My friend has cancer. Stage IV breast cancer.
When I think of Laura, I think of our times together before her illness intruded. Our talks were always candid. Early on, we compared notes about what it was like to walk as one with our polar opposite husbands. Further along, we discussed infertility and the struggle to believe in God’s provision in the face of barrenness. Later, when blessed with children, we talked about motherhood and our mutual sense of inadequacy for the job. Adoption followed and connected our families even more as she added a precious adopted daughter to her already amazing biological clan of 3. Eventually, she coached me along as I limped through my one and only year as a homeschooler.
Our times together were always authentic, always full of laughter and always ended with mutual encouragement as we challenged each other to love God better and love our neighbor with more grace. Through the years I have learned a lot from Laura. But this trial, this is the one that has left me in awe of her; humbled by her courage and her candor. She is fighting well.
Her suffering is intensifying and I find myself in that place of impotence where most family members and friends are eventually left, longing to DO something to help, but relegated to the role of a frustrated observer. Sometimes I am full of faith, other times I cry out… Why her? Why this? Why now?
Yesterday during worship, my thoughts again went to Laura and I caught myself pondering her circumstances. As a child of God, loved and accepted for who she is, redeemed from sin and promised a beautiful future, she really doesn’t have to fight well. She could be bitter, complain, give in to pity and whine her way through, and she would still be cherished, loved and saved. So what is the value in her bearing up under suffering with grace? Of ignoring her own pain and choosing, rather, to pray over fellow patients even after having just received chemo treatment, herself? In the whole scheme of things, what difference does it make that she continues to be her beautiful, transparent self, challenging us to love God better and love our neighbor with more grace? What is she fighting for?
Laura is fighting for what our forefathers of the faith saw, for that which is invisible but more real than the physical eye can perceive. She is banking on the fact there truly is a heavenly host watching, that her struggles matter, and that her undivided heart influences not only the physical, but also the spiritual realms. By her dogged faith, she is declaring she BELIEVES and aligns herself with the cloud of witnesses who, against all odds, deposited their hope in God’s sovereignty, His perfect character and His deliverance. She has chosen not to reject the race set out for her, but to run it with humility and steadfastness. She is sharing in Christ’s sufferings and receiving His power, the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead. And her suffering, her faithfulness, her candor are together increasing MY faith.
I know Laura. I know her humanity, her penchant for wanting things organized and orderly. Her quick wit and her ready laughter. How her emotions sometimes betray her and how her pain can wear her down. How she has always opened her heart to mentor others and how she is an amazing mom and wife. Now, there is more mystery in her life than certainty; more fog than clarity. Yet she marches on, and I am strengthened. If she can keep the faith despite such profound suffering, then I too have hope that, under similar circumstances, I would be given sufficient grace to stand. Her life, in its raw beauty, makes me remember what is important. It also reminds me that my life is not my own and that my choices make a difference. I want to be like Laura who, although faced with an uncertain future, has nonetheless chosen to make God her Rock and permit Him to transform her increasingly into His Son’s likeness.
As the worship service continued, I was reminded that by praising God, in spite of our circumstances, we declare His victory before it actually comes. My tears still flow because I want desperately to ease my friend’s pain. I pray daily for her healing and I wish I could change her situation. Nonetheless, I never want to diminish the weight of her faith that spurs me, and others, on to choose the Higher Path. Laura has chosen to find her strength in Christ and has set her heart unequivocally toward Him.
As Easter approaches and I contemplate our Savior’s suffering, given a cup to drink that He would have preferred be taken from Him, I consider my friend who has been given a cross to bear that is impossible except for faith in God’s promises. Her life matters. Her faith is changing lives. And her victory is sure.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca (Place of Weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” –Psalm 84:5-6
Hebrews 10:19 – 12:28