Ash Wednesday’s Whisper

This year, I skipped Ash Wednesday. After the months of suffering through PTSD, I didn’t feel like one more reminder of the fragility of our mortal lives.

But this morning, Ash Wednesday tracked me down in an oncologist’s waiting room to whisper in my ear the words I have heard time and again:

You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I have cancer. Skin cancer. Merkel Cell Carcinoma. It’s described the way I had hoped college football scouts would describe me: rare and aggressive.

I’m reeling. Aaryn is reeling. In January, there was a small bump on my forearm. I thought it was a spider bite. By the time I got to my doctor, it was about 1/2 inch wide. By the time the surgeon got to it a month later (last Monday), it was almost 2 inches wide. No one knew what it was. There’s only 3000 cases of this in the U.S. every year, it usually doesn’t look like mine, presents on the face and neck, and almost exclusively in people over 65. It’s so statistically improbable, it’s virtually impossible…until it isn’t. No one ever thinks it will be them, and yet I know too many of you who have heard Ash Wednesday’s whisper…who have felt this bitter mixture of disbelief, sadness, and angst.

This is the plan as of today.

  • I’ll be doing a PET scan to see if it’s spread beyond my arm.
  • They’re gonna’ open my arm back up and clean out any other signs of cancer. The wound will be wide. There goes my forearm modeling hopes.
  • While I’m on the table, they’re going to biopsy my lymph nodes as another check to see if it’s spread.
  • All of this should happen in the next 2-ish weeks. I’ll update again when I have more info.

Baylor may want my degree back, but I have no theological reflection for you, and no artificial meaning to impose upon the brokenness and suffering of this world. And I don’t need you to do that either. There’s this really poignant moment in Job where, after his internet-expert friends espouse verifiably wrong theology about why Job is suffering. Job asks them if they are really comfortable whitewashing his plight with lies on God’s behalf. Then they zip it, and just sit with their friend in his pain. Do that for me. Wherever you are. I believe through the Spirit we can just sit together in this, and that, along with your prayers, will be a balm to me. If you want to reach out, don’t be shy, but at no point should the following be discussed:

  1. crystals
  2. sage
  3. essential oils
  4. God’s wrath
  5. God’s testing
  6. hot yoga
  7. Radish-based diets

And if you want to tell me this is “all part of God’s plan,” don’t. Unless you want to explain to me how possibly leaving my wife widowed and my five and eight year-olds without their dad is a) a good plan and b) not irrefutable evidence of a God with an impoverished imagination. (Cards on the table: I don’t believe either of those is true).

Let’s just sit together – even across the miles – in the dust of this world, silent before Ash Wednesday’s whisper.

17 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday’s Whisper

  1. Sitting and praying in NYC, and so thankful for you and these words. I love this piece you have written. While crying I somehow managed to laugh about crystals, etc. Thank you so much for sharing your reflection here. Love to you and your dear family.


  2. Sitting with you. Here in JAX with hugs, ears, shoulder, food, any means of support and comfort and most importantly outstretched hands of prayer!!! ❤️🙏


    1. Brandon, Vic and I are sitting with you, Aaron and the boys at this time. Please know we love you all! Love and positive thoughts. Carolann and Vic


  3. Imagine us sitting with you as well. Having survived a different rare and aggressive cancer we have some idea of your pain and we are with you in spirit –and we can be with you in body in four hours if need us. Sending love.


  4. I’ve been through this a couple of times with my dad, so my viewpoint was very different I can only imagine what you’re feeling. I would love to sit with you as well. Sending you & your family so much love & peace as you navigate these next few months ❤️


  5. Brandon, know that there are many of us here in your East Kansas family sitting with you. Sending love and prayer.


  6. Over the years I read the thoughts, sermons, positions, you have posted online. So here I am reading something I would never want to. I am honored to join your circle with my own prayers. love, Sara


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