Hanging on to Hope

February 10, 2014

I haven’t written the last few days because I came down with a bug, starting with a scratchy throat and ending with laryngitis, a cough, and a low-grade fever. It was probably something I picked up at church last weekend, so I stayed home this weekend to avoid the germs. It’s hard to believe that seven days ago, I was hiking 2+ miles per day and feeling wonderful and optimistic. Since Wednesday, the dominant feelings have been lethargy, discomfort, and concern as my symptoms accumulated. Having lung cancer makes one a bit skittish about what would otherwise be normal winter blahs.

It has been just three months since I got my diagnosis, and meanwhile I have undergone three rounds of chemotherapy and 45-Gray (4500 rads) of radiation. In those months of active treatment, God met me at a very tender place and carried me through the discomforts of such a rigorous routine. After all, we had something to do: assault the Beast and slay it once and for all. Just last week, I had a very palpable sense that God was healing me, and I rejoiced.

But the proactive fight has morphed into dull waiting. The initial challenge and newness of this experience has passed, and the first phase of treatment is complete. I am now in the midst of five complete weeks off from doctors’ appointments, infusions, and tests. The waiting routine consists of the slow, steady climb toward strength and fitness in preparation for surgery—nothing really exciting about that, just uphill ordinary life.

And then I started to cough again, which is kind of scary for a lung cancer patient. For three days I gutted it out, somewhat discouraged and tired, with nothing to write about and spiritually feeling a bit beat up. It was late Friday afternoon and my pastor was over visiting and praying for me when the Lord seemed to nudge me. The word was, “The fact you feel sick again doesn’t change what I am accomplishing in you. Don’t let this momentary setback rob you of the hope I have given you. Keep your eyes on the goal and let my joy be your strength!”

I’ve dragged myself out of this feverish stupor today to reflect on how my experience might parallel the experience of the people of God through New Testament history: Early exuberance, fruitful ministry, doldrums and difficulties, strengthened hope.

Think about it: those who had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection—or heard about it directly from his disciples—were high on the gospel. We have ample evidence of this in the book of Acts. God used Spirit-empowered but otherwise ordinary men and women to tell the story, demonstrate the Kingdom of God, heal and forgive and evangelize. Nothing could stop them and miracles were many. They were energized not only by past events, including Pentecost, but by a future hope: the return of their beloved friend and Savior, Jesus. They understood and embraced the challenge of the Great Commission, and their new life in Christ was high motivation to remain faithful to the task.

For decades they held on to that hope, without seeing Christ return in their lifetimes. And then the Roman persecution started, endangering their lives and tempting them to forget the hope that rested within them. They died with “Maranatha!” on their lips and the hope of the resurrection in their hearts. Many died as martyrs. But none of them saw Jesus return in glory before they did. What carried them was faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It may have been part of your personal experience to have felt, upon getting to know Jesus, that you could do all things through Christ who strengthened you, only to feel the glow wear off after a few months or years. My sense is that God gently withdraws some of the exciting elements of Christian experience over time in order to build our trust in the ordinary steadfast love of God. This is part of the process of Christian maturity that builds our faith and enables us to endure the ups and downs of life, the boredom of waiting periods, and to be fruitful and productive for the Kingdom in the meantime.  And waiting does come with the territory, as do the earthly afflictions that remind us to hang on to the hope that does not disappoint. Keep this in mind when you are tempted to let the day’s circumstances pull you under a cloud like what happened to me this week. Jesus is sustaining you and giving meaning to your existence. Expect and receive that miracle, and all of life will look a lot different!

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5 Responses to “Hanging on to Hope”

  1. Jim Skidmore Says:

    Rev. Mary,

    Thank you for this post. Your experience last week is the clear evidence of Acts 1:8. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim

  2. Viola Larson Says:

    Thank you for your words Mary. May God lift you up and carry you through the next several days on his wings of joy and set you back on a few more wonderful hiking trails before your next part of the healing process.

  3. L. Lee Says:

    Thanks for this sharing. Your wisdom and strength is an example to me and so many of trusting God through
    the fog of life. Your witness is powerful. May the Holy Spirit wrap you in the presence of God’s warmth and healing.

  4. Steve Frank Says:

    Consistent with Phil 4:4-7, I join you (and Viola also in Folsom, and others) in rejoicing in God’s faithfulness, turning all care into confident prayer, and giving thanks for your healing as it continues. I am reminded again that waiting on the Lord is a matter of trust and confident/bold expectancy. Shalom, dear sister.

  5. Pam Byers Says:

    Continued healing and hope to you, Mary; and bless you for turning your experience and reflections into a good word for the rest of us.

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