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As a writer and speaker, words are Kristianne’s art. A deliberate stringing of words becomes one of the highest forms of human expression when it gives a voice to the heart. Compassion That Compels and Compassion Bags started with a letter, a sweater and Kristianne’s two sisters-in-law and sister’s, cancer diagnosis.
THIS WEEK’S BLOG POST
“The Ministry of the Towel: a Message for Caregivers”
by Mark Whittington
After over twenty years of marriage, ministry, and almost that many years of parenting, it was easy to think that life was pretty much settled into a steady, somewhat predictable routine. We had experienced some ups and downs and a few bumps along the way, but that was normal…right? We had teenagers, what could rock our world more than that? The answer can be summed up in one word…“cancer.”
On January 15, 2013, that word changed our world forever. Over the next few weeks, my wife, Michele, was diagnosed with stage 3a breast cancer and stage 4b colon cancer. Then, for the rest of that year she courageously endured numerous blood tests, biopsies, lumpectomies, chemotherapy, and the removal of approximately one half of her liver and 12 inches of her colon. I cannot begin to describe the powerful demonstration of faith and physical stamina that she lived out before me, her children, our church family, and our community (many of whom have known her since her childhood).
What did I do during all of that time? I learned how to serve all over again. You see, I grew up the son of a pastor. I had been preaching as a supply, part time, or full time minister since I was 15 years old. I had seen and experienced a life of service up close and personal. But this one word, cancer, was about to take it to another level; a much better level.
Looking back on it now, I believe the best way to describe it is that I was living a life of service out of habit. Serving others had simply become the normal routine of my day. Now don’t misunderstand me. Serving others is a really good habit to have…until you are doing it just because it is a habit. How did Michele’s cancer diagnosis change my perspective? I began serving her not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I served her because I loved her. I served her because I meant the words, “in sickness and in health” that I said to her on our wedding day. I was learning to serve like Jesus.
On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. As He was preparing to demonstrate His ultimate authority as Savior on the cross, He intentionally took time to show His disciples the clearest example of a selfless servant by washing their feet.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5, ESV)
As I began to serve my wife in the midst of the countless miles of travel and medical procedures, I learned something that I hope I will never forget. Taking up the towel, serving someone from a heart of sacrificial love is one of the most Christ-like characteristics we can have. You may be driving, you may be sitting in the waiting room, you may be holding a hand, you may be cleaning out a drain tube, or you may be lying awake at night just to hear your loved one take another breath. In all of these ways and so many more, you are taking up the towel just like Jesus.
So, four years later with all scans clear do I still struggle from time to time with the “what ifs” and the fear of another bad diagnosis? Yes I do. However, one thing that I do not struggle with is knowing that the Word of God is true, His love is perfect, and His grace is sufficient. With that in mind, I can see every day ahead as another opportunity to take up the towel; to serve and to love others just like Jesus loves me. I pray that you will do the same.
Mark Whittington is gloriously saved by the grace of Jesus Christ and married to Michele, the love of his life for over 25 years. He is proud beyond measure to be the dad of Noah, Grace, and Melody. Mark has served in supply, part time, or full time ministry since 1986. He is currently the pastor of First Baptist Church of Uriah, Alabama.