To Tell the Truth Part 1:
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. –Ephesians 4:25
The chairs where we spoke.
The older daughter looked down and to the right, glaring a hole in the floor just past her right shoulder, as if she had spotted an ant there… and really hated ants. Knees together and swiveled to the side, arms folded, shoulders stiffly set. She was set like a statue titled “Wet Hen.” The younger daughter wasn’t sure. She sat on the other side, the chair nearest the door. Her eyes were furtive, her upper body leaning forward as if hoping to engage, but she kept glancing toward her sister for guidance, like she wanted to know if it was OK that I was speaking directly with their Mother, as if her Mom were not a person to be told the Terrible Secret.
Doña Cerina sat between her two daughters. She was definitely a person who should know (and I suspected she had already guessed) that she had cancer. Her appetite had been fading for nearly a year. Recently she had found it difficult to keep food down and had lost 30 lbs. in the past 2 months. At the public health hospital, she had already undergone endoscopy and biopsy. The biopsy showed gastric cancer. But even though “moderately differentiated adenocarcinoma” was clearly written in the Pathologist’s summary, buried in the bundle of prescriptions, receipts, lab reports, appointment slips, and bills contained in the large envelope Doña Cerina produced from her voluminous purse, and even though they had all been back to see both the gastroenterologist and the primary care doctor in La Ceiba in follow-up, no one had yet plainly spoken the truth with Doña Cerina. This is commonplace. Even in a North American healthcare system, much more oriented to providing the patient with straight up information about their illness, revealing a diagnosis like cancer is often dodged or presented in pieces by committee. But in other healthcare environments, certainly in Latin cultures, it is often considered indecorous to ever tell a patient they have cancer, sometimes at the cost of the patient receiving timely treatment, or receiving treatment at all. In this case, the hand-written referral slip only went so far as to describe the diagnosis as a “lesión gástrico.”
The older daughter was obviously angry that I had spoken the terrible words, out loud and in front of her Mother, as if her Mother were suddenly a simpleton and as if keeping the diagnosis a secret would somehow make it unreal. The younger daughter wasn’t sure that this was the way it was done.
Doña Cerina sat as still as water, as if she had forgotten that her body was there. She looked me straight in the face, reading mine I suppose; her eyes a little bit questioning, but the set of her head in a pose of acceptance. For some reason I thought for a moment, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” I must admit that in the next second I thought some unpronounceable word between a sigh and a curse word, and followed that thought with “of course no one has told her, and of course I have to.”
So I did .… as gently as I could of course. But you have to look people in the eye and say the words. They have to see that you are offering them the truth—because they deserve it, because it is their cross; but it is my responsibility to try to help share the burden, because I would fear God to lie to someone about something like that, because of a lot of reasons which kind of overlap one another.
I am not putting myself forward as some kind of paragon of the truth. Because I am definitely not. I am putting forward “telling the truth” as the when-in-doubt-default right thing to do. Because it definitely is.
And, even that, is not enough. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus, we are to be ἀληθεύοντες δὲ ἐν ἀγάπῃ (“truth-speaking yet in godly love”). A person receiving a devastating, potentially terminal diagnosis needs to be armed with a few more things in order for the speaking of the truth to be “in love.” Whether they can express it or not, they will want to know: 1.) What can be done about it? and 2.) How long do I have? As to “how long does Doña Cerina have?” I don’t know. Anyone who puts a specific number of hours or days, weeks or months to a certain diagnosis, in my book, is skating way too close to presuming to know what only God knows. And I said so. But I did tell her that people with this kind of cancer, at this stage, without treatment usually have a time remaining on this earth measured in months. I also explained that from studying the CT scan she brought with her, that this cancer has spread beyond the bounds of what could be removed by surgery (without killing the patient). However, treatment with chemotherapy now could potentially shrink the cancer to the point where we might be able to remove the cancer without killing her and without leaving cancer behind. This was the plan we agreed upon, and this, for now, addressed the “what can be done about it?” But the Love part of “speaking the truth in love” required that I circle back around and pick back up the “How long do I have?” question, because I had one more thing to offer, however awkwardly, and that was far more important than surgery or chemotherapy. I told her that God only knows the number of our days, but we all know that they are numbered. In case my time was up tomorrow, I couldn’t say that I have all of my affairs in order, but I can say that I would die in the hope of the resurrection. I wanted to know if she had that same peace and assurance. She answered without hesitation. Looking down the barrel of one’s own mortality has a way of focusing your attention. She spoke with conviction of her dependence upon the Master, the one who called himself “The Way, and The Truth, and the Life.” And I could sense that just putting things back into this light was a comfort to her.
