To be honest, this is more like last Tuesday’s leftovers . . . and in reality, it’s been on my mind for the past month. But today seems like an appropriate time to talk about it: suffering.
Most of us are familiar with the James 1 passage that goes,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
But in two specific friendships, I’ve been so amazed and encouraged by a steadfast faith during times of trial. And until recently (oddly enough), never really put the pieces together that the testing is actually producing the steadfastness. I think in my mind, I just assumed their steadfast faith was shining through the trials . . . which in some ways it is. But at the same time, Scripture clearly says here that it’s a product of the trial. That’s such a deep encouragement to me because when I look at these friends and the trials they face, I wonder if my own faith would remain steadfast. If I would continue to bless the Lord, in spite of the pain of chemotherapy. If I would walk humbly and in the Word, even when I couldn’t physically get up out of bed because of nausea and overwhelming fatigue. But doing those things relies upon my own strength to remain steadfast . . . not allowing it to be a product of what God is working in my life.
So Kathy and Luke, I’m praying for you and thinking about you. That God would make you perfect and complete through these trials. And I’m so thankful for how your steadfast faith has fortified my own.
I’m leaving you all with a journal entry from my friend Kathy. She’s given me permission to post it here, and I wanted to encourage you with how she’s “counting it all joy” despite a truly miserable week.
January 25, 2010
It’s 1:37am the night after my first chemo treatment. I have been trying to sleep for hours and can’t, even though the chemo drugs have “hit” me and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. So instead of tossing in my bed irritated that I can’t sleep I am choosing to type some of the thoughts rolling through my head and heart.
Though I’ve been sick for over 4 years with various issues, no one at any point guessed or even wondered if I had cancer. In fact multiple doctors thought there was “no way” I could have it until the surgery and pathology report on December 23 said otherwise. There were three surgeries in three weeks (including a full hysterectomy which is a major deal), a trip to the ER, an infection, multiple bad responses to meds, an incredibly bruised and painful port which was the “talk” of the chemo room today because it was so bruised…just to name a few things that have kicked off 2010 as not my favorite year of my life.
I decided that whenever I talked about my cancer I wanted to do so in a genuine, honest way that reflects what I really feel and think. I didn’t want to play the despairing victim because I don’t feel that way. Nor do I want to communicate that I like this. I don’t. I have and will experience very real and intense physical and emotional pain. And if given the choice I would walk away from it. However, since God chooses better than I, there are 11 things I have clung to that have made this experience bearable and in certain brief, sweet moments worshipful. In no particular order, due to my early morning stream of consciousness, here they are…
(1) There is nothing that has happened in the past month that makes me doubt anything about God or His Word. I have very much not liked this experience but I see now more clearly than ever that the Bible is 100% true. It tells of a world where you and I live where there is pain and suffering of every kind. It tells of world so impacted by the sin that entered it in Genesis 3 that the earth groans to be released from the oppression. It tells of a world where both Christians and non-Christians suffer; it tells of a place where Christians don’t get the “easy” card and get to take a “pass” on cancer. Nothing I’ve experienced the past month contradicts His Word.
(2) The fact that God was 100% on target in His description of this world means that He is 100% on target in His explanation of the next. In heaven there will be no pain or sorrow or disease or disappointment or chemo rooms. Yipee!!
(3) Rather than distancing Himself from suffering, God entered in and engaged in it…giving His only Son to be tortured and killed in a most unjust and horrific way. He does not stand aloof and gaze at my suffering as One who is imagining what it is like. Jesus knows. Jesus choose it. And His choice to suffer, die, and be raised again is the only way I’ll ever get to experience a place with no suffering. How blessed am I.
(4) Every nurse and doctor at Texas Oncology, whether they are a Christian or not, are a veiled glimpse of Jesus to me. The enter into an intense season of suffering in my life to give of themselves for me. They compassionately and kindly answer questions, explain info again to new eyes and families bearing the weight of cancer, smile, reek of mercy, and do everything in their power to heal. I cannot for a minute think that Jesus is not present in that place.
(5) There is no fear in death for me. I don’t know whether I will be a cancer survivor or not. But I know that, should Jesus not return in my lifetime, that I will die. And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the faith God gave me to believe in that, heaven is mine. Death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ who gives eternal life to those who believe.
(6) God chose to give me cancer because He loves me. Romans 8:28-29 tell me so. I don’t understand all that means and it doesn’t stop all the hurt in my heart but I know it’s true.
(7) God chose to bring trials into my life in previous years to prepare me for this one. The multiple surgeries and challenging experiences in the past were not accidents God passively allowed but things designed and given by Him to give me the endurance I need for this one and perhaps ones to come. James 1:2-4. I have not always counted it joy but am grateful for the endurance.
(8) God’s grace is sufficient in my significant weakness. I have nothing to offer but weakness and according to Him, that’s ok. 2 Corinthians 9:9-14.
(9) God’s sovereign provision of meeting a sweet friend, Traci Hancock, as we prepared for a mission trip to Lativa last summer. Little did either of us know the friends we would become or the path we would walk together that neither of us would have chosen. Her husband, Kent, was diagnosed with cancer less than a month before I and I got to cry with her. Then when my diagnosis came she was there to cry with me and so much more. Her husband just “happens” to be the best gynecological oncologist in the area and perhaps the state and country. No only has he treated me during his cancer but today Traci showed up in the chemo room with lunch for Molly (another unspeakably great gift of God to me). And as I arrived home from my first day of chemo was met at the door with the most beautiful flower arrangement ever given to me. Guess who it was from? Kent and Traci. We didn’t know each other a year ago and we now share sufferings, experiences, and hope that will link us for a lifetime.
(10) Dad, Mom, Cindy, Robert, Michael, Erin, Austin, Owen, and Beth. Not everyone is given a biological family as great as mine and that fact does not escape me.
(11) My biological and spiritual family who have cooked, driven, sent flowers and gifts, mailed cards, written a Scripture verse, taken over my responsibilities, cleaned, texted, emailed, called, encouraged, smiled, cried, and hugged. And most importantly to me, in those moments of my most significant weakness when I didn’t think I could bear one more thing, took a burden that was about to suffocate me and carried it to Jesus for me in prayer. Very few things have brought me to tears during this journey but this one does. If/when I make it through this season, I gladly give 100% of the credit to Jesus and them. None of it is mine.
Jesus, I wouldn’t have chosen this and I know I’m so weak that I would give it back if you gave me the choice. But you are wise enough to know that about me so you didn’t give me the option. I continue to ask for the grace and strength to journey through what you have chosen is best for me.You gave me Yourself when I didn’t even know who You were; I know there’s no way You’re turning Your back now. My heart is broken and full at the same time. I give both the brokenness and fullness as an offering of praise to You. Soli Deo Gloria.