A Cancer Story: A Moment of Clarity
Cancer does a lot of things to you. It’s a formidable foe that deserves respect. From the beginning my oncologist told us we needed to respect this disease and not treat it lightly. It’s truly the stuff of life and death.
And that has a profound effect on you. On the way you see life, the way you see yourself, your accomplishments, your goals, your family, your purpose for being here.
I remember early on being so overwhelmed with all the information we were being fed that I just wanted to get away from it all. I wanted to seclude myself away, deal with this ordeal, then get back to living when it was all said and done.
But God is more powerful than cancer and He, too, does a lot of things to you. During those occasional moments of clarity and, yes, maybe even sanity I heard God’s voice through all the clutter of appointments and tests and results. And what he told me really made me think.
During one of those reprieves from the stress and fear and clouded outlook I had such a certainty about the whole thing that I told my wife something I would never forget, a truth that I clung to throughout the duration of the battle (and still cling to).
I said that two things would be accomplished through this trial we were about to enter.
- One, we would surely emerge on the other side better and stronger people.
- And two, when this was all said and done we would have gone through an experience we could share with others and possibly be an encouragement to folks going through the same or similar trials.
Knowing the frame of mind I was in at the time, I don’t know where that came from. Well, actually, I do know where it came from and it wasn’t from me . . . it had to be of God.
So what was your moment of clarity in the midst of the storm?
Be Unstoppable: Scott Hamilton
I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Hamilton. Nothing personal. I’ve never been a big fan of figure skating.
I’m still not a fan of figure skating . . . but boy am I a fan of Scott Hamilton.
The term hero gets thrown around lightly these days and too many people get credited as being one. Only some truly deserve it and in my opinion Scott Hamilton is one of them.
At least, he’s now one of my heroes.
Check out the link below to hear what incredible challenges he’s overcome in life and the faith that has sustained him.
I’m currently doing a mini series of posts called “Be Unstoppable” and Hamilton’s story fits perfectly. He’s seen the darker side of life; he’s met challenges head on; he’s kept a proper perspective; he’s suffered and lived in the valley . . . and he’s ultimately found his strength and courage and ability to press on in God and God alone.
Be inspired by his story . . . and be unstoppable.
Be Unstoppable: A Matter of Perspective
It’s all about perspective.
Runners focus on the finish line, at least the serious ones do. They know that no matter how much discomfort they experience during the race–the burning lungs, the aching muscles, the cramps, the fatigue–it will all melt away at the finish line. There is rest. There is acceptance. There is freedom. Spectators cheer, coaches and family rejoice and comfort and welcome. Hugs await, congratulations, claps on the back, water, rest.
The suffering is temporary. Relief awaits. And so the runner presses on through the pain, through the exhaustion, through the mental battles.
It’s about perspective. It’s about realizing this life is temporary, that all the pain experienced here, all the suffering, all the heartache and troubles and misery will end.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been through cancer. As most, if not all, survivors will tell you, it wasn’t pleasant. There were lots of tears, depression, discomfort, nagging nausea for months, fatigue, more depression. It was a year I’d choose not to relive. But during that journey there were times (when I was lucid and of sound mind and thinking) when I reminded myself that no matter how intense the suffering got it was only temporary. There was an end. There was relief, comfort, rest.
According to the Center for Disease Control, life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. That may seem like a long time, and if you have a disease or illness or debilitating condition it’s an even longer time, but looked at from the proper perspective, against the backdrop of eternity, it’s a mere blip, a single beat, a blink.
It’s about perspective.
Any runner, even those of the longest, most grueling ultramarathons, will tell you that to keep your mind alert and your will alive you have to focus on the finish line. They endure what they endure because they realize there is an end, there is a release. Their suffering is temporary. Without that knowledge the race would be futile, the suffering meaningless, every step would be one step deeper into hopelessness.
But with the proper perspective there is always hope.
The apostle Paul had it right when he wrote: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Read that again if you need to. That’s a right perspective, focusing on the rest to come, the freedom from pain and heartache and sufferings of any kind.
It’s easy to lost sight of that, though, isn’t it? To focus on the pains of life. The burning lungs. The cramping muscles. The aching feet. It’s easy to get distracted by each step and the hardship it brings. To lose sight of the finish line and become preoccupied with challenge of the run.
Then discouragement sets in. That voice in our head, the little man without a heart and no faith begins to whisper. It’s not worth it. You didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t how your life was supposed to turn out. This is more than you can handle.
And we want to give up; we want to stop running, throw in the towel. After all, what’s the use? Misery is all around us. Every turn we take invites another obstacle, another challenge, another adversary. There is no relief.
But it’s so avoidable. Not the challenges, not the pain, not the trials. No, they’re part of life. They come with the territory; it’s a package deal. What’s avoidable is the quitting.
Because it’s a matter of perspective. The finish line holds the promise. There is where rest is. There is the reason for our hope. If we look past the fog, through the darkness, and find the light we will realize that there is more than our present circumstance. And we will press on. We will run. We will conquer. We will finish.
