Sunday, March 29, 2015

Healed vs. Healthy

I am grateful that I am at a place personally where I can look back at the past few years and view them through the lens of God's Word. There have been so many days, weeks, and even months that doing that seemed either hard or impossible. So I am grateful that God has renewed me in this way. This does not mean that I have been "healed," as if my struggle with a hard heart, selfishness, pride, depression, addiction, or other sins is somehow over and done with these things forever. There have been plenty of times I have prayed for that kind of "healing," hoping that my struggles would simply end never to return. But I've come to see that God isn't in the business of giving us instant, complete freedom from our sin. Instead, He's in the business of giving us gradual, partial purification from our sin. So as long as I am in this world I will struggle with those sins that are unique challenges for me. But God has, for today, given me a reprieve from some of the more severe ways I have struggled. I am not "healed," but I am "healthy."

A rough analogy for this is my cancer. I will never really be "healed" from cancer. I am very "healthy" in terms of my cancer; in fact, it's been nearly four years since I finished my treatments. But my cancer could come back at any time, and statistically speaking, the chances of that happening are significant. And so I have to take preventative cancer medicine every day, visit my oncologist regularly, and be sure to watch for certain physical warning signs of a relapse. In the same way, I need to take preventative measures against my sin as well. I need to be reading and meditating on God's Word, in relationships with other people, trusting in God's will and not my own, and in prayer. I cannot be "healed" by those things, but they can help me be "healthy."

God has given me joy in this day of my journey, and for today my eyes are fixed on Him. He has given me daily sufficient grace. That is ultimately the result of God's work in me, but it has also come through a lot of personal effort and many prayers that God would work in my heart.

As you may know, music has always been a big part of my life. It often helps me connect my emotions with my thoughts. As I have written these posts, I have often been reminded of songs and lyrics that have encouraged me in specific ways. The song I included below is a song I have listened to many times in the past year. It is a helpful reminder that I will ALWAYS be in need of God's grace, and he will never fail to give it. As the chorus says, I ask you: "How many times will you pick me up, when I keep on letting you down? And each time I will fall short of Your glory, how far will forgiveness abound?" And You answer: "My child, I love you. And as long as you're seeking My face, You'll walk in the power of My daily sufficient grace."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Looking Back // Looking Forward

A lot has happened in the past three years since I last posted regularly to this blog. In many ways, it has been one long “night” in my life, meaning a season of difficulty. 

In February of 2013, I found out I was pregnant. I was really surprised because I was on a medication that was supposed to "shut down" my ovaries and protect against my estrogen-receptor cancer returning. While I was initially excited about the possibility of having a fourth child, I knew the pregnancy was pretty risky, both for me and for the baby. It was risky for me because in order for the baby to survive I would have to take hormones that might cause my cancer to return. And it was risky for the baby because I had so many medications in my system. But within just a few days of finding out I was pregnant, God took the baby. This was so hard for me because I really wanted more children. 

After my miscarriage, it was decided that I should have a complete hysterectomy. It would lower the chances of any cancer recurrence as well as prevent from any more pregnancies. After having a double mastectomy, having a complete hysterectomy was a very hard to think about. I felt like my body and my femininity were being destroyed. But I agreed to the surgery, and had it done in May of 2013.

