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Friday, March 29, 2013

Contemplate - The Quality of Life

A while back I heard a radio interview with Roger Ebert.  I remember Roger Ebert as the other half of the famous movie critics Siskel & Ebert.  Gene Siskel died about 8 years ago, but Roger was still working as a film critic with the Chicago Sun Times and on TV after Gene's death.  In 2006, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which subsequently became cancer of the salivary glands and then cancer of the jaw.  He had many treatments and surgeries to rebuild his face which was ravaged by cancer.  The entire bottom of his face is gone and he can't speak because of a tracheotomy.  He uses a computer to speak for him.  He continues to suffer through other health problems, including a fractured hip in December.

As I listened to the radio interview, I thought it was so sad that his life was basically over because so much had been taken from him.  I caught myself and realized - hey, the guy isn't dead yet.  He still writes a regular movie column and well known blog.  His 2011 memoir, Life Itself, is being developed into a movie.

While I was looking for pictures of iron lungs for my post about vaccines, I found this story about a 71 year old woman who lived her entire adult life in an iron lung, dying in her sleep in 2009.

She was cheerful and satisfied even though she spent most of her life in an 800 pound tank.  Initially, I found myself thinking her life was so tragic and wasted.  Not so.  Even though she was stricken with polio at age 11 (in 1948), she graduated from high school, received her associate's degree and a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest College (now University).  In each instance she graduated first in her class.  She was a friend to everyone in her small town, young and old, many of whom came to her home to share high school graduations, wedding celebrations and dinner parties.  She appeared in two documentaries and wrote a memoir in 2003, Breath (Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung).  

I've had some time to think about my reactions to both of these stories.  How dare I judge the quality of anyone's life?  I just assume that someone who suffers or is disabled can't be happy living through that.  My faith immediately tells me that is wrong, but I'm still struggling with it.

Tonight I read a reflection on Jesus' words to his disciples:  "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you."  How much better can life get than to have your Savior and friend look you in the eye and tell you He loves you as much as God loves Him?  Yet each of these disciples Jesus spoke to would go on to suffer fear, deprivation, doubt and horrendous painful deaths.  God's love doesn't guarantee a "happy" life, at least not by the standards I've been using.

Upon further reflection, I think I'm beginning to understand that suffering can be a gift.  It provides a person the opportunity to witness to God's goodness and mercy in the midst of pain.  Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but to rejoice in the times of trial.  It's not so easy to live life for God's glory when you're living it for your own comfort and enjoyment.  A person who is suffering can give a powerful testimony to God's love and mercy, and show the rest of us that the value of life isn't measured by what we consider health and wealth.  Just look to one of the best examples of this testimony:

A "quality life" is not a life of good health, wealth and worldly happiness.  It comes from the knowledge that life, no matter what the circumstances, is a precious gift from God that is meant to be lived for His glory.