I am one week post-op, having spent two nights in ICU after surgery and two more in a regular room. It was the worst of times – but, oh, the grace of God made plain to me through it. I get it in a new way, that supernatural grace of God that helps you through what you could never endure on your own, that enlightens your soul as you pass through the fire.
I have been brought low, ultimately humbled. Many of you have been through similar and know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not the first time I’ve been brought low physically. I have had two c-sections and several outpatient surgeries. But this was a lower low. I’ve thought a lot about how frustrating it is to be brought so low. I want to be the helper, not the one being helped. I want to be strong for another, not to need another’s strength. It’s humbling to value the strong helper God created Eve to be in perfection but to feel so far from Eden’s ideal. But there is a great difference in being humbled and being humiliated. God humbles us, but He does not humiliate us. And I had many who were His hands and feet to me demonstrating this truth to me again and again. I was humbled. I was dust. But I was not shamed.
I woke in pain to the voice of a sweet anesthesiologist helping me get comfortable. Woke a second time to my cousin putting lip balm on my lips and feeding me ice chips. Oh the ministry of grace of lip balm and feeding ice chips to ICU patients. Woke another time to my pastor’s wife and my sister sitting with me in ICU. Woke many times to see my cousin and another friend from church wide awake at 1 am, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am in the ICU, because the hospital policy was that visitors could be in the ICU with a patient, but only if the visitor stayed awake. So though I could nap, they couldn’t. They were each the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering His grace to me in tangible ways.
During a few times of lull between visitors, I hit lows as the pain spearing through my body was compounded by the pain of knowing cancer was found in a lymph node.* At one particularly painful, low moment, God whispered to me, “the fellowship of my suffering.”
The gospel hit me, overcome with pain in the ICU, in a way I had never gotten before. Jesus experienced that level of pain and worse, not to save His own life, but to save mine. I wept under the covers in ICU as the searing pain pealed layers off of my understanding of what it meant that He was wounded for our transgressions, to see the nugget of truth obscured from my vision before. I lay wounded for my own healing from cancer, for my own peace. But He received no benefit from His wounds in my place. I get the Garden of Gethsemane at a different level. I wept under the sheets in the ICU, not at the pain, but at a new awareness of His agony in the Garden. Unlike me, who really didn’t fully understand what I would be facing in recovery (a blissful ignorance I still recommend), He knew exactly what He’d be facing on the cross. And He did it, not to His benefit, but to ours. Oh, precious Savior!
I’ve also thought a lot how much I want a return to Eden. I want to be Eve as she was created in the Garden, that strong warrior helper in the great Creation Mandate. But instead of God allowing me to build my own Tower of Babel, attempting to build my own resources to do for Him what He created us for in perfection, He requires of me something completely different. I can’t build a tower, because I am flat on my face, unable to lift my head. He instead condescends to me. He comes down. He lifts my head, and He helps me up to limp along, functioning only through His lifeblood in me, incapable of producing anything on my own. The image-bearer functions best through the life-giving blood of the One who came down and was wounded in her place. Only His blood can nourish us. Only His blood can equip us to do any Kingdom good in this world.
I want to be what God created me for in perfection, and that makes sense. I cry out for an end of sickness and suffering, murder and rampage. I long for God’s kingdom to come. I cry out in my own life for an end of limping and crashing and feeling wiped out. But instead of ending my suffering, God chose to come down and enter it that one day we could be fully restored. This is a beautiful truth I seem only able to fully grasp in weakness.
I hope later to write on lessons from reading the book of Job through the last month leading up to surgery. But these are two poignant lessons pressed on my heart through this last week.
Thank you to so many who have expressed love, prayers, and concern. Many have asked how they can support me. I have a good support system through church and family here. But I have a friend in Seattle battling later stage cancer without the same level of support. If you would like to send her a pizza, you can sign up at her Take Them a Meal website. She and her daughter love Pagliacci Pizza , which delivers to her house and request Canadian bacon, pineapple, and olives. Or you can donate to her You Caring page here.
*Pathology reports show that though the cancer was in my first lymph node, it doesn’t seem to have traveled beyond. This is very good. Verdict is still out on whether I will need chemo.