Thoughts on Physical Suffering Part 1

I received a diagnosis last week many of you have received before me, one none of us want. I have early stage breast cancer. I also am a type 1 diabetic who was just finding relief from a flare up of juvenile arthritis. While recovering from a divorce and family upheaval not of my choosing.

It all seems a bit much.

After a few days of wandering around in a “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” type of stupor, I’m starting to emerge with a little more sense of resolution, and by God’s grace, faith. Here are a few random thoughts.

I bought Kara Tippetts’ book, The Hardest Peace. Most of you know that Kara died. Thankfully, so far, my diagnosis is not late stage as hers was. I resisted buying the book at first. But I decided that though I only wanted to hear from those with positive outcomes, I NEEDED to hear from someone who faced the worst and whose faith was steadfast through it.

I appreciate encouragement that centers around resolution and healing. But when divorce loomed over me, there came a point when encouragement from those who had resolved difficulties in marriage didn’t actually encourage me anymore. I had used up all the things I knew to do or pray, but the pending divorce still hung over my head like an anvil. I was encouraged by those, like Dee Brestin and Wesley Hill, who had persevering faith in terminal trials – trials that won’t go away until your physical body does. Between diabetes, arthritis, divorce, and now cancer, my life and body will be riddled with scars until they lay me in a grave, even if that is another 40 years away. I want to hear from folks with persevering faith in long term suffering that isn’t going away.

I’ve been thinking of Elisabeth Elliott who lost her second husband to cancer after losing her first to a spear.  And my friend from Seattle who lost her daughter to cancer and her husband to unbelief.  I remember the godly Christian college teacher with Lou Gehrig’s disease, who lost his daughter and primary care giver in a car accident.  And I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who was diagnosed with breast cancer as a quadriplegic.  Trial isn’t uniformly measured out in equal portions.  But there is a strong cloud of witnesses around us, living and dead, who have persevered in faith in multiple long term trials.  They encourage us to do so as well. We need them, even though we often would rather hear from those whose trials lasted a year or so and then went away permanently.

One of my biggest struggles currently is coming to terms with, once again, needing to be helped when I would much rather be the helper. I loved Wonder Woman. I want to be the strong, warrior helper coming alongside those struggling in life and faith. I want to finish a book on Jesus’s interactions with women from the book of Luke. I want to write a book that is helpful to those coming out of the spiritual abuse and confusion of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I want to mentor/disciple women as strong helpers in the image of God. I want to shepherd my children, volunteer at our public school, and so on. I don’t want to need someone to clean my house, bring me meals, or pick up my kids from school. And I really don’t want to say no to opportunities to teach women. But here I am, and I must accept it. I am humbled. I must receive more than I am able to give. I’m not Wonder Woman in this scenario. Instead, I’m hoping she’ll show up at my door from time to time with lasagna and a vacuum cleaner.

I wish I were as tethered to prayer and the Scriptures when I am released from the pressure of trials as I am when trial hangs over my head. I want to be faithful in prosperity. But again and again, it takes the pressure of trial to bind my wandering heart to Scripture. At first, I could only read Psalm 88, that powerful psalm of lament that never resolves. I’ve felt for some time now that psalm in particular was a gift from God for those of us facing the type of situation that causes many to turn away from Him. What if I only had dark, scary things to say to God but thought He’d strike me down if I voiced them?! Instead, He recorded in His eternal Scripture just such a prayer, so that when I am most tempted to turn away from God I instead have language HE HAS GIVEN ME to turn toward Him in despair and fear.

Psalm 88:13-18

But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
From my youth,
I have been suffering and near death.
I suffer your horrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath sweeps over me;
your terrors destroy me.
They surround me like water all day long;
they close in on me from every side.
You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;
darkness is my only friend.

In dark moments, I need grace and mercy that only God can provide. What sweet care of His children that God invites us in those moments to come to Him boldly and confidently, bringing our burden to Him until we experience the peace that passes understanding, the peace that doesn’t make sense in our circumstances, that only He can provide.

