The School of Grace
I'm sitting on a lounge chair in my backyard. I hear the sound of birds and the sounds of my husband and son as they clean up the debris from a fallen tree. I am tired. It is impossible to sleep through the night, and naps don't come easily. Apart from a constant tiredness, I am doing well. In two days, it will be two weeks since I had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
I would like to think that this marks the end of breast cancer in my life. Only God knows if it does. I do know that what he has taught me will continue to bless me, no matter what he brings into my life.
It was October of 1992 when I first put my name and the word cancer together in the same sentence. The scare turned out to be only a benign fibroadenoma. Then in December we moved to Vermont.
One month later, while still adjusting to what seemed like the extreme cold of our first Vermont winter, I discovered a lump and decided it must be a cyst. That seemed to be the only logical explanation so soon after the October surgery, and besides I didn't have a doctor. In September of 1993, the truth of the cancer was revealed.
Cancer is never easy. The first time, no matter what the particulars of the diagnosis are, you feel like the word cancer alone will consume you.
From the first scare to the reality of cancer, God has schooled me in spite of my reluctance to be his pupil. During my most recent period of cancer, from the questionable mammogram in January 2000 until the major surgery on April 24, God has allowed me to latch onto three principles that have been my comfort.
I have had many questionable mammograms. There have been times when I have yearned for a return to normal life. Normal life is difficult enough without the complications that the threat of cancer can bring. Normal days are filled with never-ending demands and with my ongoing struggle to love well those whom God has placed in my life. I craved normal life because, in spite of all the stress, it is free of the pit-of-the-stomach fear that the uncertainty of cancer can give. But putting my hope in a return to normal life was not the answer. This life holds no hope outside of the eternal hope that only Christ can give (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
That's principle number one. Normal life is not a sufficient object for our hope. Our hope must be in our all-sufficient Savior and the eternal glory we have with him.
When my first biopsy was scheduled, I was overwhelmed by the thought of being laid out vulnerable and unconscious before a surgeon I barely knew and his medical team whom I knew even less. Then I was reminded that this was true only when I looked at my situation from an earthly perspective. The reality was that I would be vulnerable before God (Ps. 91).
Here is principle number two. We are always vulnerable before God. The circumstances of surgery strip us of any pretence of being in control. As always, we can entrust ourselves to God's omnipotent love and care.
I have a friend who told me that she had been "called" to be a cancer patient. I recoiled from those words. But after our conversation, I thought more about what she had said. I realized that I would most likely be a cancer patient in the same way that I would wear a shirt that has itchy hairs in it. I would wear it because there was no choice, and I would constantly be trying to shed my uncomfortable clothing. Would I regard such a shirt in the same way if I knew it had been woven by my heavenly father?
Nothing catches God by surprise. He did not send me courage as a last-minute answer to prayer when he suddenly realized I was headed for a biopsy. No, on the contrary, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Ps. 139:16). Why should I pull away from what God has allowed to be? Couldn't he have changed my situation at any moment along the way? If he loves me and he is also sovereign, then I am in this situation either to be taught something or to be used by God to teach someone else. Why should I recoil at what God has chosen to do in my life?
This is principle number three. We must rest in every situation, since God has allowed us to be in it with his glory and our good in mind. In his hands, every situation can become a good gift.
If I seem to have weathered my bouts of cancer well, do not put me on a different spiritual plane than yourself. If you start to say, "I could never handle cancer as well as Joanie Doe has," swallow your words. God's grace is always sufficient, but he gives grace to each of us for our own "story," not for someone else's. Give praise only to our Lord, who gives grace through the principles found in his Word. Take heart when other believers find grace in those principles. Rejoice with them, since grace is a treasure that belongs to all of our Father's children.
The author is the wife of Pastor Stephen D. Doe of Covenant OPC in Barre, Vt. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2000.