© 2015 Lynn Abbott
In 2007, my ship sailed into deep waters. As if it weren’t already enough that my husband and I had decided to move and open a new place of business, it seemed tsunami-sized waves rushed to pound my already overloaded craft.
The economy plummeted; the real estate market stalled. For this reason, my husband moved to our new city, and my son, mother and I stayed behind to sell the house.
Seven months later, I sat across the kitchen table from our real estate agent and signed a contract on our house.
However, the telephone’s shrill ring interrupted that appointment.
“This will only take a moment,” I said, as I reached for the phone.
But that moment plunged me into high tide. The radiologist spoke directly. Her diagnosis: Stage 3 Breast Cancer.
I found it incomprehensible. After all, I had just signed paperwork that would require a move from my home. My husband had relocated hundreds of miles away.
With the economy as it was, high medical bills would certainly put a strain on our family budget, a budget that already stretched thin as we sunk all that we had into our new business…trying to stay afloat.
And what would my future hold? How would I navigate through the medical morass of cancer treatment?
But the storm didn’t stop there. After a major move, five surgeries and six months of chemotherapy, my ship would take on more water.
Two weeks after completing chemo and just two days before the Thanksgiving holiday, I again sat in a physician’s office. This time, I held my mother’s hand as she was given her diagnosis…it was terminal. Three different forms of cancer riddled her body.
We plunged into chemo once more.
So, now is the point where I should give you a nugget of spiritual truth: what I learned during that dark passage. But to be quite honest, I’m not sure I gleaned anything.
Indeed, I think anyone would find it difficult to ponder life lessons while heaving breakfast, lunch or dinner. I doubt most would pause to write a personal testimony in the midst of medical trauma.
I hate to admit it, but I did not pray “What do you want me to learn, Abba?” Nor did I ask the almost proverbial question, “Why me?”
However, I did ask God for direction.
Since we had only lived in the community for six months and chemotherapy had occupied most of our time, Mom had only seen her new physician twice.
Of course, I knew an oncologist. We could start there. My oncologist could now help Mom live her remaining days as comfortably and as long as possible.
Live as long as possible… Yup. Each of us wanted that for her. We loved her so. And I certainly didn’t wish to live without Mom. I wanted to steer around those waves.
Nevertheless, the sea grew turbulent.
They say you can either laugh or cry. Mom and I did both.
We found humor where we could. It was there when we needed it most. As we went to her appointments, many of the medical personnel mistook me for the patient. And we laughed.
It was an easy mistake to make. After all, my bald head had yet to sport peach fuzz. When mom lost her hair, we were twins.
She cried then, and I tried to stay strong.
However, when she started vomiting, I could hardly bear it.
She cried, “Help me, Lynn.”
I held her hand. But there was nothing I could do or say. That night, I sobbed.
I prayed the chemo would reduce her pain, and that the nausea would therefore be worth it.
“I’m here, Mom, ” I said, day after day. “I’m so very sorry…”
I tried to anticipate her needs. I’d been through the cancer battle myself, and so my experience guided my care decisions.
The waves crashed; the gales buffeted my boat. I hung on as best I could.
In calmer waters now, I look back, trying to make sense of it all… to wrap my head around events that once threatened to capsize my boat.
And it occurs to me that my voyage through those extreme waters may not have been about learning some truth or lesson. And it might not have been about forming my character.
Perhaps, it wasn’t about me at all.
Maybe, just maybe, it was about others. And about God.
This past week, as I continued to meditate on the life of Moses, I observed that Moses endured much for the sake of others. Moses persevered for the grace and glory of God.
When Moses left the desert behind and arrived again in Pharaoh’s court, he did so with the confidence that God would be with him. His first concern had been about his own credibility. But God had reminded Moses that it wasn’t about him.
“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3:14).
Pharoah not only refused to allow the people time off for worship in the desert, but he also cut back their work resources. Straw for their brick making had previously been supplied. Now, the Israelites would gather their own straw. Yet, their daily quota would remain the same. More work, the same number of hours, and the possibility of further suffering if they were unable to complete their quotas.
No wonder the people cried out. Their leaders confronted Moses and his brother Aaron: “May the LORD look upon and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kills us,” (Exodus 3: 21).
