Glaciers, Mountains, Fireweed and My Wife

This vantage point for the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is one of the most photographed views in Alaska.  This spot, which I could see from my office when I served in the Coast Guard, offered insight and reassurances as I watched my wife deal with metastatic cancer.

In the foreground is the muskeg meadow; wet, nutrient-rich, verdant, home to vast clumps of fireweed, Alaska’s state flower.  In the background, framed by the glacier, are the Mendenhall Towers; mountain peaks rising 1.3 miles straight up from near sea level.  These are young mountains, exposed as the vast icefield encasing them began to recede in the 1700’s.  First scraped clean by the ice field and continuously swept clean by snow, ice and wind, these peaks have little of the life of the fireweed meadow they preside over.

So different – the fireweed meadow and the rock pinnacles – yet no one would argue successfully that the meadow is more beautiful than the peaks, or vice versa.

The meadow produces; the peaks stand in testimony.  The fireweed meadow shows Alaska’s nurturing hand; the peaks show signs of Alaska’s harshest nature: hurricane force winds, snow and ice.

Like fireweed, many of us bloom because we happened to take root in the most accommodating and nurturing of soils.  Like the Mendenhall Towers, some of us are scraped clean by the harshness of life, whether it be our environment, disease, or tragedy.

Turning the comparison of the meadow and the peaks slightly in another direction, I can write that nearly all of us start in the bloom of youth and over time evolve to a form more pronounced, bearing the marks of the ice and wind of this world, still beautiful as God’s image bearers, but deeper, more complex, weathered and polished.

I watched Dona deal with a serious cancer since early 2014.  Most cancer sufferers are described as ‘fighting cancer’ or ‘enduring a long struggle with cancer.’  I appreciate the spirit and determination those descriptions signal.  But Dona did not fight her cancer, she let her oncologist do that.  Dona seemed to maneuver her cancer, somehow positioning the disease at a place where she could learn, grow, even flourish.  With each setback – a disappointing scan or lab report, a quality-of-life diminishing side-effect – I saw Dona maneuvering, adjusting, and finding a way to grow a little higher, like the Mendenhall Towers of Juneau; perhaps scraped and scoured a bit, but nonetheless ultimately towering over her disease.   

Where does this come from? 

As much as I would like to give her full credit I cannot.  I was with Dona for 43 years.  This is a new spirit.  She has always had many attractive traits: thoughtful, kind, empathic but, also, a relentless planner, troubleshooter; dedicated to seeing peril around the corner and making big plans to counter the threat.  Once she stored $2000 in a box after reading a report that cyber-terrorists could easily shutdown the electric power grid, making banks and ATM’s inoperable.  But once she faced her worst and most real crisis, she became less anxious, more relaxed, less out to prove something to herself.  When scan reports were not good, Dona took the news with courage, dignity, grace, humility; always encouraging and thanking her health care providers.

And she liked her ‘new metastatic self’.  She wrote about it on more than one occasion. 

I would not call this new outlook serenity.  A more serene person would have done less on-line shopping.  It was not stoicism either.  We were still quite anxious during each visit to the hospital.  As we waited for our oncologist to enter the treatment room, I would read her dumb jokes from the internet as a disruption. 

I am still struggling to define and understand the change.

Recently, I have described this change as Dona’s confidence in God’s big plans for her future.  Fear revolves around our thoughts about the unknown future and our imagining the worst of that which is unknown.  But she was convinced that she had a future, and it was a good one.  We prayed for a miracle of healing, for longevity.  That is not granted, but no matter, we still have a future, and it is glorious.

Tim Keller writes, “We are future-oriented beings, and so we must understand ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere.  We cannot live without at least an implicit set of beliefs that our lives are building toward some end, some hope, to which our actions are contributing. We must imagine some end to life that transcends.”[1]

But that is not the whole story.  Hope and faith are essential, but we need some external help.  If it depends only on our personal resolve or insight we are back where we started – some of us succeed through a gift of temperament or fortitude, some not.

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 5:2b-5; 8:35, 37-39

It can only be the Spirit of God that vitalizes life, communicates God’s truth, and reassures of his eternal plan for us through the grace of Christ. 

What was great about this external strength was that when hardship came, I did not worry that Dona would not be able to endure it because it did not depend solely on her. I trust I will be able to draw on that same strength.

I so deeply miss her.

Dave Eley


[1] “Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical” by Timothy Keller.

This is Mortality, this is Eternity

By Dave Eley

On December 22, 2022, the day before the Great Buffalo Blizzard, we agreed with the oncologist to stop Dona’s cancer treatment and enroll her with Hospice.  Focus will be on comfort at home.  We feel okay about it. She will likely live longer on Hospice than on aggressive treatment. 

I’ll provide updates through https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/donaeley

Dona sleeps most of the day but is in no pain. Praise God. Although a bit confused at times and very weak, there is a calm and focus that must only come from the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding….guarding her heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” 

Medical science and technology have given us 8 great years and, according to Dona, some of her best years. (Seriously, see ‘I Like the New Metastatic Me. ) We are grateful to have been the recipient of a dozen or more cutting edge or proven treatments, (which worked well until wily cancer cells morphed and found a workaround) developed by the best researchers and engineers the world has to offer, and delivered by compassionate surgeons, doctors, technicians, and nurses.  But over time treatment has taken a toll.  Modern medicine has its limits. 

When the best efforts of our medical clinicians are overwhelmed and consumed by disease what is left?  For the Christian, it is the hope of the resurrection.  What does that look like?  Perhaps it is like the discovery of a masterpiece that was hidden when painted over with an inferior work of art.  As the later work flakes away due to time and the elements the earlier original is revealed, something beautiful and totally different.  Or, perhaps it is as simple as Jesus’ parable of the house built on a rock that leaves the home intact when the winds and rains come. (Matthew 7)

Dona with grandson #4 on Christmas Day 2022 after the Great Buffalo Blizzard

It is that underlying beauty, strength, and solid foundation that is now so evident in my wife. Yesterday, I told Dona, “When my time comes, I hope I can also face my mortality directly, look it square in the face without flinching.  But I think I will be frightened.”

