November 1st marked one year since receiving the news of NED (no evidence of disease) status after treatment for ovarian cancer. I decided to celebrate by making a three-panel altarpiece to praise God for my health and his tender care. Each panel is 16 x 20".
Hezekiah, a king of ancient Judah, became dear to me during treatment thanks to my nephew. I was diagnosed during surgery. Before I was awake, my mother texted my sister, "It's cancer." My nephew saw the text first and said, "Tante's going to die." My totes brill sister simply said, "Some people do die from from cancer like your Opa, but not everybody does." "Okay," he said, "then I pray God gives her 15 more years of life like King Hezekiah." And he sent the Scripture passage from II Kings 20 about Hezekiah's illness and recovery. Did I mention he was about 11 years old at the time? Our dear Bible scholar.
When I was lucid in recovery, my mother read the account aloud. As she started, the woman on the other side of the curtain in recovery asked to hear as well. Mom moved between us, and read with a strong voice and teary eyes. The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah to get his house in order because he was going to die. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and cried out to the Lord. And the Lord was moved. He sent Isaiah back to say that he had heard Hezekiah's prayer and had seen his tears. Seen his tears! The Lord was granting him 15 more years of life. We joked about the 15 for me being "on the top" or "at least".
A couple weeks later I decided to see if there were more to the story in the book of Isaiah. Jackpot. In chapter 38 there is a bit of a recap as well as Hezekiah's response in a lovely psalm or poem of praise. First he goes on a bit about how awful it was that he almost died. Lays it on pretty thick. Then he shifts to the impact of the anguish, knowing that it is for his benefit. My tears turned to sobs as I read this aloud. Hezekiah, flawed but faithful, rejoices in God's forgiveness with an image of his sins being cast behind God's back. God's forgiveness, spiritual restoration, is so complete our sins are unreachable to him. Those were healing words. While I know I'm forgiven in Christ, this was a reminder to truly feel forgiven, feel released from shame. Hezekiah closes with an eagerness to worship. All he wanted to do when healed was "sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord." (v 20)
I read Hezekiah's psalm every day for months. Sometimes with tears, sometimes with dancing. Always with an eagerness to praise God for his loving-kindness. He hears our prayers, sees our tears. Sometimes the Lord heals us by bringing us to heaven, sometimes he heals us here on Earth. Likewise, there are times when he heals miraculously, others when he uses earthy means. In Hezekiah's case, it was a poultice of figs, mine surgery and chemo. Hezekiah also asked for a visible sign that God would heal him. Who among us hasn't asked for such assurance at one time or another?
For this commemorative work, I wanted to focus on praise and worship. An altarpiece was the way to go. I had the three blank canvases on hand, sourced at a favorite rehab store. My mosaic technique with strips of dried paint reminded me of strings on instruments, strummed and plucked to make colorful music. I spent more than a month building it up, striving for a semblance of symmetry and a dance of light to move the eye. I still need to decide on framing but will likely add hinges for displaying like a traditional altarpiece. Handles or a case of some sort could keep it portable for pop up worship spaces. Whatever the final finish or destination, I pray the altarpiece lifts eyes to God - our Creator, Savior, Healer, and Comforter. The One who gave his Son in atonement for us and who sees our tears.
Watch a brief comment on the Hezekiah story along with a community prayer for people impacted by cancer. Given October 2019 at Grace Community Church.