Finding Joy

December 2, 2013

Guest blogger today, my daughter Judy, visiting with her sister Katy and brother-in-law Doug from Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted you to read her perspective.

I’m thankful. Yes, it’s the season to say so, but I truly am.

Sunday: It’s 8:22am and my sister is playing songs from Godspell on the grand piano downstairs. She can’t keep away from it, like I can’t say no to Thanksgiving pie. (Her passion is much healthier, I think.) My brother-in-law may still have been asleep in the fold-out sofa bed right next to the piano when she started. I wonder whether this was a happy or rude awakening for him, but really, he had to have known this was a possibility. When the three of us were driving down from Seattle a few days ago, Doug sat patiently in the backseat while Katy and I belted out fifties girl-pop and Garth Brooks hits, including the guitar solos, in the front, laughing the entire time. I’m thankful for Katy’s love of music and for Doug’s sense of humor. And I’m thankful that they are becoming an ever-bigger part of my life.

On Friday, Dad and I spent a good hour loading kayaks onto the roof of the Prius for an excursion to the Lafayette Reservoir. Dad is a finely tuned engineering machine when it comes to loading cars. Even though he had never put three boats on the roof at a time, it never occurred to me to question whether he would be able to figure it out. If there’s one thing Dad has in abundance, it’s patience in problem-solving. And an inordinately vast catalog of rope knots in his brain.

On the lake, Dad, Katy, and I paddled along the shore asking fishermen about their catches and identifying the local birds—coots, pelicans, buffleheads, and cormorants. “Why are there so many cormorants?” I asked. “They have a big feeding program for them here—also known as trout-stocking,” answered Dad. Ever the cynic, obviously. But when an osprey flew by overhead with a trout in its talons, he was a giddy Boy Scout again. “See how he holds the trout vertically? It’s more aerodynamic that way.” I’m thankful for Dad’s scientific mind and his love of nature.

Back at the house, Mom is kind of tired all the time. Every once in a while she will hit a wall and go straight to sleep. She didn’t come kayaking, and she only sang one song around the piano when Katy was practicing pieces for her choir concert. But honestly, it’s hard for me to believe she is sick. I mean, I saw the chemo port on her shoulder, but she hasn’t lost her hair. She takes anti-nausea meds, but she hasn’t lost her sense of taste. She coughs a lot (“chemo cough”), but when we watched Babe and Hook this weekend, two of her favorite movies, she was downright giggly. She’s still the same strong, animated, opinionated, cheerful CEO and kitchen ninja I’ve always known. I’m thankful that most of the time, I can’t even tell that she has cancer.


“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, NRSV).

How many of you have been given this passage in a time of trial and chafed? Did it feel like a worn-out cliché along the lines of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? Do you wonder whether you were being asked to deny the struggle in order to find the joy? Honestly, it would be easy at this point to devolve into a stance of denial—denial that Mom is sick, that cancer is dangerous, that death is inevitable for each person on earth. I think a lot of people would do that in our situation.

Last night, I prayed for our meal and forgot to pray against The Beast; it literally slipped my mind—so easily. Like I said, Mom’s not showing signs of sickness beyond pooping out a little earlier than usual. Perhaps I wanted a moment of peace. I wanted to be with my family without cancer, if just for a few minutes. But denial of that kind is unhelpful and unhealthy, frankly, and I acknowledge it.

Do we have to deny the struggle to find the joy?

After dinner, the five of us played Tripoley. Before we started, someone (maybe me) said to Mom, “Now don’t think that just because you have cancer we’re going to let you win.” We all had a good laugh. And just for the record, she didn’t win.

To me, the “testing of our faith” is the choosing of sides. We can either align ourselves with the power of God or rely on our own power. I know that my power is not good enough. When I first got the email with Mom’s diagnosis, I was in the graduate reading room in the SPU library. I started weeping immediately, getting concerned and somewhat annoyed looks from my fellow students. I quickly packed up my books and computer, rushed past a few friends without saying anything, tried to hold in the tears on the road (because I couldn’t see), burst into my house and practically yelled to my roommates in the midst of sobs, “It’s Stage 3 cancer!” They held me while I cried.

On my own power, I would be crumpled on the floor, unable to move, wrecked by fear and dread. But luckily, there is a higher power. God is bigger than all of this.

I’m finding strength in the promise of James 1:4: “Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Following God through a struggle means that everything in which I have traditionally put my hope breaks down along the road and is left behind. Physical strength? Useless in an observer of cancer. Reason? There is no logic in lung cancer for a lifelong non-smoker. Laughter? There may come a point when we must stop laughing.

My only choice is to rely on God’s promises. The more I rely on God, the closer I get to God. The closer I get to God, the more I understand God’s intent for the world: restoration and redemption. The more I understand God’s intent for the world, the more easily I can live as if sin and death have no power over me and mine, as if resurrection is my destiny. That’s the joy: recognizing cancer in my mother as a symptom of a broken world that will be made whole.

Mom and I have said this to each other many times over the years, usually in the midst of something hard: “You only have two things to worry about—getting through today and the Second Coming.” Everything in the meantime is under God’s control.

This morning, Katy and I accompanied Mom to her radiation appointment. Everyone at the cancer center knows her by name and were genuinely excited to meet her daughters. We got to see her changing room, the cradle that Mom lies in to get “zapped” in the right places, and even the chemo chair, a plush recliner (but she didn’t get chemo today). These are the people and the process that are getting Mom to tomorrow. We are all taking it one day at a time, focusing on finding joy—in God’s promises, in games and sing-alongs, in good food, in nature and good weather. We are resting more and more in God’s hands—come what may.


6 Responses to “Finding Joy”

  1. Craig Pynn Says:

    Thanks, Judy, for your encouraging and insightful post. As you make clear, cancer is in many ways a “shared disease” because it so effectively upends lives– not only of us who have the danged disease, but all the the people who love us, as well.

    And while you may not bear the physical consequences of diagnosis and treatment, you assuredly bear its emotional and spiritual consequences. And for that, we are each grateful to be able to take our cares to Jesus Christ, where we find comfort and in whom we are indeed again made whole.

  2. Good work, Judy: it’s in the genes, obviously (and probably in the jeans, too.)

  3. Stephen Eyre Says:

    Thanks for this post. What a wonderful zest for life you and your family share. God’s grace is so evident in this unsettling time; thank you for sharing with us. (And what a wonderful gift of writing you have!)

  4. Rogene Baxter Says:

    “The fruit does not fall far from the tree.” Thank you Judy for sharing your thoughts with all of us and for writing with such conviction. God is so good! Safe travels today.

  5. scoberg Says:

    Thanks, Judy, for sharing your time with your mom with all of us.

  6. Virginia Wolters Says:

    I love it that you hijacked your mom’s blog! You made it so obvious . . . The Beast doesn’t strike individuals, it strikes entire families! Your words are so descriptive and I can picture each member of your family just as you described them so perfectly! May God bless each of you as you ALL take this journey together!
    I have a favorite verse out of the book of Psalms that is so visual! Psalm 18:16, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” I love it so much because you can ‘see’ God’s hands reaching down from on high and lifting EACH of us out of whatever ‘deep waters’ we may be in on any given day.
    I hope you will hijack the blog again . . . and maybe Katie will do a little hijacking of her own too!
    Love to each of you,

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