She gazed at me for a minute, I was beginning to think she had drifted off, and then she said, “When your time comes God will give you grace and strength. But for now, you need to quit with the chipmunk cheeks.”

She was alluding to two posts she wrote early in her cancer journey.  The chipmunk cheek image is from John Piper, who writes:

Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day (Exodus 16:4).

God’s grace is like manna. God gives us “a day’s portion every day.” This is why Jesus taught us to pray for our “daily” bread, not “next week’s” bread.

We need to quit being chipmunks. We don’t need to try and stuff our cheeks with today’s manna, anxiously storing up fuel for the nasty winter we imagine around the corner. God doesn’t give us grace for our imaginations, he doesn’t give us grace for our chipmunk approach to life. (Emphasis mine.)

As Dona later reflected,

The hardcore truth is that this habitual way of viewing the big scary world can quickly become faith-numbing insanity. “Dona,” I say to myself, “where is God in all this worry about the future? What are you fretting about? Who do you believe is really in charge?”

Me, apparently…….God waits for us to wave our white flags and allow his grace to attend to our present needs and not for those imagined future troubles.  And that grace is sufficient to carry us through the day.”

So, as Dona says, I’m going to quit (try to quit) being a chipmunk and train myself through repetition, reminding myself of eternal truths, look for joy each day, and trust tomorrow, both for my life and especially for by wife’s, to the hand of God, who transcends our mortal limitations.

This is mortality, this is eternity.

Cancer and Character Development

Suffering has allowed me to empathize with the suffering of others more deeply.  This new level of compassion is both heart-breaking and life-giving in equal measure.  I am grateful.

I occasionally get questions that at first glance may seem impertinent or insensitive when posed to a person with Stage 4 cancer.  But I am not startled or offended.  Afterall, I write unreservedly in my blog about my mortality, and, most gratifyingly, my friends ask questions out of genuine concern and a desire to understand more fully what I am going through.

Recently, a close friend asked:

“Dona, you ever wish that you had died suddenly from an accident or heart attack instead of going through these years of suffering, not knowing when the medical team has no more resources to keep you alive?”

An insightful question I have been pondering ever since. 

There was a time when I would have said absolutely, I would rather die suddenly than go through cancer treatments. After all, what other illness fills us with dread as we wonder about lumps, difficulty swallowing, or unrelenting back pain?

Another friend, a physician, told me about a patient that showed up at his medical practice with grave concerns about a skin condition. The doctor’s diagnosis was chronic, severe psoriasis. He told his patient the condition would cause pain, discomfort, interfere with sleep, and make it difficult to concentrate. There would be no cure. The patient relied, “Thank God it’s not cancer!”

We do not walk around fearing heart attacks, gallbladder attacks, car accidents, lupus, or sundry illnesses that can be very devastating and even fatal. It is cancer that fills us with fear. Within literature or human discourse there is no other disease used as a personifier of something malignant, evil, or spreading. (“Bitterness grew like a cancer until it consumed her.” “His hunger for power was a cancer that could not be stopped until he destroyed everyone in his way.”) We use the word cancer because it is a word loaded with all kinds of imagined suffering and dread of when and how it will take our lives. And unlike the animal kingdom we humans have existential angst and future awareness, realizing we are mortal and will leave behind loved ones, future dreams and plans and meaningful work.

Getting back to my friend’s question……

Early on when I discovered I had metastatic breast cancer I wrote a blog post titled “I like the new metastatic me.” It had nothing to do with being masochistic or pathological.  It had all to do with welcoming the change of perspective on what was, and what was not, important in life.  Consequently, I found a greater peace of mind because I had less things that I was holding onto and less to become anxious about. The new metastatic me simplified life and found me focusing on joy and gratefulness.

Although my cancer had progressed from Stage 3 to Stage 4, I was happy to find that my character development had moved from stage 1 to stage 2.  Well, maybe Stage 0.5 to Stage 1.

That was then, this is now.  In the last four years there certainly has been more suffering than I would have anticipated when I was first diagnosed with metastatic cancer.  But I can say with confidence that after 4-5 years of living with this awful disease that I’m thankful I was not taken suddenly.

I am more others-centered now than 4 years ago. My character development has moved from stage 2 to stage 3. Well, maybe 1 to 2. You get my intent. I am trying to walk the line between braggadocios and false humility. The point is that I have more empathy and heart sickness when I hear of others suffering, whether from the terror-stricken children of Ukraine, the starving children of Somalia, or the grieving parent of a loss child or husband. I used to avoid reading BBC international news (I have an app). Too much tragedy. Now, I read and pray because it disrupts my own suffering and allows, what Mother Theresa called, “my heart to be broken with what breaks the heart of Christ.”

And this suffering somehow reminds me of the Great Hope.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Romans 5:3-4

Before unpacking this, I must reiterate that the grace of God has been apparent every step away.  He deserves the credit and glory.   

Suffering can breed empathy:

When people are faced with a terrible diagnosis there is a choice that must be made. Will the rest of life be driven by bitterness and anger; resenting the unfairness? As I have heard on more than one occasion, “I took good care of myself: ate healthy, exercised frequently, managed stress, and even served God so how did this happen to me?”

As I noted above, there is an aspect of my chronic suffering that has bred empathy and compassion for those who suffer, whether from cancer, other ailments, heartbreaks, betrayals, extreme losses.  My prayer life has been richer and more spontaneous as I read the news or talk with people who are hurting. And for those times I forget I have cancer as I focus on them.

I do not know why suffering has produced empathy, but I have a couple of theories.

The God of the cross

We have a God that suffers with us.  The late John Stott, theologian and pastor of All Souls Church in London often said he could not worship a God who had not experienced extreme suffering.

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and, therefore, unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”

I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 335-336

In summary, my metastatic cancer first gave me a new perspective on what, and what was not, important in life.  Consequently, I found a greater peace of mind because I had less things that I was holding onto and less to become anxious about. The new metastatic me simplified life and found me focusing on joy and gratefulness.

Second, suffering has allowed me to empathize with the suffering of others more deeply.  This new level of compassion is both heart-breaking and life-giving in equal measure.  I am grateful.

