“God, we can’t do it anymore.”
That was me, whispering in the shower one night last week, hoping the steaming water would burn away the headache that comes with crying on and off all day.
Josh had told me that afternoon that he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Shock. God, how can this be happening? Why would You allow this? He’s thirty years old. We have a three year old and a baby boy – about to celebrate his first birthday. These were just the first of the seemingly endless parade of fears that barraged my mind that day.
People are telling us, “This is the cancer to get.” It’s one of the easiest to treat. Best prognosis. They caught it extremely early on – part of a routine physical, and Josh has no symptoms of sickness. They need to do more tests to make sure it hasn’t spread, but the doctors say that with removal of the thyroid and some follow up treatment, he should be completely fine.
All of that is good news – great news! We’re so thankful it was caught early, that he isn’t in pain at all, and we’re praying and hoping for the best. We’re thankful for the family, friends and loved ones who have stepped up to pray for us, support us, help us in any way possible.
It still scared me to death. In the past two and a half years, we’ve come to realize by experience that, as much as we’d like to believe it, things don’t always “turn out ok” in the end. Or rather, “ok in the end” doesn’t always mean that someone is healed or recovering or whatever else we are praying or hoping for. Bad things do happen. And they happen to all of us.
Transparency – Sharing in our Humanity
I’ve prayed and thought a lot about this post, what to share, what not to share. Josh and I earnestly desire that our blog would have an impact on people’s lives – would lift hearts and encourage, bring hope. I think part of that is sharing some of the realities we face and how they compel us to either turn to God or strike out on our own, as well as the consequences to both those choices.
So, please, hear my heart – the things I write today are an act of transparency, pointing out that we’re just people with real life struggles. I’m not complaining or venting, and I can think of so many people who have it way harder than us. I’m telling you that we understand that life can be awful, painful, maddening at times. I’m honestly admitting that I get angry, become fearful, wallow in grief…but my God is gracious. And I’ll tell you how I know it…
When Challenges Wear Us Down
We moved to L’viv two and a half years ago as missionaries. Within two months, we lost a baby. It was the only miscarriage I’ve had. In addition to the grieving that comes with losing a baby, our experience here trying to take care of the related medical needs was very confusing, embarrassing, and fairly matter of fact. It made the healing process very difficult and long.
That same week, a dear friend in the States passed away unexpectedly. It was heartbreaking not to be with loved ones to grieve alongside them and offer our support.
For the next six months, I was treated for chronic health problems and told that we should not try to have a baby until they were resolved. Nothing seemed to work or have any effect. The due date of our baby came and went, and we were still waiting. Any mom who has lost a baby in utero knows that Baby’s due date is a sort of monument in your mind. That day was sad and full of questions without answers.
Finally, we were given the green light to try again to get pregnant. We were overjoyed and understandably nervous when we did. Everything seemed fine – baby was great.
At five weeks, I started bleeding. I will never forget laying on my living room floor, tears streaming and everything in me crying out, “Why, God?!” We rushed to the doctor for an ultrasound, and she told me that there was a hemorrhage and that the gestational sac had become separated from the uterine wall by 75%. She said that I needed immediate hospitalization, but very gently and clearly informed me that the chance of the baby surviving was extremely small.
I was on complete bed rest for a week in the hospital. The entire week no one knew if Baby was alive or not. We talked with medical professionals in Ukraine and in the States. Here they told us that I had to remain on bed rest. In the States, they told us that I shouldn’t do anything strenuous, but that bed rest would not prevent miscarriage.
After one week, the ultrasound showed that the hemorrhage was subsiding but still fairly large. There was still a very high chance of miscarriage. I went home and was on total bed rest for a month. At the end of that month, we went in for an ultrasound. The doctor was amazed. She told me that it was a miracle Baby had made it. A friend of ours who is a surgeon said that it was only God who kept Baby alive – medically, he should have died.
The pregnancy was stressful and even painful, due to complications, but about eight months later, our precious Titus came along! I can’t express the joy and relief and thankfulness we felt and feel, looking at our little miracle baby! God blessed us abundantly.
When Titus was a week old, I woke up in the middle of the night with a high fever and violent chills for about two hours. The next day I was diagnosed with severe mastitis (infection of the breast). The ultrasound revealed that there was risk of an abscess forming. The doctors told me that if it did, it could be life threatening – they would have to perform surgery immediately, and I would need to quit nursing Titus.
We treated for a week with antibiotics, massage and anti-inflammatories. We were so thankful when the mastitis cleared and no surgery was needed! I was then diagnosed with thrush, as a result of the antibiotics. We treated unsuccessfully for a month before a second doctor told me the diagnosis had been wrong to begin with. She told me it was severe dermatitis, changed my treatment, and it cleared up in a couple weeks.
During that month of thrush and then dermatitis treatments, nursing was painful, but I was instructed to feed Titus every hour and a half around the clock to prevent mastitis recurrence. Despite those efforts, I developed mastitis two more times. Both times it cleared without surgery, thankfully.
Once the health problems were all resolved, we were relieved to “get on with life as normal.” But as the days and weeks passed, I began to notice that my “normal” didn’t seem quite right. I struggled with exhaustion and insomnia, woke up feeling like I was in a deep, dark hole, cried at stupid things throughout the day, battled with impatience and irritability – in short, I was not myself at all. It wasn’t a bad day or even a bad week. I looked at my life – wonderful husband, healthy children, all our needs provided for – there was really nothing to say that I should be feeling the way I did. After many months, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. Titus is eleven months old now, and I’m still battling it.