Moses ran to Abba’s throne room, and prayed from his gut. Moses got real before God.
“O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all,” (Exodus 5:22-23).
God told Moses, “I’ve got this. Trust me. I will fulfill my promise.”
But for Moses and the Israelites, things got a lot worse before anything got better. In the middle of a Tsunami, nothing makes sense.
The waves batter our ship.
Again and again, events plagued Egypt. Don’t tell me the God’s people didn’t suffer alongside the Egyptians when the Nile turned to blood. Yes, Abba ultimately steered them to the Promised Land, but the passage included rough waters.
And how about Moses ? Was there a lesson for him? Mostly not. God had simply called Moses to shine for Him in the darkness. And there, things go bump in the night.
Moses, however, encouraged and guided God’s people. He testified of Yahweh in Pharaoh’s court. He stood in times of trouble for the grace and glory of God.
By Yahweh’s grace, Moses navigated deep waters. God’s purpose for the storm was twofold: to build the faith of God’s people and to introduce Pharaoh to God.
Pharaoh–who had truthfully asked, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him and let Israel go?”– saw God’s power up close and personal. Yet, he also observed God’s grace when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of God’s people because of the blood of what would come to be known as the Passover lamb.
Sometimes, you and I suffer not because we have done anything wrong or because we must learn some new truth. Sometimes we suffer because through our suffering, God intends to demonstrate His grace and glory to those who truly need a glimpse of Him. In a world bent on going its own way, suffering and mortality often remind people of their need for someone bigger than themselves.
The Pharisees once asked Jesus a telling question with the motive of entrapping Him. Jesus encountered a blind man, and the religious leaders challenged Christ: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1).
Like many contemporary spiritualists, the Pharisees blamed individual and personal sin for all suffering. Sounds a little like the concept of Karma to me. Thus, they surmised the blind man must have sinned or must need to work something out spiritually.
I suppose the Pharisees thought he suffered in order to self-improve; his suffering served as penance for past sin. Suffering, then, was all about self. Thus, the question, “Why me?” logically followed.
But Christ suggested a completely different possibility. He shifted their perspective. He said, “Neither this man nor his parent sinned…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Humanity left the garden. It has forgotten how to commune with its Creator. Pharaoh asked, “Who is the LORD?”
And Jesus answered the Pharisees, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life…I am the light of the world…” (John 9:1, 5) And He has called us to be salt and light in this world as well.
Paul understood this. He knew what it meant to suffer and yet, shine Abba’s grace in the midst of the storm. In Acts 27-28, Paul sailed as a prisoner to face trial in Rome. The ship sailed straight into an enormous storm.
The Centurion, his soldiers and the other prisoners rightly feared for their lives. Yet, God, through Paul, ultimately guided all to safety. Paul boldly prayed. He spoke directly to them about God.
Even though he found himself on a sinking ship, it was not because he had done anything wrong or had a lesson to learn. Rather, Abba sent Paul into the eye of the storm so that Paul could shine for Christ.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
It isn’t always about you or me.
I’ve met many suffering with cancer. I’ve prayed with women who sit in chemotherapy recliners.
I prayed as I helped Mom navigate her final storm. And on the voyage to her heavenly home, I watched her sparkle with God’s glory, love and grace.
After she died, in fact, one of her caregivers continued to stop by… just to talk. In her profound suffering, Mom made a difference.
As I consider all of this, I realize that the questions “What am I to learn?” or “Why me?” are often irrelevant.
Sure, God does use suffering to carve my character. And frequently, I come to know Christ better as I cry, “Master, master, we’re going to drown!” (Luke 8:24).
But suffering reaches beyond me.
For this reason, when I face deep waters, I now wish to ask, “How can I shine Abba’s grace and glory in this place? How can I bring His light to those around me?”
Indeed, Abba calls you and me to demonstrate His love and grace wherever we go.
In the midst of tsunamis, in the debris of the shipwreck…
God calls us to glimmer His grace. With the gentleness and reverence of our Savior, we are to comfort and walk beside others (I Peter 3:15).
And although storms come as we sail with “I AM,” by His grace, we will “shine like stars in the universe” as we hold out the word of life, (Philippians 2:15).
Yeah, I guess I learned something after all… #itsnotalwaysaboutme
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” I Peter 4:10