Imagine hearing these words: “cancer,” “aggressive,” “biopsy,” and “treatment.” That’s exactly what Bryan Shields and his wife, Jen, had to endure in February of 2007. At 28, Bryan underwent surgery and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Six rounds of chemo followed, and in 2009, Bryan was declared two years lymphoma free, but days later received devastating and crushing news: doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his kidney. This new development was unrelated to the lymphoma, and Bryan and Jen faced another harrowing and painful road to recovery.
It was a season of thirst for the couple. What would you do if faced with this situation? Would you ask God why? Would you question what was wrong with you? Would you grow angry or weary with God?
What did Bryan and Jen do? They fought, continued praying, and survived on the living waters that only God can provide. For them, this surfaced in four pivotal moments. During the second recovery process, meals prepared by bloc members showed up unannounced to the house. These meals were the very incarnation of love, and they served as more than just a meal – they served as a road to healing during a very dark hour for Bryan.
Healing also arrived in the form of hugs. For Jen, the recovery process was emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. In a moment of dire need, when Jen was on the brink of losing the remaining shreds of strength she had left, she ran into a member of their bloc. He got up in the middle of his lunch, walked over, and hugged her. He said, “Hey.... You look like you needed that. You guys are going to get through this. We’re here for you.” It was a moment of grace, a moment when the living water poured from others to sustain her. She burst into tears. It was exactly what she needed at that exact moment.
Living waters didn’t just emanate from others, but also came from a well within. There were times during both treatments that he was on so many meds, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t shake the fear, anger or despair, no matter how hard Bryan tried to distract himself. His mind would race, but he found that reciting the Lord’s Prayer in his head relaxed his heartbeat and a peace would wash over him. He knows those were moments when his thirst for God was quenched through what Jesus provided.
Routine was also helpful. Bryan and Jen began every morning with a walk that included a stop at Saint Patrick’s Church in Dilworth, where for just a moment, they would pause and thank God for “today.” As he reflects back, Bryan is envious of those moments – they stand for what is important and remind him of the fact that while he may not look to God during certain moments of the day, God is still there for every second. It’s a reminder that the “LIVING WATER” that Jesus promises is reliable when you continue to place him at the center of your life. The key here, too, is to recognize that place is a verb – an active, living process.
Written by Bryan Shields, co-founder of teamplusone.org. Edited for blog by Shawn Buxton.