Defining Moments of 2012: God is Greater than Cancer
Defining Moment #14:
God is Greater than Cancer
I write in a lot of places – coffee shops, my office, my back porch, sitting by the river. The strangest place that I have written from lately is one that I never thought that I would use as a backdrop to put down my thoughts and ideas. In fact, I’m sitting here writing in that place now. It’s a beautiful place complete with hardwood floors, contemporary lighting, pretty tank filled with tropical fish, great snacks and things to read. It’s a lot like my favorite coffee shop, but instead of hipsters sporting their latest Apple trend, it’s filled with busy nurses and patients hooked up to IV’s receiving their chemo infusion. As a pastor, I’ve been in these settings hundreds of times to encourage and pray for friends. I never would have dreamed that on my fifteenth wedding anniversary that I would be sitting beside my wife…not the pastor’s wife, but the patient.
When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over two months ago, I can’t begin to describe the wave of emotions that I felt. For days I simply felt nothing. It was like watching a movie or hearing about someone else’s story. There was one particular week where we had seven doctor’s visits in five days. We really didn’t have much time to feel anything. As the reality of cancer began to set in, we were immediately surrounded by the incredible friends and family that demonstrated their love for us in so many ways. I will forever be grateful for that continued support.
One of the first calls that I made was to my life-long friend and brother, Craig Cahoon. Craig wears a lot of hats in my life. He’s a neighbor, a friend, a part of our pastoral team, a college buddy; we coach together, our kids are best friends, and he’s a second father to my children. However, in this moment I called him because he knows all too well the feelings we were experiencing because he is a cancer survivor – in fact, he didn’t just survive cancer, he did a tombstone pile driver on cancer. He kicked its butt! He and his wife, Leane, came rushing to our aid. They picked up our kids, cared for them, did homework, held Team Mary Ann signs when we would leave early for treatment and Craig even sat in the room with us as we broke the news to our kids. He actually calls Mary Ann his cancer buddy. I often joke with Craig because he’s low on the compassion scale, but through this experience his compassion rating has gone through the roof!
Craig and Leane have offered great wisdom and advice, but there was one bit of encouragement that I struggled to receive. “Cancer was the best thing to happen to us and our marriage.” How can something so ugly that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who has been diagnosed with it receive that kind of encouragement? If this is supposed to be a gift, it’s the WORST GIFT EVER. (I actually preached a message about that topic – you can watch here.)
We are nowhere near the end of our journey. In fact, we have only had one chemo treatment and we have fifteen more to go. However, we are seeing glimpses of what Craig and Leane were talking about. One of the things I didn’t know about cancer is that the person hosting the disease isn’t the only one that has cancer. My wife doesn’t have breast cancer, we all do. The chemo is being put into her body, but we are all dealing with the effects, and it is bringing us together as a family like never before. We are learning as a family what is really important, not sweating the small stuff, and treasuring every moment as a gift from God. We were extremely guilty, as most families are, of placing way too much importance on stuff that doesn’t even come close to really mattering at all. We don’t have it down pat yet, but boy are we trying!
We’ve also learned that you can’t control your outcome, but you can control your response to it. Mary Ann declared early in this process that she would not let this go by without God using it for something life-changing. Her prayer was simple, “God, I can’t bear the thought of this happening without purpose. So, if I’m going to walk through it, You have to use it for something amazing!” Again, you can’t change the reality of your circumstance, but you sure can change your perspective to it. It’s a choice! As we toured the chemo suite we found most patients sitting in the room looking completely defeated. I’m not sure why the majority of fashion choices in a chemo suite include jogging pants and crocks, but it screamed “I quit!” (If you didn’t know, wearing Crocs is the universal sign for “Oh well!”) It’s like everyone in the room had been given a death sentence. Don’t get me wrong, many of them have been given a death sentence with their diagnosis, but there is power in our perspective and power in our words. Mary Ann looked at me and said, “I will never walk in this room like that.”
We’ve had one chemo treatment and several trips to that suite for IV infusions over the past few days and every time she walks in, she looks like a high fashion run way model. Her make up is perfect, she’s wearing skinny jeans and boots, but most of all – that infectious smile! It’s amazing how the atmosphere changes when she walks in. People begin to smile, we’ve seen people even start dancing, nurses flock to her and read the inappropriate jokes Leane sends her via text during treatment and I pretty much sit back and eat a lot of snacks and complain that my chair isn’t as comfortable as hers. So I said all of that to say that her outlook is changing the way her body is responding to treatment and her response is encouraging and inspiring to others as well.
We’ve also learned the difference in “living by Scripture” and “leaning on Scripture”. As life-long followers of Jesus, His Word has always been our blueprint for living. We live by our faith in Christ and His Word. But honestly, we haven’t really had our faith challenged a great deal, and our walk hasn’t required a great deal of trust. We learned Scripture, we lived by Scripture, but we haven’t really had to lean on Scripture. I can tell you that Proverbs 3:5 has taken on a whole new meaning. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Have I ever really had to trust the Lord with all of my heart? I’m not sure, but I can guarantee that I am leaning on Him right now because without Him to lean on, I would surely be flat on my face!
I have also learned that in our weakness, His grace is made strong. My wife is a super hero! Who takes chemo on Thursday and leads worship in multiple services on Sunday? My wife – that’s who. I know, she is amazing, but it’s obvious that your prayers and her incredible faith are making a HUGE difference.
Normally I am the one trying to encourage her with Scripture, but she’s like a walking Bible app. One of the Scriptures that she quotes to me often is Psalm 103:
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 iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Pay attention to the highlighted verse above. He heals all your diseases. Mary Ann read that and shouted out to me during a service, “It’s present tense, not future!” She reminded me that the verse doesn’t say, “He might heal me or He will heal me.” Instead it’s present tense – as if to say “HE IS HEALING ME!” I can’t tell you how often I have heard her proclaim those words, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As we pray together, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As we worship with our church family, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As she juices those carrots, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As we walk around the block together, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As she sits in a chemo chair, “HE IS HEALING ME.” As we lay in bed and cry on each other’s shoulders, “HE IS HEALING ME.”
So, is cancer the best thing that has ever happened to us? I love the way it’s brought our family together. I love the outpouring of love and care that my wife has received from all of those who have joined “TEAM MARY ANN”. I love the pink Christmas bows and wreath on my front door. I love the “GOD IS GREATER THAN CANCER” tweets. I’m still not ready to say it’s the best thing that has happened to us, but we have learned so much, we have been loved so much, and we have truly been reminded that “GOD’S GOT THIS!”
I can’t let this post go by without saying a special thanks to everyone who has called out to God on behalf of my wife, who have cooked meals, held signs, sent text messages, blasted social media, cared for my kids, and who have given life-giving hugs. You have made this journey so much easier, and we can’t even begin to imagine what this experience would look like without the loving people on our team.