“I have been to the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Israel,” said my friend Ms. Ennels the other night, “and it is beautiful. There are streams running through it and flowers sprouting everywhere, and it is flowing with life. It is a beautiful place.”`
In a little over a week, my Dad will be having a complicated, daring surgery in Pittsburgh to clear out his abdomen of cancer. The doctor, named Dr. Bartlett, is brilliant and very well-experienced on this type of surgery, called HIPEC surgery. In fact, here’s an article about Dr. Bartlett and this specific surgery for another patient- but let me tell you, it’s a brutal surgery, comparable to ripping open my Dad’s whole stomach and continuing to slice and burn every last visible piece of cancer.
Friends, here’s the thing: Cancer has nothing on our Creator. And that’s super easy to say, but so much harder to put real trust into. In Psalm 139, a passage of scripture that’s very close to my heart, David writes,
“You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.”
That passage is so incredibly, indescribably beautiful and powerful. The God of All Things knows my inmost worries, my doubts, all of my questions and fears. And He loves me and you so much, and He can provide for us in incredible ways because of it.
I think the toughest thing about Cancer is it’s ability to tear the body apart from the inside while leaving very little trace of damage on the exterior. It’s easy some days when stuff is going well to get distracted by negative and dark possibilities, but that’s not what we should be focusing on in life. Even though we might be in the Valley of Death, it’s important to look to the streams and flowers around you, and you can’t live forever in fear of possible failure. Even though we should be prepared for whatever happens, it’s not something worth dwelling on. Still, these moments of distraction are rare, and I think it’s just the devil trying to distract us from living in the here and now- one of his favorite tricks. That guy can go to hell.
Cancer- and anything else that throws life off track like this- comes with inherent beauty. Like my good friend Ms. Ennels said, sometimes in the midst of death and darkness, there is incredible growth and goodness. My family has grown much closer because of Cancer, and we’ve become more real with one another. When you trust Jesus with everything, that’s when real joy comes- and we’ve definitely been experiencing awesome joy in the midst of this craziness. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all grown closer to Jesus and learned to lean into Him not just on our tough days, but every day. A few years ago I thought being a Christian was just a part-time job, but over and over again God’s shown me that it’s absolutely full-time to live for Him.
In that same Psalm as I mentioned earlier (139), David writes in verses 11-12:
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Nothing is too much for our Creator, even darkness is like day to Him. Our darkest days, when we think that peace and safety is impossible, God is not intimidated or deterred in the slightest. Let the phrase “Darkness is like light to You” comfort you when you’re awake in the middle of the night questioning God, or when you feel like you’ve lost control of life, or when you feel like you’re not good enough. God is good enough, He’s in control, and He turns darkness into light.
While this surgery is indeed brutal for my Dad and the recovery will certainly be long, the outcome looks very hopeful. It seems like to reach safety sometimes, you’ve got to bravely endure a tough, unknown path. I think God does that on purpose, and that’s exactly what my Dad’s doing. I have full faith that we’re all going to come out the other side loving harder and clinging to God more because of the road we endure.
Here’s an awesome image of God that He’s been pressing on my mind a lot lately: imagine us, humans, all out at sea. Each of us is like a sailor, but we’re seasick sailors because we’re sick with sin. We’re seasick in the middle of the beautiful blue, stretching out forever in every direction. Except it doesn’t quite seem to stretch out forever, because it;s stopped abruptly by the horizon. Seasick sailors, if you didn’t know, always look to the horizon to clear their sickness; it’s a steady, unchanging object they can set their eyes on and steady their swaying hearts with. If we’re seasick sailors, then God is our Horizon. We fix our eyes on Him, and He settles or stumbling, broken selves.