I was looking out the window, watching my children playing outside when I heard her say, almost casually on the other end of the phone "Ok let me see here...oh yeah its cancer..." It was a September afternoon like the ones we've been having lately. The last burning heat mingled with that crisp transitional breeze. That young nurse on the other end of the line had no idea, she was just doing her job, calling the next patient on the list, but for me it marked the beginning of the hardest, transformative year of my life. So far anyway. Has it really been a whole year since I found out my diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer? Let me tell you that when I first found out the news of my diagnosis, as I watched my kids playing outside, something inside of me exploded. Blind fear, mingled with confusion. Everything slowed down in my mind and I literally couldn't process what I was being told. I remember asking if it was some kind of mistake, maybe she got my name switched with someone else, surely that was it... I remember texting a friend as tears rolled down my face "Its Cancer" I couldn't breath. I remember the look on my husbands face as he rounded the corner in his work clothes, reaching out to me.
You know I never even noticed those billboards. You know the ones with a sweet little kid with a balled head, smiling... all brave, those pink ribbons never crossed my mind, every outward symbol or sign, every announcement of another person with cancer... I dismissed it all because I thought... Cancer... that would never happen to me. NEVER.
But what if one of the worst things that you fear happens. You wake up and realize that that perfect little bubble you where trying so hard to live in has burst, and you are left battered, bruised and disillusioned. But that bubble, the one that's suppose to keep you from harm and pain, is the very thing that can kill in the end. How can a light shine if a bowl is put on top of it? Eventually the flickering flame will be snuffed out due to lack of oxygen. How can an apple tree grow, flourish and bear fruit if it isn't pruned? Any small time gardener knows that without pruning disease and deformation is likely to take over. How is that majestic beast, the mighty horse able to wield its power on the track? The trainer uses bit and bridle, and patient firmness to produce a champion.
Of course you know how the story goes from here... it was pruning time! Does God give us trials because he hates us; we aren't good enough? No of course not. Friend the things that are in your life that are hard, even crushing you right now are there for you to sit up and take notice, for your good, for life. That's the beautiful crazy thing about being a follower of Jesus... nothing is wasted. Everything that I have gone through has been filtered through the hands of my heavenly Father for my good and HIS glory. I have learned lessons that I could never have learned in my little bubble. The furrows have gone down deep, ripping open my fallow ground. Seeds have been planted. No pain is ever waisted.
Let me tell you what I have learned in this year as wave after wave of personal, and family pain has crashed over me. I have learned that I am loved ...YES! LOVED!! I feel more cherished than ever before my diagnosis. I know that I am the beloved of Christ. I have learned that every trial I go through, every dark and depressing valley I walk through, Christ walks with me. Even when I have felt alone, abandoned even, I was not and I am not ever alone. When I opened the door of my heart and mind to Jesus I was essentially putting my hands up in surrender to have him do with me what he wanted. That may sound scary. It is. We are never promised a life without trials or temptations, in fact we are told flat out by Jesus himself that in this world you will have trouble.... BUT take heart I have over come the world. Boom. There it is people. Jesus Christ went through all the pain and suffering to die so that you and I could have a way in to God. The perfect sacrifice. He knew that the only way we could have true and lasting peace in a world so riddled with sin is if he gave himself up and defeated sin. What does that look like? It looks like foolishness to the world. I am a fool to so many, but I would have it no other way.
And I'm saying all this, things that some of you already know, because I feel compelled to. I want to place an olive branch into your hand... hope into your heart. Are you weary? Are you tired of building your tower to heaven, living in that suffocating bubble? Does fear grip you every morning, that feeling of knowing that you are completely out of control but fighting tooth and nail to try and keep up the appearance that you are? Please won't you take Jesus? The road won't be easy and you will have troubles, you will be dying to your self and letting go of the controls, but trust me it is so worth it. You will find that you are loved, cherished, the beloved. You will never be alone ever again. You will be set free.
I can honestly say after the year that I've had that this time has been a gift wrapped up in rough paper. And the journey isn't over yet. I am still daily walking this road. I am still doing treatment and my life is a big questions mark but I have peace (most times) because of who I am. I am hidden with Christ and HE holds me. You are a part of that too. Your prayers and encouragement build me up. I am not alone because of Christ and because of all of you. Keep praying! In closing I wish to share with you a devotional written by one of my heroes and fellow cancer survivors. It explains so perfectly why I can stand here today and rejoice in what I've gone through and actually call it a gift!
Man of Sorrows... Lord of Joy
by Joni Eareckson Tada
"'...I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.'" John 17:13
"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering...." Isaiah 53:3
Can God laugh and weep at the same moment? Jesus Himself was "full of joy" yet Isaiah called Him "a man of sorrows." We mortals know joy and pain together. A father stands at the altar and sighs deeply as he gives his daughter's hand in marriage. A woman finally lands that long-coveted job, but in taking it must leave behind familiar friends and the town she loves. A mother watches her son languish behind prison bars, but sees the experience bring the rebellious young man to repentance and salvation. We are "sorrowful, but always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
This is understandable for humans, but how can God be sorrowful yet always rejoicing? My friend Steve Estes comments: "Perhaps the answer lies in his ability to know all things and to see the eternal picture. God does look down on this world and weep. But the world's twistedness did not catch him by surprise. He knew that humans would fall into sin. He knew that immeasurable sorrow would be let loose. He knew the suffering it would cost his Son. But God decreed to permit man's Fall because He knew how He would resolve it: that Jesus would die, that His church would eventually triumph through innumerable trials, that Satan's fingers would be pried off the plant, that justice would be served at the final judgment, that heaven would make up for it all, and that God would receive more glory -- and we would know more joy -- than if the Fall had never happened."
Jesus is "man of sorrows" and "Lord of joy" because, as the Son of God, He sees enough of the coming ecstasy to make up for the present agony. And God sees this glorious end as clearly as if it were today. This is why God can be truly and utterly happy and yet actually and really grieve.
Lord, help me to learn to live in You today, so that I may see the coming ecstasy and realize it makes up for my present hurt and heartache. Help me to be rejoicing while I am sorrowful.
Joni and Friends