In my last blog post, “Trusting God in the Bizarre,” I shared how a diagnosis of tongue cancer had blown up my world and how I was wrestling with my fear—again—of pain and suffering.
It has now been 11 weeks since a surgeon removed a third of my tongue. I am still healing, both my tongue and my neck, from which he removed 20 lymph nodes—which were cancer free. I still thank the Lord for that graciousness. My speech is no longer impaired although it is affected. I sound like I have a cough drop in my mouth when I talk, and the “s” sound is still a challenge.
Let me share with you what “Trusting God in the Bizarre” looks like on the other side of surgery.
I continue to believe that this cancer is a form of spiritual warfare, and it was a very personal attack as retaliation for continually speaking out about the goodness of God’s design for sex, gender, and sexuality. According to Ephesians 6:13, the outcome of successful spiritual warfare is to just stay standing. (“[W]hen the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”) I dug in my heels, so to speak, and determined to keep standing in the goodness of God, not allowing the enemy to knock me down. And to keep standing in my trust of His sovereignty, that a good and loving God is in control. As I praised Him for using pain as a sculpting tool to shape me like Jesus, my heart of thanksgiving repelled the enemy, for the Lord abides in the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). I love the image of the God of light dwelling in the heart of the believer, because darkness cannot stand before light. It has to flee. And so did the enemy, as I thanked and praised God for His lovingkindness to me.
Before the surgery, I was pretty much terrified of the physically torturing pain that never came—a source of wonder and deep thanksgiving. What I was not prepared for was the emotional pain of soul-wrenching loss. The grief of losing my life before the surgery; the grief of losing a body part; the grief of losing my clear speech, which I had always taken for granted. In the first couple of weeks, my husband Ray told people at church, “She almost never smiles anymore,” and when I did, it was lopsided, still affected by the surgery, the numbness, the cut nerves.
I journaled, I am depressed and sad and grieving and unhappy and feeling crummy. My life is not lost, it’s put on hold. STUPID HARD. That’s my phrase for this. And the shock of it shows I’m blessed by how beautiful my life has been up to this point.
For two of the early post-op days I was deep in the weeds of grief, exhausted from frequent tears that came unbidden. Instead of a tissue box, I kept a stack of napkins next to my recliner and it was amazing how many I went through. Then the third day, I received such moving encouragement via texts from my son in California that tears of gratitude and appreciation flowed. I actually started to feel dehydrated from the crying. When the fourth day proved to be tear-free, I was amazed by how much energy I had! What a poignant reminder of how exhausting tears are, and why people overtaken by tears need to be given extra-large doses of grace and compassion.
Before my surgery, I asked God to give me a handle to hang onto when I woke up and then afterwards, and He gave me this: “Be a window.” I journaled, A window doesn’t work at being transparent and clear, just as a branch doesn’t work at receiving the life of the vine. I just need to ABIDE. I will have the IV right there as a visual reminder to be “actively passive” in receiving the Lord’s life and letting Him shine through me.
Wincing internally because of my speech, I kept using the phrase, “I’m not ready for prime time,” but the Lord showed me that oh yes it is. I noticed that when people knew about my tongue cancer surgery, they were able to understand me easily, not like strangers who didn’t know and would ask me to repeat myself. He impressed on me that I am in a window of time, ever-closing as I slowly heal, where people are listening more closely to me than ever before. I don’t know if God is anointing me, or if He’s anointing the ears of people I’m talking to, but something special is happening.
When I realized that rather than putting my life on pause, waiting for “prime time,” I am in a limited-time window of blessing, I prayed, “Please don’t let me miss any opportunity You are opening for whatever You want to do through me?” Various doors opened to speak or teach—at church, at a women’s luncheon, in a couple of classes at a Christian high school, recording a podcast on “transparency and authenticity”—and when I am able to share about recovering from tongue cancer surgery, people listen extra hard.
So the first direction I got from God was, “Be a window.” Now that’s been expanded to, “Be a window IN this window.”
Before the pathology report for my lymph nodes came back clear, I wrote:
I have been begging God for no cancer in the lymph nodes, but what if He says no? What if my path goes into the radiology unit?
God is good even when there is cancer. He loves me even if He has given a green light to more cancer. If He says yes to lymph nodes then He has a plan for me to bring glory to Himself through me, through my response. He will show others what the response of faithfulness and trust looks like, as I seek to “be a window.” Lord, give me direction and wisdom in how to show YOU off without showing ME off. You know—oh, how You know!!—how I struggle with pride. I want to be the best example of a faithful suffering Christian—but I don’t want to suffer to do it! Thank You for using this trial to make me more like Jesus. Thank You that I will look back on this “light and momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and think, “TOTALLY WORTH IT!!” Thank You that this is how I glory in my suffering (Romans 5:3)—by focusing on You and on what is true, and not the pain. Just as Peter needed to focus on You and not the storm when he walked on water.
I recorded several videos for social media to give updates on how I was healing and how I was sounding. In this one, I was transparent about the fact that sometimes I have a hard time with the “s” sound. But it struck me that there is more value in people seeing the Spirit-enabled grace of self-acceptance in the face of loss, than if my speech were unaffected in the first place.
Several people have asked, “What do you think God wanted you to learn from this trial?”
I honestly don’t think it’s about gaining more information about God or learning more life lessons. I think it’s about building my character and perseverance. I think it’s about growing my roots deeper in my dependence on Christ and maturing me spiritually, to make me more like Him. That’s the spiritual fruit that the Lord wants to see His people bear, I think.
I’ll keep you posted. *still a little lop-sided smile*