The old-style letter came disguised as an email. But despite the digital delivery, the contents could have been handwritten with a fountain pen or dip quill. The subject, simple.
Thank you for your books.
I get a lot of emails—dozens, often hundreds—every day. The quick answers I usually zip back immediately, but if I open one and it’s long and obviously full of wonderful encouragement, I tend to set them aside until all the “grunt work” is done.
Not this time.
It was March 12, 2013. I know this because emails that are especially dear to me make it into a special folder in my inbox. I imagine them tied with a pretty aqua ribbon and aging just a little around the edges where I’ve almost worn the ink off with my rereads.
I’m an author. I do stuff like that.
Why was the letter (I refuse to call it “just” an email) so special to me? Was it that she valued my work and said so? Not really—not in the way people usually mean when they say things like that. No, I think it was because she spoke of my characters as if they were real—just like they kind of are to me. I’m rather private about my correspondence, but I have to share a paragraph to show you what I mean.
I found myself wondering about Hope’s parents encouraging her friendship with Jay as he wasn’t a Christian. In my family, we would probably have encouraged a family friendship but not an individual one for Hope and Jay. I think it says a lot about their trust in Hope. And Jay’s spiritual journey was awesome. I loved this book.
She went on to give me a play by play of what she thought of each individual book, what about it inspired her, how it impacted her life.
In one of her emails, she admitted she hadn’t liked Christian fiction the first time she encountered it. But after reading mine, she’d found lots of wonderful authors. And, due to an illness that kept her from being able to be very active, she soon became many authors’ “right-hand gal.” She edited, promoted, and generally supported authors in any way she could.
Her name is Joy. Aptly named if you ask me.
I met Joy later that year. In my epic drive from Buladean, NC up to Morgantown, WV, I stopped in Princeton, WV. Joy drove herself and a friend, Jan, over to Princeton and we met at Cracker Barrel for lunch. I had a blast! They brought me gifts, but I still don’t know if they realize that I consider their presence with me their greatest present.
Joy died this week—cancer.
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Have I Ever Mentioned How Much I Hate Cancer?
Well, I do. All kinds. Physical, mental, spiritual, societal. If it’s a cancer, I hate it.
I’ve lost dearly-loved family and friends to this, and we all know that I’ll lose more. A grandfather I never knew. Two wonderful uncles. A local friend who encouraged me so much as a young mother. Joy. And in the next few years, there’ll be at least one other friend.
The way cancer eats at previously healthy, vibrant people and leaves them a wasted shell of what once were… Ugh. Such an evil, insidious disease.
And it affects us more than just physically.
Our minds allow “free radicals” of unhealthy thinking to dig deep into our thoughts and wreak havoc on mental health. If left unchecked, those unhealthy thought processes will slowly eat away at our ability to see truth. And I’m not even talking about “regular” mental health issues. I’m just talking about the ones we create when we don’t focus on what is “true… lovely… of good report.”
When we allow Satan to whisper lies into our spirits and souls, and we further allow those lies to feed on the truths we’ve kept hidden away in our hearts, the result is a mental cancer of our own creation.
Let me tell you something. The church is riddled with cancer right now. It seems like “free radical” garbage corrupts some Biblical truth every week. But spiritual cancer isn’t new.
Have you ever read Galatians? I’m going through that book in our weekly Bible study using the Journible system (stay tuned for a review on it in a few weeks or check out my video on it HERE!). Writing out those verses where Paul has to rebuke Peter for being influenced by the CANCER of the judaizers has taught me sooo much about how there really isn’t anything new under the theological/heretical sun!
Look. I’ll admit it. I like rules. Lots of them. As long as there’s a rule to tell me which rule to follow when and a nice row of checkboxes to tick off as I accomplish each rule’s requirements, I’m a happy camper.
But the Gospel isn’t about rules. It’s about JESUS. And yet how often do we fight to create some system of sanctification that requires we clean up ourselves before appealing to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. OUCH.
Every civilization has crumbled eventually. From God’s help with the Great Flood, Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah, to the Egyptians, the Romans, the Picts, and watching what’s happening around the world… yeah. It feels like modern civilization is on the verge of collapse. We think we can avoid it—that we’re better than those earlier ones.
But the cancers of political and societal unrest have toppled many great civilizations. If you don’t think America and the rest of “Western Civilization” are in the middle of political and societal unrest, then, please. Prove me wrong. You have no idea how much I want to be.
And I believe those unrests develop first with truths that need to be addressed—political corruption, racism, abuse of power. But eventually, unscrupulous people enter into otherwise healthy units growing, learning, and healing and attack with the relentlessness of cancer.
Because, you see, that’s how cancer works.
It begins as a normal, healthy cell. Normal cells grow, divide, and then die. Cancer cells do not die.
And in society, the church, and the mind, just like in the body, when those things, once they’ve done their job, do not die, they create havoc. And what amazed me when I looked this up is that one of the reasons this happens is… are you ready for it?
They don’t mature.
Yep! That’s right? They stay immature. They just keep dividing, creating more and more immature cells that never mature, but divide, grow, and spread. According to a Canadian health website, the process looks like this:
Cells that should die, don’t. Instead, as out of control organisms, they divide, don’t mature as they should, don’t develop into cells with specific jobs, avoid the immune system (the parallel here is almost freaky!), ignore the signals telling them to stop dividing and die, don’t stick together like they should, so they spread out and attack other areas of the body, until eventually, they damage the body as a whole.
When you read that progression, you can see it fit in the body, of course. But what about the mind. Can’t you see that progression when your feelings overtake your thoughts? Look, feelings are real. I don’t want to pretend they’re not. But they also lie. And when you allow your feelings to lie to your mind… it behaves much like that cancer scenario up there.
All the feel-good so-called theology that does nothing but drive people into their own self-importance rather than to the foot of the cross? That began as a cancer—a radical knee-jerk reaction to someone not liking the fact that without Jesus, we deserve hell. Or… in a knee-jerk reaction to the people who reacted the first time, we have people filling our churches with rules and “proofs of salvation” that are man-made instead of heart driven.
Look. I know what James says about how we demonstrate our faith shows the sincerity and validity of it. I know it. But he never once said that we do those things to GAIN salvation. To GAIN that faith! He said that as a result, those things would happen. A natural-outpouring.
Not the other way around, folks!
Society—if we aren’t watching that progression right now as people fight to stop the evil of racial prejudice, political corruption, and abuse of authority, then I must have a bigger imagination than I thought. I can see it play out for me in the news and online. DAILY.
I see it play out in families. At schools. With children on the playground.
The cancer is sin. It eats at the very fiber of who we are as people.
I hate it. Oh, man, I hate it.
And I hate that this week I said goodbye (for now), to my friend Joy. They had her service on Saturday. Authors from all over the world sent messages to be read—messages that told of her delightful spirit and her heart for Christian fiction.
Joy is still Joy. She’s still alive. I refuse to speak of her in the past tense. Because, you see, despite the evil of the cancer that attacked her and won in this life,
Jesus won over ALL death. And she’s alive still. With Him.
He beat that cancer. And you know what? He’s the answer—the weapon—against all cancers. Physical, mental, spiritual, and societal, Jesus is the only weapon that can and will defeat them.
See you again, Joy!