Psalm 88 is in the middle of a bunch of other verses well underlined and marked up in my favorite Bible. It’s nestled between Psalm 87, about the joys of life in Zion that makes even the best moments of Israel’s earthly kingdom pale in comparison, and Psalm 89, which is super happy and encouraging, the kind of chapter you read with the dawning of hope in the morning after a long and frustrating night. I have walked around with that favorite Bible in my hand, reading regularly from Psalms, noting phrases that have sustained me in past trial and adding new dates to them as new things hit me now. I hope that the pressure of this trial eases soon, but may I stay as tethered to the Word in good times as I am in bad.

Last but not least, I have received great help by way of my “ebenezer” stone at the foot of my newly remodeled farmhouse. I can’t put into words the deep stress I’ve felt over the last three years trying to figure out how to establish and pay for a home for my boys and I after the loss of our life in Seattle. But God did it! He sold my house in Seattle (through the help of friends) and worked out the details to turn my grandparents’ moldy 1930s farmhouse (with original windows and rat infested walls) into a truly lovely home. I know it has been God’s kindness and watchful care of my family that established this home. So I inscribed “Ebenezer” and “I Samuel 7:12” on a fake stone and put it at my front steps to remind me every day. I don’t want to forget both my anxiety during that season and God’s great care to work out details I could not imagine on my own. And now I get the point of “ebenezer” stones. That marker of God’s past faithfulness has helped my heart find confidence in this new trial. Instead of my previous suffering making me question God in this new round, reminders of His past faithfulness make me watchful for it anew. This is a gift of His grace! 

I appreciate your prayers for healing, but I also really appreciate your prayers for confident faith, for myself and my loved ones, that expects to see the goodness of God in the land of the living as He has shown Himself before.

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

John Newton


16 Responses to Thoughts on Physical Suffering Part 1

  1. Jim August 10, 2017 at 8:03 am #


    I have been praying for you and your family, and will continue to.

  2. Kathy August 10, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    Oh Wendy, it seems like you’ve already had your share of trials. Praying for peace as you walk yet through another valley.

  3. Becky Tirabassi August 10, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    I read your posts regularly. Please know that you are in our prayers. Love your transparency.

  4. Stephenny Stiles August 10, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Friend, it’s been such a long time since I’ve commented or said hi. But you have always been in my thoughts and prayers and now I pray specifically for strength of faith and endurance. Love you dear friend.

  5. Tana Agudelo August 10, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. How good to have caught it early. My mom survived stage 4 breast cancer (she waited to go in), and then many years later, stage 4 ovarian cancer, which has come back TWO MORE TIMES, and she’s now back in remission after we had the “funeral and what to do when I’m gone” talk this past spring. Her faith has been resolute that she’s in His hands. It hasn’t been easy. But she’s seen Him rescue her time and time again. It wasn’t her diet-she ate pretty much only diet sodas and ice cream shakes through the first few rounds of chemo and radiation much to my horror. It wasn’t alternative medicine-she hasn’t considered that, though I wanted her to. It wasn’t anything but God. She has been given the ability to smile and trust God most of the time, and has been thankful for friends and family who cheer her on and pray. With God, anything is possible. He has been her peace. He is yours, too, Wendy, He promises. (And I eagerly await you writing that book for women coming out of Mars Hill. My church wasn’t that particular one, but the Patriarchy movement has many churches that are similar. There are scarred women everywhere, and many that aren’t free yet, and wecwould love to hear your voice.) Love and hugs and prayers.

