I recently was asked to do an interview with our church’s women’s ministry which was posted on our women’s ministry Facebook page. Since not all of you live in the Facebook world, I thought I’d repost it here. I have to admit that the hardest thing for me is to write about myself. Thank you Emmanuel Community Church for being so gracious. May this Advent be filled with peace and joy even in the midst of whatever you are facing.
1. As we near the end of fall and the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, many of us take time to reflect on the different seasons of life with which we have been blessed. Can you tell us about the spring and summertime of your life? How has the Lord blessed you with joy and times of celebration?
I was studying the Greek word “chairo” or “joy” this week—which means “rejoicing.” In Philippians 4:4 Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” I was struck by the fact that not only does Paul tell us twice to rejoice (as if we didn’t hear him the first time!) but he also says that we should always do this continually. We shouldn’t rejoice in the Lord just sometimes, or when life is good, but always – day after day after day. Reflecting on the blessings God has given us helps us to experience “chairo” in the everyday.
As I reflect on my life, I see so many blessings. First, I grew up in a Christian home. Many people don’t have that opportunity, and I don’t take it for granted that I did—God shaped my life from an early age. My dad died suddenly when I was a teenager and my faith was an important part of helping through that time. Another blessing was going to a Christian college. It’s not only where I met my husband Sam (through a summer theatre troupe at Huntington University) but also where I grew in my faith. I’m so thankful to have had a Christian community who challenged me to take a closer walk with the Lord. And finally, both of our children are huge blessings in my life. Both of our children were adopted at birth through domestic adoption, and this process has been and continues to be an incredible journey of faith. Our daughter was born a few months after Sam’s cancer remission. It was such a celebration of joy to see God’s mercy in sparing Sam’s life and then giving us a baby girl. Because of the contrast between the trial of cancer and the experience of joy (chairo) in her birth afterward, that moment is something I’ll always cherish.
2. Those are certainly some big blessings! What did you learn through those times of peace and fulfillment?
When times are good, I often don’t recognize it. I am still so focused on the small problems of life—the worries and stresses. As Rick Warrens says, “No matter how good things are in my life, there are always problems I must deal with, and no matter how bad things are in my life, there are always blessings I can be grateful for.” One thing I try to do is recognize a moment as good – say thank you for it, and feel genuine gratitude for the opportunity to have a good moment. It’s being engaged in the present moment that allows me to find fulfillment. I’m trying to do that more in life. I love getting out in nature, going to a play, concert or museum, traveling, or trying a new restaurant or new foods. I love sharing those experiences with my family—especially the food part since we are all very adventurous eaters!
3. As you mentioned a few times, because we live in a sinful world, life hasn’t always been smooth for you. Can you tell us a little more about those times when you saw signs of winter that was to come, or when it came suddenly and without warning?
Like most things in life, trials and pain often come unexpectedly. My dad died suddenly at 48 from a heart problem. Sam’s cancer diagnosis came out of nowhere after years of perfect health. Our son’s diagnosis of Leigh’s Disease was unexpected after being declared a “healthy baby.” There is little we can do to prevent pain in life because we live in a sinful world where brokenness—broken bodies, broken relationships, broken people—is a part of the journey.
At Silas’s nine-month checkup with the pediatrician, the doctor became concerned because he was slightly behind on some of his developmental skills. He needed an MRI, she said. It was at that point when I realized there was a significant problem. I loved my son. I loved him so much. How could there be something wrong with him? I just wanted want every parent prays for before her child is born, for Silas to be healthy. I didn’t want him to be sick in the hospital or end up in a wheelchair. I knew what the Land of the Sick looked like. I had visited that place during my husband’s cancer; and I did not want to go back. So I prayed,
“Please God, let my son be okay. Please let it be something curable.”
After Sam’s cancer, I’ve learned that doctors never call quickly if a test result is normal. So when the phone rang a few hours after Silas’s MRI, I knew something was very wrong. I closed the door of my bedroom, sat down on the edge of the bed and waited to hear just how wrong. The doctor informed me that there were dark spots on Silas’ brain, which, according to the doctor, were consistent with Leigh’s disease. The doctor had never seen a patient with it before, and she didn’t even know exactly what the disease was. I hung up, looked up Leigh’s Disease online, and began to read through some very confusing information. From what I could deduce about the disease, I found that it was rare, genetic, and affects the brain. My son’s mitochondria, necessary for human life, were dying. There was no cure – and the life expectancy was two or three years. I read those words and felt physically crushed inside. It was the worst news I could imagine.
I have written a lot about the question of pain on my blog. What I have learned through our trials is that God often feels absent. Even the Psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:5). These feelings of helplessness can lead me astray. If I cannot see or feel it, then I struggle to believe it is real and tangible. But faith does not rely on our senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling—all the cues that tell me what something is, whether it is good or bad, real or not. Sometimes I see God in everything around me; other times I do not see him at all—I only see the hospital bed, the grave, the darkness of winter. But faith is believing without seeing. It is hoping when the soul feels despair. That is why the Psalmist goes from questioning his emotions (“Why are you cast down, O my soul?”) to hoping in God in the very next breath: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”. (42:5) Trials make the pendulum swing hard between the extremes of feeling God’s presence in the midst of trials (hope) to feeling alone (despair), but faith centers the pendulum in the belief that no matter whether I feel God or not, he is there. By faith, not by sight–that is always the issue with which we wrestle.
4. How were you able to bear such trials in your life? Were there moments of joy? What has the Lord been teaching you?
One of the things I’ve written about before is that God chose us to parent a broken child, to struggle through the heartache and the loss for a reason. He chose us for something I didn’t feel qualified for or strong enough to endure. Over the last several years, I realized that because I felt so weak, I needed to rely on God’s strength even more. God sometimes gives us more than we can handle, so we learn to lean on Him. What is amazing to me is that He understands our suffering. Christ cares for the brokenhearted. He sees my tears. My sorrow matters to him. When we are beaten down, our souls bending low, that is when we most need to cling to his promises in the dark. I talk a lot about this on my blog—how there is hope through our trials, how there are gifts in the brokenness. If we go through something bad in life, we can either grow bitter or better. Only through acceptance can we move past the bitterness of suffering and on to the gifts that are found in the darkness. During those days of caring for a terminally ill child, I held on to the fact that all of this was no surprise for God. He understood what it was like to watch your own son die. None of this alarms God, because He takes the dead things of this life–-the hopeless news, the broken bodies, the sick at heart–-and turns them into something whole again. We have hope because Christ will make all things new in the end. When he becomes our focus, our perspective changes. We live in the light of eternity.