The next step was a fair amount of paperwork: charting in our records, a formal referral letter (for the chemotherapy) written, stamped and sealed and signed with copies of the pertinent studies and reports attached, phone numbers and addresses shared, appointment dates arranged, and photocopies and envelopes, all of the nuts and bolts assembled to set the plan in motion. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to put that all together, and I intentionally left Doña Cerina and her daughters alone in the trauma room to talk things out in private while I wrote things up elsewhere and gathered the necessary parts of the package from around the hospital.
When I returned, all three were sitting in the same chairs and almost in the same positions. Older Daughter still looked like an illustration of “Mad as a wet hen (with a mask on)”; of the 17 body-language signs of “uncertain,” Younger Daughter had 40 of them. But Mom, the one who actually had the cancer, bore a peaceful smile upon her face. I reiterated the elements of the plan, what phone numbers to call, where to go, what letter to show the Oncologist, what day to come back to Loma de Luz, and where to go next in our hospital. As they filed out, Older Daughter went first. Refusing to even acknowledge my presence, she walked past, radiating heat. Younger Daughter followed close on her heels, but she, at least, muttered a neutral good-bye. But Doña Cerina stopped, offered me her hand, and said, “Thank You Doctor.” Of the 1,440 moments in a day, that was the one that stood out to me on that day. This woman, just informed that she had an advanced stage of a cancer that would likely soon end her life, thanked me. She did not stop to connect and thank me for telling her she had cancer; she thanked me for caring enough to tell her the truth.
Now, we don’t tell the truth so that people will thank us, of course. Clearly, many times they won’t. Younger daughter wanted to report me for telling the truth, and older daughter wanted to stab me for it. One doesn’t tell the truth because it is easier or prettier. Truth, mirroring life, is often hard and difficult and uglier than we’d wish.
Well then, why should we? Why should we tell the truth?
To be transparent ,,,, this last question stopped me for days. I thought I knew the answer until it came right down to stating it. So, I re-studied scripture as well as the writings of thinkers deep and shallow, past and present.
There are a lot of other reasons why we should tell the Truth: many scriptural, some just common sense and some not so common. But here is my best answer why we should tell the Truth. Because Jesus always told the truth. We sense it in our hearts, and our scripture is exceedingly clear on this. God “never lies.”
“What would Jesus do?” is a question that was a part of the popular culture not long ago. Attributable in its modern formulation to a late 19th Century Charles Spurgeon sermon, the question dates back in its essence at least to the 15th century with the writings of Thomas à Kempis. It has certainly been overused, commercialized and trivialized. But it is still a valid question to sort things out. While it may seem presumptuous to assert that one would know how the Lord would respond to some specific situation, one thing I do know. He would tell the truth. The accuser, the one who hates us, on the other hand, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And, you become what you do.
When you emulate the Father of Lies, you become one more step toward becoming like the one who “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.” You take a step down the road to becoming what M. Scott Peck called “The People of the Lie.”
When you tell the truth, in innate obedience to your Creator, you emulate the Master and move one step toward becoming more like Him, laying the foundation for all of the other good reasons for telling the truth. For, “We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” We are supposed to be “children of the light and children of the day”( I Thes. 5:5). So, I speak here to myself as much as anyone else. It is time to act that way. In such unhinged times, when it seems we’ve all become medieval peasants again, bearing the brunt of the plague, restricted in travel, trying just to duck the next edict of the ruling class, let me encourage you that there are some things you can still do to push back against the darkness.
One of them is: Tell the Truth. Even when it is not convenient, or trending, or “safe.” Maybe particularly when it is not convenient or trending or safe. Just tell the truth in love.
Make it a habit and pass it along.
Because without a doubt, that is what Jesus would do.
In His Service,
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
To Tell the Truth Part 2:
The Sanctuary House Children’s Center
by Cinthia Moncada. Resident Manager, Casa Santuario
When we arrived here for the first time at Casa Santuario, one of the girls asked me how old was my baby. I told her 6 months, to which she responded, “So, you were married just 6 months ago.” I told her that we have been married for 3 years. She looked at me and said, “then the child is 3 years old.” “No,” I said, “he is 6 months old.” With a confused face, she said to me, “I don’t understand how it is that your child is 6 months old and you have been married for 3 years.” I told her, “Well first I got married and after two years we decided to have a baby, because that’s how it goes. First, you get married and then you have babies. You don’t get married just when you are going to have a baby.” She just looked at me and said “How strange!”
