Jesse can point to the place on the ceiling he was looking at when he knew everything had changed in the wee hours of Friday, September 4. He was asleep after throwing up for a couple of hours; and when his mind awakened, he opened his eyes and everything was different. “Everything is different.”, he said to me over and over again the day I pulled him out of bed and took him to the ER. They were the only coherent words he could mumble. “Everything is different. It’s different…diff…di…ent…”, his voice would trail off into a stream of nonsense sounds.
We call it a “Road to Damascus” moment because of what we know of a man named Paul. In Acts 9, the bible tells us that Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, feeling very much like he was doing the right thing because his religion told him it was the direction he should go. He thought he was honoring God by seeking out a group of renegade followers of a “false prophet” named Jesus. But God, in his mercy, struck him down, speaking audibly to him though there was no person present, and blinding him. It was a drastic act that took Paul off of the path he was walking and forever shifted his trajectory in life from killing Christians to becoming one of the most well known followers of Christ in his time (and still in ours). Unlike Paul, Jesse wasn’t on his way to kill Christians. It’s not that he was doing anything wrong with his life at all, really. He was working hard to provide for his family, and working hard to love and lead his congregation well. He was walking the path beneath his feet, eyes set on a distant goal in front of him when God showed up; and, suddenly, everything was different.
I told my sister while I was visiting her, before I came home to unexpected cancer, that Jesse would “never change”. I told her I knew he would always struggle with some things because he was hard wired in such a way…and then, both miraculously and terrifyingly, God snipped the wires in Jesse’s brain, and all of those things that were so permanent…were gone. I was wrong.
“Everything is different.”
The past few weeks have been in-communicably trying. We have been stretched and crushed and pressed until we have felt like nothing. We are acutely aware of our brokenness and of our need of the Mender’s skilled hand. And that is a very good place to be. You see, all of this suffering has taken from us all of the little nuances in life, all the jot and tittle, the minutia, that consumes us humans so much, distracting us from our true purpose, from the path all who claim Jesus as Lord walk together…the path of a bunch of death-deserving hypocrites whose best goodness deserves no acknowledgement and no sacrifice from a Pure and Holy God, but who are looked upon, pursued, and LOVED by their Creator God anyway…the path that often walks us knowingly into pain, both our own and that of other people. That, friends, THAT is the hope and joy found in suffering. The Gospel. The blood of Jesus has rescued us from ourselves. Though our bodies may waste away from disease and famine and age, the blood of Jesus has already healed our souls. There is no fear of death in life with Jesus. We do not fear that cancer will end Jesse’s life, because Jesse died to himself and came alive to Christ when he was a child. He has already died. The life of his soul cannot be snuffed out, because his life-his real, true life-is not here anyway.
If you learn absolutely nothing from the wreckage of our lives but this one thing, let it be this. Take it and hide it deep within your soul so that when troubles come your way, your faith will not waiver:
The goodness of God is not dependent on our sufferings or our blessings. It is not dependent on whether or not Jesse is physically healed of cancer or if the Lord takes him home in the grips of it. The goodness of God is dependent on the character of God Himself. And the character of God is flawlessly, unrelentingly good; Always. His goodness does not waiver because of our circumstances. And if we will stop looking around, and instead, look up…always up…then we will see with all clarity that our present suffering is not the curse the world tells us it is, but a gift. Acute suffering has purged us, in a way, stripping away everything but our dependence on Jesus. And when all you have left is Hope itself, joy is pacing not far behind it.
“I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord exalts,the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!’
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:13-24
Jesse is doing remarkably, astoundingly well. He is almost off of the steroids just a week out of surgery. His speech is markedly changed, and his aphasia is dissipating so quickly that it is difficult to stay ahead of his progress in the speech therapy we do at home.
We aren’t done with this yet. We still have tumor left to conquer. We still live in the land of many unknowns, but God is ever with us. We are being guided with every breath we take, and are increasingly in awe of the grace we are finding this brain cancer thing to be.
Keep praying, y’all. God is using you in powerful ways for His kingdom!