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Quotations I love: No matter what happens . . .

Lynne Baab • Wednesday March 24 2021

Quotations I love: No matter what happens . . .

“No matter what happens to me, that happened to me.”
          —Brian Doyle [1]

A man is diagnosed with advanced cancer. The oncologist holds out some hope, so the man undergoes chemotherapy. As the man experiences the brutal side effects of the chemo, his grown son steps into the role of caregiver. The man finds himself deeply moved by the gentleness and kindness of his son. As the man thinks about his likely death, he juxtaposes those thoughts with the love his son has shown him, and he tries to hold onto that love in the face of his fear of death. He writes, “No matter what happens to me, that happened to me.”

The man is Brian Doyle, a columnist for the American Scholar. He died of cancer in 2017.

A forty-seven year old woman is dealing with yellow skin, brown urine, and severe fatigue. The doctors do test after test, ruling out gall bladder disease and Hepatitis A, B, and C, along with numerous other obscure diseases she has never heard of. Several weeks pass with the symptoms staying constant, and the specialist decides the most likely diagnosis is a fatal liver disease.

The woman looks at her life and thinks about the major gifts she has received. She has had the privilege of having known God as a child, and then the joy of God opening her eyes to his love and grace a second time at age 19 after a few years of teenage rebellion. She has been blessed with 23 years of marriage to a man she still enjoys being with, who has shown her so much love. She got to have children. After staying home with her kids, she has stepped into a satisfying career, and she has found deep satisfaction in stretching her wings. She has never read Brian Doyle’s words because he hasn’t written them yet, but she mirrors his thought process. No matter what happens to me, she finds herself thinking, so many good things have happened to me. The God who gave me those good gifts will continue to hold me tenderly even if I die.

The specialist treating the women decides to try one more thing, and asks the woman to stop taking ibuprofen, which she has been using for pain after a surgery. The symptoms subside, and the doctor decides the woman had drug-induced hepatitis, possibly caused by the ibuprofen or the drugs administered in the surgery. It takes two more surgeries and two more bouts of drug-induced hepatitis for the woman to identify exactly which drugs cause the hepatitis for her.

That woman is me, and I wear a medical alert bracelet for fentanyl and ibuprofen. My liver function tests are completely normal, my own personal miracle.

Brian Doyle’s statement provides a helpful structure for reflecting on our lives. “No matter what happens to me” invites us to face into our biggest fears and uncertainties. In pandemic times, we have experienced plenty of them. No matter what happens in my job, my finances, my relationships, or my body, God’s gifts are still real. No matter what happens in the lives of the people I love and pray for, they have been a gift to me, and God is still holding them.

The second half of his statement is so encouraging to ponder. If you could pick one good gift in your life to identify as “that happened to me,” something that balances or even outweighs pain, what would you pick? Maybe you’ll be like me, unable to pick just one. God has given me so many significant gifts that illuminate my life.

This takes me back to the basic prayer practice of thankfulness. I can see so many specifics of my life, and the lives of my family members and friends, that manifest God’s care and love. So many gifts are signs of the goodness, provision and abundance that God built into the world at creation, held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17). So many good things are answers to prayer or gifts from people. The frequent practice of thankfulness lays a foundation for facing into hard things, because we see and experience that God still cares.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
          —Psalm 103:1-5

Next week: disenfranchised grief. Illustration by Dave Baab (the husband I still enjoy being with after 44 years of marriage). I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.

Book focus – Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation, my book on communal spiritual practices. This week I’m starting to teach an online class for Hope International University for the sixth time. The topic is leading groups into spiritual practices, and we use my book as well as the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Alberg Calhoun, The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, and Celebrating the Disciplines by Richard Foster and Kathryn Helmers. These are all books I recommend highly.

[1] Brian Doyle, quoted in “Epiphany after a hard year” by Debra Dean Murphy, Christian Century, December 30, 2020.

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