There is a saying in the Christian community that makes me angry, and hearing it again a few days ago has rekindled my dislike for it. Whoever first coined the phrase was probably well-intentioned, but its implications are murky at best—misleading at worst. As my journey with Mac (microcystic adnexal carcinoma) enters its third week, I feel compelled both to update you on my progress and to address the ramifications of a naïve and erroneous saying. I’ll save the medical update for the end of this post and begin instead by heaving myself up onto my soapbox, this winter’s extra pounds doing nothing to aid in the effort.
On the surface, it’s a wonderfully comforting statement. I’m a safety kind of girl, so I’m particularly tempted to believe it. I like to plot courses and plan outcomes and pull up on the handbrake and stomp out the bonfire and look both ways before crossing EVEN when there’s a French bakery on the other side of the street. Safety is something I have craved and fostered in my life, much to the chagrin of some of my more spontaneous (ie. impetuous and foolhardy) friends and students. So why wouldn’t I embrace the statement that I will never be safer than in the center of God’s will?
with love and reverence.” Leonard Sweet
I won’t embrace it because it simply isn’t true. According to the dictionary, safety means “freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss.” Has God ever promised that to us? Has he ever hinted that life would be nothing but health and sunshine if we were to do His will? That we would avoid injury, affliction or death? Even if we were to sit squarely on the bullseye in the middle of His will, we wouldn’t be safe—at least not by the definition Webster’s gives for safety. Jim Elliott and his friends were slaughtered while in the center of God’s will. Corrie Ten Boom’s sister was starved to death in a concentration camp while in the center of God’s will. Countless Christian men and women, doing exactly what God had asked of them and in no way deserving of their fate, have suffered and died in abominable ways while in the center of God’s will. And on a very, very small scale compared to them, I have somehow managed to land myself in the middle of this McJourney (MAC-journey) while convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am living in the center of God’s will.
So no—I don’t agree that the “center of God’s will” is the “safest” place for anyone, because we live in a world where bad things happen to fairly good people. It’s a consequence of our fallenness and not in the least in contradiction with God’s goodness! BUT I believe that the center of God’s will, though not guaranteeing physical safety, does offer utter fulfillment, purpose and comfort and peace…and there is a different kind of safety in that, one that should not be confused with immunity from harm. What more could we ask for as we muddle through unpredictable lives in an unsafe world? These are the gifts I am discovering every day that I live with Mac and struggle to determine what my next step should be. Am I scared of the worst-case scenario? Of course, I am. Does the specter of cancer set my world a little off-kilter? Of course, it does. (One of my first reactions, past the “I have WHAT??” stage, was “Come on, God, I’ve been really patient about the whole marriage and children scenario. Don’t rip the rug out from under me just yet, okay?” I’m human—so sue me! )
Of course I’ll get a little nervous when I see the next scalpel coming at my cheek. Of course I’m going to spend the rest of my life looking at every new anomaly on my skin and wondering if I’ve earned myself a front-row seat to “Mac—the Return.” Of course I’ve already been trying NOT to wonder if a cough means metastasis or if a dizzy spell means another “bump,” but this time in the brain. That’s all a consequence of having been slammed with my mortality and picking up the pieces of my shattered health-illusions. But… I know that God is near. I know it because of the peace that has buoyed me so far, despite those late-night demons that rant their what-ifs.
I have never believed that my faith would spare from the natural process of life in a human body, in a depraved world. I learned at a very young age just how painful this world could be and have not allowed myself to assume that those early experiences were flukes that would not be repeated. There is pain in life. But what I know beyond a doubt is that though this life might throw a Mac—and worse—at me, because God exists (mystery, contradictions, and all) and comforts in ways I can’t begin to describe, I will make it through this and through the process ahead with the certainty that I am not alone. Is the “safest” place for me in the center of God’s will? By Webster’s definition? Clearly not—cancer is b-a-d. And bad things, horrible things, happen to the strongest of believers. Ain’t no getting by that. But is the BEST place for me in the center of God’s will? Yes. Because, as I said, life is painful. And it will remain painful. But if there can be fulfillment and purpose and comfort and peace despite the pain of Mac and others, isn’t that the very best I can hope for?
I have wondered over and over in the last three weeks how people make it through something like this without God. I would be a slobbering, wailing, panic-stricken mess were it not for my faith. The fact is that I really, truly should be a wreck right now. And I’m not. And I don’t understand why…except for what I’ve stated above. Oh, there have been tears, for sure, and there will be more. But there’s also this rock-solid weight in my lungs that tells me that I can do this. My spirits are sobered but positive. My outlook is proactive and optimistic. My heart is sometimes melancholy, but more often so very grateful for things I
hadn’t really taken the time to notice until now. I might not always feel this way–who knows when my humanity will overpower God’s promises in my mind. But for now, for now, I’m clinging to the Truth in the hope of storing up enough courage for whatever lies ahead. It’s been a scary but good journey so far. Unexpected, but valuable. And though I have no illusions that anyone living on this planet is truly “safe” from harm, I know that there is comfort in God’s will, regardless of the circumstances that threaten our serenity.
Sigh… I wish I had something concrete to reveal. I briefly thought my next step was becoming clearer! I made contact with a specialist in South Carolina last week who agreed to take me on and requested that I have all my medical records sent to him. I thought I’d be able to hop on plane at the end of the school year, have him cut out the rest of Mac, and go on my merry way. Not so easy. Some new information has somewhat undone the simplicity of that plan.
- Tumors that have been incised sometimes begin to act faster. If that’s so, maybe I can’t wait until May.
- Follow-up care might initially require repeated and frequent returns to a specialist. In that case, I should find a physician closer to my North American home (Michigan or Ontario), not SC.
- I still don’t know how much the surgeon left behind in the excision, I still don’t know what the best treatment will be, I still don’t know how long that treatment will take and I still don’t know how to plan the next giant step. In other words—I still don’t know. And for a girl who likes to “plot courses and plan outcomes,” that’s an uncomfortable reality.
So please pray:
- that one of the multiple specialists I’ve consulted by email, fax and phone will be able to give me a clearer idea of the urgency of the next step
- that he/she will know enough about Mac to give me decisive direction
- that my German doctors will be able to locate my biopsy slides (!) and send them on to whoever I find to treat me in the States or Canada
- that I will continue to rest in the knowledge that though this world is unsafe and unpredictable, though life is fragile and changing, there is purpose, fulfillment, comfort and spirit-nourishing peace when we strive to live in the center of God’s will.
I am grateful—so grateful—for the prayers, notes, thoughts and encouragement of so many. You have truly been God’s voice and comfort to me during this surprising medical detour. I am thankful for your company along this McJourney.