Sometimes God makes His path so clear, even when the path goes through rough terrains we would rather not travel. God was so kind to give me a vivid illustration of the results of the choices before me when I was in the midst of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses.
My health began tanking in 2009 which began a course of visiting numerous doctors and undergoing various tests to discover answers while my symptoms continued to worsen. In March of 2011, I went to yet another doctor who finally diagnosed me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), high histamine and blood test results that were indicative of some type of blood cancer. On March 30, I was told that my blood test results were way off the charts for a third time and that I would need to be seen by an oncologist who was also a hematologist. Being a former RN who does online research, I was fairly certain I knew that my diagnosis was going to be between “Big C”, an acute blood cancer that may mean only months to live or “Little C”, a chronic blood cancer that likely would not shorten my life expectancy but change how I lived it. We lived in the limbo of not knowing which from March 30 to June 7, 2011.
The vivid illustration God used about the choice I needed to make in response to how I faced whichever diagnosis, came about through a timely visit of our dear friends Earl and Nancy. Earl and Nancy spent two weeks in our home late March/early April 2011 and arrived days before my March 30th appointment. In fact they were waiting in the car with my husband as we swung by for my appointment on our way out of town to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona.
Nancy had her last radiation treatment days before flying down to visit us in Arizona where we lived at the time. In the months before their visit, she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation for her second bout of breast cancer. Earl and Nancy sat in our family room recounting all the many ways God had blessed them and met them in the midst of Nancy’s cancer battle while Nancy cried tears of joy and gratitude.
In the same time frame, somebody we knew well, received the news that their spouse had dementia. This response was exactly opposite of Nancy’s. Instead they had responses of anger, bitterness and declaring their life was over and nothing good would ever happen again.
God provided a clear and obvious illustration of the choice set before me in how I would respond to the looming diagnosis possibilities. I could choose the better way, that realizes God’s sovereign hand and respond in faith with joy and gratitude regardless of what the future bought. Or I could choose to be bitter, resentful, angry and ungrateful.
After hearing the news at my doctor’s that my blood results would require follow-up with a hematologist/oncologist, we drove up with our friends to Grand Canyon. That evening we went to the vista point that was supposed to be the best at sunset. The colors were glorious and ever-changing. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon watching this amazing sunset I made my choice.
I poured my heart out to God silently as the skies and canyons blazed with a kaleidoscope of colors:
“Oh God, I have no idea what this diagnosis will be. Please, Lord, enable me, whether a few months or a few decades, to be fully present and soak up this gorgeous scenery. Give me the vision and heart to engage and appreciate all of life around me for all of my days. Oh God, one thing I ask, regardless whether it is BIG C or little c, please, please, let me be known as a woman of joy, gratitude and faith. Regardless of how I feel physically, Lord, let me be like Nancy who cried tears of gratitude and joy for all at You did through her cancer. Enable me to have Your joy and contentment and keep me from bitterness, anger, complaining or ingratitude. Remind me of these examples You have so clearly shown me and this choice whenever I am tempted to complain or be resentful. Let my life be a reflection of joy and my testimony be that of a woman who found joy and gratitude in whatever You have sovereignly ordained.”
My choice was confirmed when I first heard with the song Blessings by Laura Story and the story behind it on the radio a couple of weeks after my prayer at the Grand Canyon. The words of that song so resonated with me and that song still makes me cry. You can read the story behind the song here.
Later in April 2011, a friend told me about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and I immediately bought it. In her book, Ann shares how she overcame tremendous fears and hurts by practicing counting gifts as she would journal things for which she was thankful. This book also confirmed my choice. Ann Voskamp has continued to encourage me with her blog A Holy Experience and more recent books.
My pastor asked me in early May 2011 if I would consider leading a ladies Bible Study for two months over the summer using the book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. By this point my hubby and I are almost finding it comical how many ways God was conveying and confirming my choice to ask God to make me a woman of joy and gratitude. I began leading this study in my home with about 15 women the second week of June as I began my first week of chemotherapy. It felt like a combo of early pregnancy, the flu and being hit by a truck the first three weeks on my daily oral chemotherapy until my body adapted to the chemo. Somehow God enabled me to be able to sit in my comfy chair in my family room and facilitate the group those first difficult three weeks. Other women lovingly served me by helping with set up, snacks and clean up. God used those eight weeks of the study to further impact me as well as impact other women who attended.
I have lived out this choice much like a helpless baby bird who is unable to fend for itself. I was/am dependent on my Heavenly Father to tend me, feed me and strengthen me to walk in my choice. Oh there have been days where I pridefully challenged my Father’s wisdom by trying to convince God I would be more useful and serve Him better with full health. There have been times where self pity and complaining have been where I wanted to dwell. But my God has been so faithful to quickly remind me of the example I saw in Nancy and my choice. I repent and turn again to Him in dependence to enable me to seek Him and the joy that comes from seeing life from eternity’s perspective. When I try to live in joy in my own strength I fail miserably. When I am like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and spend precious time in His presence I am once again empowered by His Holy Spirit to rest in His sovereignty and faithfulness and see many things to rejoice and be grateful for in my life.
I am so grateful for the lesson and choice God put before me early in my chronic illness journey. I have seen many benefits of my illness and how looking for ways to be grateful has helped me to recognize many I would have otherwise missed. I pray I will continue to remain and grow in my dependence on God for my source of strength, faith and joy.