Last week, I wrote about thirty-seven-year-old Kate Bowler's latest book, Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved. The book grew from her experiences following a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer three years ago.
I saved the spring, 2018, issue of the Duke Alumni magazine, because of a feature and update on Kate, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. The article reported that Kate continues to be part of a small group of patients receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment which, fortunately, is working. She receives a CT scan every ninety days and if nothing has spread - if nothing looks worse - she gets another three month reprieve.
"She described her life now as 'vine to vine'. She chose the best vine available, hopes there'll be another one after that one and gives her best swing over and over."
She added, "My own post-diagnosis world has brought me into a different relationship with God." In the midst of heartbreak, she is surprised to feel the presence of God more powerfully. "The only category I understand more is the love of God. Both the experience of wanting to be close to God and the surprise of the feeling that God is close to me."
The Love of God
The love of God is core for our beliefs as Christians. I remember when I was a child attending Sunday school in an Episcopal church, a song we sang almost every week is the early 20th century children's hymn, "God Whose Name Is Love." The verses include the following:
God whose name is love, happy children we,
Listen to the hymn that we sing to thee.
Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,
God whose name is love, loving may we be.
Carrying this song in my heart over sixty-five years speaks to the importance of the words as a foundation to my life. The song not only describes who God is - love - but also offers a challenge in the last line - "loving may we be" - how to live with others.
Growing up in a home that was less than loving made the words in this song even more important. I recall praying at my desk in elementary school or on the playground at recess and feeling God's love in my heart. God's love sustained me then, and continues to ground me at all times.
Jesus Is Love
Jesus, the embodiment of God's love, models throughout the gospels how to treat others, even those who are outcasts or on the fringe of life. He affirmed others by acknowledging them as children of God, which brought healing and strength to those people who came to hear Jesus preach and teach.
Filled and fueled by God's love, Jesus made an impact and modeled love by God's design.
Showing Love Unexpectedly
The church I attend has a small table in front of the sanctuary filled with tiered layers of votive candles available for lighting. Every week when the service ends, Mike and I light candles and pray.
A few Sundays ago, just after I lit my candle and turned to walk away, a lady approached, crying. I paused and put my arm around her for a few minutes as she lit a candle and continued sobbing. She slowly gained control of her emotions and I left.
A few minutes later, I was passing through the fellowship hall where people gather to drink coffee or eat a donut and visit. I saw her and as I approached, her eyes filled with tears. When I gave her another hug, I said, "I prayed that you would feel God's love and presence." She smiled.
Opportunities for spreading God's love are everywhere and often unexpected.
Dealing with a serious illness has shaken and changed Kate Bowler. She says, "I do possess a solid belief in God, but I don't call that faith. I don't know what faith is, I really don't. I just don't know what it means right now."
Despite her struggles with faith and certainty, Kate is resting in the love of God to sustain her through these days as she teaches and is a wife and mother.
Although my path has not involved illness, a simple song in Sunday school, launched me into God's abundant love and gave me hope when I was in elementary school. I hold onto that same hope all these years later.
"Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,
God whose name is love, loving may we be."
1. What is sustaining to you when life is hard?
2. How can you model Jesus' love and the last line in my childhood song, "loving may we be" to family, friends, and even strangers.
Prayer: Generous God, you lavish your love on us in the ways you offer care for our bodies, minds and souls. Even though we sin, and fall short of where we need to be as your children, your abundant love comes to us wherever we are. Let us be grateful for your never ending goodness. Amen.