While I have never really been one for making New Year’s Resolutions, God revealed some issues to me over the course of last year that I wanted to address in 2012. I wanted to make this the year we made better use of our finances, getting rid of debt that kept us from using God’s money right. I wanted to be a better spiritual leader in our home, getting back to nightly devotions and modeling Christ-likeness to my family. I wanted to grow more in my walk, not just doing work for work’s sake, but to concentrate my efforts and be more effective in my worship of my Lord and Savior. So when January 1, 2012 rolled around, that was how I wanted to start the year off. That lasted about a week, when a curve ball I never saw coming hit me square between the eyes.
On January 4, 2012, I had to do my annual physical for work. Blood tests, x-rays, hearing exam, the works. Now for the previous twelve years, all I ever heard bad was, “lower your cholesterol.” Hey, I like food, this is annual argument we have. But on January 6, 2012, I got news I had never heard before. Hilar andenopathy. That’s what my x-ray showed. In plain speak, what that meant that lymph nodes (you know those things that swell up when you get sick) in my lungs were enlarged. What followed were two CT scans, an HIV test, a pulmonary functions test, and PET scan (they shoot radioactive sugar in and make you lie real still while they CT scan you for 30 minutes) and, ultimately, a surgical biopsy. For two months of my life, this was a nerve wracking series of events.
Now let me back up and explain a little bit. I have been working at my job for 13 years. Annual physicals are just part of the mind numbing routine of it. In fact, when I hit the 13 years mark, and realized I had another 12 to go before I could even think of retiring, I actually got mildly depressed. So much for starting my years right, I was already whining at God’s provision of a stable job, but I digress.
When I got the phone call and started my series of tests, the one thing I kept getting told was that this was probably “nothing” but they had to check it out. See enlarged lymph nodes can actually be a form of cancer called lymphoma. While the success rate of healing lymphoma is very good, it involves chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. With each test, confirmation came back that something was going on in those nodes in my chest. What that was just wasn’t clear yet. When they conducted the PET scan, those lymph nodes light up like Christmas lights. That was when things started to get scary. Now I had to schedule a surgical biopsy. That was the only thing that would really tell us what was going on.
And while all this was going on, I still had a job I wasn’t crazy about to do. I had a wife and two kids that I have to take care of and be the leader in the home for. I had a house to maintain, I had Sunday School lessons to prepare and teach. Oh, and to top the matter off, our oven decided it didn’t feel like working anymore. It just quit. No warning, no threat of strike if demands weren’t met, it just quit. On that night, I sent out an APB to every prayer warrior I could think of, because the proverbial straw nearly killed that camel!
Now, before this sound like a rant of how bad my life is, I want to explain, I’m not writing this to gain sympathy. I actually hope that this will be an encouragement to those who read it. Encouragement? Seriously, you’re trying to encourage us??? Yes, because in the midst of all this, especially when the oven broke down, I learned something. God is sovereign over all things! So often, if you’re are anything like me, we view the good things in our life as if they are God’s reward for being good little Christians. But we are prone to viewing the bad things as if God blinked for a second, or just wasn’t paying attention at that time. We look at God and say “Why???” That was what I was tempted to say when that oven quit. That was also why I asked my friends for immediate prayer.
See, if God is sovereign over everything, then He is responsible for both the good and the bad that happens in our lives. We can’t get out of this. If He isn’t responsible for both, then He is not all powerful, not all knowing. If we try to blame it on circumstances, or blind luck, then we rob God of His character. And before you say, “Let’s blame it on Satan,” remember that he had to get God’s permission before he afflicted Job. Nothing, and I mean nothing, happens to us without God allowing, causing or ordaining it. And, like Job, our job is not to question why. God allows suffering for a great many reasons, but ultimately it is for His glory and for good. That was what I learned. God had chosen this time in my life, a time when I was readying myself, and my family, to walk closer with Him, to bring a time of suffering. If He had chosen that for me, who am I to tell Him no? He is the Potter, I am the clay. If the Potter was choosing to cause me to have cancer, that I was going to praise His name, no matter how scared I was.
On February 10, 2012, I was rolled into surgery. They cut me open, rooted around with a fancy stick, and pulled out little lumps of lymph nodes. I woke up later feeling like I had been strangled and kicked in the chest at the same time. If you ever feel like getting a mediastinoscopy for fun, don’t, it really didn’t feel good. For the next week, I either spent my time sleeping off pain meds, or doing very little at work thanks to being on light duty. But on February 16, I got to learn what my fate was.
I would love to say that I sat in the doctor’s office completely calm and confident in the Lord. But the truth was, I was pacing like a caged animal trying to will him to come in faster. I desperately wanted to know what the diagnosis was going to be. Yet, within that mild panic was the sense that, no matter the diagnosis, God was there. Whatever words departed the doctor’s lips were ordained by Him. Cancer or not, chemotherapy or not, God was in complete control. I felt that I would march boldly forward into whatever came next. Would I be scared? Undoubtedly. But in that fear, I would cling to the cross of Christ, for my hope was not in doctors and medicine. It was not in good or bad health. It was in the risen Savior who had died on the cross for my sins. I could have joy in the midst of suffering, not because I like suffering, but because my hope was not in the things of this life. I have joy because of the sure promise I have in the life to come. Cancer or not, I was saved by Jesus Christ. That would never change. All God was doing in allowing this light affliction was tempering his clay pot into the mold He intended.
By God’s grace, the doctor shared the words I was desperate to hear, “It’s not cancer.” The weight that fell from my shoulders that day was amazing. Knowing that you could be facing a debilitating disease is overwhelming. Yet, I learned there were still issues to face. I now know I have Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease. It can trigger immune responses in the body for reasons as yet unknown. There are virtually no places in your body it cannot affect. However, most often it remains in those pesky chest area lymph nodes. And in many cases, goes away on its own. But that is not a guarantee. I may yet have to take steroid pills to treat this aliment, and there could be side effects from that. But, as I learned through this, if that is what God has chosen for me, then I will praise His name. I will have joy in knowing that while I may suffer here, there is a time coming when there will be no suffering, no sadness, no depression and no tears. Only a constant praising of the One who saved me.
If you are a Christian, you are going to face times of suffering, God’s word promises that. But, unlike the rest of the world, you have a sure promise. A promise that one day, you will stand face to face with your Savior and enjoy Him forever. In the meantime, that suffering you endure here is the Potter shaping and molding you for His purposes. Please do not fight Him, rather yield to His pressures. In the end, you will find that what He has done is to make you a useful tool in His kingdom, to be used for His glory.