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Tomorrow is election day, which means for the last several months, politicians and talking heads have force fed us dogmatic assertions and simple-sounding "solutions" to our nation’s most pressing problems. And most of us are happy to open wide and take it all in.

But have you noticed that every election cycle, we find ourselves voting for the latest quick fixes to the same age-old “issues”? Issues like abortion, addiction, child abuse, crime, education, fatherlessness, health care, homelessness, immigration, inflation, poverty, suicide, and unemployment, to name a few.

We pontificate about these crises as if they happen in a vacuum and lose sight of the fact that every issue begins with people in pain. We tweet and post and shout our theoretical solutions. But there are no theoretical people – only real humans with stories and struggles, without whom there are no issues to argue about.

So, if we want to create lasting change that helps people flourish instead of flounder, we need to go to the source and start with compassion.

As a breast cancer survivor and nonprofit director, I’ve seen suffering up close and personal. I can attest that when we look in their eyes and humble ourselves enough to listen and learn, these precious sufferers have much to teach us.

They need help, yes. But more than that, they need hope. They need a reason to go on, a reason to believe that their one real broken and battered life matters, and assurance that their heavy burdens won’t always feel this crushing.

And we’re expecting the government to do that? Really?

I think there’s a better way. Let’s start with the broken parts of our hearts and stories and reach out from there. We know intuitively that we are most able to help others in areas where we have suffered ourselves.

Since my breast cancer experience, I have many new “bosom buddies”, as we call ourselves. We bonded because we’ve all walked that road. The same holds true for divorcees, parents who have lost children, recovering addicts, single moms, and veterans. When you’ve been in a dark place, you can see more clearly to help others find the light.

There are faith-based and nonprofit organizations that address every imaginable issue. So, let’s not waste our pain.

Volunteer. Donate. Mentor. Serve. Listen. Love.

I’m not suggesting that we serve sufferers in lieu of voting or that we completely abandon a political path. Research the candidates and ballot measures and, by all means, vote! It’s our right and our duty. We should absolutely educate ourselves about the policies and legislation that affect these pain points.

I’m simply saying we might have the process a little backwards.

What if we followed Jesus’s example and started by simply noticing the beaten and bruised in our world?

What if we touched the hurting – literally and metaphorically – and allowed ourselves to be touched by them?

What if we stopped treating people like projects and just met them where they are?

What if we prayed brutally honest prayers, then trusted God, who is in all and over all? The God who loves the whole world not just in some detached macro way, but in an intimate one-hurting-person-at-a-time way.

Call me crazy, but if we did that, I think things could change. And we just might discover our purpose in the process.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the pink ribbon is everywhere. As a one-year breast cancer survivor, I am thankful for campaigns designed to bring cancer to the country’s consciousness and raise funds for research, support, and hopefully one day, a cure.

Four beloved women in my family have battled breast cancer, so I was no stranger to it. And while our family isn’t one to sweep problems under the rug, I don’t remember hearing much.

There was a diagnosis and a treatment plan. We would pray and stay positive, and it would all be fine. Just fine. I knew my mom was scared and the surgeries were disfiguring. That sums up the extent of my breast cancer “awareness”.

Fast forward to February of 2021… I went for my annual mammogram, after which I received a clean report in the mail. Skimming that letter, “no abnormalities…blah, blah, blah”, then tossing it casually into the recycling basket is now one of those freeze-frame life memories for me.

Eight weeks later, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer after I accidentally found a large tumor in the bathtub.

That is the moment when my personal breast cancer awareness campaign began.

My schooling started at the very first appointment. The oncologist said, “You have cancer.” I heard, “You’re going to die.” Through my shocked fog, I made out that I would start 20 weeks of chemo right away and when, by instinct, I pulled up my work calendar to schedule it, she laughed out loud.

She wasn’t trying to be insensitive. She just knew the rules of the game, and I did not. I was foolish enough to think that I could have cancer (during COVID, no less) and a life.

I didn’t know that the C-word touches every area of your life – physical, mental, emotional, financial, relational, spiritual, vocational – and works its way into all your soul’s cracks and crevices.

It didn’t occur to me that, of all the emotions cancer patients feel, shame would be the most pervasive. Inexplicably, the feeling that I had done something terribly wrong flooded over me practically from the moment I got the news and still stings my cheeks hot when someone I know doesn’t recognize me or I return to the cancer center for checkups.

I didn’t understand how many times within the system charged with helping me heal, I would feel like a project instead of a person, a problem to be solved instead of a complex and fragile human being.

Cancer’s power to isolate, worsened by COVID, shocked my system. Due to compromised immunity and myriad chemo side effects, I worked remotely, rarely spent time with family and friends, and was forced to give up my hobbies and interests. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t see a way forward and only wanted to go back to the life I loved.

I had no idea that I was one of about 264,000 women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Unbeknownst to me, survivors were all around me and come from all walks of life. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.

I became painfully aware of the lack of emotional and spiritual support available to cancer patients and their caregivers. So, we were forced to find our own way. We cried, hugged, prayed – total strangers only moments before - in the hospital waiting room and wig shop. We even laughed in our plastic recliners and clapped and cheered every time one of us rang the bell.

So now, breast cancer awareness means something very different to me. It means that screening tests aren’t foolproof, and bald is beautiful (except on me, we all say) and far too many women will face and fight this disease. I understand what it means to be part of the sacred sisterhood no one wants to join.

The pink ribbon stands for the struggle that broke me wide open and stripped me bare, that turned my life and soul inside out, the stalker that still tries to break into my every minute thoughts, threatening with images of more tearing down and never rebuilding.

But the pink ribbon also makes me proud, in the way that wells up when suffering raw with others clarifies and intensifies your purpose and path, when the things that really matter start to shine so brightly you can see your reflection in them while the fake, flimsy things our culture holds so high shred right before your eyes.

Breast cancer awareness indeed.

  • Writer's pictureLisa McIntire

I could win an Olympic gold medal in worrying. Maybe it’s my empathetic nature or maybe it’s descending from a long line of worriers, but I can crystal-ball all possible horrible outcomes in any given situation. Like most women, I balance a lot of roles – wife, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, friend, and boss lady – so there is no shortage of scenarios to obsess over.

One gray morning as my brain buzzed with tangled thoughts, I wandered aimlessly toward the big window behind the dining table, anxious fingers gripping my coffee mug tight. And as I gazed out at the red tube feeder hanging from the deck, I heard three little words in the deepest part of myself:

Watch the birds.

It felt like a directive, so instead of questioning, I obeyed. I stopped mindlessly staring and really noticed.

I watched goldfinches perch on the railing and peck at the seeds. A red-bellied woodpecker drilled loudly into the side of the house. Cardinals and blue jays nibbled at the suet.

I remembered Jesus’s words: Watch the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or gather food into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are more valuable than they are, aren’t you? Can any of you add a single hour to the length of your life by worrying?”

He was right, of course. The birds looked healthy and well cared for. They were industrious but also content.

Birds, like people, come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They sing their own songs and add beauty to the world in their own ways. They don’t try to be something they’re not.

And they don’t worry – about where their next meal will come from, or how they will shelter during summer storms, or about diseases or predators or all the other worst-case bird scenarios which, when you think about it, are quite grim.

They just live each day as it comes - fully present in the moment, doing what they were put on earth to do - and trust that the One who created them knows best how to care for them.

And so, I have a new strategy when my mind starts to think wild thoughts, or my hands grip the coffee cup a little too tight.

I look out the window, and I watch the birds.

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