In my Christian theology courses students regularly hear me talk about suffering. Suffering is central to the Gospel of Jesus because we live in a place Scripture calls the Wilderness (or the World), which was not designed as a place for humanity (that place is called the Land or the Kingdom, but I digress).
Teaching about suffering is not the same as suffering, and I’ve never really suffered before, not in the way caring for a cancer kid is suffering. But my suffering is nothing compared to my son’s suffering. There are small(ish) challenges like taking medicine, but there are also huge disappointments like missing school, hospitalizations, and painful procedures. Add to those nausea, fatigue, and the knowledge that you may face a painful death, and I just can’t imagine my son’s suffering.
I trust I have taught him a lot about following Jesus. Before he was born I began to pray that in my words and deeds I would help him see the wonder of the Gospel and the pleasure of life with Jesus. I’ve always been the team, he the student.
The student has now become the teacher.
Harrison is teaching me so much about how to suffer, like never let challenges become roadblocks.
I’ve written before about Harrison love for sports. When he was admitted to the hospital following his diagnosis the nurse asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He answered, “Either a pro football or baseball player.” My heart broke thinking he would never get to do either. When the doctors told him no football for three years his heart sank and his countenance changed. It’s one of the few things he has cried about.
The little man decided he wouldn’t let something like cancer keep him from sports. Forget the pain, the nausea, the discomfort. He’s stubborn like that. Not sure which parent he gets it from, but he sure has it. I’ve always remarked that “the force is strong” with Harrison.
A few weeks ago he went out with some kids from his baseball team to start shaking the dust off. He has a LONG way to go, but I was so proud of him for going. I feared he would get discouraged and not want to go back. He did get upset at what he couldn’t do:
I can’t run!
I can’t hit!
My hands hurt so bad when I hit!
I wanted to be strong for my son, but inside I wept. He’s always been the leader, the one who helped other kids, the one who quietly showed them how to play the game by example. Now, he struggled. He was frustrated. He may have wanted to call it quits.
But he didn’t.
He decided if he wanted to play the game he loved, he would need to face the obstacles. He would have to look the enemy in the eye and punch it in the face. I asked if he really wanted to play this year. He responded, “Of course. I’ll just have to work harder than everyone else.”
He went to his first practice of the spring last night. The day before he had two incredibly strong chemicals injected into his heart. He felt terrible. He hardly could get off the couch. But he was going! I tried to get him to stay home and rest. Without using these words, his answer was basically, “I have a life to live and cancer won’t stand in my way.”
When Harrison went in to hit, I was standing in centerfield watching batting practice. He was on deck warming up, then I saw him walk off the field and behind the dugout. Perhaps he was going to the restroom. After a few minutes he didn’t return. Instinctively, I knew what was happening. As I walked off the field I saw him bent over behind the dugout.
I felt for my son. I knew he would be embarrassed on top of being sick.
I walked over to comfort him, trying not to weep for him. I wiped his nose, his mouth, his eyes. I looked at my wet sleeve and thought those tears were like a precious ointment healing my own pain. My own anger at cancer slipped into only compassion for my son.
I asked him if he wanted to leave.
He turned his head and looked into my eyes: “I’m staying.” Cancer be damned.
I’ve always been proud of my children. All three of them have a can-do, never give up attitude. But this was remarkable.
Harrison drank some water, wiped his eyes, composed himself and walked right back onto the field to hit. Every swing caused his little hands to hurt worse. Every swing was a struggle to get the bat around. Every swing was another reason to quit. But every time Harrison raised the bat in an act of defiance: I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!
I’m learning a lot about cancer through this. I’m learning a lot about suffering. But most importantly, I’m learning a lot about my son. And everything I learn about him makes be proud of the boy he is and the young man he is becoming. He’s always wanted to grow up and be like me. Maybe one day I’ll be like him.