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The Cancer Devotions, Part 1--Faith at the Foot of the Mountain
Author's note: Adapted from an essay to appear in "Faith Anthology" in August 2003, Obadiah Press.
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him..."
Sunday, November 24, 2002
I guess I could call it the "C" word. It was always something that other people face but would never happen to us. Like bad auto accidents, when we listen with complete detachment as the local helicopter jock reports the three-car pile-up on the I-480 outer belt. They only pique my interest if they're going to interfere with my morning commutes.
The "C" word has hit some of my friends, and I grieved for them. Even then it was a vicarious grief.
Now it has come to us, and I find myself comparing the prices of hats and wigs in chemotherapy fashion catalogs with more than a cursory interest. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but Marie and I have to face it. It's going to take every ounce of faith we ever had to face it.
A week ago today, Marie woke up with severe abdominal pain. It had been there before, but she's always been a fighter. That day it doubled her over. When she asked me to take her to the emergency room, I knew it was serious.
We arrived at 6:30, and the nurses wheeled her back to parts unknown before the receptionist handed my insurance card back to me. I waited in the lobby until 10:00, and then went home. By 2:00 PM I couldn't stand the suspense any longer, and called the hospital.
"We were just going to call you," the person on the phone said. "You need to come in and talk to us."
The tone was too serious, too businesslike to be a billing question. I rushed to the emergency room.
Another receptionist, a lady in her early sixties, had signed on, and didn't recognize me from the morning visit. With the wary tone of one who expected yet another healthy patient with psychosomatic symptoms, she asked if she could help me.
I introduced myself and said that my wife was in the back.
The drained expression on her face was almost palpable. She turned around and spoke to the back, and within seconds a nurse came to the door. She was short, with dark hair, and looked altogether too young to be a full-fledged nurse. Where the receptionist was abrupt, the nurse was almost obsequious, falling all over herself to be pleasant. "Thank you for coming in so fast, Mr. Knox," she said with a smile that I could tell was forced. She led me to a room and pointed. "Your wife's in here."
I joined Marie. A minute later the attending physician joined us. He told us about the tests they had run, and then said, "I'm afraid we have bad news. You have cancer." The word cut a neat slice through our hearts. The doctor explained that the CAT scan showed masses in her colon and ovaries that had metastasized to her liver and stomach.
Tears welled in Marie's eyes as she held my hand. "Why didn't they catch it at the beginning of the year?" she asked.
He didn't know. The ultrasound they did then didn't show anything unusual, and they attributed her problem to an active hemorrhoid.
Our hospital transferred Marie to the James Cancer Research Hospital on the OSU campus that night. After a week of tests and joint consultation, the team there believes that they're dealing with a colon cancer. Tomorrow afternoon, after they complete surgery, they'll know more. The thought hasn't escaped me that tomorrow afternoon I may know how many months or weeks she has to live.
These men and women will hold Marie's life in their hands. They don't strut, but they do walk with confidence. I need that right now. They're becoming my Team Hero, the elite combatants who will go in and extricate the silent enemy. Logically I know we're in for a long conflict, but I need to see it one step at a time. I'll be rooting for them while they're in surgery. Take every cell out. Do a biopsy on it if you have to, and then burn it. It's killing my wife, and I hate it.
Obviously I put a lot of stock in these men and women, and that's reasonable. Where does that put faith, then? Is it at the opposite pole from rationality? Does it mean that if I believe hard enough, my belief will make her well? Or is it the weapon of last resort, my means of denial when the truth is too hard to bear?
Both are incorrect. Faith isn't magic. It's the lens by which we understand the world around us. And yes, sometimes it makes us say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."
That's not a cop-out. One of my philosophy Profs used to say that all faith is irrational. She was wrong. All of us, whether we realize it or not, begin with something that we accept on no basis other than the efficacy of the thing itself. The only way to escape the necessity for faith is to know everything about everything, and nobody knows that. Biblical faith recognizes that the beginning of our thinking is the infinite, eternal God of creation. Solomon wrote in the Proverbs, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
I can trust the surgical team because God has made a logical creation, even after sin brought things like cancer into the world. "I will praise you," David wrote, "because I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). These people know the intricacies of this creation far better than I, but I know the God of the details. His creation won't let them down because He created well.
Both my wife and I love the word, and we reach into it without thinking about it. I took solace in Job. Marie went to Daniel. The other day she told someone over her room phone, "I guess this is going to be my lion's den." She's right in a way. Daniel faced the lions alone in a sealed pit, with only his God to protect him. I'll be beside her, but I can't do the work for her. She's going to fight this one alone with her God at her side.
I can't boast about how strong my faith is making me right now. Frankly, the way I beg God to spare the woman I've loved for twenty-five years makes my faith look pretty shaky, at least from where I stand. The thought that I might have to let her go terrifies me. I think about an empty house and bed and wonder if I'll be able to stand it.
But even that level of desperation won't let me go beyond certain bounds. God is good, and I have the freedom to continue to pray. I can trust the surgical team with Marie's body, because I know the God who created her.
Still, I know that God is sovereign. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, that forbids plea-bargaining. Marie is God's gift to me, and our times together are in His hands. Though He slay her, yet will I trust Him.
Copyright (c) 2002,
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