A Lenten Thought: This Day You Will Be with Me in Paradise

We know so little about the man to whom these amazing words were addressed. We know he is a criminal. We know that he did something very serious, a capital crime. And we can assume that when the sun came up that morning, this man figured that he was about to endure the worst day of his life. He was going to be executed, and in a most excruciating way. And yet, before the day was over, he experienced the supreme defining moment of his life, when Jesus looked at him and absolutely guaranteed him Heaven.

Twenty-six years ago, I was working in Boston, taking the subway in and out every day. Unfortunately, I was robbed, and after that, I decided that I needed a new way to get to work. There was this bus that went directly into the Prudential Center. So every morning I was dropped off almost directly in front of St. Francis Chapel in the Pru at 7:45 AM. They have an 8AM daily Mass, and I didn’t start work until 9. So just to kill time, I began to go to daily Mass. There I was, thinking I was doing something nice for God. It didn’t occur to me until much later that the daily Mass habit was His gift to me, rather than my gift to Him. And with that came the understanding that our worst experiences sometimes carry with them the seeds of His most precious gifts.

Thankfully, that lesson stayed with me two years later when I was diagnosed with cancer at age 39. A whole lot worse than getting mugged, yes?  In fact, I had been carrying that tumor around for five or six years before it was discovered, since well before the events that had led me to daily Mass. God knew I had that tumor long before I did, and prepared me in advance for the experience that He knew was coming.

At the time, I asked Him to bring something beautiful out of this ugly situation. I didn't know what I wanted to have happen, but I needed to feel that it wouldn’t all be for nothing. After all the surgeries, radiation and chemo, I was finally free to resume my normal life.  With His help, my normal life now included the changes that the experience called me to make: quitting smoking (on the sixth try), starting my own consulting business, and getting very involved with the American Cancer Society. As a Reach to Recovery volunteer, I was privileged to share my story of hope with newly diagnosed cancer patients, to help them through the various stages of the breast cancer continuum.

God had brought something beautiful out of a bad day. In fact, He has continued to bring amazingly beautiful experiences out of two more episodes of cancer. I am one of the few ACS volunteers now who can effectively work with women who are experiencing recurrence, and who can offer them hope just by the fact that I am still here. It’s an extraordinary privilege, and I am most grateful for it. Grateful for that, and also for the insight that He has given me that there is no experience so awful that He can’t bring something incredibly beautiful out of it.  And grateful to that man who hung on his own cross, next to Jesus, for allowing us to hear his extraordinary story of hope and triumph.

 

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