My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 25, 2016, issue of The Mena Star.
For the last ten years, I have participated in the Relay For Life of Polk County. This year’s event was held May,13-14 at Janssen Park. The past two years, rain has kept us from having Relay For Life in the park, but the weather was beautiful for this year's event.
The Relay began at 6:00 pm when cancer survivors and caregivers kicked off the event by walking the first laps. After the special laps, Relay became one big party with each team having a site with food, games, activities, and items to purchase. There were lots of interesting characters taking laps around the track and some crazy activities going on.
A luminaria ceremony at 9:00 pm illuminated the entire track as participants lit luminaria candles in memory of those who’ve lost the battle to cancer and in support for those still fighting the disease. Everyone maintained a respectful silence as the names on the luminaria were read. People circled the track looking for those special luminaria that had meaning for them.
After the luminaria ceremony, the mood lifted as we prepared to stay all night. Karaoke, line dancing, Zumba, and three on three basketball kept us awake and motivated during the night.
Why do we Relay all night long and stay overnight? Because the Relay For Life event is designed to symbolize the journey of a cancer survivor. Relay For Life starts at dusk and ends the next morning. The light and darkness of the day and night parallel the physical effects, emotion, and mental state of a cancer patient while undergoing treatment.
As survivors start their cancer treatment, it’s hard and taxing, just like when the light of day fades into darkness. As midnight comes, teams continue to walk the track, but it gets harder as the walking continues into the early morning hours.
This time represents when a cancer patient becomes exhausted, sick, maybe not wanting to go on, possibly wanting to give up. As Relay participants, we feel much the same way. We are tired, want to sleep, and may even want to go home, but we don't stop or give up.
The time just before daybreak symbolizes the coming of the end of treatment for the cancer patient. Things are beginning to look brighter, just like the break of dawn. A sense of hope emerges. The morning light brings on a new day full of life and new beginnings.
The Psalmist understood this concept when he wrote, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his kindness lasts for a lifetime. Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalms 30:5 (NCV) God knows the tough times you have been going through, but He wants you to know that better times are coming.
The Bible tells us that God collects your tears. He knows every tear you have shed. He knows every problem you face. “You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.” Psalms 56:8 (TLB)
There is an old English proverb that says,” the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” The English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller used the phrase in a book he published in 1650. The phrase has become a part of our culture.
A sunrise is a beautiful thing to watch. But it doesn’t happen all at once. It starts with a gradual lightening of the sky, an almost imperceptible change from inky black to promising gray. Then the gray gradually gives way to beautiful shades of lavender and orange, and you catch a glimpse of the sun just below the horizon. Just when you think you can’t wait another minute – there it is, bursting forth in glorious radiance, shining just for you and promising a new beginning. Once the sun breaks over the horizon, it doesn’t take long to rise, warming the earth and lighting the darkness.
Bluegrass artist, Ralph Stanley, wrote in the song, “Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn,” the following words. "Like a shepherd out on the mountain. A-watchin' the sheep down below. He's coming back to claim us. Will you be ready to go? The darkest hour is just before dawn. The narrow way leads home. Lay down your soul. Let Jesus in. The darkest hour is just before dawn."
Gentle Reader, have you been waiting for the sunrise? Have you spent far too long in the dark? Jesus wants to light the way for you. He wants to be your sunrise. Whatever you have been going through do not give up hope. “Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes again. A farmer patiently waits for his valuable crop to grow from the earth and for it to receive the autumn and spring rains. You, too, must be patient. Do not give up hope, because the Lord is coming soon.” James 5:7,8 (NCV)
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