Reflecting on Cancer and God’s Presence in the Midst of It

I want to write a post that involves something I haven’t spoken of much since my diagnosis with cancer (Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor sarcoma, circa 11-09)—and since I have become cancer free (05-10). That is, I angelswant to talk about the presence of God in Christ; a presence and intimacy that I had never experienced with the LORD (not in the intensity and, with the duration) up until that diagnosis day.

Like many of us, I had experienced moments of God’s sustaining presence in my life (prior to cancer) through tough circumstances wherein I was looking for God’s presence (and He definitely showed up); but when I got cancer things became different. The hard part of writing about this is that God’s presence is hard to capture in concrete ways through the usage of emotive and picturesque language; nevertheless I am going to attempt that now.

1) The day that I had it confirmed that I had a large mass in the right side of my abdomen by my right kidney; the Lord began to minister to me (affectionately/mentally/emotionally) through His still small voice. The first thing I heard from the Lord (in my heart—which I can’t explain other than the Elijahn Biblical language of ‘a still small voice’) was “that this sickness is not unto death;” and of course at the point I started to hear God’s voice this way, I hadn’t even been officially diagnosed with any kind of cancer yet (but this mantra became a persistent and comforting one that the Lord repeated over and again as the need arose, which it did often). I later would be reading John 11, and in particular verse 4, and this is what it says:

When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

I was totally encouraged to know that the Holy Spirit had been ministering His words to me even prior to me being able to attach those words to a biblical address (I had read these same words hundreds of times previously). This is the first type of God’s presencing that I began to experience in persistent ways (and still do) as we began this walk through my cancer.

2) There was another unique encounter and event that happened early on as we began this cancer walk (I have shared this previously, but maybe some of you haven’t heard this. And even for those of you who have, I will be sharing something a little more this time around). It was the day before I was to begin my first cycle of chemo (an in-patient 48hr continuous drip of chemo), and I had just finished a scheduled PET Scan at OHSU (which was a normal procedural step prior to beginning the chemo protocol). My wife and I, on the way home (it was evening time now), stopped at our local Subway to get sandwiches. While we were waiting in line an older (very tall and skinny) gentleman (kind of unkempt, and pretty loud and vociferous) came in and stood in line behind me. We began to small talk, and he mentioned that the weather outside (which was typical Pacific Northwest Winter weather of drab, dreary and rainy) was nothing like his frost bitten homeland of Minnesota. We ventured on through line, had our sandwiches made (by the artists), as did this gentleman behind us. As we paid, and were about ready to turn and head out the door, the older gentleman stopped me, and wanted to shake my hand; as he did, he looked at me and said: “it is nice to finally meet you!” That made my stomach drop when he said it like that. As my wife and I entered the car—both independent of each other—we both had the same sense that this guy was an angel (as if the Lord wanted us to know that, and sense that). The fact that this guy said it was nice to “finally” meet you sent shivers up my spine (and still do).

And then there is one more story from that day. As we were in the hospital at OHSU, we became lost in the labyrinth of hallways and offices that make up OHSU; and we were going to be late for my PET Scan. We ended up on a floor (by way of the elevator) that was abandoned; they were doing construction on this floor, and no one (other than some workers) were on it. My wife and I didn’t know where to go, and what to do; this was the last thing we needed to happen given all of the other stresses we were dealing with at that moment. Out of the blue (we think literally 🙂 ), a nicely dressed middle aged lady came up to us in the hallway just outside of the elevators where we were standing. She asked us if we were lost? We told her we were, and told her our circumstances, and where we were trying to make it to. She said she knew where we needed to go, and that she would lead us there. So she boarded the elevator with us, she took us to the floor we needed, and proceeded to walk with us right up to the point where she could direct us to where we needed to go. We said thank you to her, and it seemed as soon as she showed up she was gone; and we made it just in time for the PET appointment.

And one more story like this; this one has to do with our then 5 year old son. He was with a friend of his, and his friend’s mom was driving them somewhere. His friend (nor are his parents) is not a Christian, and apparently does not believe in God. This friend of my son’s proceeded to tell my son that he didn’t believe in God, because in order for God to live in outer-space he would need a space-suit in order to breathe; and according to my son’s friend, God does not have a space suit, and so couldn’t breathe, and thus could not exist, and thus is not real. My son’s response is telling, and fits with these other stories I just shared; my son responded to his friend with an emphatic NO! God does exist, and he knows that God exists, because a man who is light came to him at recess on the playground, hugged him, and told him (my son), that his daddy (me) was going to be okay, and that he didn’t need to worry. My son had an encounter appropriate to the need, and in correlation with who we know God is, that served to comfort and minister to him in ways that we never could have at that moment (because of our own disposition at that moment).

All of these encounters remind me of this passage of scripture:

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? ~Hebrews 1:14

These are other examples of how the Lord made his presence known to us in needed and encouraging ways during that season.

Wow, this wound up being way longer of a post than I had envisioned; and I still have much more to say. I will have to save some of the other stuff until a later post, maybe my next one. But if there is anything I gained as a blessing from cancer, it is knowing God’s presence in a depth kind of way that really goes beyond words (but I am trying). This is something that could never be robbed from me! God’s presence isn’t mystical, it is real and concrete; and it is something that comes in appropriate levels of intensity (i.e. his grace is sufficient for each moment) as each moment and consequence of life requires it.

All people experience suffering (at varying levels of intensity). But Christian suffering is different; because while the world would look at suffering and say what kind of loving God would allow that? We as Christians (like the Son) know that in these “hidden” moments of God’s Self-revelation, it is in these moments that the intensity of intimacy become most resounding! I think of the cross of Jesus (which the Gentiles think is foolish and the Jews think is weak); where do we see Him in His greatest moment of intimacy with the Father? It was in the moments (the ‘Passion’) leading right up to and crescendoing in the cross. We see Jesus intimately engaging with the Father in John 17, and we hear Jesus cry out to His Father in his deepest distress as He gave His life for ours. The Father did not forsake His Son (or us) in the suffering, but broke through it at the grave and ascension and consummation of all things to come.

All I can say is that God’s Word is the more sure word of prophecy, and that he will never leave us or forsake us!

Advertisements

7 comments

  1. Thanks, Bobby. I appreciate your sharing these poignant moments of your journey. I especially appreciate the interplay between scripture, theology, and real life in Christ in your story. Prayers of blessing to you and your family.

    Your post reminded me of a poem by a distant cousin of mine, T. Garvice Murphree, called Stangers And Angels (headed by a verse)

    “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”
    Hebrews 13:2

    Alone in awe I welcomed a stranger.
    He came unannounced in
    slanting rays of afternoon.

    His knock upon my door was firm,
    obviously expecting admission.
    Expectancy was his, not mine.

    However, a chosen host MUST tender hospitality.
    One night? Many days and nights?
    He did not say.

    We are taught to be good
    hosts for strangers because
    angels are among them.

    Alone, I let the stranger in,
    so that I the chosen host would
    not miss the angels.

    “This poem was written two months
    After hearing the diagnosis: You have
    a rare form of cancer, which is treatable
    but not curable.”

    Like

  2. He had Non-Hodgkins mantel cell lymphoma. He died in Nov 2011 after an almost 10 year battle with it at the age of 87. I didn’t know him personally, only from his obit that appeared in in the paper from my ancestral domain of Mississippi – quite an accomplished man. My dad, who is almost 90, knew who he was.

    Like

Comments are closed.