Author’s note: Last evening I was given the privilege of being one of four speakers at the Ladies’ Night Out Advent dinner at our new church. (Well, we’ve been here for several months now, so maybe it isn’t really new anymore.) Anyway! We each had a topic assigned to us that fit in with the Advent theme. I was given the topic of Hope. Because the majority of my friends and family live elsewhere and were unable to attend, I was asked to share here what I shared last night. Those who have walked this journey with us and prayed so diligently for us will recognize that this is very much the pared-down, bare-bones version of our story…but seriously, I only had about 10 minutes, so I tried to fit in as much of it as I could. God is SO good, so very faithful, and regardless of whether or not those of you who will hear/read this for the first time understand this, I am STILL the most blessed person I know–mainly because I’ve been blessed to know my God in such personal ways. I don’t wish our story on anyone else, but I certainly would wish what we’ve learned about our God and His faithfulness for each of you. I hope that this will encourage you to seek to know Him more intimately and that it will spark an Advent-attitude that will stay with you throughout the coming of the season and celebration of the Coming of the Christ.
My topic is Hope. I’m telling you that up front because some of what I will share later doesn’t sound very hopeful at times.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…” That’s the start of the 6th chapter of Isaiah. While those first 7 words sound pretty mild when you just read through them, Isaiah’s words had a far different story to tell. It was a time of loss, shock, and grief; a time of unknown outcomes, a time of chaos and changed plans. Things had been going so well for God’s people…and then disaster struck.
It is safe to assume that almost everyone in this room has had at least one such experience. For us—my husband Mike and I—it started in October of 1997. It had already been a big year for us. I had changed jobs, we had moved and he had required surgery. We got that out of the way and proceeded with our plans.
You see, I’m a planner. I’m generally well-organized and I tend to think ahead. Up to that point in my life, things had pretty much gone according to the schedule I’d set for myself when I was just about 12 or 13. My plan was “simple”: High school, college, grad school, leave MS and find a job in Atlanta, find the man I would love forever, get married, settle down and make sure the careers were established so that by the time we’d be married for 5 years, we would have a stable home and be ready to have children. Easy, right?! So far, so good. Everything was on schedule…until we were about 5 months away from our 5th anniversary.
Too many details to go into led up to a quick and slightly panicked Thursday night trip to our local ER with the possibility of heart symptoms where they declared Mike’s heart to be “functioning just fine…but there’s something near it on the x-rays that we need you to get checked out.” Four days later, he was told that it was almost 90% certain that he had cancer…and our normal suddenly vanished.
They weren’t wrong. It was cancer, wrapped around his heart and extremely aggressive. According to x-rays , it had more than doubled within the past 5 months…and it had been missed on the x-rays prior to his earlier surgery. Because of the location of the tumor, he was told that with treatment, his chances for survival were less than 30%; without treatment—less than 15%.
We did everything right that was within our power. We had great Drs. We had the elders of our church anoint him with oil and pray. He was on prayer lists literally around the world and so we began the adventure God had chosen for us instead of the plans we had made. There were many extremely difficult days. It was during this time that I managed to have the absolute worst day of my entire life.
At the end of what had been an ugly-long and beyond-challenging day, I stood in my living room and I felt that on that day, I had not managed to do a single thing to make a positive difference on any front. I was so tired I hurt. I wasn’t a good wife. I wasn’t a good employee. I couldn’t fix my husband and I couldn’t make anyone (including me!) do what they were supposed to do with the great attitude that I just knew that God expected us to have. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was exhausted because I had taken on God’s job to “fix things”. I was trying to make things as perfect as I could for everyone else in my life so that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced by what was happening to my plans…and quite frankly, for perhaps the first time in my life, my best just wasn’t going to be good enough.
As I stood there with tears rolling down my face in utter defeat, I remembered a verse I’d read long ago. I was so tired that I couldn’t begin to think about where the verse could be found, but deep within my soul, I heard it out loud…just a thread (maybe from the Psalms?) that reminded me that God inhabits the praises of His people. I needed Him more than I ever had before, but I couldn’t begin to think where to start on a praise list, so I just stood there and sang. I started with a song we’d learned at our previous church home: “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord!”
In the beginning, my version wasn’t very loud and it wasn’t joyous and it wasn’t even very pretty, but all of a sudden I understood that song in a brand new way. Sometimes praising God IS a sacrifice. Sometimes praising Him doesn’t feel natural. Sometimes it isn’t even fun, but when you do what God says even when it doesn’t make any sense, He still honors the obedience. Standing there, I made the deliberate choice to praise Him even though…no matter what…because I needed Him and I needed Him to show up. And you know what? He did. He showed up and gave me comfort. He gave me strength. He reminded me that I was His and that I was not alone. He reminded me that HE was in charge and that He had a plan…and it was for my good whether it looked or felt like it right then or not. In short, He gave me hope.
Over the next year, we became the poster children for hope to people we didn’t even know. God used our Drs to send us to places we had never seen…ostensibly for treatments, but in fact, because God knew there were people there who were hurting and they needed some hope. Sometimes, they called or came looking for us—even at work! Sometimes God’s Name was never even spoken, but we were both given opportunities to share our story and our peace and help fellow patients, spouses and family members find better or more practical ways to handle their own similar news.
This past August, we celebrated Mike’s 15th year of being completely cancer-free! He is living proof that God is able to do whatever He chooses. So, why am I sharing something that happened all those years ago with you tonight? I do so because our battles didn’t end there. In fact, they had just begun. Within 6 months of his being declared cancer free, Mike was part of an economic downsizing at his company and we lost his job. God—in evidence of His never-ending humor sent us back to MS–to my very own home town I’d been so determined to leave, and where there were no jobs in my field! He kept us in place there for almost 15 years. Again, not part of my plan at all, but definitely part of His.
While the treatments were successful, they also meant the end of our ability to have children naturally and because of Mike’s medical history, we were not considered as viable candidates for adoption. Additionally, within the past year and a half, he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure which we are told is the much-delayed, but direct result of the very treatments that God used to keep him here. We will go this coming Friday for another surgical procedure to help him manage some of the possible side effects of our current challenge.
Through it all, God has remained faithful and allowed us to use our faith and our experiences to help others and point them to Him. While it is often tempting to ask “WHY ME?” in times of difficulty, we’ve chosen to ask a different question: “Why NOT us? Who better to show the world that God is real, in control and that He is still on the throne–that Joy and HOPE are more than possibilities, they are a REALITIES!–than two of His children going through whatever He chooses to send their way?
You see, we already have the Hope of Christ inside of us! We get to CHOOSE to access it, CHOOSE to display it, and CHOOSE to share it! No matter what else we face, no one can take that away from us! We get to have HOPE no matter what we face because HE is our hope.
Isaiah said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord and He was high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple…”
I say, “In the times of shock and pain and trauma and through the death of many dreams—in the changing of all my plans—on the good days and on the bad ones and on the in-between days, too—EVERY SINGLE DAY–I SEE the Lord and He is high and lifted up and the train of His robe fills the temple…and He gives me hope.”