This month, as we move into our new location in downtown Norman (110 S Crawford Ave), we asked 4 of our covenant members to write on how they have grown in 1 of the 4 core gospel identities since becoming a member of Providence Road. Jill Perry, a member with her husband, Sam, and their 3 children for close to 3 years, writes on her growth as a worshiper.
It’s surreal to be faced with your mortality at the age of 36. It’s like an out of body experience.
The oncologist is almost talking through me as he says, “Your cancer is aggressive and has already metastasized.” My loving husband of 15 years holds my trembling hand and continues to ask questions about treatment specifics, but I’ve stopped listening. I can only think of my three young children at home who are completely oblivious to the new reality that will change all of our lives forever. They’re doing carefree things—like building Lego towers, drinking milk from colorful straws, and hiding Daddy’s phone. “Cancer” isn’t in their vocabulary. It doesn’t occupy a space in their innocent worlds. At least it didn’t before today.
There are countless things cancer tries to take from you, which it does with varying degrees of success. But the one thing cancer always succeeds in taking from you is the blessed ignorance that your death is both imminent and out of your control. Cancer sucker-punches you in the gut with the hard reality that life is but a breath and none of us is promised tomorrow—whether we’re ready or not. Before my diagnosis, I didn’t think on this very much at all. But in that doctor’s office, at that moment, my response was overwhelming grief.
A year later, I tend to think of my life as B.C. and A.D.- “before cancer” and “after diagnosis.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like fighting cancer in my thirties has all of a sudden made me some super-human ready to impart all of my spiritual wisdom to others! I still wrestle with sin and selfishness, and I depend on Christ daily to equip me to battle fear and anxiety about the future. But by God’s grace, several things have evolved over the course of this year—in particular, my understanding of worship.
Here at Providence Road, we define worship as “the orienting of our time, resources, and affections around that which we deem most valuable and capable of bringing us joy. Everyone worships something. As Christians we seek to worship God because we know that only through him will we find true joy, and only through him can we crush the idols in our lives. So we orient all of our life around God. We seek to worship him in both spirit and in truth, engaging both the heart and head. We do this as an end in itself—personally and corporately—to magnify the glory of God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.”
As a young believer in my freshman year of college, I was fortunate to be mentored and discipled by women ahead of me in life experience. They helped me to develop a firm foundation while studying the Bible together, and we talked practically about the “hows” and “whys” of personal and corporate worship. I grew to understand that worship was basically how my heart communicated what it was depending on for life. I would have said that I had a pretty good grasp on the foundations of worship and how to practice it.
But then, that was all before cancer.
In this new season, my understanding of worship continues to expand. Grief and suffering throws back the curtain of how limited we are and have always been. We are not eternal; we’re not all-knowing; we need sleep and fuel for basic functioning; our bodies succumb to disease and sometimes our own cells conspire to kill us—we are so human.
Acknowledging our complete dependence on God’s mercy and strength exalts God to his rightful lofty place in our heart. Realizing that he is the all-knowing sovereign king “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3) anchors us when we desperately start to grasp for anything that doesn’t change as our world is turned upside down. I’m so thankful that he provides us with other fellow worshipers. We were embraced by our Missional Community and especially our Fight Clubs who covered us in prayer and continue to remind us that we do not walk this season alone.
I hate cancer. It’s a vicious disease, cutting down people I love and ravaging families. But God is using it to bring me to this vulnerable place of worship that I can only describe as desperate. Cancer didn’t make me desperate before God. But it has reminded me that I always have been.