Finding Hope, Redemption, Courage... from Cancer

"(At one time) my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend." - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And we know that suffering produces... hope

I was preparing this morning for the Revelation Precept Study I've been doing with a few other women and stumbled across this part in my Bible that really stood out to me today. For the past few days, I have been praying throughout the day for our friend who is in the hospital awaiting surgery, and it was this verse God brought to my mind as I was praying for him and his wife. He has coped with a relatively unpredictable health problem since he was a child and is on the cusp of seeing a potential elimination of that problem, if the surgery is successful. I would have thought, knowing what I do about him, that he'd be quiet and reserved and very, very careful about life, and yet, knowing him, in his wife's own words, he's actually kind of a daredevil.

That makes me smile.

Can I confess that sometimes perfect people bother me? You know who I'm talking about. There's just some people that seem to have perfect lives. The ones who are exhaustingly busy with jet-setting to the coolest, hottest places? The ones with perfectly behaved children that are each in five activities and won awards in all of them? The ones that have more than enough energy to get their kids to a different play date every day? Or, this is the killer for me - the ones whose facebook statuses are always about how nauseatingly in love they are? Don't get me wrong - I know there's some of you reading this, and please know that I, and the rest of us less-than-perfect-ones love you. We also love our husbands, our less-than-perfect children, and our less-than-perfect lives.

Please also know that I'm willing to bet that, at some point, even these perfect people have experienced pain. I bet that any of them, like us, could pinpoint moments that make us cringe, moments that shadow the rest of our lives, so that when we remember them, we still shake them out of our heads and say, 'let's not go there.' Sometimes they're the result of our own mistakes, other times they were things that happened to us. And no matter how many times we think we've dealt with them, don't we still - at least subconsciously - try to arrange our lives so that pain can't happen again? Sometimes that trauma is so great that an overarching sense carefulness affects every decision we make.

I know that I, at least, have been there, many, many times.

More confession time: I write in my Bible. (Don't tell, they might cite me for irreverence.) When my dad died, I asked mom if I could have his old Bible. It was really well-used, and yet really well-made, and I felt that as I worked through the grief of losing him, maybe the insights of things he'd underlined could help me, almost like he was there.

On November 29, 2004, I marked this one passage in my Bible, that my dad had marked before me: "...we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us...." My red markings in the margin from this date in 2004 say this: "how has suffering done any of this in me?"

It was a fair question to ask then. A lot of things were going well for me. I'd been through some things and come out the other side. I'd recently graduated nursing school, David and I had moved out of my parents' house, we were both gainfully employed and financially independent, we had a tight-knit church family, and several friends, and were living in the place we still call our "favourite" home. To cap it off, we'd celebrated from a month-long vacation.

The point is, I should have been happy. Deeper. Wiser. And yet, I was remarkably NOT.

There were reasons, of course. I'd just seen the second phase of disillusionment with my ideal job (I know, remarkably, not nursing, but a worship ministry position), I was not adjusting to the two days two nights ritual of full time nursing well at ALL, and I desperately missed that supportive, constantly encouraging and appreciative environment I'd enjoyed in my six years and double major at TWU.

I also finally had enough time on my hands to miss my dad.

But all those things that I had been through (and thought I'd conquered), the situations I called "suffering," if they were indeed suffering, and if I was indeed following after God the way I thought I had, why did I not see any of these things (perseverance, character, hope) in me? I didn't have perseverance, for every time something didn't go my way, I would - at least internally - still lose it. And for all the fooling I did myself and others, I didn't really have much true character, either. Character means courage, and around then I was afraid of just about everything, particularly of (gasp) the possibility of more suffering.

Oh, and the most glaring deficit... I definitely didn't have hope. I'd started to see myself as one of those people that just has to deal with harder things, that everything about life was going to be hard and troubled and, well, joyless.

So, not much room for hope.

But that night I realized that if I believed the Bible to be true, then this part also had to be true. So, I started to pray for hope. Not so that I would be happy, but so that I could say suffering had done something in me besides bitterness. If I was going to go through all these things, it better actually do something good.

It's been a kind of slow process.

The first thing that changed was that we found out we were going to have Noelle. In fact, her birthday is exactly 364 days after I'd written that note next to Romans 5. Her name means "Good news,"and she certainly has been. Despite all of the ups and downs we experience with our first child - poor guinea pig that she is! - the day she was born, I knew something had changed. I was remarkably happier, and more hopeful, simply by having someone else to concentrate on, and not thinking about my own needs so much.

And then the really tough things came, one after the other. Not just the usual trials of parenting, but other darker, more intense trials. Some threatening my marriage, others, my kids, still others, our family's spiritual well-being. Some of this stuff I don't even like to talk about. Ever.

Probably these were the worst trials of my life, each of them leading up to the concrete shocker - cancer. All of them have come since I've prayed for more hope in my life. But strangely enough, the prayer for hope has been answered, somehow not in spite of the difficulties but because of them. There have been tears since I've gotten sick, and frustration, and continual, utter exhaustion, but so much more hope. Maybe its partly because some of the things I was afraid of happening have happened, and I'm still okay.

It makes me a little more confident to risk. It makes me concentrate on what might be good around the corner instead of bad. And I gotta say, this is a much better way to live.

Now don't for one minute think I am suggesting we not be careful at all. Sometimes pain is there to teach us what situations - or even sometimes, people - to avoid. We aren't called to win everything, to make everything perfect. I think that's what it means when it says suffering produces... character. People with character learn when to risk and when to pull back.

Please let me be one of those people. And let it not stop there. Let character produce hope.

There's another note in my Bible next to that first one about Romans 5:5; this one is from November 28, 2009 - Noelle's fourth birthday, and five years after I originally asked myself that difficult questions. It reads, "He DID do this for me." I know why I wrote this. It's also why we gave our second daughter the name Elliana, which means, God has answered my prayer.

He has given me hope.

So why do I bother to tell you this? Because I think there's more than a few of us who might have questioned that verse before, or at least thought, are you kidding me? Suffering producing hope? Yup. It's the real deal. We don't need to be as scared of suffering as we have been. We don't need to fear that we'll end up as lonely old ladies (or men) with a ten-pound chip on our shoulders, ten cats, three rats, and no friends, all because our hard lives left us as bitter as horseradish (sorry, not a fan of that either).

I'm writing this on a particularly exhausting day. Sorry guys - this running around every day to take kids to school and doctors and dentists and groceries and yadda yadda yadda, the kind of days where you're out allll day, especially when that happens most days, that's for the birds. I am flat out on the couch right now and can barely cope with the idea of getting up to the bathroom. And, we still don't know if the new drug is working. The next set of bloodwork, which I won't have for at least six weeks, will tell us more. Despite all I've just written, we do appreciate your prayers for us, for me particularly, that Sprycel does bring down the cancer chromosome to an acceptable level. That all this exhaustion is doing something tangible.

The reality is, there's no guarantee its going to all get better. But it IS going to be okay. Suffering does produce hope. And hope does not disappoint us.

I believe that now. And it only took cancer to do it. Yikes. Too bad I couldn't learn it sooner.


  1. Lana, thanks so much for your transparency and brutal beautiful honesty. We continue to love and pray for you guys and love each time together.

  2. Lana, you are such a strong woman. If only I had half the strength you do. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, it makes me reflect on my own life and it's challenges. I am honored to be your co-worker and friend.