We will be unstoppable.
Be Unstoppable: A New Look at Suffering
Normally, we recoil from suffering. I know I do, and I’m not sure I know anyone who actually welcomes pain, outside a few exercise fanatics who live by the creed of no pain, no gain.
At best, suffering slows us down; it’s a hindrance, a hurdle to climb over, a speed bump to bring us to a crawl. At worst, suffering is debilitating. It knocks us to our knees, maybe even pushes us to our bellies, and holds us there, the bully with a knee in our back.
No one likes real suffering. We avoid it, run from it, hide from it, try to escape its awful clutches any way we can. And when we see it coming, stalking us like some creep stranger in a dark alley we either pretend we don’t see it and hope it goes away or start praying it somehow overlooks us.
We tell ourselves that suffering is not our friend, in fact, it’s our enemy, our foe, our greatest villain. It’s a great big, blistered and bleeding, bug-eyed, greasy-haired, stench-emanating monster that wants to shred our happiness and make our life as difficult as possible.
But what if we’re wrong? That’s right, I just asked that. What if we’re wrong about suffering? What if it’s not so much a monster as it is a blessing? Or at the very least a conduit through which blessings may pass . . . if we allow them passage, that is.
I’ve been through cancer, a monster in its own right. And that monster brought with it a hefty helping of suffering. Surgeries, chemotherapy and its awful side-effects, illness, depression, you name it, cancer was good for it. And one thing I learned is that while suffering is not man’s best friend, it’s not a jolly neighbor who brings laughter and happiness, and it’s no where near roses and lollipops, it is useful and can serve a very important purpose.
During my year of cancer battling I experienced God in ways I honestly didn’t think were possible, in ways I certainly had never experienced him before and most likely never would have. Suffering did that. It introduced a new room in my relationship with God, opened my eyes to see him in a different light.
See, during suffering we are most vulnerable, our emotions are closest to the surface, and we see the contrast most distinctly between our own fragility and God’s omnipotence, between our humanity and his holiness, between our weakness and his strength.
And it is during those times that we are driven to him, to his arms, his comfort, his love, his security. We see him as that loving father who tenderly cares for his child and protects her and comforts her and, while not taking the pain away, holds her in the midst of it.
Suffering does that. It opens our eyes and shows us our Father in his true light. It shows us the intricacies of his love, the dependability of his watchfulness, the gentleness of his care.
When we are sick, he is our physician. When we are depressed, he is our counselor. When we are lost, he is our shepherd. When we are frightened, he is our protector. When we are weak, he is our strength. When we are lame, he is our support. When we are bombarded from every side, he is our fortress. We we are burdened, he is our help. When we are lonely, he is our true friend.
Suffering does that. And without it we may never see God as he desires to be seen, or experience him as he should be experienced, or trust him as he deserves to be trusted.
Suffering does not need to be an obstacle. It doesn’t have to be something to elicit our repulsion. Suffering can be a blessing. A strange, odd, rarely understood blessing.
And hey, if you’re new or even relatively new to this blog, check out my other “Be Unstoppable” posts. Be Unstoppable: Fail Forward; Be Unstoppable: Nothing to Fear; Be Unstoppable: The Story of YOU
Learning From Those Who Suffer
I love talking to people who have suffered greatly. No, I don’t get some twisted pleasure from listening to the plight of others. Those who suffer or who have suffered have a unique perspective on life.
When I meet someone who has suffered, whether physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually, I take the time to talk to them, to pick their brains, to dig into their experience. I want to know what they went through, how they felt, how they made it through, what they learned, how they changed.
No one emerges from suffering unchanged. These folk have discovered what it is to really live, the value of life and relationships. They know the importance of perspective and priorities. Life has taught them lessons you can’t put a price tag on; it has tempered their resolve, strengthened their courage, sharpened their wisdom. God has shown them a side of himself few get to see.
For them, suffering has been a blessing. And they’ll be the first ones to admit that.
I need that reminder, that refresher course in what really matters in life. In the midst of the busyness of life and the constant battle with expectations and desires and pressure, I need to be refocused by these folk.
Here is a sampling of life lessons I’ve learned from people who have traversed the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
- Relationships are what matter most, not success or image or climbing some ladder to nowhere.
- God is there even if you can’t feel his presence.
- It’s okay to be honest with God. He’s big enough to hear us put a voice to our emotions.
- Suffering is temporary. No matter how long you have to endure it, an end will come.
- When I am weak, then I am strong.
- It’s okay to accept help from others, they are God’s messengers of grace.
- When you have nothing else to hold on to, God is still there.
- When God is silent, that’s when he’s holding us tight.
- Suffering can be a blessing in disguise.
Have you learned any other important and noteworthy lessons from those who have suffered? Or from your own suffering?
Is Suffering a Privilege?
March is colon cancer awareness month so I’m going to be posting occasionally about cancer, occasionally about colon cancer, and occasionally about suffering. I’ll state a disclaimer now that most of what I post will be re-posts from last year on my Michael King blog. But since this blog gets so much more traffic than King’s blog I figure it can’t hurt to post again. Besides, I need to read this stuff more than once . . . just to remember.
