Thinking Outside the Chemo Cubicle

November 19, 2013

Yesterday was my first day of the full-treatment protocol: radiation at 8:40 a.m. and a lengthy chemotherapy infusion starting at 9:15 a.m. All in all, it was a very good day, surprising even, and you can read the medical details on my log if you’d like. I promised I wouldn’t bore my blog readers with the techie stuff here, and I won’t. However, they will appreciate more what I share here if they understand the backdrop of consulting nurses, fiddling with devices, observing possible side effects, measuring renal output, and learning how to operate that cool recliner.

When I arrived at the chemo dispensing area, a large open-plan room divided into maybe fifteen cubicles like a Dilbert-style office, the place was quiet and I think I was the day’s first patient. My assigned space faced a window and a view of lovely fall color. (Yes, it is the middle of November, and our trees are just now turning!) Nurse Judi explained each step and got me started in an efficient manner, demonstrating her warm responsiveness that would carry throughout the day. We were off to a good start.

As the hours passed, the activity level in the center increased. Most infusions were much shorter than my six-hour stint, so there was quite a flow of humanity in and out of the place. Everyone was announced to the nurses by the required “full name and date of birth,” so I became aware of a gentleman age 91 across the way and others as they were checked in. “This place is jumpin’!” by midday.

The most intriguing entry, however, was the 45-year-old woman who moved in “next door.” She brought a friend with her (though she sounded like an entourage), and the two conversed non-stop throughout the morning. A third voice would chime in as well (the nurse, another friend?). They discussed upcoming Thanksgiving plans, gossiped about others in their community, efficiently mentioned other care plans related to the patient’s illness.  They also spoke about religious and spiritual things. I heard a quotation from Romans 8 read; something about a son-in-law who was an atheist—no, an agnostic—what’s the difference?—with references to churches attended (one I served for ten years as a pastor) and conversations had around cocktails . . .

Forget about the needle I was experiencing, forget about my confinement (albeit with a good view), it was torture not to be able to stand up, lean over the cubby wall, and enter into this conversation with my new neighbor! Trust me, I thought about it, but I couldn’t get past the confession, “Um, I’ve been eavesdropping on your chit-chat . . . .”  The logistics were a little awkward, too, but when did that ever stop me?

So I didn’t say a word.

As I awoke early this morning and replayed this scene, everything I have read and absorbed about being missional came flooding joyfully into my soul, reminding me again of my duty assignment change and God’s call in my life and the church’s mission. No, I’m not feeling guilty about refraining from sharing the gospel with a neighbor. I am feeling convicted about how difficult it is for a congregation to get out of its own chemo cubicle and enter into the circles of conversation going on in its neighborhood. How easy it is for churches to focus on meeting the needs of their members, treating them toward health, giving weekly infusions of gospel medicine, directing rehabilitation exercises, and forgetting the fact that they, at the least, are an outpatient clinic and not a hospital!

Though there is a necessary chaplaincy element to what pastors do, the urgency of the gospel requires them to be equippers, teachers, and senders, ushering their people out of their cubicle back into the world! If our members get so wired into the direct line of God’s healing serum and stuck in a comfortable recliner, they are in danger of staying and never going. But their neighborhoods, workplaces, and coffee shops are beckoning them to share the Life of Christ in authentic encounter, which requires eventually hanging out and entering conversations that are happening.

I really am stuck in a comfortable cubicle this week (although I am going to test the limits a bit more today), but most of my readers are not. So what do you say? Can you get a little curious about what people around you are talking about? Do you sense there are any experiences or circumstances you have in common? Has God given you a love for your neighbors? Since I am a little indisposed at the moment, would you go in my stead to build a bridge between Jesus and one lost soul? Just tell ’em “Mary sent me” assuming it’s still hard to say “Jesus sent me,” but that is the more accurate statement. It’s time to “think outside the chemo cubicle”!

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3 Responses to “Thinking Outside the Chemo Cubicle”

  1. Terry Says:

    Mary, What a wonderful message to awake up to! I will take the challenge. Blessings to you my friend,

    Terry

  2. Craig Pynn Says:

    A really thoughtful essay Mary, about “out.” One thing I’ve discovered is that if you can’t always get “out” –or even over the cubicle wall, God has a way of bringing people to you.

    One thing about cancer: it’s the “dread disease” and it trumps all the other diseases in perceived horror, so people are always curious to know how you’re feeling and when they see you, they’ll come right up to you. (I suspect you experienced a bit of that last Sunday.) I’ve found that to be a perfect opening to get beyond the physical to the spiritual, making it clear that living with this disease is about far more than just its clinical manifestation.

    [The tattoo that says “prostate cancer survivor” on my right wrist is another great “out” conversation starter, but I’m not necessarily suggesting that for you. 🙂 ]

    In Christ,
    Craig

    • revmary Says:

      For those readers not familiar with the “Up, In, and Out” language Craig uses here in his comment: “Up” refers to a person’s relationship with God, “In” refers to relationships within the Christian family; “Out” refers to our relationship with unbelievers and those in need of a demonstration of God’s Kingdom.
      One of the best conversation starters I have stumbled upon is needed when people say something like, “This must have rocked your world,” or “Has this just devastated you?” My answer is, “Well, actually no, the day after I got this news was pretty much like the day before. God has not changed and had me in his arms before, and he’s still got me now.”

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