Here is a journal entry I wrote during this time:
After all the medical issues I have gone through in the past 3 years I can’t help but think, “Why God?” Why does it just keep coming!? I have realized I need to take a step back and realize this is such a short time in the big picture.  And most importantly God will use each of these things to bring glory to himself.  Maybe he is causing me to go through cancer, pain, and a miscarriage so that I can relate to each of those things and be evidence that God will carry me through.  It may not always be the way I want it to be, but that is because I am not God.  
I so often want to play God not even realizing it.  I want to be the director of the show. But it doesn’t make sense for the actors in the show to tell the director how the show should be run.  Does it? I need to seek God’s will not mine.  I need to trust God’s will not mine.
I was looking forward to giving my testimony and singing some songs at our Community Bible Study retreat on Saturday, but I ended up in the ER.  The retreat was focused on rest. Resting in Christ alone to give us strength. I have gone through so much physically, emotionally and spiritually that I am ready to “rest.”  The place that I can get my ultimate and fulfilling rest is in Christ alone. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” 
As I was thinking about what music I could sing at the retreat, I thought of the hymn, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say."   
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” 
Psalm 103:1-5
As I reflect back on that time in my life, it makes me so thankful that I have my three beautiful children, and that I am currently cancer free and healthy. I love the last part of the verse I had written in my journal from Psalm 103, "who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” 

God may not always answer my prayers in the way that I think they should be answered. So often I start to think that I am the director of the show, but I am not. But God answers our prayers in a way that brings glory to Himself and is ultimately good for us. If I pray for His will to be done then whatever circumstances may bring he will give me peace and joy in the midst of those circumstances. He does not promise to calm the storm, but He does promise to carry me through it. He will satisfy me as long as I keep my eyes fixed on Him.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Journey Continues: Joy in the Morning

“Weeping my remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Psalm 30:5b
It's been nearly five years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and nearly three years since I posted my last entry to this blog. I originally intended my blog to be an informational cancer journal. But in the process of writing, I realized two surprising things. First, it was therapeutic for me to reflect and write. And second, it was personally encouraging to others. In a certain way, my blog became less about my journey through cancer and more about journeying through life, and the hard circumstances it brings, with honesty and faith. 
Since my last post, I have continued to face several hard circumstances, including a few that I consider much harder than cancer. I have struggled with depression, a miscarriage and hysterectomy, addiction, strain on my marriage, separation from my family, and a move to a new city. As a result, I have decided to continue my blog, writing about some of those things with the hope that it will accomplish more good things in my life and perhaps also in the lives of others.
For the sake of clarity, I should say three things about how I will approach these hard topics.
First, I am not writing as one who has "arrived." I have not walked through these things perfectly or completely, and so I'm not pretending to be an expert or guide for others. I'm simply writing to share my experience as one who is in the midst of their journey. As I have gone through each hardship, it has been so encouraging for me to know another person who has gone through the same thing. So for those who are struggling with similar circumstances, I hope there can be comfort in knowing that you are not alone.
Second, while I want to share honestly about my struggles, I don't think it is wise or helpful to share everything about my struggles through this blog. Some things are just too sensitive, and other things are best shared in more personal settings. 
Finally, I am going to approach these topics as a Christian who believes that God uses hard circumstances for my good. Rather than decreasing my faith and joy, I believe God has used these circumstances to increase my faith and joy in Him. Matt recently shared a quote with me about this by Tim Keller. In the Introduction to his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Keller writes,
"[A]t the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us - is suffering. And when we look to the Bible to understand this deep pattern, we came to see that the great theme of the Bible itself is how God brings fullness of joy not just despite but through suffering, just as Jesus saved us not in spite of but because of what he endured on the cross. And so there is a peculiar, rich, and poignant joy that seems to come to us only through and in suffering."
While Keller's words may sound strange or even harsh to some people, they really resonate with me and my story. My "joy in the journey" has increased not despite suffering, but through suffering. As Psalm 30:5b says, "Weeping my remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." I have had many "nights" over these last few years but God promises us that one day there will be no more nights: the day when we are in His presence. "By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day - and there will be no night there (Rev. 21:24-25)." So rather than being totally self-focused in my life and in this blog, my prayer is that God will keep my eyes fixed on His faithfulness to me and on His love for me as I turn to the promises in His Word for perspective on my circumstances
I'm not sure how frequently I'll post entries on my blog, and I'm not sure how long I'll keep posting. But for this season of my journey, this is something I'd like to do again. I hope you'll follow along, and find some strength and hope along the way.