My character development has moved from Stage 1 to Stage 3!  Will I ever get to Stage 4?  Not in this earthly tent!

And this brings me, finally, to the point of all this.  The end result of suffering is not character development but hope.  (Romans 5:3-4)  Hope in what?  Eternal life and that time when Christ will “make all sad things untrue.”1  A cold, pitiless universe, full of random disease and tragedy, without God provides little or no incentive to develop character or hope. 

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:19

Yes, oh yes, I am thankful, suffering or no suffering, for every moment the Lord had graced me with!

1Originally spoken by Sam to Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Return of the King.  Often quoted by Tim Keller and NT Wright in their reflections on the resurrection.

Defiant Hope in the Face of Overwhelming Loss

The grace of lament is helping me to navigate this painful season of our lives and is also giving me a language to use in the face of widespread injustice and suffering in the world. It doesn’t minimalize or ignore the anguish but as we orient ourselves towards God and give voice to the pain we feel, his Spirit reminds of the eternal truths of God’s goodness and his steadfast love towards us.

Carolyn Madanat

Introduction

In a recent post Dona described how Carolyn Madanat was processing overwhelming grief from the sudden loss of her husband, Labib Madanat, in November 2021.  At the time of Labib’s death, Carolyn had been recently ordained as a minister in the Anglican Church in England and was four months into her first post as a curate.  As part of this initial apprenticeship she was assigned, as all curates are, to write reflections on significant events during her curacy and the impact on her prayer life and relationship with God.  She shared this reflection with Dona and me.  Though painful to read, it is just too insightful and redemptive not to share.  With her permission and approval, we post it here.  

I am no expert on the stages of grief or how trauma is processed, but Carolyn’s narrative of the months following Labib’s passing show both key waypoints and important routines that will help any Christian; both those suffering overwhelming loss or trauma, and friends and family walking alongside the sufferer.  This journal is particularly helpful in showing how a grief-stricken heart and often exhausted mind can still use prayer to engage the Spirit; “reminding us of the eternal truths of God’s goodness and his steadfast love towards us.”

And so, again with her permission, I added text boxes to highlight those waypoints and insights.

Dave Eley

September 2022

________________________________

Defiant Hope in the Face of Overwhelming Loss

Carolyn Madanat

June 2022

Four and a half months into my curacy, my husband died suddenly whilst on a ministry trip to Iraq.

We received the devastating news by telephone call: thirty minutes after hearing that he had experienced a seizure and was unconscious, a follow-up call came telling us that he had died. I had no time to begin to process what had happened as I had to make immediate plans to travel to Jordan with our five children, where Labib’s family were arranging to repatriate his body from Najaf to Amman. Once there, we were drawn into the communal grief and mourning of family, church, and friends as we prayed and waited for his body to be released and flown to us. The funeral was held hours after his arrival; I was still in a state of shock and disbelief but Labib’s colleagues and family, in the midst of their own grief, carried the burden of planning and leading the service.

In the first few weeks I felt incredibly disorientated. For the ten days that we were in Jordan there was an established ritual of gathering with the extended family each day from morning to late night, receiving people who came to give condolences. It was emotionally and physically exhausting, trying to give comfort as much as receive it, but it provided a structure for our time and interactions with people. The constant stream of calls and messages brought assurance that many were praying for us, and this carried us through the early days when we could not form prayers for ourselves.

The importance of receiving counsel, even leadership, in deciding on a way forward.

Back in England, as per the norm, people gave us ‘space’ and showed kindness and solidarity in a very different way: cards instead of conversation, food left on the doorstep instead of shared communal meals. It was my culture, but I felt very alone and found myself trying to initiate contact with people so that I could explain why I needed them to keep speaking to me!

In retrospect, I really needed pastoral leadership; I didn’t want to be left to decide if and when I should return to work and ministry. I know that the intention was to not make assumptions about what would be best for me, but I was exhausted and needed someone else to tell me to take time to rest and recover. In the end it was my prayer triplet and a trusted family friend and counsellor who stepped into that role and helped me navigate those early days.

Stillness and quiet were not my friends. At first, I found it very hard to even read Scripture without crying, but I turned to the psalms that Labib and I had read together so many times and they became my prayers; I didn’t have to find my own words to say because the psalmists had done it for me. I found the discipline of a daily quiet time very hard to maintain, so I took long walks and trusted that God was with me and that He was somehow ministering to me. I honestly didn’t feel it particularly, but deep down I knew and believed it was so.

Advent began soon after we returned to the UK and I remember lighting the first candle, Hope, as an act of defiance against the enemy who had stolen from our family. There was something comforting in the symbolism and ritual of lighting the candles each night. What had previously been a fun family activity, took on new significance. However I felt, I wanted to declare -in this small way- that I still had faith in God whose light shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome by it. The ‘waiting’ of Advent resonated with me in a new way: it wasn’t about counting down to a day or a week of celebrations but anticipating the day when Jesus would return and make all things right, forever.

As I returned to work in the New Year, the daily routine of prayer with the staff team was an act of obedience. Often, I didn’t feel like praying but the familiar words of the morning prayer liturgy allowed me to participate even when my brain fog made it hard for me to concentrate for long. My prayer requests were for very practical things, usually focused on the needs of our children– for comfort, for the ability to sleep, for strength to get through each day, for stamina to sit through school and college classes; many prayers were answered, including some I hadn’t voiced out loud. I didn’t talk to God much about my own feelings of grief and exhaustion, but I knew that he knew, and that was enough. Throughout this time, I prayed weekly with the members of my prayer triplet which was a lifeline; other friends and colleagues messaged with offers of help and the promise of ongoing prayer. It was one way that I experienced what it means to be part of the Body of Christ and to belong to one another. God was taking care of me through his people, through my people.

Not long after Labib’s death, a friend who had also been bereaved sent me some books, including one on lament. As I read the book, I knew that I accepted it all in principle, but realised that it was the first time that I had actually thought about and experienced what it means to lament. I wanted to be able to express my sadness, disappointment and even anger, but without falling into despair. Mark Vroegop talks about a four-step process that God leads us through in grief and lament:

……to turn, to complain, to ask, and to trust. Importantly, the first move has to be a physical orientation towards God and not away from him.

