The tests kept coming. First a physical. “It feels like a cyst, but with your family history we’d better get an ultrasound to make sure.” Next an ultrasound given by a noncommittal technician. A biopsy followed, and one of the worst moments of my life: calling my mother with the news that it was positive. Then a diagnosis of stage 2 cancer. Suddenly I had a “cancer care coordinator.” A mammogram, bone scan and MRI swiftly followed. The chemotherapy planned for me could damage my heart, and the oncologist ordered an echocardiogram to establish a baseline.
So there I sat in another waiting room, feeling like a screen character in a story line I didn’t want. Lost in a mist of self pity and worry, I paid no attention to the woman sitting opposite me. She started the conversation somehow; I truthfully don’t remember. It came out that she was there for a routine follow up echocardiogram. Robin mentioned that she had been diagnosed with cancer some years before, and then my story unfolded. She listened kindly. It was okay and normal to be overwhelmed, she assured me, but believe it or not this would pass. Before I knew it, I’d be years away from this journey. “It’s been over seven years for me,” she said. “And you know something? When I completed my treatments, I put all my results, cards, and tests into a manila envelope and shoved them in a drawer. I even forget where I put the envelope. Time does go on, and it will for you too.”
Well. This was encouraging, although it sounded like the women who assured me that I’d sleep through the night again and that all the children would eventually dress themselves. Nice in theory, but unlikely in practice. Nevertheless, I thanked Robin sincerely for her encouragement, wished her well, and went into the office for my test with a slightly lighter heart.
Life went on, and it wasn’t much fun. There are a lot of minutes in eight rounds of strong chemotherapy. Hair loss was horrible. Then came major surgery and painful recovery, when the verse that came to mind most often was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I certainly had a lot of weakness to offer.
Life went on. I could stand up straight again, my hair grew back. Children grew taller, and could all feed themselves, and life shifted and changed. My husband started running again, and encouraged me to try it. I’d never been able to run a mile, but why not? I slowly became a runner. Things change.
Last week we decided to tackle the clutter in our bedroom. We went through our closets, swept under the bed, and rummaged through every drawer, filling up bags with things that we no longer needed. You know where this is going. As I lifted items from the third drawer, I saw it: my own manila folder. I’d put all the tests, lab results and other health documents in the folder a few years before, shoved it in the drawer, and forgot about it. Eight years later, events had come full circle, as Robin told me they would.
When we’re in the middle of the storm, it’s hard to believe that the clouds will ever break. I can think of half a dozen friends right now who are going through some genuinely painful storms, and probably wondering if things will ever improve. It can be
insensitive and sound so trite to say “hold on, it will get better,” but there’s truth in that statement too. No situation, even the bleakest, lasts forever.
In Matthew 14, there is the well known story of Jesus walking on water. Recently a friend pointed out something I’d never thought about before. Just prior to this event, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, with leftovers. What happens next? “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:22-27)
If you’re like me, the part of the story that you remember is Peter’s failed attempt to walk on water, and the disciples’ fear. But why were they in the middle of the lake in the first place? Because that’s where Jesus told them to go. They were obeying his direction, and still sailed into a storm. The boat was buffeted by waves because “the wind was against it.” It’s what nature does. The storm was real, and so was their fear.
And what does Jesus do? Does He call encouragement to them from the shore? No. He walks toward them, putting Himself into the heart of their storm. He doesn’t minister from a safe distance. True, His appearance is so unexpected that they are freshly terrified, but He “immediately” reaches out to them with strength and the command to “Take courage! It is I.”
Jesus can walk into my storms too. Often His care shows up through others like Robin, who spoke a word when I needed to hear it. The meals, household help, and child care were other tangible ways that the body of Christ ministered to me, and are powerful ways that we can serve others when life hurts. The God we worship meets us where we are, in the middle of the broken pieces. In every change, He remains faithful. Over and over, He calls to us, “Take courage! It is I.”