Monday, October 5, 2009

Literary devices of the divine

My marathon ended with a whimper yesterday, but it was still a great day. I walked most of the 26.2 miles but my pace was brisker than expected and I simply enjoyed being out there—despite my right leg screaming bloody murder the last hour. It was humbling to finish so far back in the pack, but that’s where God wanted me this time. I clocked in at 5:12 in the company of grannies and gimps. My competitive fire was doused.

This culminates my comeback from cancer treatment. It’s officially been a year since my last injection of interferon. The road I’ve traveled has been far easier than what some people face. I follow a blog by Michael Moyles, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in ’99, and who has beaten it three times. Through it all, he runs. The tough patch I experienced last year was a walk in the park compared to the brain surgeries and dozens of chemo treatments he’s been through. The man is a warrior.

As a rule, what we most value in a story like Michael’s is the conflict that we seek to avoid in our own lives. What makes a good story is interesting characters, sustained conflict, a thwarting of desires, and a satisfying resolution. This is what we find in great literature and in good movies, and even in the occasional blog. I suspect it’s part of what motivated people to donate to my marathon fund. I understand enough about fundraising appeals to know that if you don’t touch people’s hearts, they won’t touch their wallets. Without embellishment, what I have experienced in recent months is simply a good story, if nothing else.

In an excerpt from his new book, “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil,” Randy Alcorn has posited that most of humanity’s greatest virtues surface in response to evil and suffering. Courage, compassion and sacrifice don’t just materialize out of thin air; they emerge in response to stimuli. If we lived the lives we think we deserve, there would undoubtedly be less pain in the world, but there would also be much less goodness and happiness, and ultimately no redemption. You can’t experience deep joy without first knowing something about sadness and brokenness.

I believe I succeeded at raising almost $10,000 for Acorn Outreach, our community nonprofit, because I had a good story to tell, and (not insignificantly) because I have wonderful friends and family who responded with kindness. I didn’t volunteer for cancer, and I certainly didn’t do anything deserving of the remission I’ve enjoyed. But having found myself where I am, I did what any good journalist would do—I told a story. And people were moved to action. We all love to see triumph over suffering.

Just as I’ve made myself a character in my own story, I am also a character in God’s. While there are times I’d like to walk out in protest, I wouldn’t want him to give up on me. His story gives my life meaning. I’m part of something great that is far bigger than me. As Randy Alcorn has written, “I trust God not only to bring the whole story together, but to do with my part of it what he knows to be best.”

Like most people, I don’t like plot twists. The ice pack I currently have wrapped around my right knee is a reminder that my marathon didn’t go to plan. A month ago, I figured my marathon story would be more glorious if I could come back from cancer to run a personal best. Alas, the story that God is telling through my life is the authorized version and I’m not allowed to copyedit. What I write in this blog are mere margin notes. And so my marathon came to a different ending than I wanted, but was still more than I had any right to expect. Contradictions are another literary device of which God is a master.


Marsha said...

You may not have achieved your personal best, but 5:12 with your injury is plenty amazing. Congratulations!

Michael said...

Great blog, Peter...and thanks so much for the kind words. It's an honor to fight alongside great bloggers like you...would be an honor to run with you too!

Keep marching on, fellow warrior...