Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer
A well care visit finds a mass that results in a cancer diagnosis, multiple surgeries, aggressive treatment, a colostomy and a new normal. How do you move forward when treatment options seem more fearsome than the disease? When cancer returns? This book is a collection of thoughts shared with honest emotion, humor and grace from the perspective of faith in God. 4/2018: Resources section added. More
Two words flung into the heights of heaven out of the depths of King David’s anguished, sin-broken heart thousands of years ago. I read them sitting at my desk surrounded by donor letters and marketing materials at my job. I was dwelling on my own version of impending distress. A well-care visit scan had found a mass deep in my pelvis and I was scheduled for surgery. The doctors were hopeful that the mass was just a fluid filled sac, but the potential of the mass being cancerous was real. The term “possible resection” had been spoken quietly during the consultation with the surgeon. I did not give that word much thought; surely this mass was something they would remove without complications. I spent a month getting tests while preparing for a major fundraising campaign. A gala was being planned to raise scholarship funds for our students. The event would feature a very popular former governor from Arkansas.
A month after the gala and a week before the scheduled procedure I was in my office finishing up thank you letters and packets to be distributed to gala attendees. I was making notes about next steps for when I would return to work after surgery. I was quite certain that would be in six to eight weeks.
And then I read the verse written by King David in Psalms 56:12.
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
The words struck a chord. I was tired. There is never stress in ministry careers, right? We Christians are supposed to have the corner on trusting Jesus. Yet I was longing for God to restore my joy. I could sign up for that. I liked the request and wanted to apply it to my life. And how interesting. David’s plea went on to ask God for a “willing spirit”. He knew there was a challenge ahead. My own spirit resonated with that statement. The phrase was beautiful. It was quote-worthy for a charming Facebook status. And then it got uncomfortable. The implications were overwhelmingly serious. Perhaps I was entering something that would require God to carry me. “Sustain” sounds like a long time. Sustain should be the pedal on the right side of the piano. What if this was not the resolution of my physical problem in a neat package. What if it was just the start of … something requiring great sustenance.
I wept. I did not want to need sustenance. I wanted my joy fixed without the side helping of grueling agony. I flung my own desperate prayer to God as I read the end of the verse. Sustain me.
A week or two later I woke up from surgery with a colostomy and a diagnosis of colon cancer. An ugly thing. A non-glamorous humiliating expression of disease that was threatening my life and capsizing my idea of how life was to “be” at forty years of age. This was the opposite of joy and a very unwelcome chance to rediscover God, surrender my spirit to His care, and practice the daily privilege of asking Him to sustain me.
Life sometimes makes you feel like you don’t want to feel a thing. Like one more problem or trauma or pain will tip you over forever. But then God allows you to look back and see His love and care even through the breathtaking distress, the anger, and the raw fear. And He loves us through the times we lose it. Whatever you’re facing today — painful needles, angry emotions, fearsome procedures, or any of life’s myriad other challenges – may the one thing that you do feel be God’s unwavering love and care.
“Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:17-19
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