Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in February David and I have been living in Buffalo, NY. Daughters, grandchildren and a cancer institute two miles from the apartment we rent year around made the decision to settle in for the duration of treatment. Adding to those blessings has been the small urban Buffalo Vineyard Church that we attend.
A debriefing session was held after church today about the Friday evening barbecues that the church hosts in Buffalo’s urban west side during the summer months. This urban church is small in number but its members, mostly younger than 35, have big hearts and active mission to the people in their urban community.
We sat outside after church eating snacks while discussing the usual questions posed during a debrief of a major church initiative: “What went well, what needs to be improved upon, what lessons did we learn for next year, and how did anyone see God at work?”
I shared my story and Maryanne said, “Dona that can be the title of your next blog post.” I have taken her up on it because among other things rats can be great ice breakers of which I will explain shortly, but first I will share another time when a rat played an important role in a social setting.
Senegal World Vision trip 2005
Eight of us were eating in a restaurant in a small town near villages we were visiting. Our church in Juneau Alaska was partnering with World Vision and village elders to bring clean water to an impoverished area serving a couple thousand people. As we were eating our meal a huge rat darted past the door keeper. Women screamed, maybe some men, too. Some folks jumped on chairs and others like me were in denial saying ridiculous things like, “That’s not a rat. It’s too big. It’s probably a gopher.” The rat was frantically running underneath tables and chairs trying to avoid the door keeper whose powerful legs finally won the day when he soccer- kicked the “gopher” rat across the room, through the door into the dusty dirt road from where he came. The room erupted with applause, cheers and high fives as we witnessed this great athletic feat by our door man. We laughed, told our versions, commiserated with the other patrons of the restaurant about their versions. Met new people. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
West Side Buffalo, June 2014
The grills were being prepared as adults from the community were coming and sitting on folding chairs and children were running around waiting for the food to be cooked and offered. Many folks from the church had their barbecuing tasks to prepare for and others like me were sitting around trying to get to know some people who were coming to this weekly event. I set my sights on a group of three women who seemed to know each other well as they talked about things in the community of which I knew nothing about. But being the talker that I am (not even chemo can take that away from me) I ventured into their space and introduced myself and they did likewise. They asked me if I went to the church that was putting on the barbecue. I no sooner said yes, then they told me that they had seen a dead rat on one of the five grills that was getting ready to be fired up. In fact, they emphatically told me that the grill had been leaning on the side of the church for two days with the dead rat on it for both days; and someone needed to do something about that grill. I had the distinct feeling that that someone was meant to be me. Two reactions came up immediately. The first was laziness. I didn’t want to do anything about it because I figured a grill heated up to over a 1000 degrees would kill any left-over dead rat-ness. I said as much but they were not impressed and seemed annoyed. “Someone needs to wash that grill with hot soapy water,” the women said again and again. I knew that someone was meant to be me. My second reaction was disgust. I didn’t want to get that close and personal with a grill that had been the resting place for a dead rat for two days. I wanted to shoot back by using my cancer card, “You do it, I’m in cancer treatment and don’t need this”. But I knew that this was not the way to make new friends.
After cleaning the grill with hot soapy water, the women invited me back over to their circle with a, “You did good, girl!” We all warmed up to each other. Finding out I had cancer they told me encouraging stories about family members who got cancer and were treated wonderfully at Roswell Cancer Institute before they died ( hmm…..not the most encouraging of outcomes) but I knew for them the question of life or death was not the point of the experience. It was that their loved ones and they by virtue of proximity to their loved ones were treated respectfully and lovingly at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. They wanted me to be encouraged by such an important truth: how we are treated by strangers whose job is to care about us is the point. I was so glad for hot soapy water and the presence of mind to finally show that I cared for what they cared about. This was my story of how God was at work, even through a dead rat.
Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.”