Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cancer and Questions Pt. 2: The Beginning of an Answer

Fourteen years ago, my parents came home from the doctor with surprising news. "Daddy has cancer," they explained. "We've decided that whether I live or die, we want my life to glorify God." 

Six small kids listened, scratching their heads. Even as the second oldest, I did not know what "cancer" meant and certainly couldn't imagine how something like my dad's death would glorify God. But over the next four years of surgeries, month-long visits to out-of-state specialists, and the smell of hospitals, I began to understand what cancer was. It was the enemy. It was the thief that came to steal my father's life from before our eyes; that reduced his invincible frame to that of a child; that tore our family apart on holidays and throughout the year, orphaning us even before either parent had died. 

Cancer was the weapon the Enemy wielded against my father day after day, eating his insides like a vulture feasting on a wounded animal. Cancer was also the weapon the Enemy wielded against me, devouring my insides each time I saw my father weak and helpless in a hospital bed, or gasping for air after offering to dance with me in our living room for five minutes, or needing to be carried out of our school play on a stretcher by four large men who could barely restrain his convulsions. 

By the time of his death, I knew well the meaning of cancer, but still not of God's glory through something so ugly, so devastating, so evil. It was not for another four years until I began to see how the trauma of my childhood had actually begun to serve me in the transition to adulthood. Somehow I began to realize: having watched a parent cry out to God in the midst of unspeakable suffering taught me that the Christian life is not one of rosy formulas, as if God were a puppet on my string; that I do not get to manipulate my life circumstances by performing in a certain way or belonging to a certain religious club, and that sometimes joy in the Lord comes not through happiness, but through hell on earth. 

I began to realize that our family having lost everything financially might have actually been a form of rescue: once expecting a brand new car at fifteen, I knew the hold that things-- shiny, new, abundant-- had on my heart and how I might have clung to them as god in the wake of crisis had they been available to me. Losing them made me realize that my identity, and my hope, are not dependent upon them; and that God delights in providing for His children when there is no fat family bank account to take the credit. 

Somehow, I began to find myself no longer despairing, but dancing, and eager to share with others about a God whose promises are not dependent on circumstances working out the way I think they should; a God who filled me with joy through the most devastating experience of my life; a God who literally used the weapon of the enemy for His own victory and my own good. And that's when I realized that my father's prayer had come true. God had used even his death for glory. I was parented and fathered through the loss of my father more profoundly and meaningfully than ever possible through his life, and as much as I still miss my father and still feel the waves of sorrow and grief that will never cease to come in this life, I can honestly say that his death was not in vain.

Tomorrow, my follow-up test is first thing in the morning, so these thoughts and emotions are heavy on my mind. As I ponder the possibility of a similar path as my father's, God reminds me first that cancer is an enemy. As His beloved daughter, I am called to approach Him with boldness and ask for grace, healing, victory over illness. I am called to pray, just as God's son Jesus prayed, that this "cup" be taken from me. It is not weakness to ask for that and to mean it. In fact, it's weakness not to. 

But the other thing God reminds me of this morning is the way in which He uses even the weapon of the Enemy as an instrument of glory, and that even if cancer does come, it will not be the end of God's blessing in my life. It will not mean that I am abandoned, overlooked, or unloved. It will not mean that I merely do not have enough faith or did something wrong. It will not mean that God's power is insufficient. It will simply mean that all of those things will be put on display in a different way than I would choose for myself. 

In the end, His glory and my good are not up for debate. I don't need to fear or worry that those things may not happen in my life. They will. That means that whether cancer is a part of my story or not, it will not have the final word. And there is great peace-- even joy-- in that. 


Lauren Winstead said...

Oh Hannah - I just love reading about how God works in your life. This literally made me tear up! Praying for you during this time - God is using you even through your blog to bring Him glory!

dstone said...

I will be praying for you! Please keep us updated through your blog.
Denise Stone