problems because his feet start to slip and slide on the tub and gravity then takes over. He usually ends up hitting the side of his tub (his tub sits inside the real house tub) or falls on his butt. This does stop him from truing it over and over and over and over again though. It also makes my job of giving him a bath into a game of catch. Catching him from falling hard and catching his head so that it does not go under the water, which bring up rule two.

Rule two: Humans cannot breathe under water. He is constantly trying to stick his face down into the water to take sips. We are glad that he likes water but he also needs to learn the boundaries too. Tonight he got his face a little too far down and was surprised he could not breathe. Lesson learned?

As I took this in tonight it got me stated thinking about how a 9 month old and a person new to the faith have similar characteristics. For one thing they start to learn some of the tricks. A new Christ follower knows that Christ loves him (or her but I will be using him for this post) so much that he gave his life for him. He also may know that because of this revelation and acceptance of this gift that his life, his relationships with others, his lifestyle may also have to change. Here is when the new lessons have to be learned and mistakes will be made.

I have seen new Christ followers go from 0 to 150 mph excited about this new chapter in their life. What they don’t realize though is that life has changed but in other ways it has not. One way it stays the same is bad things will still happen in their lives. Christ promised to give us life abundantly not a life happily ever after. Abundant life is a fuller life, more love, more joy, more sorrow and more pain. It doesn’t cut out the bad and only leaves the good. When that new Christ follower sees this they have a tendency to fall, to hit the side of the tub or swallow more than they were expecting.

This is when person watching them needs to come in. We, as long time Christ followers, need to understand that they will fall and we need to be there to help pick them up. They need to understand that a relationship with Christ is not a one time moment in life. It is a constant and eternal journey with hills and valleys and a community that walks with them. They are not alone, just as Dean is never alone in the bath to wade through that glorious and dangerous water.

Some day Dean will understand the wonders and hazards of water but until then I will be there to help. I will pat his back as he drinks too much. I will pull him right side up when he slips. That is my job as a father and all our jobs as followers of Christ. We are to watch out for the other parts of the body of Christ in order that we may work together to do God’s will on this earth.