Mark Vroegop[1]

I still struggled with the idea of complaining to God. Having spent so much time with Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan and hearing their stories of losing multiple family members and friends, not to mention homes and livelihoods, I didn’t see how my loss could be compared to theirs. What I’ve started to realise is that lament isn’t about whether my suffering is sufficiently bad enough to warrant a complaint to God. Instead, it’s declaring, with God, that all is not right in the world and knowing that this grieves him too, while remembering that sickness, death, pain, and injustice do not have the final word.

As Vroegop says, “Lament is rooted in what we believe. It is a prayer loaded with theology. Christians affirm that the world is broken, God is powerful, and He will be faithful.”[2]

Through the year, I have become more aware of the role of lament in both my individual prayers and our corporate prayers as a church family. When the war broke out in Ukraine, when an earthquake killed hundreds in Afghanistan, my intercessions have included a strong note of indignation at the injustices that are being suffered in a world that is under the curse of sin and death; I’ve been led to boldly ask God to intervene as only he can, affirming that he is mighty and able to work good for his people. I’ve come to realise that part of our calling as God’s people is to lament the state of our world and to call on God to act. 

I had to spend a few days in Jerusalem, sorting some of Labib’s paperwork, and connected with old friends and colleagues who shared the challenges they were facing in their own ministries. I found myself increasingly praying and interceding for them – for reconciliation and unity between church members and leaders, for Bible translation work, for the Gospel to touch the hearts of the non-Christian majority. Although I couldn’t step into the huge void that Labib had left as a leader in the region, I felt as though God was rekindling the love and concern I had held for the people of the Middle East for so many years when we lived and ministered among them. It was an invitation to stay connected to what God was still doing in and through brothers and sisters there, even if Labib was no longer with us. Since the visit, I have been interceding more often for ministers and ministries in that region that God has put on my heart. It has helped me to keep my own difficulties in perspective and to see the bigger picture of what God is doing in the world.

Over Lent I put together material for a Lent course for St Paul’s and the theme was the spiritual practices of solitude and silence. These are disciplines that even prior to Labib’s death I have found quite challenging. I am someone who works well as part of a team, and this includes praying with other people; my night-time prayer routine with Labib was an important part of our shared life together. As mentioned earlier, I’ve found quiet times particularly difficult in this season and the thought of sitting in silence with God just listening and waiting has felt quite unattainable, not least because poor sleep at night means I have a tendency to fall asleep if I sit still for too long. During the course we reflected on the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and how he reached a point where, before he could even hear God, he needed time to recover from the traumatic experience he’d just been through; God ministered to him by providing food and the opportunity to rest.

It was very helpful for me to be reminded that sometimes we can be in a place where we just need to trust God and let him take care of our physical needs so that we will then be able to hear him speak. The combination of experiencing a sudden trauma and then needing to carry the emotional and practical needs of the family, in addition to returning to pastoral work, had left me feeling depleted after a couple of months. The Lent reflections released me from feeling guilty about not being able to sustain my quiet devotional times and allowed me to rest in God and trust him to carry me through that season. As my sleeping patterns have improved I’ve had more capacity for silence and individual prayer, although I still favour prayer walking over sitting.

The final reflection I have on how my prayer life and relationship with God has been shaped over this last year, following the loss of Labib, relates to Passion week and particularly Holy Saturday. Coming from a ‘low-church’ tradition, my engagement with Passion week has primarily focused on Good Friday’s Hour at the Cross and then the joy and celebration of Resurrection Sunday. This year, I co-led the Hour at the Cross service and found it very moving; I also had the joy of baptising a new believer on Sunday morning – as part of our Easter family celebration service. However, what resonated with me for perhaps the first time was the poignancy of Easter Saturday. Up until this year, it’s simply been an in-between day that I’ve not thought too much about, but it felt very different this time around. Holy Saturday seemed to encompass all that we had been experiencing over the previous months, which was the feeling of being somehow suspended between two worlds: one of overwhelming loss and one of defiant hope. A friend sent me a poem that finally put into words everything that I felt but hadn’t been able to express. It wasn’t that I suddenly had answers to everything, but I had a space to hold the questions:

‘Holy Saturdays are the days in between what has been laid to rest and what we are doing our best to hope will still rise … Holy Saturdays are brutally honest days when our hope and grief, equally matched, wrestle it out’[3]

Judy Peterson

I realized that trust in God’s goodness and feelings of sadness are not mutually exclusive; lament is a path to praise that travels through disappointment and pain, and being okay with not knowing everything. It is accepting the co-existence of grief and hope; mourning what has been lost yet grateful for what remains. Part of prayer, I have realized, is surrendering to God the questions we don’t have answers for and having the assurance that these questions are in safe hands. It is having enough confidence in God’s goodness and steadfast love towards us that we don’t need to settle for ‘glib’ answers to those questions.

I have already seen the importance of this in pastoral situations where there is a great deal of suffering and hardship, and the inevitable questions that accompany it deserve to be heard and held respectfully. Instead of trying to scramble for answers to ‘ease’ the pain, for myself or others, I want to simply acknowledge the presence of God in our pain and his promise to transform it and redeem it for our good and his glory, if we allow him to. Vroegop writes that: ‘the gospel empowers the followers of Jesus to enter the dark moments of people’s lives. Those who know the story of hope and who believe in God’s goodness can be conduits of his grace’.[4]

The grace of lament is helping me to navigate this painful season of our lives and is also giving me a language to use in the face of widespread injustice and suffering in the world. It doesn’t minimalise or ignore the anguish but as we orient ourselves towards God and give voice to the pain we feel, his Spirit reminds of the eternal truths of God’s goodness and his steadfast love towards us.

Bibliography and references

Jenae, D, When Mountains Crumble, Moody Publishers, 2022.

Rolheiser, R, Sacred Fire, Crown Publishing, 2014.

Vroegop, M, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Crossway publishing, 2019.


