Cancer. It’s an ugly, emotionally charged word. It’s a hateful disease. It doesn’t discriminate nearly as much as we wish it would. It’s effected nearly every one of us.
This is my journey.
It was almost exactly 10 years ago when my mother-in-law called me, frantic and clearly upset. She needed my husband’s cell phone number. “Is everything okay?” I asked. Because clearly it wasn’t.
“Just.give.me.his.number.” she stammered.
In that moment, I knew that our lives would never be the same.
And they weren’t.
My sweet father-in-law was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. It was everywhere in his body by then. We clung to the hope that he would miraculously recover. But after his surgery, well, he didn’t bounce back. And he wasn’t really well enough to undergo his treatment. The poison treatment that was supposed to save his life. But no. He wasn’t even well enough for poison. We prayed. We cried. I’ll be honest here….we denied the fact that he might not live through this. But we hoped HARD that he would. Because none of us could imagine a holiday meal without his chair at the table and without anyone to snap goofy polaroids of nothing two seconds before we said grace and ate dinner.
Hope. It goes hand in hand with faith. Kind of like peas and carrots. You can’t really have one without the other. To paraphrase my Bible concordance, hope is a confident expectation of fulfillment and, of course, faith is trust in God. The Word reminds us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for…” (Hebrews 11:1)
Let me tell you, B.C., that’s before cancer, I had a pretty simplistic view of what all that really meant. I had a shallow faith, I guess. Or maybe I just really wasn’t mature enough to really *get* it, you know? But I think I fell into a simplistic train of thought many well meaning believers have: Bad things don’t happen to good people. If I follow Christ, my life will be sunshine and roses. Alas, this is not true, is it?
I guess I rather conveniently forgot the part of scripture that reminds us that we’re going to have trouble in this world because we follow Christ. Yeah, that one is not so fun.
Count well the cost of following Him, no?
In the short weeks that followed my father-in-law’s diagnosis and surgery, we had a lot of time to really decide what was important in our lives and what was really true even in the middle of the biggest nightmare of our lives. I remember a very specific moment that I just knew the outcome of this journey was absolutely not going to be what we were hoping for.
But in the middle of that pain and excruciating suffering, I came to know that God was still good.
He specifically led me to scripture…..
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For, I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” Isaiah 43:1-3
I’ve never been spoken to, been ministered to, through scripture as clearly and beautifully as I was in those moments. I knew that I knew that I knew that my father-in-law’s life was not going to be long. But I knew that God was going to use his life for His purposes. I’ll never understand why it had to be the way that it was, but there was such a peaceful beauty to my father-in-law’s final days. His hope wasn’t in the world. His hope was purely in God. And even from his sickbed, he chose to see God every single day. And he told every single person who came to visit him about his Savior.
It still takes my breath away. He was so bold in his faith because he knew that his time was short. It makes me wonder what I’m doing, at times. But he just didn’t care because he knew he was soon to gaze upon his Heavenly Father’s face and he wanted every person he spoke with to be there in eternity with him. And I believe that one by one, there is a processional in heaven that was heavily influenced by his decision to be bold in his faith and freely share the hope he had in an unseen but very much alive Savior.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to tell my five year old daughter that her sweet Pappy went to heaven to be with Jesus. Her dear daddy had no words left. His heart was broken. He wept. But she was the very last person her pappy spoke to with coherence in his life, slipping into a peaceful slumber moments after giving her a much anticipated hug and kiss. When I told her that he was gone, she looked at me so sweetly with such wise eyes, and said, “I’ll really miss my Pappy. But I’ll see him again when I go to heaven to be with Jesus.”
That’s faith. Trust in a God who’s got it all planned out even though the journey makes no sense to us. And oh so much hope, especially for a wee little girl.
At his funeral, I was blessed to share my experience with God-breathed scripture in advance of my father-in-law’s death and those words are just as true for me today as they were then.
I don’t know what you might be facing, but I have a deep and abiding hope that God will see you through it. You see, He used the word “when” in that passage I shared.
WHEN you pass through the waters.
WHEN you pass through the rivers.
WHEN you walk through the fire.
It’s going to happen. It just is. Those ugly things. Big things. Hard things. Awful things. And lots of smaller, annoying things.
But here’s the promise. Oh, sweet friend, don’t miss it: WHEN you have those issues, He’s right there with you, lifting up your head, pulling you ashore, dusting the ashes from your weary soul. He is there. Even in those things so awful you simply don’t know how you can take another step. And there is hope. Because it always seems when we lose on one hand, there is a gain on the other. We may never see it on this side of eternity, but He’s working all around us.
My hope is in His promise.
My daughter lost her sweet Pappy, and in many ways our family will never be the same. Even now, the ache isn’t less. Just different.
But my hope is in my God who reminds me He Himself planned for my future.
We lost big. But God was still good. And our lives changed in many ways we never expected. Some changes were really, really hard. Others, incredible blessings. And one came in the form of a life we didn’t think would ever be a part of our journey.
And there was healing.
Our journeys will all be different, but His promises remain secure. Dare to hope, sweet friends. He’s working on your behalf.
You can find this post linked here as part of Karen Beth’s Tuesday at Ten.