Under the skin

guest post by David Brown


When you receive chemo at my doctor’s office, you walk into a room full of plastic reclining chairs with machines next to them and places to hang the IV bags. One Monday morning, I came in for my treatment, and there was only one empty chair. I approached it. The African-American woman sitting next to it looked up from her reading and smiled as I sat down. She looked weak and wore a red bandana to cover her hair loss, but her smile was full of life.

I saw she was reading the Bible, and I asked where she was in her reading. “The Psalms,” she told me.

“That’s the perfect place to be,” I said, “Try Psalm 30.” She turned to it and read it as I waited:

I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.

O Lord, you brought me up from the grave you spared me from going down into the pit.

Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”

O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

“You’re right,” she said. “It speaks especially to us, because it’s about healing and praise.”

We started talking about our churches. She said hers has 9,000 members, and I asked if she could feel the Spirit in such a large, crowded place. She assured me that she felt lifted as soon as she and her husband walked in the door. I told her about my home church—Living Springs Community Church in Glenwood, Illinois—and about the church I attend on Wednesday nights—Spirit of God Fellowship in South Holland, Illinois. She let me know that her son goes to school next door to Spirit of God, and that one of our nurses taught there!

Through continued conversation I learned my new friend was on experimental drugs after surgeries had failed to completely remove her cancer. She’s hoping that these drugs will isolate the cancer so she can have another operation to remove all of it. My own treatments are preventive, following a surgery that revealed my cancer might have spread.

We talked about how prayer keeps the enemy away. We talked about our faith and the strength it gives us. She described seeing her bed surrounded by white crosses and feeling protected and lifted up. I had felt the same. I shared the feeling I had of God walking with me from diagnosis, through surgery, and then right to this particular doctor. She told me that made her feel even more confident in our doctor.

I began to notice that I was no longer speaking to a black person, but to a strong woman of God. She seemed weak and tired on the outside, but I could feel the strength she had inside her, a strength that came from a faith that had been justified through a number of difficult experiences.

I mention her skin color because I’ve been in situations recently that have caused me to think about race and culture and appearances. I am a white man myself, and therefore do not often have to think about race. But I belong to an intentionally multi-cultural church, and I attended a series of group discussions on Race: The Power of an Illusion there recently. I learned a few things, and I’m still processing my learning.

It’s quite likely that I would not have chosen to sit next to this African-American woman if any other seats had been available that day. Not out of outright racism; simply out of unthinking habit and preference. What a blessing I would have missed!

I thank God for arranging the seating that day. I thank Him for maneuvering me into a situation where I could spend extended time in a mutually vulnerable situation with a fellow Christian. I thank Him for gently melting away my assumptions and letting the scales fall from my eyes, so I could know the deeper beauty that lies just under the skin.


David Brown is a member of Living Springs Community Church and a frequent commenter on this blog. His recent battle with cancer has deepened his relationship with God and his fellowship with other Christians, as he shares in the comment section of “Cancer Freedom: a living memoir.”

2 thoughts on “Under the skin”

  1. Mel,thank you for your friendship and for your book,Cancer Freedom,that became an important guide for me on my cancer journey.

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