Today I made a new friend. There are friends who enter our lives by formal introduction, or professional association, or church affiliation, or maybe because they are friends of a friend, but today, God introduced me to Scott, and for a wonderful purpose I’m sure.
Scott is a man of perhaps 35 or 40 years old, and a writer, but a writer with an unusual expertise. Scott is a person who suffered serious brain limitations after diagnosis and treatment of brain cancer. Scott used to write project management reports and new project proposals.
When I met Scott, he was sitting alone at a table in a coffee house I visit a couple times a week. I had noticed him earlier focused on his laptop. He seemed a strong and healthy younger man, with the ability to concentrate on the work at hand. I was walking past his table, and he stopped me to ask a question: “I overheard you talking with your group. You are a writer, I take it, and I need help. I am writing something, and could use your advice. Do you mind?”
I then first noticed that this young man, mostly bald, had a slight concavity to his skull near the top, and to one side. I noticed too that he had a metal crutch not far from his chair. When he spoke, his voice was slow, and raspy. Scott explained that he needed some help with an article he was writing for his blog. He had created a blog named beyondinjury.com. Scott was recovering from brain cancer, and had not worked for years, as much as he wanted to work. He thought he had the resources and abilities needed to return to work. For years he denied his limitations of thought and body. He no longer was in denial. Now he wanted to write for persons with brain injury and their friends and family who loved them.
Of course I sat down with him, and I offered to “brainstorm” with him ideas for his “hook.” He understood the idea of a hook, and so we developed a quick idea: “Crashing on the Neural Highway.” He liked it. So we moved on: What was it Scott wanted to say in the article? What I learned is that Scott wanted to encourage people with brain injuries to accept that their mental functioning was likely impaired for life, and that staying in denial about the changes in their “identities” would only cause them to stay stuck. He wanted people to know that their value was not in their ability to perform the work they once performed. He wanted people with brain injuries to make a realistic assessment of their new limitations, and from there to make positive contributions to their futures.
Scott asked me what I was currently writing. I explained my story in short form. He said, “Why did you decide upon that story?” You tend not to pull punches with a man who has recovered from brain cancer and is writing about the reality of living with new truths. “I was writing for a time just what I wanted to write, but came to a point where I had to ask: Just who am I as a writer? What is my calling as Frank Pray, as opposing to any other writer out there? For me, that means honoring God in my writing.”
Scott got it. “Yes,” he said, “You realized your own identity. You’re lucky you didn’t have to have a brain injury to figure that out.” Scott was now encouraging and helping me. God is always up to that kind of thing. He doesn’t make half-assed introductions.
It was soon clear in my questions to Scott that the focus of his own efforts went to the very core of our “true” identities, and working with those identities to deliver value to our fellow human beings. Scott was a wise man, brought to wisdom through a personal tragedy, but committed to using that tragedy to deliver both “reality” and “hope” to people suffering from brain damage. The brain, that very temple of the soul, the locus of emotion and logic, of perception and movement, the control panel of the neural transit system, was now the place that Scott found his new identity. Scott wanted to reach out to others who were suffering, and to alleviate their pain.
Scott smiled at my overtly religious declaration of wanting to honor God in my writing. His smile was one of pleasure, not derision or judgment. I think a man losing part of his brain to cancer has a high tolerance for nut cases like me. It didn’t matter. I liked Scott, and he liked me. The conundrum was not his brain injury, for that was fairly evident, and the main topic of the meeting. What was not clear was whether I was his angel, or he mine. In retrospect, I think we each prophesized to the other.
You see, we each were to receive the same message, just differently delivered. Scott and I are writers, and both of us are focused on living out our true identities, especially in our writing. We each feel a calling. Scott shared that he was grateful in a strange way for his brain injury, for by it, he was forced out of his world of routine work, and given the time to volunteer. He shared that he was a speaker for the “Make a Wish” foundation, and that he also volunteered to help homeless families participate in the building of their new donated homes. I found myself inspired. I did not have time to share with Scott what he had given me in that brief statement, but it was the message I needed, and he was my “angel.” He needed to quickly gather up his belongings because a transit service for the disabled would arrive in minutes to pick him up, and he sometimes he was left behind by impatient drivers. We exchanged emails, and I committed to help him with his writing. What he did not know that I had already received my reward.
Scott needed cancer to pull him away from one “reality” and one “identity” into a new “identity” and a new “reality.” Now he was busy making lemonade out of lemons. He had moved from a world of taking to a world of giving. I am reminded of the widow Jesus identified to the onlookers as he spoke of a giving heart. The widow who dropped her few coins as an offering, was to be praised more than those who gave but a small fraction of their abundance.”
I have been thinking deeply recently about what can only be described as the “leap.” Everywhere around me are messages of “faith.” Articles I am reading, people I am meeting, cases I am taking, all seem to be focused on reminding me almost daily that the “test” is at hand. Either you take God seriously, and hand over the keys, or you continue to play at the edges. God is not fully engaged at the edges, but at the center. At the center are adventure, risk, danger, destiny, and the revealed Glory of the Lord. God is telling me: Go there!
There are mornings I awake, feeling unrested and anxious. It is then that I need a dose of soundtrack music from Rocky or Gladiator. Most of the time, I cry out to an invisible God, a God I trust in the gap. I recently heard a writer speak on TED. After the blockbuster first book, she felt the pressure of meeting the expectations for a second: “I struck a deal. I no longer carried the full burden of writing genius material everyday. In fact, I gave up control of the process and the result. I simply showed up at the appointed time and place. After striking a deal with her “Muse,” she said, if it didn’t go well, she would say: “So I’m here God, as we agreed — on time, in place, and doing my part. So, where are you?”
Isn’t faith like that? It’s a higher order of insanity—like Abraham about to kill his promised and most miraculous son whom he loved more than anything in this material world. We can dare anything, show up anywhere, go to any extreme, if we trust that God will meet us there, and do His part.
I’m not waiting for a heart attack or cancer. I have a calling, and in 2013, there will be some radical new expressions of “showing up.” I have Scott in part to thank for that.