I have a friend who suffers from a malady that affects him every day, several times a day and sometimes totally incapacitates him, leaving him unable to move or even speak. And yet in spite of this thorn he presses on and serves God wherever he can, sometimes to the point of near total exhaustion.
He told me, “Jesus did so much for me, following his call is the least I can do for him.”
Our conversation led us to the topic of suffering and trials and what it all means, what the “point” of it all is. We talked about the thorn in the flesh that Paul wrestled with and how those thorns drive us closer to God, relying on Him for strength when we have nothing.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Not in our own strength, but in His strength.
Suffering pushes us into God’s arms, the point of total reliance on Him.
My friend, who’s thorn affects every aspect of his life, then said, “You know, if I could do life all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Sounds strange, I know. But there’s a blessing in suffering, a certain privilege that goes with travelling that valley of the shadow of death. Those who hurt–the wounded, the afflicted–get to experience God in a way others never do. They see a side of their Father that is reserved for those who share in Christ’s suffering. They feel the tenderness of Daddy, His arms around them, His breath in their ears. It’s an experience that far outweighs the pain of the trial.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV)
I’ve often said that people have one of two reactions to suffering: either they turn from God and want nothing to do with Him, or they run to Him and fall into his open arms.
When suffering strikes, when trials push themselves into your life, run to your Father, rely totally on Him, abide in His presence.
There’s blessing to be found there.
On Being an Alien (repost)
**This post was originally featured on Thoughts of a Sojourner as a guest post.
I’m an alien. I don’t belong here. This is not my home.
Maybe you think I’m kidding or tapping into some wild corner of my imagination, that thing writer’s do. Or maybe you think I’ve taken that short trip to Crazy Land. But I’m not joking and I am totally sane (but isn’t that what all insane people will tell you . . . makes you wonder).
Let’s face it, this world is full of hurt and pain and frustration and failure. It’s cursed. People get cancer and Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Murder happens. Tragic accidents steal loved ones. Babies die before they have a chance to live.
Pain is real and unavoidable.
I’m glad this isn’t my permanent residence, that I’m just passing through. And daily I have to remind myself that my home is in heaven and my Father waits there for me to return from my journey. Whatever difficulties I experience here, whatever pain and discomfort, whatever suffering . . . it’s only for a time and then will end. None of this will last forever.
I heard someone say once that he can endure anything as long as he knows it has an end. Good words to keep in mind.
Here are 5 truths to keep in mind as we journey through this world:
- God knows what you’re going through and He cares. He does. He loves you so much, more than you could ever love Him back. He wants to hold and protect you. Run to Him.
- God can handle our honesty. Tell Him how you feel, how you hurt, how lonely you are, how every cell in your body screams for rest and relief. He can take it. He just wants to hear the cry of your heart.
- This world and everything in it is temporary. If we are children of God, all the pain and agony of this world will come to an end. In heaven there is no suffering and there is complete healing from every kind of affliction. Keep a right perspective. There may be suffering here, but it will only be for a season.
- There is beauty in this world. Yes, there is sorrow and hurt, but there is also joy and triumph and awe-inspiring things. Celebrate creation and its beauty; rejoice in the amazing feats of mankind, the goodness that so many people show on a daily basis.
- There are blessings in everything. They may be hard to find but I promise you they’re there. Sometimes you just have to look hard to see them. Then focus on those blessings.
- God can turn any negative into a positive. Ask Him to open your eyes to His fingerprints on whatever situation you find yourself in. He’s there, waiting for your surrender so He can move and bring beauty from ashes.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18 (ESV)
It Doesn’t Get Much Worse
The headline on the Drudge Report this morning showed a dust-covered Haitian woman climbing out from a buidling’s rubble and in big, bold red letters read–Hell Came Up: 500,000 May be Dead.
500,000. A staggering, unfathomable number.
The accompanying article is very sobering and saddening. Bodies of children piled next to schools. Bodies dumped along the sides of roads gather flies. Thousands of them. Parents without children. Children without parents. The rich perished right along with the poor. Thousands still trapped. Millions left with nothing.
People pulled bodies from collapsed homes, covering them with sheets by the side of the road. Passers-by lifted the sheets to see if loved ones were underneath. Outside a crumbled building, the bodies of five children and three adults lay in a pile.
What do we do with this? How do we wrap our minds around such devastation and suffering? Haiti may be thousands of miles away but we are linked with the people of that island by our common humanness, our shared emotions, fears, suffering. Our heart aches for them.
Tragedies like this should cause us all to take a second look at our priorities, our perspectives on life. Material possessions are of no value, comfort is temporary, even our health (and life) or the life of a loved one can be taken away in a moment.
Hold on to the ones you love. Tell them often how much you love them. Make the most of every moment of every day.
And pray for those poor souls in Haiti.
What were your initial reactions upon hearing of the devastation?