“I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.” Psalms 69:2 ESV
Swim At Your Own Risk
“Congratulations. It’s benign. No cancer.”
I took the news with a certainty that the doctor must have read the results incorrectly. How could I have dodged another bullet? I was convinced my luck had run out, the well of positive outcomes for my health concerns had run dry, and that this time God believed I was ready to tackle the “Big One.”
Four times I have been told it might be cancer, not just might be, but more than likely was. Four times I’ve felt the relief of finding out I was cancer-free. Four times I’ve felt like someone took at sledgehammer to my body and brain as I processed the aftermath of the sea of emotions I had experienced.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I feel the need to put into words the emotional toll these events have had on me. Besides the cancer scares, I have also had a blood clot in my lung with many months of follow-tests and visits to specialists to rule out malignancy as a possible cause. Thankfully, I am still here, unlike so many others who did not receive such good news. Still, I cannot say that I have come through these scares unscathed. That’s simply not the case.
As I write these words, I am almost embarrassed to put pen to paper. Some of you know that in my day job I do skincare in a doctor’s office. The cancer I was facing would not only have put my life in danger, but also risked ending my career. With my husband semi-retired due to a disability, my income is much needed. This was the first time I wondered if I would be able to keep working. I felt guilty because I didn’t want to put the financial burden on my family. If I lost my job, I would be uninsured. You get it. Millions of people face this dilemma every day. This was the first time this was hitting me. I was truly powerless over the outcome.
Caught in a Riptide
While I can say that I absolutely trust the Lord with my life, I cannot deny that each unknown has drawn me into deeper soul searching than the one before. It’s as though a riptide keeps pulling me farther away from shore even though it feels like I should be swimming closer. The fear is not so much flight or fight. It is still there, but it’s different. It’s a foreboding, a sense that the inevitable has come knocking. It’s only a matter of time before I will be forced to open the door and let it in.
Sickness and death are as much a part of life as living. We look around and see others hurting and suffering. We hurt because they hurt. But when it hits home, that’s when it becomes real and raw. No amount of positive thinking was going to bring me relief. I was standing at a fork in the road, one was a path of health and the other, a path that would draw me into the fight of my life. I was standing at the pause, unable to move. All I could do was wait and hold onto my faith.
Today. I am feeling the let down of the adrenaline surge from the last few weeks. The bad report. The look of concern in the very experienced doctor’s eyes. The blood work and tests to prepare me for surgery. The rush to move the surgery date up as soon as possible because of its urgency. The need to revisit the oncologist/hematologist to clear me for surgery because of my health history. The surgery. The pain. The doctor’s heightened concern not knowing what it was he had removed from my head. The recovery. The waiting. The good report. The relief. The gratitude. The exhaustion.
It’s as though I’m still out in that riptide. Instead of kicking against the waves in an attempt to get back to the safety of normal, I have a profound awareness that Jesus is here with me in these waters of uncertainty. I may not have the guarantee of a future free of suffering, but these waters are peaceful because Jesus is here. I am treading water and letting the waves take me farther away from shore. The shores of safety and security I once knew are no longer my home. My attempts to get back there have only left me wearied.
This time the Lord is urging me to stay off shore with Him. My faith was tested again. I have some lessons to learn. I can go back to the way things were before, or I can absorb everything God has me to learn from my experience. Like the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh, I have to step into the water and take a risk if I desire to be totally free. Free from my fear of death. Free from self-induced guilt. Free from my expectations that suffering should somehow escape me.
Not that it has. Living with addicted or struggling loved ones means we will suffer. It might also mean that we are living with the false notion that we have to stay strong to help carry them while they are weak. It doesn’t always work that way. We can’t guarantee that we will be healthy and strong, or that we will even be around for that matter, when they are in crisis. The only one who can make that promise one hundred percent of the time is Jesus. He can handle the riptides in our lives. The hurricane force winds. The deep floods. The destructive tsunamis. And He can handle the aftermath.
“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:37-39 ESV
He brings order back to the chaos. He speaks to the storm to be still and it obeys. He speaks to the confusion inside our heads and peace is restored. He calls to us, “Do not fear,” replacing our terror with faith.
“He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"” Mark 4:40-41 ESV
Learning to Float
I struggle with the temptation to panic first before I talk myself off the ledge and remember who really is in control here. My desire is to learn to look to Jesus first. When I get news that could push my fear throttle from zero to sixty in five seconds flat, I am trying to learn to stop and take that pause. Stop flailing and tread water for a second.
Pray. Listen. Wait. Don’t panic. Look around.
Where’s Jesus?! Is he panicking? Is he thinking the absolute worst?
No. He is sleeping. He is at peace. Why? Because he trusts His Father. That’s faith.
My heart longs for that kind of resolute faith. A faith that can weather these storms of life and not be afraid. No matter what the doctor says. No matter what the reports say. No matter what.
My prayer for myself and for you is that when we feel ourselves being pulled away from the shore, we will not panic and start flailing and screaming. We won’t begin to sink. We won’t keep staring back at the shore as it gets farther away, convincing ourselves that this is it. We aren’t going to survive. Instead, we will look to Jesus. What is he doing? What is he saying? Then, we will set our eyes on Him and swim as fast as we can away from the shore.