Two weeks ago, I attended the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event in Steinbach. As I watched my dad complete the Survivor’s Walk two and a half years after his last surgery and two years after his last treatment, I was thankful to God. Not because I believed that God saved my dad’s life. Believing that God saved my dad’s life, means believing that God chooses not to save over 200 Canadian cancer victims every day. I would have to somehow believe that God chose to let my dad’s cousin die of cancer and that the little boy whose mother spoke at the event was never “meant” to reach the age of three. I can't be satisfied or comforted by a reference to 'God's mysterious plan', a plan that hinges on active, divine decisions to save some but not others.
Similarly, I do not want to hear about how my family grew in faith all thanks to a God-given cancer. No, the cancer was not gift wrapped by God and it was good doctors, science, and luck that saved my dad.
Still, as all of the survivor’s yellow balloons floated up into a grey sky at the end of the Survivor’s Walk, I felt God’s presence, and I was thankful.
I was thankful for the Facebook messages filled with compassion I received from friends from back home. For the support extended to me from members of my church. For the willingness of my new friends in Vancouver to listen to my fears and respond with hope. For the distraction, comfort, and peace offered to me when I was taking care of babies far away in Kenya. For the unquestioned, continual love shown by my parent’s friends and my extended family that led them to go out of their way to take the strain off my mom, keep my dad company, and help my family remain afloat. In all of these interactions, in the strength of my mom, brother, and sister and in the courage of my dad, I felt God’s presence and was thankful.
So I do not believe that God decided to save my dad’s life, but I do believe that God was as vibrantly present during my dad’s battle with cancer as a yellow balloon hovering in a cloudy sky.
After the cancer spread to my dad’s liver, he was told that he might only have 3-5 years left to live. I am thankful for God’s presence in that moment. And now, with my dad’s bright yellow survivor’s t-shirt folded up in his closet, I am thankful for God’s presence in our joy.