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.
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.