I was sitting in one of many patient waiting rooms at Vanderbilt Hospital, waiting for an MRI that was supposed to tell me why my body was rejecting all the medicine that was supposed to make me better.
Two years ago, I sat there in that room, in my thin hospital gown and socks, feeling the cold that seems to consume hospitals. The cold that could be a temperature problem, but is probably more a hope problem. That’s what the cold does. Takes away any degree of warmth that might make a body feel comfortable.
I sat there, alone, for about twenty minutes wondering why I was even there. I didn’t know why the medicine wasn’t working but I did know it wasn’t working. And what was the point of knowing something if there wasn’t a way to fix it. That’s what I thought as he walked in. A poor, worn out version of a man with a head full of gray and a face full of grief. We sat there, in that expanse of cold, sitting side by side in our hospital gowns, keeping the distance between us with silence. And then he turned to me.
“You hurt yourself in a sport?” He asked me.
“No sir, I’ve been sick for eight years. My body won’t seem to work with any medicine.”
I looked at his face. That old, withered face that slumped into the kind of tiredness that we only get from being in life.
“Oh.” He replied. “I’ve got cancer.”
I looked at him and my heart sunk for this hopeless man. He went on as if he was only reciting a grocery list. “Yep, cancer. The first doctor I saw was back home, you ever heard of Corryton? Yep, Doctor there said I’d be dead in less than 3 months. But the doctors here, well they gave me a 57% chance of living, and I said I’d take that.”
What do you say? What do you say to a man who has half a chance of living? What do you say to a man eaten up by more than just cancer? Eaten up by hopelessness.
“You know, I’m not afraid of dying.” He kept on, “Well, not too afraid. But I don’t want to leave my wife. I don’t think she’s ready for that.”
Then he looked at me. And I realized this man was looking at me for an answer to his question. Somehow, my being sick for eight years was enough credibility for this man to ask me the question he didn’t even know how to ask. I had no idea what to say. Because what do you say to a man who’s getting the exact opposite of what he’s expecting from life?
But then I remembered that in 2 weeks was Easter. And the coming weekend was Palm Sunday.
“Sir.” I started, a little unsure of what was coming out.
“Danny. Danny Helms. Call me Danny.”
“Ok. Well, Mr. Helms? Danny? Did you know this weekend is Palm Sunday?”
“Course I do.” He talked as easy as my grandpa. “Jesus came into Jerusalem and all the Jewish people praised Him while He came in on that donkey.”
“Yes sir. You’re right.” I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure what was going to come next. “But did you know they were praising Him because they thought He was coming to overthrow the Roman government? See Mr. Helms, the Hebrew people, they’d been hoping Jesus would be their earthy king, their messiah from the Roman oppression. And I’m sure there were several godly Jews who prayed that Jesus would do just that. Save them, and be their king, and rule Israel. But sometimes I think about that and I think, what if God had answered those prayers. What if God had changed His mind and said OK and instead of Jesus dying on Calvary for our sins, He ruled Israel, and ran out the Romans? There never would have been payment. And you and me, we’d still be sacrificing goats and wondering how our sinful selves would ever find a way to be in the presence of God. But the thing is, God was wiser than the prayer requests. God knew that Jesus couldn’t be king of Israel, no matter what persecution may follow for the Jews, because the greater glory was through salvation.”
I stopped. I realized I had been looking at the floor. I looked up at my new friend and saw His eyes cemented to me. “Mr. Helms, what I’m trying to say is, I don’t know why you’ve got cancer. I don’t know why God won’t heal you, and take all this away, and keep you and your wife and me from crying. And I don’t know why this sickness has lingered in my body for 8 years. But I do know this: if my not being healed is anything like the Jews not getting the answer to their prayers then it’s because something greater is destined.”
Danny didn’t say a word. I couldn’t even swallow, the silence was so thick. Then he looked at me.
“This cancer that’s eating me up. And that disease that’s eating you up. Well, it’s a bigger story than us, huh?”
I smiled. “Yes sir, it is.”
“Doesn’t make it easier, though.” He said, shaking his head.
“No sir, not at all.”
A door opened, and a man in scrubs walked in. Danny went with the man and I sat there. I sat there in that same waiting room, but this time, it wasn’t as cold. Because it wasn’t a temperature problem it was a hope problem. Only now, there wasn’t any hopelessness to take any degrees of warmth. Instead, I was in a room full of hope. And I felt plenty warm.