As I watched the HBO movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, which is based upon the book, titled the same as the movie, and life of an African-American woman named, Henrietta Lacks, all I could do is cry. The movie is told from the perspective of Mrs. Lack’s youngest daughter, Deborah. On the surface it appears as if Deborah is a crazy woman who never got over the death of her mother. Now mind you, her mother died of cervical cancer when she was very young, so she has no memory of her. However, she and her siblings, do know that their mother lives on through what medical science has deemed as HeLa (pronounced hee-la).
HeLa (stemming from the first two initials of Mrs. Lack’s name; Henrietta Lacks) is the name of the cell that forever changed medical science because of its incredible ability to survive and reproduce in a laboratory….indefinitely. This allowed scientists to perform experiments that couldn’t be done on a living person. From this discovery birthed the biomedical industry. There is not one person alive that has not benefited from HeLa – not one! Her cells helped develop the AIDS cocktail, the polio vaccine and treatments for hemophilia, herpes, influenza and leukemia.
I’m not quite sure if it was the story or the acting that brought me to tears. Maybe it was the fact that I too lost my mother to cancer. I’m not sure – maybe all of the above. But what ever the reason, it touched my soul.
Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to science is unimaginable. However, the troubling and disturbing things about her story, is that a piece of her cancer tumor was removed for research without her consent, science began experimenting without notifying the family, and also, that all the financial benefit went to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, where Mrs. Lacks went for cancer treatment. To this day, her family has not received any financial retributions for their mother’s contribution to medical science. With that being said, Mrs. Lacks has been honored in other ways, for example her portrait, by artist Kadir Nelson, on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I strongly urge you to read the book and/or watch the movie.
As I stated above, at the surface it appears as if Deborah was completely out of her mind. She’d have moments of clarity and then all of sudden she’d have fits of anxiety, rage, or confusion. It wasn’t just the fact that her mother had passed away. No one completely gets over the death of a loved one, you just learn to live with it. Her emotional instability was exacerbated by how her mother and the rest of the family was deceived, abused and neglected. Years and years of hurt she harbored in her heart. I imagine she cried out like Job saying, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:26, NIV)
What’s in the heart comes out in some way. For Deborah, and for her siblings, it showed in a number of unhealthy ways like heart disease, stress, anxiety, confusion, breakdowns, and violence. The Lacks family story, although unique in causality, was not unique in effect. The same unhealthiness plagues us all, but to what do we attribute them? To our past, to our broken relationships, to failed marriages, to the loss of loved ones, or to unforgiveness?
The remarkable quality that Deborah had was that despite all the negative things that had occurred in the lives of her family, she still had hope that there was a reason for all of it. She had hope that all of her questions about her mother would be answered and that the unjust that was done would be righted. Her peace was wrapped up in the world understanding that her mother was more than just some cells that science had made her out to be, but that she was a person, a human being with a family that loved her.
She didn’t sit by, idly waiting for the peace she longed for. She was active; doing what she could within her capacity. When someone came along willing to whole-heartedly tell her mother’s story (Rebecca Skloot) Deborah eagerly helped – she actively searched for her peace.
We too must be active! God’s peace doesn’t just magically fall upon us, we have to search for it. His peace comes from us understanding His Word (study), from us pouring out our hearts to Him (prayer), and trusting in His plan (faith). We have to actively seek the peace we desire; the peace that only God can give through our faith in Jesus. He gives it to us freely as our God is peace – He is Jehovah Shalom!
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
So often God is presented as a god that’s just sitting back waiting to grant all that we demand without us having to do a thing. Our faith is one that requires action – from us! Our Lord is not a fairy-god father there only to grant our every wish. We have to do our part. Our peace comes from knowing His character by prayer and studying His Word. Psalm 23 is scripture that most of us know or have at least heard. But unless you understand what the scripture really means, what it says about the character of God, Psalm 23 will not give you peace. It’ll just be words on a page for you.
Having peace doesn’t mean that you will not suffer or have hard times. It doesn’t mean that your finances will not fail or your children will not get sick. It doesn’t mean that we will not lose a job or a loved one. Having peace does not mean that life will be easy!
Paul says in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Having the peace of God is about how you deal with life’s challenges that come your way – because they are coming. Do you fall apart with every challenge or do you trust that God’s got you? True peace can’t be found in positive thinking, in the absence of conflict, or in having good feelings. Peace comes from knowing that God is in control!
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)