There were other challenges during these years – housing related, parenting and family related, challenges in ministry. Josh developed plantar fasciitis, a problem with his shoulder, and had ongoing problems with acid reflux. We lost another dear family member in the States and, once again, were not able to be present to support our loved ones during such a difficult time.
About one month ago, Josh found out that the company he works for is making some changes and moving his position back to the States. He will need to find a new job or raise additional missionary support in order to continue serving on the mission field. Neither of these are easy or quick fixes.
And then he went in for a routine physical. And they found cancer.
Thirty years old. A three year old and almost one year old. Married for six years. Cancer.
“God, we can’t do it anymore.”
Are Challenges Lessons? Punishment?
Throughout all of this craziness, our responses (mine especially) have not always been…well…ideal. I’ve gotten angry and questioned why God would allow things to happen. I’ve whined and complained and had my little pity parties. I’ve given in to crippling fear and wanted to do nothing but lay in bed and hide from the world. I’ve wanted to quit…whatever that means.
On the other hand, we’ve also tried to do all the right things. I have to say that Josh has been better at this than me. The right things spiritually – read the Bible, pray, go to church, have faith in God. The right things physically – exercise, try to rest, eat well, get sunshine. The right things emotionally – take time to be with people who lift us up, do things that we enjoy, take breaks, try to make a contribution to something outside ourselves.
I grew up hearing about grace, about God’s love, about how we can’t do anything to deserve those things. I know it. But, still, throughout all these challenges we’ve had, I’ve often thought, “God, you must be trying to teach me something. I’ll get it – I promise. I must just have a hard head. I must just be fighting You on something. Maybe I’m being punished for something. I’ll read my Bible more. I’ll pray. I’ll have a good attitude. I’ll stop complaining…Then things will be ok.”
And then Josh said to me, “It’s cancer.”
And after a long day of impossible thoughts and fears, I stood in the hot shower, laid my head against the wall and whispered, “God, we can’t do it anymore.”
There is not an ounce of strength left in me to believe. I can no longer “be strong and of good courage.” I’m tapped.
So, the next morning, after a long night of tossing and turning, I splashed some water on my puffy eyes, made some coffee and tried to muster the strength to start the day.
By 9:30, I was completely a wreck. Balling my eyes out, scared to death.
At about 10:00, I sat down with my Bible and devotionals and actually had the thought: “Let the bartering begin.” “God, if I read my Bible enough, will you heal Josh? If I have enough faith, will everything be ok?” I’m sure we’ve all been there – even if we know it’s wrong, theologically speaking.
And as I opened the devotional book, Streams in the Dessert, I read this:
I had fainted unless…(Ps. 27:13)
How great is the temptation at this point! How the soul sinks, the heart grows sick, and the faith staggers under the keen trials and testings which come into our lives in times of special bereavement and suffering.
“I cannot bear up any longer, I am fainting under this providence. What shall I do? God tells me not to faint. But what can one do when he is fainting?”
What do you do when you are about to faint physically? You cannot do anything. You cease from your own doings. In your faintness, you fall upon the shoulder of some strong loved one. You lean hard. You rest. You lie still and trust.
It is so when we are tempted to faint under affliction. God’s message to us is not, “Be strong and of good courage,” for He knows our strength and courage have fled away. But it is that sweet word, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Hudson Taylor was so feeble in the closing months of his life that he wrote a dear friend: “I am so weak I cannot write; I cannot read my Bible; I cannot even pray. I can only lie still in God’s arms like a little child, and trust.”
This wondrous man of God with all his spiritual power came to a place of physical suffering and weakness where he could only lie still and trust.
And that is all God asks of you, His dear child, when you grow faint in the fierce fires of affliction. Do not try to be strong. Just be still and know that He is God, and will sustain you, and bring you through.
God keeps His choicest cordials for our deepest faintings.
Stay firm and let thine heart take courage. (Ps. 27:14, After Osterwald).
Stay firm, He has not failed thee
In all the past,
And will He go and leave thee
To sink at last?
Nay, He said He will hide thee
Beneath His wing;
And sweet there in safety
Thou mayest sing.
Nothing had changed. Every circumstance was the same. Josh still had cancer. We still had no answers as to what would happen. But, it was almost like a tangible, physical sense of sweet relief passed over me (and Josh when I shared with him) – recognizing that in all our fear, all our exhaustion, all our anger, we didn’t have to be strong. God says, “Just rest.”
I’m not going to lie and say that from that moment we stopped being fearful or sad or even angry at times. I’ve had my rants and freak-outs and burst into tears in the most public, embarrassing places. Josh has gotten overwhelmed with it all and worries about caring for his family.
But that’s the point. It’s not about us being strong or being “good Christians” (whatever those are!). It’s not even that we don’t have to do those things…we literally can’t. And there’s a blessing in that, because we know the One who can be strong – who is strength personified.
And so here we are: weak, faulty people, leaning on the strong shoulder of the One who loves us. Fearful, anxious, stressed out and overwhelmed, but leaning on the strong shoulder of the One who knows every answer we lack. Broken. Empty. Heartsick. But leaning on the strong shoulder of the One who gave His very life so that we – in these moments of desperation – could hear Him say, “Be still. Know that I am God. Just rest.”
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” – John 1:16, ESV