On this day, a year ago, I was diagnosed with final stage testicular cancer. It is hard to believe it has only been a year but the calendar assures me as much. Twelve months ago today, I went in for a CT scan to see what was causing my legs to swell and my back to ache. Sarah and I both knew there was a possibility it might be cancer. We had just pulled into the parking lot at Target when the call came. The doctor said that my lower body was riddled with blood clots and I had some form of advanced cancer, most likely testicular. We pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the hospital and remained there for the next two months.
Most of you know the story. I was in and out of surgery and chemo treatments for the next five months. I gained 40 pounds, lost 70 pounds and then gained back 50. Part of the time I rejoiced at God’s goodness and then struggled to feel his presence or know why he would allow such suffering. My spirit was broken, my hope seemed lost, but God continued to love and pursue me even when I did not see it. During those days I experienced love through the Church in ways I did not know were possible. Each day brought a new understanding of covenantal love as my wife served me selflessly without rest. She was hurting just as much as me, if not more. She was only 29 years old but daily faced the reality that she might lose her husband to cancer. Yet even in the face of this continual carnage of the heart; she loved and served me when I was not able to return that love. Many days I felt distant from the blessings and love God had so graciously shown in the past but I was now learning that God’s love was present, just revealed in different ways. He was loving me through my community of friends, through my local church, through the sacrifice and prayers of strangers, and through the relentless love of a godly wife.
Today, a year after the dreadful event began, I am taking a day of reflection. I have spent the day in the Word of God, reading good books, talking with my wife, writing down my thoughts and stopping to rest and think deeply. My plan is to make this a yearly habit. Take a day of reflection on the anniversary of when I was diagnosed with cancer (February 5) and take a day of celebration when by God’s grace cancer was defeated (June 4).
I have been slowly reading through Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. This book is not for the faint of heart. Keller writes over 300 pages on the deep issues of suffering. Keller does not side step the hard questions but faces them head on and for that I am thankful. It has been a refreshing read and one that has allowed me to process my own suffering, see my suffering as a means of personal growth and understand that my suffering allows me to both love others well and identify with our suffering Savior. What a refreshing truth that God himself understands our suffering because he too has suffered.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53: 4-5
“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
What a marvelous truth for me to meditate on today; my God understands and cares about my suffering because he has suffered in the deepest ways possible. What is even greater is that he did so for the good of others, even to the point of death. Dan McCartney states that, “the main reason that Christians insist that God can be trusted in the midst of suffering is that…God himself has first hand experience.” Keller adds to this line of thinking when he says, “We should also trust him [God] because he earned our trust on the cross. So we can trust him even when he hasn’t shown us yet the reason why. He is good for it.” (p.154)
So that is where I am today. I don’t know why this last year happened but the answer to why seems less important. What is important to me is the truth of God’s unfailing love in the midst of this last year and the depth of relationship with him that only suffering can bring. It’s hard to wrap our minds and hearts around but suffering does bring about good things. Suffering in itself is not good but when it strips away all we are and all we hope for and leaves us at the feet of Jesus, it can’t help but be a good thing.