Thursday, April 15, 2010
Following is an excerpt from an email update I sent out to friends on Thanksgiving Day, 2006, about the time my wife, Ginger, began her battle against colon cancer.
Family and Friends,
In our circumstances, this year, Thanksgiving takes on a new significance. I woke up this morning with a determination in my heart to choose thankfulness, to celebrate God's predictable goodness, even in the face of adversity. But I also woke up to the 90 second intermittent noise of the pump sending the poisonous chemicals into my wife's body. They kill tissue. Hopefully, they kill cancer tissue. But in actuality they do not know how to distinguish invading cancer cells from Ginger. So their attack is indiscriminate. I woke up to the realization that, whether successful or not, the financial drain of all this medical care upon our family resources will be enormous. I woke up to the plain and simple fact: a piece of this decaying, death-driven cosmos is visiting us personally, and our lives will never be the same. And yet, I choose thankfulness. I am reminded of the oft repeated Old Testament concept: being thankful involves sacrifice. Thankfulness does not always spring naturally from our hearts. Thankfulness is often a sacrifice, and must be driven through pain, through sorrow.
Times like this test our faith; they test our concept of God; they test our theology. A theology that does not work in times of adversity is a theology that does not work.
I am not thankful for this cancer, though some of my Christian friends tell me I ought to be. I do not accept the mantra that God, in his wisdom, brought this circumstance to my wife. This cancer is a manifestation of decay, of death. It is a reminder that this entire universe is governed by a principle of death, and that there is no escaping its reach. I do not thank God for decay, for illness, for the works of darkness, for the overflow of evil.
I am thankful for every good and perfect gift. Those come from God. But not cancer.
I choose to be thankful, not for the cancer, but for the marvelous redeeming skills of our God. He is amazingly adept at redemption. I am thankful because thanksgiving, David reminds us, opens a channel for the revelation of God's deliverance. I am thankful because I know that, though God does not cause all things, he never-the-less causes them to to work out only for the good of those who love him, those moving in his purposeful callings. I am thankful because thankfulness in adversity is the ultimate vote of confidence, it is the ultimate expression of faith, it is the way in which we transform things, altering them somehow, actually sanctifying them, Paul says, so that all things strangely and wonderfully flow right into the purposes of God. And his purposes are always excellent. They are always wonderful. Always good. So I say, thank you, God.
No, God did not bring this cancer into Ginger's body any more than he caused the premature death of his friend, Lazarus (if he had caused it, the tears of Jesus were bogus!) But for those who walk in faith, there are no setbacks! God can be counted upon to use the adversity as a springboard to launch his children forward in his purposes. And one essential key to releasing his hand to do just that? Our thankfulness!
Ginger, with her hand in mine, breathed her last on Monday, April 12.
The most remarkable thing about my wife over the last three and one half years is this: She never complained about her life being cut short. Not once did I see sadness cross her brow. Occasional anger might flare against her unwelcome invader. She grimaced in pain more than once. But never sadness. Never did I hear “Oh, this is so unfair”, or “I wish I could live to see all my children start their families”, or “I so wanted to see my grandsons grow up.” Throughout her battle, Ginger exhibited courage and strength, incredible peace and joy. She did not cry. Not one time. Once, in a vulnerable moment as I held her weakening body, I started to sob in front of the children. She brought me up short and implored me, “You must be strong!”
In the days ahead, in times when that strength is no longer a virtue, I will know my share of darkness and deep sorrow; tears will be my frequent companion. But finding my way through them will be eased by the memory of her unfading joy, her sweet smile. She has imparted to me the gift of her courage, and her amazing peace ... peace which she knew could only come from the eternal source of undying peace ... our heavenly Father. The same Father who sustained Ginger will sustain me.