When I picked up the phone, I thought it was going to be one of those “catching up” conversations that occur when longtime friends have not communicated for a while. Straight off, Pat told me she had cried when she read our New Years letter about Luke and Shannon’s battle with cancer. Feeling bad about making her cry, I attempted to shift the focus from the pain of the previous year, to the hope we have as Luke and Shannon re-enter the normalcy of jobs and ordinary life. Then I heard Pat say:
“You aren’t going to believe this Kathie, but last October I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Regular exams and tests never picked it up . . . they think I may have had it for several years but just didn’t know it.”
Stunned by Pat’s words, I heard little else as the words stage 4 cancer assaulted my thinking. No longer naive about what the term means, tears welled up in my eyes as inwardly I cried out, “Please God, NO!”
Pat and her husband Jim have been friends of our family for many years. Pat served our community well as the Director of our local Pregnancy Help Center. Jim was a Navy Chaplain before coming here to start Hope Counseling Center and eventually to Pastor a church. I am especially grateful for the godly wisdom and insight Jim imparted to me as he oversaw my counseling internship when I was completing my degree. I continued to work at Hope for many years under Jim; I continue to value his insights when facing difficult cases or personal challenges.
As Pat continued to talk, my mind spun in dizzying circles. I thought about how Pat and Jim had dedicated their lives to Christ; how they sacrificed much to impact the lives of countless numbers of people for Him. I found myself wondering, “Why must they have to face such pain and heartache? Couldn’t they (and their family) be spared the ugliness of cancer?” Inwardly I caved to the growing sickness I felt in my gut. I searched for words to offer hope and comfort to my friend . . . but the pantry of my mind was sparse that day.
Then Jim got on the phone. He admitted that they had both reeled with the unexpected news. He then talked about how they struggled with the age old dilemma Christians face in times such as these: If we have the assurance of heaven, is it wrong to cling to life? The Apostle Paul also wrestled with this question in Philippians 1:21-21:
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but . . . .”
I appreciated Jim’s perspective when he answered my unspoken question by sharing how they had decided to pray:
“This is what it boils down to, Kathie, we are praying for HEALING or . . . A HEALTHY DEATH.”
I was pierced to the core as I reflected on the wisdom of Jim’s prayer for his beloved Pat. Both HEALING and A HEALTHY DEATH honor Christ and keep Him in the center of their thinking. They would continue to do what they could do to care for Pat as God opened doors of opportunity. In the mean time, Pat was doing what she could do to encourage others as she passed on the wisdom she was gaining through this process.
When my husband and I went to visit Jim and Pat a few days later, we were blessed beyond measure. Unable to walk because of the pain, Pat met us at the door on her little scooter. Once settled in her special chair, it was hard to see her squirm as the pain came and went. Even so, it was an afternoon I will not soon forget as we talked, laughed and reflected on God’s goodness.
Since our visit, the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 4 has been a constant encouragement:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
Are you feeling “hard pressed . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . or, struck down”? Then be encouraged that if you are in Christ, you are “not crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed!” Truly, that is very good news! But it gets better Friend! As we take hold of the conclusion of chapter four, we discover the key to persevering through any hardship to the other side:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”
All to His Glory!