Today it is my privilege to introduce you to one of my dearest blogging friends, Judith. I met Judith early into my blogging foray, and over the past two plus years, we’ve become kindred friends. Although we’ve never met face-to-face, our hearts are connected via the tender love we share for our Lord and for the deeper work of the cross that is constantly presenting itself upon the soil of our souls. We’ve shared many a good conversations over the phone and some heart-felt e-mails in this season of our lives. More than being a kind and generous acquaintance, Judith has become and continues to be a mentor for me. Despite her illness, Judith remains one of the strongest witnesses of faith I’ve ever encountered. I want you to encounter her as well. Thus, her gracious willingness to serve as a guest-writer at my blog this week. After a long season of rest in regards to her writing, Judith is, once again, putting her heart on paper to serve as an encouragement for all travelers on the road toward home. Today, she reflects on one of the writings included in my new book. I pray it blesses you, even as it has richly blessed me. So without further prompt… meet Judith (and when you’re done here, please visit her newly designed blog and follow her along in the journey of faith).
“She had and ‘issue.’ I have mine. You have yours. Hers was blood. Ours are other things—blacks and blues and hues of all manner of issues. Regardless of their color, they still bleed red. And if not tended to by the Healer, they will continue their hemorrhage toward eventual destruction.”
Issues. Elaine is so right. They can bleed us dead. And where I think I have become strong, an issue can fly in just under the radar to do damage.
Eight years ago, I received an unexpected diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer before I even knew that there had been a Stage 1. While it felt like living in Belize and suddenly moving to the Badlands, I didn’t waste energy with the “Why me, God?” question. I have known too many wonderful people who have suffered with this frightening disease to think that there was something so special about my sorry parts that I should be spared. My journey through cancer, fraught with discomfort, confusion and grieving, has helped me cling to and love Christ more. It has strengthened my character and enlarged my understanding of the living and loving and wanting to serve. More than cancer of the body, I have feared cancer of the soul.
Yet it’s a messy thing, this business called living or surviving. We don’t do it in a tidy fashion. There are highs so spectacular that we can be stunned to silence at God’s goodness and grace. But there are those other times when the best we can do is survive the day. Days of rejoicing from good news can become stained by bad. We don’t always see a blessing when we are standing in the middle of it. We misstep. We despair when the answer, the gift, the hope is just around the corner. That’s where I was when I opened to Page 10 of Elaine’s book.
I had been told at the beginning of my journey through Cancerland that there is no cure when it behaves the way mine did but “not to worry,” my kind and cheerful Oncologist said. “I have lots of goodies in my goody bag that we can use to manage it.”
Goodies in a goody bag… doctor speak for chemotherapy. I smile now at the good man’s attempt to help me keep perspective, but “goodies” and “chemotherapy” just don’t belong in the same sentence – ever.
Good Dr. Doom (my favorite never-to-his-face name for him) retired about six years ago. Mentioning his ol’ goody bag to my recent Oncologist, I asked if, after all these years, we weren’t finally running out of the contents. I could tell she had been thinking about it too while flipping through the pages of my file at my last visit.
“There’s still one left we haven’t tried.”
“Just one?” I asked hoping she meant ten.
“Yes, just one…,” her voice trailing off. I thought I could tell what she probably would never say without a direct question: this one is last because it’s least likely to help. Surely that was a moth that I saw fly out of Doc Doom’s bag.
So, as Elaine effectively wrote, I had an issue with those goodies, that bag full of chemotherapy treats that I despised: What will happen when the last one is gone? What will happen to me, when Oncology finally has nothing else to offer? While my question was honest, it was one I thought I had settled long ago. But my radar missed the peril. The plane snuck in just underneath it, and… bombs away! Fear found Terror and together they blew up Hope. Despair won a victory, and I began to panic and fidget.
In his honest and uplifting testimony, written before he died from colon cancer, Tony Snow observed “The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.”
Elaine writes that as the woman with an issue felt compelled to touch Jesus someway, we, too, “must be willing to reach in order to receive. We must move beyond our tight-fisted clenching…”
Tight-fisted clenching. Elaine’s words, empowered by the Spirit of God, were held up before me like a mirror. For days I had been holding on to something that I had always known could never make a promise of life to me; guarantees are never issued with chemotherapy. I had been through this panic before and knew better. But focusing on hopelessness, I clean forgot the blessing of eight years of survival and began to “think of nothingness and swoon.”
Reading the story in Luke again, I saw a difference in how that desperate woman and I were reaching. Elaine’s insightful and tender applications made me weep and they made me yearn. I had forgotten that I had to look more critically at not only what I was reaching for but also whose hem in the crowd I was trying to find. I thought about tight-fisted clenching and how that woman’s hand had to be open and empty in order to grab Jesus’ hem. I was beginning to hang on so tightly to this one last “hope” that my hand had become closed, filled with nothing.
I put Elaine’s book down for a moment remembering an old Johnny Cash song I knew from decades earlier. It was a story about a guy without a job and down on his luck, and all that remained between him and “pauper’s hill” was one “wrinkled, crinkled, wadded dollar bill.” With this one wadded bill he could buy an inadequate jacket at the surplus store or day-old cakes at the bakery but not both. His victory came with the understanding that in his fear of losing it, he had become a slave to something that really couldn’t help him. Determined to not be bound to that one wrinkled, crinkled, wadded dollar bill, he threw it into Lake Michigan.
Having shared some of these thoughts recently with a group of women who also have Stage 4 cancer, one began to weep saying “It never occurred to me that there wouldn’t always be something else they could give me.” Her tears and words expressed a frightful and difficult truth for every one of us in that room. But eventually we all must come to that place. One day each of us, cancer or not, will open a goody bag and watch moths fly out. Whose hem we have been reaching for is critical.
So today, I am comforted by renewal. Tony Snow’s “dizzy, unfocused panic” that had seized me is gone as I remember, once again, to hold on to the sufficiency of Christ and not to what I fear. Those few bombed out buildings of my heart that suffered a sneak attack from our enemy are rebuilt quickly as I focus again on God’s Word and his character. God knows what he’s about regarding my life. He doesn’t need chemotherapy to heal or extend one’s living. He may use it, but he requires nothing except my confidence in him and his ability to do what is right for me and my family, whatever that may be.
So you might say I’m not bound and, in my sane moment, never will be to some wrinkled, crinkled, dusty old goody bag. There is more to affliction than being healed of it.