Monday I saw my doctor’s replacement doc (as mine was away) to request more iron infusions, and I was surprised to discover my biopsy results were in. The young doctor opened them and without any time to brace myself I adjusted my chair to view the screen.
Gibberish. The page he had opened was full of what I can only assume was technical medical language, that may as well have been Greek. My eyes scanned the document for words I could understand, and I only found three: “GIST” (gastro-intestinal tumor)- which I already knew, “Rare”- which I also already knew, and “aggressive.”
Aggressive. Shoot. I do not like this word.
The doctor admitted this is unfamiliar territory for him and I should contact the specialist to explain.
So I did, and got an appointment for Thursday afternoon, which gave me approximately 72 hours to stew over this word “aggressive,” sandwiched between a bunch of Greek, while trying to maintain my cool and keep it quiet in case I was wrong. No need to stress people out before I had to.
As I’d imagine anyone would, I spent many of those hours bracing for impact. If this was bad news, how would I survive it? How would I get through this without being emotionally destroyed? The Lord knows I have gone about these things in both wrong and right ways before. What had I learned from darker days, that I could apply now?
Did I get ahead of myself? Probably. Yet, the Lord allowed me to have this scare, and even used these ridiculous three days for my good.
So, I will share some of the conclusions I was coming too while I waited:
1. God will do with me whatever will bring Him the most glory. This is a pretty simple, but powerful truth. I think of Philippians 1:20-24:
“As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
Those are some very challenging words, and no doubt my faith would need to grow to make these claims as boldly as Paul. But there is truth here to grab onto- Jesus Christ will be honored, if I set myself to either live for Him or die for Him. He knows which is better for me. He has a plan to receive glory by either my life or death, and that thought is comforting. It gives meaning to everything. If I live, I live for Christ, and if I die, I gain Christ.
2. There is only One whom I must fear. Psalm 34:9 kept coming into my head this week: “Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” As I thought about that I realized that if sickness, pain, or loss made me turn away from the Lord, wouldn’t that prove that I feared those things more than I feared Him? But if I feared Him above all else, that fear of Him would help me respond in reverence instead of sin. And what did Jesus say? “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:5)!”
People, illness, or disaster can destroy your body, but not your soul. In Jesus Christ, my soul rests safe. I have a refuge in times of trouble, and atonement for the day of judgment. Sometimes, it is those ultimate, overarching truths, that settle our hearts and bring us rest.
3. In trouble, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I can respond without hardening my heart in doubt, anger, seeking relief in sin, and without envy- but pain, sickness and sorrow go together. And for sorrow, there is the Man of Sorrows.
I said to my husband this week, “I am not so much afraid of sickness or pain. I could get through those things alright, if I could do it without being sad.”
Sorrow makes me tired. Or, I could say- I am tired of sorrow. It’s a topic I have given a lot of thought to. I wrote this poem called “A Fitting Sadness,” and it is the result of growing in how I think about sadness. I remember a time when I thought that God only wanted me to be happy all the time, no matter what hardship I faced, and that if I didn’t smile through it, He was angry at me. And that was wrong. So in a way I have made peace with sadness, but I have found myself cowering at it, because frankly, I just want happiness.
It has seemed to me that the only strategy for avoiding sadness on this earth is to harden your heart. To care less, want less, love less- to become calloused. To become a pessimist. To become bitter. It’s a temptation during suffering to become hard, to try and take back some kind of power by trying not to care. That will lead to sadness anyways, but an impure kind.
This life is going to have ills and tears, but with Christ, tears lose their bitterness don’t they? I can’t expect a life without tears, when Jesus was called “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3),” and when He, the perfect man, “In the days of his flesh… offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:7).”
Am I owed the right to avoid sadness, while my Lord wasn’t? I don’t think so. But thank God that for every sorrow, we have a comforter who is so familiar with our grief.
4. I need the body of Christ.
My pastor has been preaching about the Church lately, and about our need for each other, and it has been impacting for me. I can see times when I have fallen short in this area, and suffered because of it. It seems that especially when suffering, right when we need others the most, that is when we tend to be lone soldiers.
I have been resolute lately that I will not do that anymore. I may have kept my concern quiet so as not to jump-the-gun this week, but I did surround myself with people from the body of Christ, and that was such a blessing.
When we’re struggling, reaching out for help from other believers often means surrendering either pride or shame. It can also be a risk can’t it? We fear that if we reach out, perhaps we will just get hurt more. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s an area that I, and perhaps many of us, need to grow in.
5. I need to thank God for my life- even with it’s heart-ache and trials. I need to thank Him for the life He has given me.
I lose sight of the big picture often. Just today, I have been very discouraged by flare ups with chronic pain and my low energy levels. Sometimes I think there is a pit with my name on it, and every time I start inching out over the edge of it, something drags me back down. And it is not for lack of determination and effort to get out.
But complaining is different than sorrow. God doesn’t want my complaining, or my entitlement, or my accusations. He will carry my burdens, but not my attacks. He’s given me my life, and it is a great life. He has never failed to meet my every need. He has never forsaken me.
Thursday night I went out and bought my family new socks. Such a mundane, kind of silly reason to leave the house, but I had so much joy in my heart. So much joy because if I had gotten the news that afternoon that I had aggressive cancer, I wouldn’t have been out buying socks. I wouldn’t have waved my kids a happy, care free goodbye while they finished their bedtime routines with dad. I would have been clinging to them for dear life.
As far as they could tell, I have a benign stomach tumor- which is NOT aggressive. I don’t know which Greek word meant “not”, but I guess I learned my lesson not to take uninvited glances at doctor’s screens. For those who are wondering, I will still be having surgery, but this is of course, very good news.
Life is hard, but I’m reminded to be thankful. God gave me this life, not somebody else’s, and He calls me to be thankful and content, by the strength that He provides. I’ll close with Philippians 4:11-13:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”