Two events broke my heart over the weekend. On Saturday, as promised, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard ended her life before the cancer that was taking over her body could end it for her. And on Sunday, in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000, college freshman Lauren Hill thumbed her nose at cancer to make two baskets in her first and last college basketball game.
Both women faced a future they did not choose. Both have terminal brain cancer, a disease that wracks their bodies with pain and makes it difficult to even get up in the morning.
It’s easy for me to see the heroism of Lauren’s choice. Sunday was her one and only game of college basketball. With just weeks to live, she fought to make it to that opening game (which was moved up two weeks so that she could play). In her remaining weeks, she plans to use the time she has left to raise awareness and fund research for childhood cancer with her campaign Layup 4 Lauren.
To many, Brittany’s choice was also heroic. She completed her “bucket list” of travel with a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and on Saturday, with family at her bedside, she ended her life. Before her death, she formed a foundation to lobby to make the choice to “die with dignity” legal across the country. Widespread news coverage has included comments from both Brittany and Lauren that their choice was made because they didn’t want people close to them to be hurt by the disease that was their own personal journey.
Brittany wanted to die with dignity. Lauren wants to live with joy.
But can they not be one and the same?
I can’t help but recall words spoken to us from the pulpit on Sunday, when we were reminded that in our trials, we are “sustained by grace.”
“My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens.” I Peter 5:11 (NLT)
“God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
God’s sustaining grace, we were told, helps me keep standing when I am tempted, tired, troubled.
I receive God’s sustaining grace when I call out for His help, fill my mind with His Word, accept support from His people and hold onto His promises.
God’s sustaining grace offers dignity — and brings joy.
I know how such cancer kills. I watched a friend die with a brain tumor just five years ago. She fought courageously for her life, for the sake of her husband and children. For myself and for many, she is a hero. As my friend lay in bed, waiting and wondering why God was allowing her to live when all she wanted was to go home to be with Jesus, I wondered if she might not consider rushing the process. I am so grateful that she did not. The lives she saved because of her choice to die wrapped in joy, grace and dignity are part of her legacy.
I believe Brittany and Lauren had the same desire in facing their choices — to die with grace and dignity.
One chose her dignity, the other chose to soar.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired….but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31