[1] Vroegop, p29

[2] Vroegop, p26

[3] Excerpt from ‘Holy Saturday’ by Judy Peterson

[4] Vroegop, p 194

How Fine-Tuning of the Universe Helps Me Cope with Cancer

In a previous post I described how a diagnosis of metastatic cancer inexplicitly sparked curiosity, wonder and questions about the cosmos. I started listening to podcasts and reading interviews with prominent scientists describing the physics of the universe and the surprises from new discoveries about how the cosmos works.

The shock and awe of the marvels of the universe took the shock out of cancer. 

I am not alone in my interest.  Conferences, books, and on-line debates indicate a surge of fascination with cosmology – particularly new observations, theories, and philosophies – among average intellect people like me as well as the scientific heavyweights. And popular culture is on to the cosmos. Sci-fi movies and books paint stories of quantum field irregularities creating portals and wormholes through time or into multiple universes filled with doppelgängers and other mind-bending craziness.

One dominate serious discussion across cosmology, physics and theology over the last 20 years is the fine-tuning of the universe.  In the late 20th century scientists started to describe how the universe is extremely sensitive to changes in physical constants.  If one of the constants is changed even by a tiny bit, the world will look vastly different – it will generally have no suns, no chemistry, and – therefore – no life. This is known as “fine tuning.”  It is as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe.

If you are looking for examples of esoterica, you have found them in these ‘dials’ – physical constants.  Allow me to state two of many which, because they are almost incomprehensible to me, I copied nearly verbatim:

  • Omega (Ω), commonly known as the density parameter, is the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe. It is the ratio of the mass density of the universe to the “critical density” and is approximately 1. If gravity were too strong compared with dark energy and the initial metric expansion, the universe would have collapsed before life could have evolved. If gravity were too weak, no stars would have formed.
  • Lambda (Λ), commonly known as the cosmological constant, describes the ratio of the density of dark energy to the critical energy density of the universe. Λ is on the order of 10−122.[19] This is so small that it has no significant effect on cosmic structures that are smaller than a billion light-years across. A slightly larger value of the cosmological constant would have caused space to expand rapidly enough that stars and other astronomical structures would not be able to form.

And the list of physical constants that must be fine-tuned goes on and on.  From constants, like above, required for stars to exist to those tuned for intelligent life.  I do not understand any of these ‘dials’ except that it is extremely unlikely that all of them are tuned precisely to create the conditions for intelligent life.  Interestingly, that is a point on which most secular scientists, theologians and philosophers agree.  Of course, their explanations differ.  Currently, the four main theories are:

  1. Fine-tuning is an illusion:  Once we discover more fundamental physics an explanation will present itself.
  2. Multiverses:  Our universe is just one of many, maybe billions.  If each have different physical constants, we should not be surprised to find our universe hospitable to intelligent life.  (This is also a theory for creation.  If the universe just popped into being – something out of nothing – then other universes have an equal chance of appearing.)
  3. Alien simulation (my personal favorite):   Aliens developed a simulation fine-tuned for us to exist.  Earth and all that effects earth is a laboratory and we are the rats within it.
  4. And, of course, God created the universe and fine-tuned it for intelligent life.

It is odd that there are brilliant physicists who would rather think up farfetched theories to explain fine-tuning rather than be in awe of the FINE-TUNER that created the universe’s inherent physics that allow us to exist.  Occam’s razor indicates that the simplest explanation, the answer that requires the fewest assumptions, is preferable.  Which theory requires the fewest assumptions for fine-tuning?  Billions of other universes coexisting with us?  Alien simulation?  Or, a creator-God?  Theologians and some astrophysicists and cosmologists have no problem with divine fine-tuning and in fact are delighted by its implications. There is a God.

As a serious illness looms over my life, as metastatic cancers find a way to mutate and work around tumor-killing drugs, I am tempted to despair. Cancer acts and feels frighteningly powerful and almost god-like with attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. At times like this I need something MORE powerful that happens to be benevolent, merciful, transcendent, and eminent. Thinking of bigger realities works to belittle the cancer bully and grow the great hope that the Fine-Tuner of the universe has no rivals, not even the great fearsome cancers of this world. There is hope and reassurance that the great Fine-Tuner of the cosmos loves me and purposes me to further his love in this world and the next. Cancer is no rival to this fact alone! Hallelujah.

The Blessings of Unanswered Prayer

When God is silent I am still reaping benefits.

It is not possible to prove Christianity based on answers to prayer, because skeptics can always explain them away as coincidence. But as former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”  The cumulative effect of answered prayer is to reinforce our faith in God.

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But what about unanswered prayer?  Most of us have heard that God answers every prayer: no, yes, not yet.  I used to be satisfied with that insight.  Now I am not.  My husband will tell you that is cold comfort for the sufferer and those watching a loved one suffer.  Yet, David and I persist in prayer, even when God seems silent.

The apostle Paul tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

Nicky Gumble, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church, London, comments, “It is interesting that Paul does not say that when you bring your concerns to God, God will give you peace by explaining or resolving every situation you bring to Him. Instead, he suggests that the peace of God in your heart and mind is somehow more likely to satisfy you and ease your fears than if He fixed or explained everything immediately.”

What is the use of praying if the desired health results are not forthcoming? 

Four cancer and prayer stories:

Story 1: Praying with and on behalf of a friend

Three of us went with our friend who was stricken with ovarian cancer to an unusual healing prayer service in the hopes of a miracle. She later died. We would do it again for it is the right and loving thing to do – to offer our time, our awkwardness, our companionship, and our prayers in her time of need.

Story 2: A prayer of healing not answered but changed the course of three generations

A friend of mine is named after an uncle he never met. The uncle died of cancer as a boy but not before being prayed over by a nurse who told him about Jesus.  The boy’s encounter with Christ compelled him to tell his family about Jesus and to pray for them. His father would become a Christian and study to be a pastor along with the support of his family.  Generations were changed by the prayers of the young boy and his nurse.

Story 3: Sincere prayers that warmed the heart of a sincere skeptic

A friend and neighbor had a child with leukemia. The father of this child was an adamant atheist but upon witnessing the praying community of his wife’s church he was led to place his trust in Christ well before it became apparent that his daughter would survive the cancer.