When we started to learn more about the girls her age in the local Honduran community, that is when we understood why they were confused. They go with a boy because there is a baby, or because they have reached 15 years of age and that is the age to “become a woman in a couple.” Who told them that lie?! No one told them. They simply learn by observation.
This and other lies have gone through the heads of our older Casa Santuario kids (the ones who started Public School before El Camino was in operation). Not because they have not had good leaders or directors. They have had excellent ones. It is the culture of the Campo that models in silence. It is as if the message of what they see happening with their friends shouts louder, than what we are saying. I thought, “We are telling them that their life can be different, that they can dream, that although their parents did not take care of them, God will always take care of them. What can we say so that they will hear us?”
That was 6 years ago, and things have changed. The girls I met then and the ones I see now, are very different. They have more faith, dreams, and confidence. They have that assurance that their own families failed to provide. These days when they tell me about all of their friends and classmates from their old school, who are now pregnant and without finishing their studies, I see in their faces the dismay which a person should normally feel. Now their expectations are not to get pregnant and hope the boy will stay with them. Now their dreams are to study at the university.
Considering the truth
Recently the same girl who couldn’t understand why my son was not the same age as the time I had been married, told me with sadness that her (biological) 15-year-old step-sister had left with a boyfriend. Her face was very sad. I just hugged her and told her I was sorry. It made me pause and realize with gladness that the conversations in the teen-aged girls house have stopped being all about boys and have become more about what they will do when they are at University and where they want to work when they have their degree. I watch with pleasure their long days of study.
For me it has been as if they have discovered something, that life does not have to be like the other girls, that they can choose a husband in marriage and not just live with each other, that they can trust that God will provide a good husband. I cannot guarantee that when they move to the capital city that they will be a resounding success. But I know that they will know the truth. I wonder now, “How did they finally hear that truth?” And I realize that it was lived out in front of them. That is what we can say so that they will hear us. Our kids learn by observation, and the truth of our actions must match the truth of our words.
To Tell the Truth Part 3:
El Camino Bilingual School
Due to a number of factors both developmental and environmental, Isai was not succeeding in school. The Teachers and Administration of El Camino had to face the hard truth that he needed to be held back a year. Then they had to present that hard truth to Isai and his Mom, and they had to accept it. But both speaking and facing the Truth gives a firm foundation upon which to build. Isai has now grown from a silently struggling (and failing) student to a bubbly, confident, and successful student who…., well, he loves to build–buildings, airplanes, robots and more. The Truth: a solid Foundation on which to build–to start, to grow, and to become strong.
News and Needs:
In Memoriam- -Jerry Kuykendall
Jerry Kuykendall was a great friend and co-worker. Alongside his wife, Linda, Jerry served as a long-time Cornerstone Foundation Board Member and as a former Loma de Luz Missionary. His love of people, his wisdom and experience, and his consistent desire to be part of Kingdom work made him a very special person. Jerry passed away on September 6 from complications of Covid-19. He is sorely missed, and we look forward very much to the reunion in Heaven. Please pray for Linda and all of his family, friends, and church family.
Please pray for workers for the Harvest
At Loma de Luz we have always been challenged to meet too much need with too few people. Now, more than ever, that is the case. Long-term missionaries for Loma de Luz have undergone the normal rate of attrition over the past couple of years, but replacements/reinforcements have been greatly delayed–attributable largely to the pandemic. We are also losing too many Honduran employees as they join family members attracted to the US by current immigration policies.
We need Teachers, Administrators, Construction and Maintenance Personnel, and Medical Personnel (PAs, NPs, RNs, PTs, and MDs).
Pray for Favor
Please pray for favor with Honduran officials, with regard to allowing us to receive shipments and supplies, approvals for our facilities and services, and cooperation and general good will.
William Wiersbe is the person, I think, who first said that love without truth is hypocrisy, and truth without love is brutality. I hadn’t thought about that maxim for quite a while, but the Truth theme of this newsletter quite naturally brought it to mind. May the Lord give us the nudges (or knocks) needed to keep us on His path, the one that follows the course of truth and love.
Thank you for your prayers and all that you do.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone