Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Final Post: That He May Be Glorified

As you have probably noticed, I have been publishing blog posts less frequently in the past several months. Life with three little kids is always busy, of course. But I am very glad to say that the main reason for publishing posts less frequently has been that I have not had too many noteworthy medical updates to share. I did have a reconstructive surgery on May 1st to make some adjustments to my chest and to repair scar tissue on my abdomen, and in August I will have one more small surgery, but other than that things have been fairly normal in terms of my health. I do still have some ongoing health issues, but I am cancer free and overall I am feeling better now than I have since my cancer treatments began in November of 2010. In a very real sense, my “cancer journey” is over. And so this will be my final post to my blog.

It was my husband’s idea for me to write this blog. When we intially discussed the idea, we thought of three main reasons why it would be a good idea.

First, we thought it would be an efficient way to keep people updated on my health. And it did turn out to be a great way to not only keep friends and family informed, but to connect with and minister to others who were going through similar health issues. Over the course of 20 months, I published 140 posts. According to my Blogger Statistics, my blog was viewed over 86,000 times by people as close as my own neighborhood and as far away as New Zealand. My story and blog information was shared by others through word of mouth, e-mail, Facebook. And in God’s providence, I was asked to share my story and blog information with the entire Savannah community through two newspaper articles, three television interviews, and a story in The South magazine (which will be published later this week). I am so thankful that so many people in so many places read my blog – not because I wanted to be known – but because I wanted God to be known through me. Like my dad, I wanted to use my cancer for God’s glory. And if just one person was encouraged in whatever struggle they faced, or if just one person was prompted to trust in Christ by faith for their salvation, of if just one person was able to make sense of God’s goodness in the midst of suffering, it was all worth it.

Second, we thought writing a blog would be a good idea because it would be a unique way to capture the experiences and emotions of this time in our family’s life. Yes, it would help us remember various medical details (we have consulted my blog more than once as we tried to remember when various tests or surgeries happened), but it would also help us remember the experience through pictures, prayers, and simple statements of joy, pain, or confusion. It is amazing to look back through the blog entries and remember what was going through my mind when I was diagnosed, or when I was going through chemotherapy, or when a friend came to visit, or when my kids did or said something memorable. This blog has helped me remember, and give thanks for, each twist and turn in my journey.

And third, we thought writing a blog would be a blessing for our children. Once they are grown, our three kids will probably not remember much if anything from these past 20 months (Lydia is 5, Hudson is 3, and Samuel is 20 months). But we believe these 20 months will be formative for who we are as a family for decades to come. And so it was important to us to do what we could to help our children understand and appreciation this time in our family’s life. At the very least, it will help them know how much of a blessing they have been to me during this time. And Lord willing, just like my dad’s cancer journal was a blessing to me, perhaps my cancer journal will be a blessing to them. Of course, I pray that none of them will have to face their own struggle with cancer; but if they must, I pray this might help them face it by faith, discovering the joy in the journey themselves.

I’m so glad my husband encouraged me to write this blog. It has helped others know my story and my God, it has helped us remember the experience, and it will, we hope, be a blessing to our children. But there is one more reason I am glad my husband encouraged me to write this blog – and it’s something neither of us anticipated. The reason is this: it has forced me to pause the activities of my life in order to think about the meaning of my life in a biblical way. Secular psychologists might call it, “therapeutic.” I would call it, “devotional.” If you know my personality, you know it’s not easy for me to stop doing things, and it’s not natural for me to be reflective. And if you knew my heart, you would know that it’s not natural for me to think about my life in a biblical way. God has been so good and so gracious to teach me so many lessons through the process of writing these 140 blog posts. He has driven me to His Word again and again for counsel, correction, and comfort. And He has helped me see again and again His wisdom, grace, and goodness to me in Jesus.

As I paused one last time (on this blog) to think about the meaning of my life in a biblical way, Matt pointed me to a passage that I heard a lot growing up – Isaiah 61:1-3. It is from this passage that my dad got the title for his radio ministry, “Oaks of Righteousness,” and I can’t hear it without thinking of him, his voice, and how God anointed him – like Isaiah – to bring the good news of the gospel to me and so many others. And it is from this passage that I can clearly see the “big picture” of what God has been doing in my life over the past 20 months.  

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—           to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Matt explained the passage like this, "The prophet Isaiah is promising the exiled Israelites (who are poor, brokenhearted, captive, bound, mourning, and faint in spirit), that healing, freedom, favor, justice, comfort, beauty, gladness, and praise was coming. In an immediate sense, those blessing would come as they were given the freedom to return to Jerusalem and restore their identity as God’s people. But in an ultimate sense, those blessings would come as the 'good news' (gospel) of salvation in Jesus Christ was proclaimed to them. A rebuilt temple (a temporary, earthly blessing) would certainly give them a measure encouragement and strength, but only Christ (a permanent, spiritual blessing) would make them true, deep, lasting encouragement and strength. Only Christ could make them be, 'oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD.'"

I have received many temporary, earthly blessings in the past 20 months: good doctors, a loving family, supportive friends, a caring church, effective treatments, financial help, the joy of my children, a timely care package or card, the opportunity to speak to others about my struggle, and the list could go on and on. All of them made my struggle with cancer a little easier as they have given me comfort and gladness. And God was gracious to give me each one, at just the right time, in just the right way, in order to give me a measure of encouragement and strength. But at the end of the day, these things are temporary and earthly. As Matt explained, it is like the Israelites rebuilt temple, they are susceptible to decay and destruction. Cancer – like other hardships in life – strip away our confidence in such temporary and earthly things, and forces us to consider more ultimate and eternal things.

Just like Isaiah promised, the ultimate “good news” is not an announcement of remission, the forgiveness of debt, or the joy of family. The ultimate “good news,” and what has made me an “oak of righteousness, a planting of the LORD,” is not anything earthly, but is Christ alone. On my own, I am not strong – not in the eyes of the world, and certainly not in the eyes of God. But through Christ, I am made strong. I am a tree, not corrupted by sin, or withering under the guilt of its sin, but a tree that stands tall in confidence before God and man because of Christ. A tree that is healthy with the nourishment that comes through God’s Spirit and from God’s Word. A tree that is radiant and beautiful because of the surpassing beauty of Jesus Christ the righteous crucified for me.

It is this gospel, this good news, that gives me strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow as I face the uncertain circumstances of life. Trusting that I am secure, body and soul, in God through Christ, I can face the hardships of life knowing that if God has done the greater (given me salvation in Christ), he can surely do the lesser (care for my body and soul in the midst of hardship). Through these past 20 months and 140 blog posts, my confidence in the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of the gospel has been strengthened. And for that, I am grateful.

In the end, my prayer is Isaiah's final promise: "that He may be glorified." The ultimate outcome of God showing me grace by making me an "oak of righteousness" is not the blessing that comes to me, but the glory that goes to Him. His grace. His mercy. His love. His righteousness. His justice. His purpose. His glory. I pray that in some small way, my life and this blog might glorify Him.

Just like I can’t think of Isaiah’s metaphor, “oaks of righteousness,” without thinking of my dad, I can’t hear the band Page CXVI without thinking of my journey through cancer. And so it is fitting, I think, that I include one of their hymn arrangements in my final post. Just today they released a music video for their arrangement of the hymn, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” by Stuart Townend, which is embedded below. The third verse of this hymn is very fitting as I close:

I will not boast in anything – no gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ – His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart: His wounds have paid my ransom.

Amen! To God be the glory!

Thanks for reading. Thanks for praying. God bless.