When my mom called back instead of texting, I knew the news couldn’t be good. I was in my first year of college, and I saw people flooding my younger cousin’s Facebook page with their sympathies and promises of prayer. I couldn’t figure out what happened, so I texted my mom.
She called back because my 16-year-old cousin Anna had been diagnosed with cancer, and you don’t simply text that to someone.
My faith became wrapped up in my cousin’s battle with cancer. It sounds selfish now to think about how much her battle and her pain became entwined with my own faith journey, but it did. When my mom called back six months later to say that Anna was cancer free, I knew God was present in that miracle.
When Mom called back three months after that to say the cancer had returned, I felt myself starting to doubt a little more. But God had done it before, so he would do it again. And by now, 1,000,000 people had pledged to pray for Anna, so if God was out there he had surely received the message.
And then Dad sat across from me at a kitchen table and said, “Mom called today to say Anna has passed away.” As my first real experience with grief crashed over me, I watched the Santa Claus God I had constructed disintegrate before my eyes. As I yelled at God and fought with him, then decided we simply weren’t on speaking terms, then finally admitted I don’t know if God’s even out there, I found myself drawing strength from a place that had initially challenged my faith: a historical understanding of Jesus, one that sets aside the debate of his divinity to focus on how he helped others.
I became captivated by the idea of radical love. I saw radical love manifested in Jesus, because that is my upbringing and my heritage, not because Jesus or Christianity has some exclusive hold over those qualities. Soon that radical love became translated to justice – Jesus reached out to the people marginalized by society. When I attended a new church convinced that my doubts and my on-again, off-again belief in God were flashing in neon lights above my head, I heard the pastors call Jesus the first social justice worker, and everything clicked. I didn’t need to check off items from “the list of things you must believe” to be a Christian – I needed to make the world a better place in whatever small ways I could.
Now I study how people talk about social justice. I’m fascinated by this concept and how people not only come to understand it, but how they choose to act on it. And I’m really curious to know what you think, too, because when else can I ask approximately 25,000 people about their thoughts on social justice?
These are my questions to you:
When did you first hear about social justice?
What does social justice mean to you?
What is something you do to make the world a better place?
This is my challenge to you:
When people prayed for Anna, they tried to pray at 12:12, based on the corresponding verse in Romans. Now December 12th has become a special day in the life of the 1Million4Anna Foundation created to honor Anna’s beautiful spirit. So in memory of Anna and all of the inspiring warriors who have brightened our worlds, I would challenge you to brighten a child’s day on December 12th. Together we will make the world a better place.
Float on, Anna.
North Carolina, USA