Lately I have been inundated with friends and family experiencing the ugliness of cancer. It breaks my heart to know the suffering and see in their eyes the fear and pain. I remember the morning after Adam shaved my head, waking up and feeling so much pain in every fiber of my body, reaching up to run my hand over my newly bald head. I was so desperately thin, my skin so ashen, I looked in the mirror and saw hollow eyes staring back and heard my thoughts echoing “I am covered in death”. But here’s the kicker, despite the suffering, despite the pain and endless days of IV’s and blood transfusions there are still mornings when I wake up and wish to be back there again. Psalms 34:18 says “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” In those days of physically consuming sickness my heart and soul were consumed with the Spirit. His presence was a tangible thickness around me. Like standing in an early morning fog, I could breathe it in and feel it fill my lungs, see it clouding my vision. I would raise my hands in worship and feel a peace overwhelm me, a peace deeper and more refreshing than any glacier lake. There was a Joy more akin to elation when I would read His word and speak His name. His Spirit was at work in me but in His own way. I started out asking for physical healing, only seeing the sickness of body, only feeling the brokeness of flesh and bone. But the more I pleaded for healing the more sick my body became, violently rejecting the various treatments and medications. That was my physical world, but honestly the sickness and suffering seemed more like a dream world some days because the work the Spirit was doing on my heart and soul was so overwhelming. As my physical body was breaking down my spirit was being built up, healed and renewed when I hadn’t even realized it was broken to begin with.
You see, that day I looked in the mirror and saw my body covered in death the Lord was quick to answer back and say “I will give you beauty for ashes”. So I looked that phrase up and found Isaiah 61:3 “…to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”
Turns out my body wasnt the only thing in ashes, my heart was pretty ugly too. I was an embittered, broken, shell of a woman, using my emotions and physical appearance to manipulate people around me. All the while popping pills and smoking cigarettes to ease constant anxiety attacks and blaming my rage filled outbursts and conniving ways on anyone but myself. It was not a pretty picture, but while I’m not proud of who I was I refuse to hide my past either. 2 Corinthians 11:30 says “If I must boast, I will boast all the more of the things that show my weakness.” I will shout from the rooftops how ugly and broken I was as a testament to God’s infinite love. I am a living, breathing example of His mercy and tenderness. That He would reach for me, cry with me, gently point out my gaping wounds and patiently begin to heal me. He would take my ashes and give me beauty. The beauty of mercy, of His Spirit within me, of priceless renewal and the gift of an intimate relationship. He removed my spirit of despair, my sackcloth of mourning and clothed me in a dress of praise, anointed me with His oil of Joy. In the blinding light of these transformations my physical health suddenly didn’t matter any more, as long as God’s Spirit continued to pour out over me. It was that release, that surrender that brought about my healing. One night as I lay in my hospital bed, monitors beeping and medicine being pumped into my veins in a desperate attempt to save me I told God……”I’m done. I know with every fiber of my being that you can heal me but if that’s not your plan I’m ok with that, but either heal me or take me home because my body can’t take any more. I don’t want to do this any more.”
It was the most at peace I have ever been, to be totally surrendered to God’s plan, whether that meant life or death…….
As you can see His plan for me was a miraculous healing, more life to live. But a real life this time, a life where my idea of who I am as a woman, as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, as flesh and blood, soul and spirit is all defined by my relationship with HIM, our divine romance. Every breath I take, every minute of my existence is operated out of the overflow of His Spirit within me. And in His unending mercy He continues to heal me and forgive me of my human tendencies and mistakes, gently tugging at my sleeve and prodding me to change my ways daily.
So whether you’re battling cancer right now or just battling life, can you take a step back? Take your focus off the storm and zero in on God. He is desperate to work a miracle for you but more than that He is desperate for you to know Him, not just know about Him. I can not express, in any language, how overwhelming and priceless the knowing is.
“But now, this is what the Lord says, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…..”