Story 4: When a fallen world works against our most fervent prayers and noblest of intentions

For the followers of my blog you may recall the story of Audra and Jeremy who were in process of adopting an Indian orphan with Downs Syndrome. The long and costly adoption process was nearly complete.  Jeremy and Audra were awaiting the green light to travel to India when little Hank developed leukemia. Bureaucracy and structural indifference, international adoption difficulties, and a pandemic delayed and delayed again Hank from coming home to Buffalo.  Audra and Jeremy were undaunted. They wanted him with them more than ever. Doctors were contacted in Buffalo and were ready to treat him as soon as he arrived. A specialist even contacted an Indian provider to advise on how to treat Hank for leukemia in the interim. A missionary couple residing nearby in India were ready to travel and care for Hank during the transport to NY. And, of course, many, many Buffalo prayers were offered up for Hank and his adoptive parents.  Yet, on July 16, 2020, Hank passed away, never having been held by his adoptive family.

I do not know why Hank died and left two heartbroken parents.  Who can explain why two faithful Christians were happily willing to spend the rest of their lives caring for a child with Downs Syndrome. If ever there was a contest for whose prayers are worthy to be answered no doubt Audra and Jeremy would be top contenders. 

This story raises some troubling questions:

Why would God call a family to open their hearts and home to a forgotten child to only be heartbroken months later?  

Why were prayers not answered on Hanks behalf?  

What was the point of all the money spent, all the anxious waiting, all the praying?   

Four ways unanswered prayer works

I have suggested some hints in the stories above.  Let me be more explicit. 

  1. Connection to God:  Prayer connects us to God. Communion with God through prayer offers peace and strength. Praying releases emotions and thoughts to the authority of God who is the “Father of all mercies and the source of all comfort.” Being assured of His reality, presence and love can happen in prayer especially if we are asking for spiritual resources in the midst of suffering and disappointments. There is joy and comfort that comes from such awareness and a “peace that transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7).  This peace happens even if our prayers for healing are delayed or denied.
  2. Connection to others who are praying for our difficulties breaks the stranglehold of cancer loneliness and gives way to comfort and much needed companionship. 
  3. Witness to the world:  The local church in prayerful response to the suffering of its members and those outside its doors strips it of a superfluous club mentality and creates a genuine place of acceptance and emotional safety for sufferers.  We all know crazy faith-healer stories and the ridicule their often misplaced, insensitive prayers have generated.  But I have been a Christian a long time and I can attest that when the skeptical world sees the genuine prayers and love offered up by a church on behalf of a stricken person they are impressed; even without a miracle of healing.  The two childhood-leukemia stories I described above – one with a good outcome and one not – are cases in point.
  4. Courage:  Praying reminds us of the sufferings of Christ and the suffering of the faithful, past and present. It emboldens us to face our challenges and mortality with grace and faith regardless of the desired temporal healing being asked. 

So, these are the reasons I pray and find comfort when others pray for me against this yoke of metastatic breast cancer. If I am blessed with complete healing I will love Him for all his benefits.  If I am not healed and succumb to this disease at a time way before my choosing I will love him and give thanks for all His benefits for all of eternity. 

Post script: after telling others of Hank’s death with tears and frustration Audra concluded with this: “thank you for all the prayers on Hank’s behalf ” ( no bitterness and no retreat from the dependence on prayer ).

Sleep to Die For

Consistent, restorative sleep has eluded me for over 20 years.  Therefore, an image so often talked about in the New Testament – falling asleep in Christ – has come as an unexpected comfort.

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.”

Victor Hugo

“That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all-natural graces, sleep.”

Aldous Huxley

grandma driving“I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandma.

Not yelling and screaming, like the people in her car.”

Anonymous

 

I love to sleep but for the last 20 years consistent, sound sleep has remained tantalizingly out of reach. So desperate for sleep at times I have found myself looking on with envy at homeless folks asleep on benches. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I immediately discussed sleep with my oncologist.  I assumed that cancer worries along with cancer treatment would be the end of sleep for good.

Sleeplessness in any degree is one of humanity’s great annoyances. Internet searches (not good sleep hygiene to do at night) are endless in describing and suggesting ways to recover our bodies’ routine and therapeutic need for the sandman’s nightly visits. Why he refuses to come and satisfy some of us is anybody’s guess. But for sure we cannot do well emotionally or physically without sleep.  Twenty years of insomnia has left me wanting to strangle the sandman.  Going for stretches without sustaining sleep has at times been as emotionally painful as my struggle with metastatic cancer.

Worrying about endings

A few people with metastatic cancer might not entertain thoughts about how dying might go for them.  I am not one of them.  Like the confession of the late Billy Graham, I too am not afraid to die as I have confidence in Christ receiving me, but I do worry sometimes about how I may die. I am like most people who would vote to die unsuspectingly at an incredibly old age at the end of a productive, meaningful life while SLEEPING!

To Fall Asleep in Christ

I recently landed on a book, Dying Well, by John Wyatt.  The author, a British medical consultant and devout Christian, has witnessed many people in the last stage of their lives and offers insightful, encouraging, and very practical suggestions for believers facing death from illness or old age. This book is for anybody who is eventually going to die. Yes, we all should push the pause button of our busy lives to think how we would like our endings to go before the end is close.

Wyatt’s chapter describing what it means to “fall to sleep in Christ” was particularly comforting.  To “fall asleep in Christ” is the term used in the epistles for the believers’ death.  Jesus in the gospels and the apostle Paul in his letters describe the death of a believer as residing in a state of sleep awaiting their new eternal life. The early Christians understood something about this image of death. It is one of the reasons they had the courage and hope to withstand all manners of persecution and death.  At death, the believer is, as in sleep, unconscious and unresponsive but none the less a person fully alive, being held safely by the love and power of Christ.