  6. Patsy Tucker August 10, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    Wendy, my heart aches for you. My son died at 20 months of age from SIDS back in 95. From time to time God gives me glimpses of his purpose in that. I just got back from a mission trip to Nepal and I am lying here on my bed dealing with severe back pain and diarrhea. When I was in Nepal I was sitting on a front porch sharing Jesus with a group of women aged 15 to 70. The story of my son was part of my testimony, that God gave us the hope of eternal life to keep us from despair. One woman in the group burst into tears and shared about a recent miscarriage and that her 6 yo daughter has chronic fevers. What was meant to be a full on gospel presentation turned into a miscarriage and infertility support group. None of these Hindu women came to Christ while I was there, but they want to continue meeting with some Nepali believers from the village nearby to read stories about Jesus. I know you know this, but Jesus does not waste any of our pain or tears but will use them for his glory. I pray for complete healing for you!

  7. Patricia Miller August 10, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

    Connie Dever has written a book which has been published or is to be published this month: He Held Me Fast: A Journey with Grace through Cancer, Connie Dever, CHRISTIAN FOCUS / 2017. Available from Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, & probably others.

    I’m facing a different situation with chronic pain, some of which may be helped by rather complex orthopedic surgery planned for this month. I plan to order Connie’s book because I think it will be helpful for whatever trial someone is going through. I hope it will encourage you also. Praying.

  8. Geneva Anderson August 11, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    Wendy, please be encouraged that God is enough. I am in my 23rd year of dealing with ovarian cancer (a rare form) that has metastasized to my lungs. But God has graciously granted me the blessing of seeing all of my four children married and rearing my ten grandchildren for his glory. He has comforted me I the loss of my husband almost eight years ago, and he has allowed me many joys as I pursued a public speaking career that morphed into a coaching career. There is life during periods of suffering. We just have to keep doing the next thing.

    I have now reached the point where many “wonder women” show up at my door with lasagna, vacuum cleaners and (best of all) tapioca! My lesson now is learning to be a gracious receiver and living out the truth that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. My time of suffering has begun, and my greatest fear is that I will not endure it well and for the glory of God. So I cling to Christ who does all things well. Not me. Him.

    Blessings as you grow in your journey.

  9. Laura August 11, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Praying for you Wendy! I have been so encouraged by your blog and your most recent book. I will pray for steadfastness in your faith and healing for your body.

  10. Felicia Strange August 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    Thank you for this blog Wendy. I am blown away yet again with the wisdom of this post. You have always seemed like a type of “Wonder Woman” to me. The way that you have faced huge trials with such calm and strength. I know that this was and is a testament to God’s grace alive and well in your life, but it has been such a wonderful reminder of that reality in mine too–love you so much and, yes, I will pray for confident faith for you and loved ones as well as my hope for your healing!

  11. Lauri Bayless August 12, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

    Praying for you friend! God will grant you peace each step of the way!

  12. Jay C August 18, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Wendy-

    A friend of mine re-directed me to your site this morning, and I am very sorry to hear about some of what God has put you through over the last few years. I will add you back to my prayer list as you navigate this new situation that He has chosen to give to you.

  13. Mary Horton August 24, 2017 at 6:55 am #

    I stumbled on your site by God’s design today. I am grateful for you commitment to orthodoxy in the age of fluff we live in today. Many of us have suffered in a great many ways. My personal journey includes many encounters with griefs to painful to put into words. The latest of which happened this past spring. Life is filled with losses and crosses as the Puritans like to say. The only way I have been able to endure is looking into scripture and many books I especially enjoy Octavius Winslow who writes powerfully on suffering. Recently I have found great comfort in the Heidelberg catechism, the question which states “what is my only comfort in life and in death”. I prayed for you this morning asking God to give you all that you need in this new trial. I will continue to uphold you in prayer and also will be looking to your website and your books for more edification and growth!

    • Wendy August 24, 2017 at 11:25 am #

      Thank you, Mary!

  14. A. David Griffin August 29, 2017 at 3:57 am #

    Thank you for the priviledge of unearened access into your life; may I guard it with prayerful commitments and standing ovations for a passionate, and “woke” life.

  15. Alexandra September 1, 2017 at 9:45 am #

    Oh, wow. . . What a lot. . . Praying for you, for steadfast faith, for strength. . . and for you to be surrounded by love and support.