Have you ever thought about how a small flame of a candle can transform? Candles have the power to change an everyday meal into a romantic event, a ferocious thunderstorm into a family game night, and a hot bath into a luxurious retreat. We use them to create intimacy in large spaces and to generate a cozy atmosphere in small ones. They soften weddings, and light up birthdays. It is remarkable how one tiny spark of light can do so much for the décor of a place. Enough light and heat produce warm hands, a warm room…and smores. On a birthday cake, we use candles to represent years. Each year gets brighter as we add a candle representing how life grows…until one year we set off the fire alarm. My favorite are the sweet smelling candles. The aroma adds to the beauty of the glow by bringing your nose to the party. Just the smell of an evergreen candle can bring Christmas memories racing to your mind. At my house there are two times when the kids ask, “Who’s coming over?” when I am cleaning and when I light all the candles. At a concert, flames from lighters (or these days, virtual ones) show an artist the crowd wants to stay. There is something in the glow of a flame that draws us.
We use candles in our worship. We light candles when we pray for others, reminding us of the fire of God’s spirit that dwells within them. We have candlelight services in which the spark of hope that started with the baby Jesus spreads throughout the room until, corporately we glow with his love for us. The light chases out the darkness and symbolizes our faith in a dark world. We use flame to represent the “Light of the World” of Jesus, and we use flame to represent being made in the image of that light in human life.
I went to the Relay for Life event in Highlands NC last night. I walked the survivor lap, the caregiver lap, and the team lap with the family team my mom had created in my honor. Each of those laps validates the hard cancer journey. Each of them has significance. Each of them brings tears in different ways. Last night however, the lap that stood out was the luminary lap. For those who have not been to a Relay event, the luminary lap is walked in silence with only the light of luminary candles, which line both sides of the track. On the bags of the luminaries are the names of cancer survivors and those who have died from the disease. The lap is walked in silence in memory of those who battled until the end.
I guess being a survivor, it hits you differently maybe than others who have not walked this road. Maybe it is more so for me at this moment in my life, but I think most survivors, if we are honest, will admit that we have the nagging fears in the back of our minds. As you walk, you see your name right next to those who didn’t survive and wonder. I have to confess, I let my mind go there for just a minute last night. I wonder if one day my kids will walk this lap without me and stop to look at my candles. I wonder if my whole life will be represented by a name on a luminary. Or if I will go from an “in honor” bag to an “in memory” bag sometime in the future. Last May, I sat at our White County Relay event with a co-worker’s husband who was battling cancer. I watched he and his wife walk and cry, knowing that next year his name would be on an “in memory” bag. I stood, last night, and watched his candle flicker from that bag. I recognized the names of my family members, long since gone, and that of Bill’s mom who still fighting brain cancer for more time with us. Her name was right next to mine. Our candles lit up the night. The flames represent hope to us. They have meaning, beyond décor, or heat, or even light…they are our lives. Not literally, of course, but each flame in the circle of light signifies the life of a person, one who has touched many others. Individually, they glow in the darkness. Each of them brought laughter and shared tears. They had hopes and dreams and families who love them. Blending the light of both survivors and those who did not, illuminates the night. The light is brighter than any one individual, yet each is distinctly unique. Walking the track, memories abound. Tears of sorrow flow freely. This is the reality of the disease.
Yet hope rises in the midst. I have to tell you I don’t want my name to be on an “in memory” bag. I don’t want my kids to have to endure that walk. I believe it is possible that they will not have to. It is why I am passionate about cancer events. It is why I am attempting to take my health back…and my life. The gifts given, the lives invested, the time spent at events like this one will make the difference in life or death in the cancer battle. The light of hundreds of candles brings with it the spark of possibility. It is possible to survive. It is possible to find a cure. The flames will make that possibility a reality.

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