I have known the biblical expression for believers’ death for decades but never has the term meant so much to me as it does now; nor has it provided such hope and reassurance as it does now.  Falling asleep in Christ to be woken up to the most glorious reality of all is my great hope and desire.   I love sleep, I long for it and when I awake having had a good night of sleeping, I am exhilarated.  So now as the pesky death and dying thoughts resurface so does the gentleness of the sleep metaphor. Is this pie in the sky thinking to make the reality of dying easier to swallow?  No and yes!   No, it is not the pie in the sky.  The truths of scripture and God’s love for me did not originate with me and will not end with me.  And yes, life after death has been the great Christian hope for people from all over the world for centuries.  As Paul said, “if only in this life we have hope in Christ we of all people are to be most pitied.”   (I Cor 15:19) According to John Wyatt, we can deduct from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 that “Jesus experienced the full reality of death so that we might fall asleep,” never having to know abandonment from God’s loving presence. Hallelujah!  My imagination has taken a turn from the dreaded to the blessed! Falling asleep in Christ means resting in peace to be woken up by the lover of our souls at the culmination of history.

“Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.”

Chronicles of Narnia , C.S. Lewis

DEATH VERSES TO FALL ASLEEP BY:

MATTHEW 9:24

JOHN 11:11

ACTS 7:59-60

JOHN 11:25-26

I THESSALONIANS 4:13-14

ISAIAH 26:19

PSALM 17:15

PSALM 16:9-11

PSALM 139:17-18

REVELATION 22: 3-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer, COVID-19 and the fear of God

It has taken me decades to learn the meaning of  “fear God or fear everything else.”  Here is my story.

In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18, the majority of Americans finally turned against the Vietnam War, Disney World opened in Orlando, James Taylor and Janis Joplin were at the top of the charts, and I was looking for peace of mind.

At the spontaneous invite of a college acquaintance I joined a bible study. After listening and reading for several weeks, I began to believe, or so I thought, I was finally exposed to the “real Gospel.” I was told Jesus wanted to be my buddy and cheerleader; a celestial presence that would give me peace and lead me on paths of success and happiness!

Fearing the Lord, a common refrain in the scriptures, was tamed by well-meaning Christian encouragers. No need to fear God, just trust that Jesus died for my sins and then enjoy an “all good, cleared for heaven status.” Discipleship, as in learning how to live like Jesus, sounded nice but it also sounded optional and too radical. I thought I was okay with that, but guilty and confusing feelings persisted as I tried to walk the fence between my youth culture and the Christian life. Little did I realize that “fear of the Lord” was wedded to love and comfort from God. I was trying on the new clothes of a Christian commitment and not finding them very comfortable and certainly not stylish. It was grueling. Anxiety and insecurity abounded but I stubbornly persisted towards this dead end; always hoping I would get a thumbs up from Jesus for labeling myself as a Christian. Jesus would understand a young woman just wanting to be, well, cool and culturally relevant while still loving Him or so I wanted to believe. I suspected that I was eventually going to give up this fling; the cognitive dissonance was driving me nuts. My secular friends were also waiting for the penny to drop and figured it would be just a matter of time before I was brought back to my secular senses.

Slide2Before writing further, let me be clear. I had no question that I was accepted by God. I had peace with God through Christ’s sacrifice, not through any action or behavior on my part. But I did not have peace of mind.

Living a double life was becoming too stressful. I finally cried uncle. I embarked on a good old-fashioned biblical activity. I began to REPENT of my double mindedness in order to learn how to live the way Jesus wanted me to.

First, I realized that I had to circle back around to the fear of God. It wasn’t easy. I circled with trepidation; the skittish movements of a timid animal trying to get close to a compelling fierce presence that was simultaneously good and terrifying. For much of my youth fear was the compass that directed my ways and thoughts. It had worked until it didn’t!

Dale Bruner, commenting on one of the most ominous but, paradoxically, comforting sayings of Jesus (Matthew 10:26-31), concluded, “And blessedly, the one who fears God is liberated from fear of people – no little liberation…..Fear God or fear everything!” 1

Again, clear explanations are needed. We are not to be scared of God. Fear of God is not the fear a servant has for a harsh master. It is more akin to the love, reverence, awe, and, yes, fear a child might have for a loving, wise parent who has expectations of the child for her own good. Like the loving parent, nothing can separate us from his love. He will never leave or forsake us. (Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 13:5)

As I approached the center of that terrifyingAs it turned out, as I approached the center of that terrifying, fearful, holy presence that I began to experience a beautiful, flourishing life. I experienced a power to not just want to be good but a liberation that made it possible for goodness, wisdom, love and community to begin to be part of my nature without the white knuckling attempts to be good. My deepest needs were finding the source and power to become a learner of Christ and I was being renewed and refreshed; not overnight but the trajectory was set. I had purpose and purpose that finally brought the peace.

Here I am, 47 years later with metastatic breast cancer, a compromised immune system, and a lung inflammation (side effect of cancer drug). As it turns out, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I never been more grateful for embracing the fear of God. There is an ultimate authority who reminds me of who is in charge and why and for whom I exist.

What is the Fear of God?
Psalm 34 is helpful here.

Seeking the Lord,
Embracing that God is in charge, not me or any other person, institution, or government,
Recognizing that he is the center of the universe, not me,
• Gladly accepting that He is the boss of my life, not me, and finally,
Operating as a mortal destined for immortality because of the will of the one “who alone is immortal and lives in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Many of you will have your own descriptors for a healthy fear of the Lord. The bottom line is that the ‘Fear of the Lord’ is a good and needful truth that grounds and encourages us in this chaotic world.

 

1. Bruner, F.D. 2004. Matthew, A Commentary, Vol 1: The Christbook. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. 483 pp.

Name Your Tumor

Being known by name is significant and a comfort in the midst of difficulty.

Naming tumors is a real thing. And I don’t mean naming the specific type of cancer. No, these are pet names. Arnold, Terminator 1, Terminator 2, and disliked politicians are common tags assigned by cancer patients. Most people report that naming their tumor is an empowering exercise allowing them to wrestle back a little control from a bully.

Unfortunately for me, I would need a baby naming book in order to find names for all the little tumors that are floating around. Fortunately, I’m not attracted to the name-your-tumor game but I’m not judging those who are. Whatever helps cancer patients not feel so helpless is probably a good thing.

But I’m intrigued by the need to name a thing or person.  Assigning names, being referred to by names, labeling objects by names, Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svgand finding meaning in names fosters connection and intimacy to each other, our environment, and, apparently, our diseases. The importance of naming is found in both Testaments. Being named, having a name carries spiritual significance. God revealed his name to Moses.  Jesus was named Immanuel, ‘God with us.”  Both Peter and Paul were renamed by Jesus.

