This month would have marked my three year anniversary of being cancer free….that is until the cancer returned. To my lung. For the second time. On August 29 I went in for surgery to remove a tumor in my right lung. Due to its location near arteries, my surgeon took out the entire lower lobe of my lung. This recovery has been brutal. It has been painful in so many ways—physically, emotionally and spiritually. And yet as I look back on these past five weeks, I have watched the world reeling as hurricanes and storms have devastated and destroyed islands, parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. There have been political storms which is nothing new, and then the shooting in Las Vegas last week which brings to the forefront once again the gun debates, mental illness awareness, and safety concerns. This is just Western news. Atrocities continue to happen daily across the globe. Human trafficking, abuse, rape, addiction, genocide, poverty, hunger, disease, corruption. Our world is broken. When tragedies, natural disasters, and evil come crashing down in quick succession, people react with deep guttural responses. As I have been recovering from my personal Category Five storm, I have gone into dark and hollow places in my mind. It has been a slow recovery, one in which I have many times felt no hope and no future. But as I emerge and try to adjust back into a normal routine, I see too, that many of us are trying to find sense in what seems hopeless and futile.
When tragedy or evil strikes, I find that humans respond in two ways. The first is with questions. We ask WHY. We question life’s meaning and purpose. We get anxious or depressed because we feel out of control. We feel that there is no solution, or that we can’t make a difference. We get mad at God, at government, at injustice. We SEARCH. We try to make sense of the horror.
The second response is with a determined mindset to appreciate the preciousness and fragility of life. We vow to love more fully, live more adventurously. We plan to buy the shoes, eat the cake, and dance with reckless abandon. We make a new list of priorities—we will work less and play more; we will hug our kids and say “I love you” every day. For many of us, these strong feelings last about a week, maybe two, until our lives go back to “normal”—with the everyday tasks and activities and schedules. The news dissipates, lives resume, priorities are shelved….until the next tragedy wakes us up again.
In the midst of all this, if you look, you will see hope. You see it in the first responders, in the neighbors who help, in the medical teams, in the bystanders who reach out to strangers, in the rescue workers who show up, in the aid that is sent, in the groups who show up to begin the rebuilding.
When I look at things from the perspective of all that is happening around us, and how humanity responds, I realize that my private storm and my painful recovery mirror these same reactions.
First, the questions. When I was first diagnosed with cancer back in 2013, I never once questioned God or asked WHY. When the cancer moved to my lung in 2014, I still didn’t ask why. But this time, three years and nine surgeries later, I have asked a billion whys. Why did the cancer come back? Why did I have endless complications from a previous surgery? Why did my surgery get postponed? Why was my recovery in the hospital double the time that I had anticipated? Why didn’t God take away my pain? Why couldn’t I sleep? Why wasn’t God answering a single prayer in the way I wanted? Why was He allowing me to suffer? Why couldn’t I find answers from Him? Why couldn’t I find hope in Him? Why should I even pray? Why couldn’t I get out of the anxious thoughts in my head? Why wouldn’t God give me the peace He promises? Why were my fears taking me hostage? It was an endless cycle of anxiety, fear, pain, hopelessness. And then I would beat myself up for not having more faith, more trust, more hope, more belief. Yes, I was “shoulding” on myself, knowing in my head (but not my heart), that I needed to rely on God’s steadfast promises even when I didn’t feel any hope.
One day I felt a glimmer of light in the darkness of my mind and I went out on my cabana in the backyard with my coffee, my Bible and my journal. I hadn’t opened my Bible or my journal in three weeks. I had barely been outside in three weeks. I turned to the book of Job because I knew it was all about suffering and pain, and I wanted to be reminded of the END, the OUTCOME, the HOPE that came about from it. Near the end of the book, in chapter 40, God says to Job: “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”( 40: 2) God continues to reveal His sovereignty and might, and Job finally replies in chapter 42: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you….I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me.” He comes before God with humility, awe, and repentance. In the end, God restores Job physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally. There was a feast and a celebration because God is in the business of restoration and transformation.
I was reminded once again that God’s ways are often mysterious, that He doesn’t have to or need to answer my questions, that many things I will never understand on this side of heaven. I found that my control freak nature of wanting all things perfectly aligned and ordered will never be satisfied. I came to a place where I found some peace simply believing that God is with me. That’s it. He is with me. I stopped demanding answers and critiquing His ways and allowed myself to settle into His comfort. It wasn’t this huge revelation; I didn’t feel instantly better and changed, but it was a start.
Second—appreciating the preciousness of life. There is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to come face to face with your fears and anxieties and to want to suck the marrow out of the bone of life. During my chemo sessions, my hospital stays, my recoveries, I realized how desperately I wanted to feel energy and strength so I could get all I could out of this life. There are people I want to reach out to, friends and family I want to love better, places I want to go, goals I want to pursue, a story I want to tell. I tell myself that this recovery is too long and too slow, that I need to get up, get out, and get on with living. I don’t want to simply exist, I want to thrive. But right now I am slowly accepting the fact that I don’t have my usual stamina and energy. I am trying to give myself grace to do less and read more and be still. I am valuing the preciousness of dear friends and family. I am appreciating the patience of my husband and the sweetness of my boys. I am enjoying the stillness of my backyard and the softness of my sheets. It is hard being still. I am finding that I don’t have to learn anything from it. I can just BE in it.
This journey is taking its toll on me. I have been at the end of myself so many times. I don’t have answers that I want. I don’t have strength of my own. I live in a mix of anxiety and fear blended with gratitude and appreciation. It is an odd concoction, but it is where I am. Maybe your journey and your questions are causing you fear and anxiety or sleeplessness or depression. Maybe you feel overwhelmed or tired or weak. I don’t have a tidy packaged response for you. I pray that you wrestle with it, confront it, argue with it, and are okay to just BE in it for awhile. I pray that you shout out your questions to God, that you wrestle with Him and search for Him and be still in Him. You won’t get answers to all your questions, but maybe you will get to a point where you are okay with simply knowing God is with you. Maybe you can be okay, just for a moment, to be still and rest in Him. It is those little moments that are getting me through. It is those quiet still moments that give me the hope amidst the storm. I pray that you can find some nuggets of hope amidst your storm. The world is broken and God restores. Settle into that and be still.
Beautifully written, Kirsten! May God bless you sweetie through this storm of yours. I am so sorry that you are going through this terrible journey. I cannot even imagine, but you are definitely a strong and faithful woman. I will continue to keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I pray that you will feel God's grace and His peace come over you. I pray that your recovery will move along quickly and you will be restored back to your energetic self. Love you and big big hugs to you!
Kirsten, You truly are gifted with the ability to express your very difficult journey. Thank you for opening that journey to us and allowing us to hear your heart. I really am so touched by your honesty and appreciate your heart. I will keep you in prayer for healing and for comfort. I have so many people around me suffering in so many terrible ways whether it be a loss of a child, or a suffering child or a friend/ family member with cancer. It hurts so much watching and not being able to do anything except just love on them and serve them and pray. You are an angel Kirsten. Love and prayers sent your way
Dear Kirsten...all your "whys" have touched more whos" than you'll ever know. Your pain and transparency being fragile and broken speak volumes. Thank you for those quiet times when we don't hear from you...that also speaks to us. For the times of joy and jubilation, we rock the world with you too. We love you Kirsten, just the way you are.
As always your honesty to wrestle"out loud" invites me and I am sure others, to feel less crazy. You continue to be a shero.
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