Sola Gratia, by Grace Alone

The sudden emergence of COVID‐19, in all of its stark reality and un‐dismissable‐ness, activated still strong memories from a year ago. The similarities are so very like my cancer journey, when I was forced to face mortality, appreciate my health, and was helped to step into a tomorrow that would never again be like yesterday.

I Can’t Understand

Cancer is a big word for only having two syllables. My diagnosis of lung cancer was delivered by those who knew, giving me the technical details, the causes, and the consequences, but not the why.

It was uncovered by a fluke visit to the ER with what turned out to be the flu. An x‐ray to rule out pneumonia had shown a glimpse of “Lucky” as my Stage 1 nodule came to be named. Cancer in me—a vegetarian non‐smoker, a church‐worker whose main vices include chocolate and caffeine—where’s the rhyme or reason in that? I’m happy to accept consequences, but for breathing?

My family and friends quickly rallied into “Team Julie.” Surgery was scheduled—no waiting around. Medical appointments filled my days so fully that I barely had time to realize what was happening. I made space for time away from work. I wrapped up loose ends. I finalized a new will. I peered into the deep abyss of mortality and recognized myself as points of Light and Love—wrapped in pure Peace. So simple, yet so profound.

And then it was over—the tests, the surgery, and the hospitalization. “Your lung has healed perfectly,” said the surgeon, admiring his work. My friend Linda told me that it was a prayer come true, and I corrected her: “You mean a dream come true.” “No Julie, prayer, definitely a prayer,” she said. My recovery was a time of complete letting go and allowing others to care for me. My family was there at every turn. Friends arrived with food. Flowers and more flowers, filling my home with fragrance, color and hope for spring. My goal was to be able to go to church for Easter, just two weeks post‐surgery, and I was blessed to make it (even though I slept the whole afternoon). Others “walked” me back to health with “you can do it” and “just a little bit more.”

I dipped my toes into the River of Receiving, which felt fabulous. I had been lucky enough to be invited to the dance with mortality, but now I was ready to get off the stage. I was healed, but life was never going to feel normal again.

I Don’t Understand

Cancer slapped my heart the hardest as I worked to excavate the unsaid and unexplainable. Cancer had provided the landscape for my journey, but not the destination. My entire life in the largely logical financial and accounting world was one of finding solutions to whatever was presented. The infrastructure of Julie was dissolving as I tried to come up with answers for why this had happened to me. How did I get so lucky as to find an asymptomatic cancer still at Stage 1? I remembered Paul’s words, “Who can know the mind of God?” But that wasn’t enough. I felt like the flip side of the Book of Job. Like Job, I wanted to ask God to explain it to me, to know where the logic takes us. I needed to get something off my chest—more than just the lung cancer. I was convinced that I should be able to understand why this had happened. Some suggested that I become an advocate for clean air and environmental change. My attorney suggested that I seek class‐action lawsuit representation. I was getting nowhere—the former Julie was not the post‐cancer Julie. Where were the answers? What are the questions? I was drifting—Julie living, but not grounded. Julie in limbo.

I Will Never Understand

I visit the cancer center these days with my regularly scheduled lung scans and meet with my oncologist, who informs me that she will remain the point person for my health moving forward, perhaps for the rest of my life.

What I cling to now are phrases that appeared over the months and stick with me as I ponder: Be mindful, but not afraid. Don’t thrum the strings of anxiety. Be fierce, but with gentleness. Use all of your courage today, you’ll get more tomorrow.

I’ve been working to find my voice—connections to it wax and wane as I travel the maze of a new chapter in life. My voice is strong; my voice is choked.

Perhaps there’s a sound that will come shrieking out, anger and sadness fused as one. Perhaps there’s a song, a sweet lyric piece that floats above the confusion and delivers the harmony of peace and truth.

Perhaps there’s an out‐pouring of love and gratitude—valentines formed by the tongue. Whatever comes, I am resolved to the knowledge that good or bad cancer outcome, my lesson learned is the same.

Sola Gratia

Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve.

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. It turns out that Grace is a bigger word than cancer (and at only one syllable). And in response, only one prayer is necessary. “Thank you, God.”

Julie Champ serves as the Director of Finance & Administration at Westminster Presbyterian Church and is keenly passionate about all things money, coining the term “Count your Blessings” to describe her journey from corporate sector to the world of church. She is a lifelong United Church of Christ member and deeply involved with Mayflower Community and the MN Conference of the UCC. She has thirty years as an organist/pianist and has been pursuing creative writing over the last 5 years. She enjoys most her adult children and two grandchildren and continues to be transformed by her yoga practice every day. She may be reached at: thechampnine@gmail.com.