I’m not suffering with a horrible body awareness issue (see photo), but there are a few small features I wish were different about my tabernacle.*
(For the record, that is my face and fishing hat!)
I’ll restrain myself from disclosing the 23 adjustments I’m hoping for in my glorified body but I will own the vanity of wishing that my skin could take a little more sun than it does. Tan I am not! My Scot-Irish ancestry is seen in my ruddy freckled complexion. “Ruddy” of course meaning “red”, as in, “He’s as red as a tomato.” “Tomato” being a short lived nickname a couple of 9th grade knucklehead best friends gave me because of my regular second-degree sunburn from surfing and beach life.
Note: Growing up in So. Cal the only lotion I ever saw anyone but on their body was baby oil… sunscreen was practically unheard of.
So, over the decades I’ve grilled my epidermis like a cheap steak a zillion times. Somewhere along the way the concept of skin damage popped onto my radar with my first, “Hey, this mole looks a little funky” moment being circa 1988. That began my pilgrimages to a dermatologist for an annual pruning/zapping/frying of sundry oddities. One Doc examining my back compared it to a pier piling covered with barnacles! The visits have simply become a part of life, like getting an oil change, paying your taxes or having corn beef on St. Patrick’s Day… the pathology reports always came in “negative” a week or two later.
So this June I trot in to the dermatology office for the usual examination. A dozen spots are frozen, a couple of blots/weird-pigment-smudges removed and a little something new... a prescription for a topical cream (fluorouracil) that destroys precancerous cells. In the ten days you’re applying this stuff you become a living scab, lichen with personality, a Star War “bar scene” character. I looked so bad I considered wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask or withdrawing from civilization for 10 days. The directions warn you: Do Not get this in your eyes or upon your lips, to wash your hands thoroughly after applying and then suggest you wear rubber gloves when touching it… I’m thinking, “And I’M PUTTING THIS ON MY FACE?!?
Deciding not to take my “sick days” I show up at work as usual with most of my 30-something knucklehead best friends calling me Freddie Krueger!
My favorite moment was when sweet and kind Amanda, seeing my face for the first time, simply said, “It must hurt”. It wasn’t a question.
My treatment ends none-to-soon and the family and I take off for a little R&R at Lake Havasu. It’s a great vacation aided by the fact that we were mercifully cut off from the known world having no cell phone coverage or email access.
At vacations end, driving back towards LA my phone gets coverage and starts picking up a number of messages. There are three that catch my interest, each along the lines of:
“Hello Craig, this is Doctor Jones**, I’m trying to reach you to go over your pathology report. Would you give me a call so we can set up a time to talk.”
Huh… I have never had the doctor call to give me a pathology report… it’s always been a nurse. The standard line is, “Mr. McConnell the removed tissue was Basal cell carcinoma, “no problem… wear sunscreen… we’ll see you at your annual checkup. Oh, and wear sunscreen!”
I’m thinking this isn’t good. For a variety of almost comedic reasons it takes me 4 days to finally reach my doctor. I’m toast…
My doctor confirms that the tissue was a melanoma and that I need to set up an appointment with a surgeon to have the whole tumor removed… soon.
It was then that everything went into slow motion. Voices were muffled and I felt like I was viewing the world through tunnel vision.The big soggy wet cold blanket of my mortality had been thrown over me. Some of you have been there. Some of you are there now. It was startling; I was knocked off center. Stunned!
At some point in all of this God intrudes asking, “What’s changed with this diagnosis… really?”
My knee jerk immediate reaction was: “E v e r y t h i n g!”
Looking back it was surprisingly quick that I found some solid ground and perspective.
That I am mortal isn’t new? That has always been true from the moment I was conceived. We all die. Some in the womb, some at 23 yrs. old in combat (like my father), some in an accident at 36 or in bed at 92. That I’ll die isn’t new… it just feels like it.
That I could die sooner than later feels new? But in truth the gift of life is so very fragile and precious…we are dependent upon God for our every breath. I began to face the godless assumption that I would live to a “ripe old age” (James 4:13–15), when, in truth, there have never been any guarantees that tomorrow will come. This led to some necessary repentance. So… that my days are numbered isn’t new either. Nothing has changed, it just seems like it.
Whether or not it’s a change I found myself craving life… to possess it, live in it, share it, fondle it and celebrate it. With no sluggish assumptions about the length of my life, I found myself diving into the depths of life; wanting to love and live with Lori, Lindsey, Meagan and the sacred circle of family and friends I enjoy. It feels like a change wrought by my diagnosis… and maybe it is. But I’ve always wanted to live passionately for God about God, sucking the marrow out of life regardless of the circumstances I find myself in. If this is a change… it’s for the better and I’ll take it!
So there I was… realizing that very little has actually changed and all that has shifted seems pretty good at the moment!
The life I want is forever and always rooted in Christ... nothing else. Not my health, not my circumstances. And the words of an old sage come to mind, to live is Christ.
In July the Melanoma was surgically removed and my prognosis is life!
Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. - Psalm 90:12 NLT
(There is so much more to say about all of this, and the truth is that I’m still processing my mortality with God. If interested, John and I recorded and posted on our web site a podcast in which I share another part of this story. The podcast title is: God In Our Summer Part 2)
* I always smile when I read Old King James refer to our body as a “tabernacle” in 2 Corinthians 5:4; thus I had to use it here! The passage: For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
** Though he’s an incredible doctor that I would highly recommend and continues to be my dermatologist it seems best not to share his real name.
*** Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. – Genesis 25:8 NASB