When I was first married, I complained to my husband that I wanted to hear my name spoken by him more often. Hearing my name by my beloved made me feel special to him and more connected. It capped off the special relationship we shared. No doubt he was initially perplexed by this marital complaint but happy to accommodate.

The following verses in the gospel of John at Christ’s resurrection are exceedingly meaningful and tender to me (emphasis mine):

John 20:15-16
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means ‘Teacher’).

Imagine her relief, her love, her comfort to hear her name spoken by the Lord at such a time.  It’s an image that carries me through this harrowing medical ordeal. Imagining the Lord of the universe saying,

Dona, I’m here with you.”
Dona, I’ve got this, don’t be afraid.”
Dona, you will be with me forever.”

I don’t feel a need to name a tumor or tumors to feel more empowered or in control. He knows and calls me by my name. That is enough. That is everything.

4 Reasons We Don’t Feel Comfort from God

 

dandelion

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 2:3

Make no mistake – this world does not operate under a system of comfort but rather a system of survival of the fittest whether it is in the school playground or the board rooms of major corporations. Comfort and compassion in the midst of troubles come from God whether He is recognized as the author of it or not.

But how do we experience comfort in suffering?  Doesn’t suffering, by definition, leave no room for comfort?  Comfort and suffering (troubles) don’t co-exist but are strongly related as our biblical text attests.  Comfort and suffering don’t co-exist but they can come in alternating waves. A person can be suffering from the loss of a loved one but moments of reprieve can come by way of a friend’s presence or an unexpected mercy and then later grief can hit again with a raging force and then later God’s comfort comes again to sustain.

He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort whether it comes as sustaining relief or in spurts of reprieve that give just enough hope to take the next breath.

We can experience comfort during periods of trouble and hardship.  Let me suggest four reasons why we don’t feel God’s comfort or at least not get all the comfort available to us.

1:  We don’t feel God’s comfort because we don’t ask for it

We will seek comfort from almost anybody or anything before we ask for it from God.  Call it unbelief, pride, plain laziness or lack of imagination.  Whatever it is, it does not depend upon or uphold the one who is called “the Father of compassion and all comfort.”  Mercifully, He gives it out anyway to those who don’t even care much for Him. But how much more is our hope and faith enlarged when we ask for it, keeping our spiritual antennas pointing in all and any direction as we wait for his timing.

2: Comfort may not come immediately and so we are disappointed and distrustful

Waiting on the Lord is a frequent refrain in the Psalms and is fundamental to the meaning of faith and belief.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  (Hebrews 11:1)  Some of the great saints, preachers, missionaries, and hymn writers as well as many clients and friends of mine have been sufferers of depression and experienced great losses; but they were believers in the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort and were all the wiser and compassionate for it. Their experiences of waiting on God have given hope to innumerable sufferers.

3:  Comfort does not always come to us in the way we expect.

We may be failing to recognize God’s comfort because it is not being delivered in a way we are used to or want.   We must be alert for the subtle comforts of God.

Acts 17 of the New Testament reports a theological sermon Paul gave to some Greek intellectual philosophers who were being introduced to the Christ- way for the first time. At one point in his debate he says in reference to humankind “that they should seek God, and perhaps reach out for him and find him. Though he is not far from any one of us.”

He is close at hand but we miss Him because our antennas (if even up) are pointing only in certain common directions. God’s comfort is sometimes so close that it is missed.  I have a friend who experienced disappointing career reversals and then had to leave her home. She was sitting in her car after clearing out the last vestiges of a life she loved. Sitting there alone she wondered where God’s care and comfort were for her and her family.  At that moment she noticed a disabled refugee she had seen limping along the street many times before but paid little attention to. This time she watched him as he bent down to gaze at a small dandelion.  He then looked up, turned towards her with a big toothless grin in what seemed to be a response to the beauty of a simple blooming weed. That was the moment my friend saw and felt the compassion and comfort of God.  And it was through a man with far less material wealth and physical comfort than she. She drove off comforted by faith in a God who was there and whose compassion was shown to her in an unexpected, humbling way.

4:  Suffering is not understood as having any value

A paraphrase of the last part of this verse goes something like this: “there will come a time when you will comfort others. The comfort you received from God when you were suffering will allow you to ‘pay it forward.’

When I was a young woman I suffered from a serious anxiety disorder. By today’s standard of mental health care I would likely have benefited from an SSRI and cognitive behavioral therapy. (A lot has changed in forty years.) Instead I received comfort through my Christian community even though it felt endlessly drawn out. I am pretty sure that if God had supernaturally spoken to me with a promise that someday I would be providing comfort to others because of the troubles I was having I would have said, “No thank you”.  I would have still pleaded for the quickest and most permanent relief intervention possible. And there would have been nothing wrong with that reaction. He would have understood and expected it. But my life was to take a different course.  In hindsight I can see that without that experience I would have missed out one of my life’s greatest privileges and satisfactions. I am a mental health clinician today because of my training and education. I am an empathic health clinician because of the “troubles” I went through in my early adult years and the benefits I received through the community of faith. God leveraged what happened in my life to later help me help others.

But, there is a caveat to all this. Proceed gingerly and prayerfully before telling a sufferer of how God is going to use their suffering.  I just told my sad story but there are much, much sadder stories than mine being experienced.  A bible verse like the one quoted above has truth but the messenger of that truth will more than likely be the Holy Spirit working through someone who has gone through a similar hardship to offer comfort to another.

In closing, I almost gave up this blog post several times.  As I worked on it over the course of a week I had periods of discomfort and discouragement. I worried about a return of cancer and a host of other things.   I felt like a hypocrite. But at the same time I had moments of insight and comfort so I stayed with it.  And isn’t this an imitation of life?  We have periods of discomfort, discouragement and trouble.  We feel like giving up.  But we persist, or rather God persists, comforting us, particularly if we ask Him for it, and then we wait and look for it in the ordinary and the extraordinary.  And dare I suggest, when we come through it, it is time to pay it forward.