And here I was wanting to write a terrifically positive post in which I’d bypass the usual topics (tumors, radiation, barbaric medical procedures!) and focus instead on my mom’s recent visit and last night’s Christmas banquet. But I received an email yesterday from a person I don’t know. It decisively changed my editorial plans.
Allyn read my first novel a couple of years ago, followed last year by my second, and has since then been following my rollercoaster life on my blog. Because she is a perspicacious and observant person (!), Allyn noticed the rather heavy-handed emphasis I’ve put on gratitude. With her permission, I’d like to pass on a portion of her email:
I received her message late last night, after returning from a banquet I nearly skipped due to a ridiculously busy week that left my radiation-weary body and mind a little too worn out for my own good. It was also a week in which CNN graphically covered the tragedy in Mumbai that took nearly 200 innocent lives, and a week in which a close friend in the States found out that his aggressive brain cancer has returned. So when Allyn’s email reached me, I realized that it might be good to give a little context to my previous statements about gratitude.
Shortly after my diagnosis this summer, my mom printed out an article by a well-known Christian writer who went through a battle against prostate cancer. He suggested several steps for cancer fighters, one of which was being grateful for the disease. I respect this man’s writing tremendously and the impact he’s had on the Christian world, but I vehemently disagree with his statement about gratitude. And I hope—truly hope—that I haven’t inadvertently repeated it by being too vague in my writing.
When I write of gratitude, it isn’t in the sense that I am grateful for this disease. I can no more be grateful for my cancer than Allyn can be for her divorce, victims of Mumbai’s tragedy for their trauma, or my friend for the return of his cancer. Implying that we, as believers, must be grateful for the pain in our lives, in my opinion, would border on blasphemy. It would be akin to counseling a rape victim to be thankful for her attack or a molested child for his/her aggressor’s actions.
No—my point is that (with God’s indispensable help) we can be thankful in spite of our pain. Not for it. But that gratitude sometimes will have to wait until a certain amount of healing has had time to occur. The attitude of thankfulness that I was blessed with throughout the summer’s ordeal is not only miraculous, but it is also the product of years of healing. My life has been, from earliest childhood, a collage of injuries and assaults that happened on the deepest of levels. The wounds were undeserved and unvindicated, and the resulting scars were jagged and crippling. Looking back on the child I was, I can’t fathom telling her to “buck up and be thankful.” In the fog of depression that plagued me from my youngest age until my mid-twenties, I didn’t possess the wherewithal to be optimistic or forward looking—I was trapped in a miasma of so much helplessness and hopelessness that I was incapable of any form of genuine joy.
It took healing to bring me to the point where I could look beyond the pain and find reasons to be grateful in spite of it. So my response to Allyn is not to try harder. It is to seek healing first—to seek it assiduously and relentlessly, which often requires wading through the pain for a while—without living in the guilt of not being able to be thankful. Find true healing first—by every means available to you—and then develop the ability to be grateful to a God who can actually bring something good out of our pain!
Am I grateful for the various traumas of my youth? How can I be? They handicapped and bound me and very nearly robbed me of my life. I would never—never—suggest that God wanted me to suffer as I did, which means He isn’t the person to “thank” for that pain either. It wasn’t His doing. He didn’t sit on His throne, point a finger at the frail child that I was, and say, “Let me see… I think this handful of horrible things should happen to her. It’ll teach her a couple important lessons.” It might be a question of semantics and it may be a question of theology, but I believe with every healed “cell” of my soul that God did not decide to inflict so much trauma on me at that age nor in the past six months. We live in a fallen world where terrible things happen, and I haven’t been spared from that–none of us are. What I do know and what I do praise God for is that He saw my pain before it even happened (indeed, He felt it!) and because of His redemptive goodness set in motion the influences and realizations that would allow some good t
o come from the horror. It is for that good that I am grateful. It is because that wounded child can now recognize the walking-wounded and minister to them, it is because of the healing that gave my scars purpose, it is because of the joy that thumbs its nose at evil’s best attempts to permanently damage me, it is because of the divine peace that has replaced anxiety that am I grateful beyond words…
So, Allyn, please forgive any miscommunication I might have done on this topic. If I implied in any way that we must all thank God for the devastation that ravages our lives, I apologize. But there’s so much more we can thank Him for once we’re able to gain perspective again…sometimes that happens while we’re grieving, and sometimes it must wait a while. With a recent separation and the looming threat of losing your children on your horizon, I can only encourage you to seek comfort and counsel, pursuing the silver linings only God can paint on such a dark canvas, and making of gratitude a gradually evolving blessing. My prayer for you is that you will trudge through the pain with your eyes on a God who weeps with you and that you will eventually be able to see how He has carried you and blessed you in spite of the humanity-inflicted wounds from which you suffer.
My prayer for the victims of Mumbai’s attacks and their families is the same—that they will somehow sense God’s presence near them as they grieve, and that they will in time be witnesses to the miracles He will bring about despite the worst intentions of the terrorists. And my prayer for my friend whose cancer has returned is that he will continue to cling to the truths he learned on his last journey with this awful disease as he battles back from this unexpected setback. He’s done it once before, and he has a worldwide army of praying warriors holding him up to the Throne of Grace. I am fervently among them.
I’ll end with a few pictures of BFA’s Christmas banquet. It was a great event!
Some memorable musical moments!
Watching another stressful “Star Academy” show on Friday night. The girls had just eaten enough salad, garlic bread and French fries for an ARMY of starving warriors! No wonder they were a little goofy… That’s Trevi, Meeko and Congo on the couch with us.