Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts. One year ago, September 10, 2014, my wife, Valerie, finished chemotherapy for Stage 3, invasive breast cancer.
The chemo lasted a little over five months and to say it was brutal would be an understatement. There were many days when Valerie could only get out of bed to use the restroom. And the pain…
…so much pain…
You should know right up front, even as I write this, I can’t help but think of the horror of it all. Yet I remember peace and the constant abiding presence of God throughout our journey. When Valerie was diagnosed, we weren’t expecting it (does anybody?). What was most difficult was that she had discovered the tumor as much as two years earlier, but it was attached to a cyst that neither mammograms nor ultrasounds showed. What should have been an early diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment turned into five+ months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and eight weeks of radiation.
Today, one year from the end of chemo, seven months from the end of treatment and almost two months from her first post-treatment scans, I find myself with a heart of wonder and thankfulness. Oh, those scans? They included a full body CT scan, a bone scan, and an MRI. Unfortunately, they did reveal one thing… Valerie has a little bit of arthritis in her left knee.
Other than that, everything was CLEAN!
When I read the Psalms, I am struck by the juxtaposition of the writers crying to God in despair and fear and then turning to praise God for his goodness and his faithfulness, for his protection and provision, for his shelter and his refuge. My wife and I know that juxtaposition because we lived it.
After we received the phone call that “the test results were positive,” we were in shock for several hours. When we finally could begin to start navigating again we discussed several things. While we had both the best oncologist and surgeon in town, we were not interested in doctors or medicine or treatments.
What we wanted was a “Jesus healing.”
It’s a simple picture really… When Jesus healed, it was complete. It was done and it was finished. There were no ongoing treatments. When Jesus healed the blind man, the blind man didn’t need glasses. When Jesus healed the deaf, they didn’t need hearing aids. And when Jesus healed the lame, they didn’t need orthotics. The healing was complete and it was full! That’s what we wanted! And so, from the very beginning, it’s what we prayed for.
Two weeks before receiving our diagnosis, God put Psalm 91 on Valerie’s heart, and she saturated in it day after day, wondering why. And then we knew… The first two verses read:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2 NIV)
The rest of the chapter is all about God’s protection and deliverance. And so, I sit here now, knowing those promises were for us, and I am full of praise and thanksgiving.
I’ve documented all of this well over the last 17 months at Valerie’s blog site. If you haven’t read it before, you’ll find it to be raw and very transparent. You’ll also see that in 17 months of specific prayer requests, everything we prayed for was answered, be it low blood counts, sickness, infection, tests, scans, etc. Every. Single. Thing! And so again, today, I write from a place of wonder and thanksgiving, having known the heartache and despair that preceded it.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned through this chapter of our lives is how different everybody’s story is, cancer or not. This hit us hard 14 days ago as we said goodbye to a dear young friend, Kari Karr, who was just a bit older than our girls. Some would say she fought a long, hard battle against Cystic Fibrosis since she was a baby. I wouldn’t disagree, but I saw something a little different. I saw a young lady who kept her gaze steady on Jesus, who was her strong tower, her refuge, her rampart. She focused on him, and he fought for her.
When Jesus called her home, he didn’t lose, and neither did she.
I don’t understand why it was her time, but it reminds me of the night Valerie was told she had to go back into chemotherapy. I didn’t understand this either, especially after her treatment seemed to be going so well. I accepted it, and though I went to sleep that night sure that I was going to lose my wife, I felt and knew the presence and peace of Jesus like I never had before. Valerie didn’t end up going into chemo, and, to this day, the story of why she didn’t is simply hard to believe, even for me.
As for our Kari, we know she is with Jesus now because we read about it in scripture. The apostle Paul wrote:
“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord”. (II Corinthians 5:8 NKJV).
I think there is more, though, that excites me for her and for us. You see, scripture teaches us a couple of other truths. Throughout the Bible, we see our relationship with Jesus as that of him as the groom, and we (the Church) as the bride. And in the Day of The Lord, the rapture, we are presented to him whole and complete, ready for a honeymoon as inferred in the book of Daniel.
Confused? Stick with me and think with me…Paul also writes:
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV)
Where others believe in “soul sleep,” we believe that when we die we go directly to be with the Lord. I also believe though, that all believers, dead or alive, are presented to the groom as one body, the Church! You see, God is outside of time. He’s in eternity, and time places no constraints on Him! And just as I cannot fully understand the idea of a triune Godhead, I also cannot understand an existence outside of time. Scripture though, speaks to both!
We live by the truth that scripture interprets scripture. Now the only way I can reconcile the scripture from 1 Thessalonians 4 (and others) with the truth of being with Jesus at death is that Jesus is outside of time and we are all presented to him at the same time. In other words, I believe we all get there together!
The Church has wrestled with these questions for thousands of years, and you may not accept what I believe. That’s okay! It’s not really the point. The real question is are you dwelling in the shelter of the Most High? Is Jesus your refuge, your strong tower? Do you seek shelter under His wings as Psalm 91 speaks of? When your day of trial comes, and it will come, will you be prepared?
What about Kari? Did those promises not apply to her as well? I absolutely believe they did. Over and over we saw God move miraculously in her life, confounding even the doctors when they told her there was no hope. In the end though, when Jesus beckons, will you be ready?
On the morning Kari went to be with Jesus, she married her fiancé, Brad, in the hospital room. It was a beautiful culmination of her desire to both marry her best friend and to fall pain-free into the arms of Jesus. And for her, I believe she entered the presence of Jesus with her husband at her side, surrounded by her family… a beautiful reunion with the One who held her tight all the years of her life! A close friend said it best: “Kari was the only person I know who was married twice in the same day!” Beautiful!
May God keep you and bless you! May you find your rest in Him. Let Him be your strong tower! And may His face shine upon you!