Four months ago today, I found out I had breast cancer. I feel like I’ve lived the span of decades in those few short months because walking to the grave and back is exhausting. But, regardless of how old I feel, I only turn 45 today.
A year ago, I never dreamed Mayo Clinic would become my home away from home. That exit on our way to the beach, the one I always dreaded approaching and was so relieved to pass, is now where my GPS suggests and assumes I’m going every time I get in the car. I never dreamed that I’d have scars marking my body – some you can’t hide in clothes and some you can. I never thought I’d have to tell my school-aged kids that I have cancer and watch their cries of disbelief and sorrow as they wrapped their arms around me thinking their hold on me could keep me from it. I couldn’t anticipate that I’d be slathering Aquaphor lotion on my breast trying to quell the inflammation, cracking and irritation of my skin. I didn’t know I’d become educated in the types, stages, grades, research, and treatments of breast cancer; that I’d have two oncologists, a hematologist, a cardiologist, surgeons, and other specialists I’d meet with more than I meet with friends for coffee. A year ago, I didn’t know any of this.
But, friends, I know I’m not the only one. What didn’t you know last year at this time? The deception in your marriage? The depression, dangers, and anxiety gripping your teenagers? The generational pain specific colors of skin experience that Aquaphor can’t soothe? The false sense of security in a job? The fragility of apparent unity? The increasing noise of demons you thought you’d silenced? The bare thread of your nerves? The crushing of a long-hoped-for-dream? The cynical disposition you now feel comfortable wearing?
This year has been full of surprises for all of us; some we can share publicly and some we can’t. When I started writing my #thisisbreastcancer posts a month ago, I did so anticipating this article. Because, this suffering isn’t just breast cancer, is it? This is life.
I can fill squares with my cancer journey and receive an outpouring of support and love, which I am so grateful for. But my suffering has made my heart a magnet for other suffering, most of which my friends who are experiencing it can’t share publicly. The mental illness, the infertility, the wayward children, the wayward parents, the addictions, the strain of marriages, the toll of chronic pain, the never-ending grief of loss, and the list goes on.
So, dear ones, you who can’t be seen and supported publicly in your pain, this is for you.
Grief changes the way you see everything – God, others, life circumstances, and yourself. This grief that is changing you doesn’t need to change you for the worse by wearing you down, beating you up, and leaving you for dead. It doesn’t get to have the last word. But do you know what does? Glory does. Because glory changes you too.
“And we all…beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this [change] comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
As you see glory – God’s unique excellence (everything better and beautiful and good about him in creation and the Bible) – it gives way to a glory formed in you – a brightness, a radiance, a splendor, and even an unmistakable reflecting of the character of our suffering then glorified Savior.
Yes, grief changes you. But how much more does glory! From one step to the next, then to another and another.
And do you know what God says to us through our friend Paul about these steps of glory we’re climbing in our suffering?
“I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
But does Paul really mean my suffering? Yes! Romans 8:35 covers it all: “tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness [this word has never been more comforting to me than through my cancer journey], or danger, or sword.” Every single bit of it.
Suffering is the path to this glory. It is what propels us forward! So stay on the hard road. Lean into the trial. Keep looking for glory and, remember, you’ll see it more clearly through groaning. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves. . .groan inwardly as we wait. . .” (Romans 8:22, 23) You may not have delivered an actual baby, but Christian, you can deliver yourself to glory through your pain and labor in suffering!
Every necessary confrontation in that challenging relationship is a groaning labor push to delivering peaceful glory. Every therapy appointment reliving trauma is one groan closer to delivering you emotionally and mentally glorious. Every doctor visit making you realize you have no dignity left is a groan toward the redemption of your broken body. Every day living with your spouse and fighting for trust and love is a groan delivering you to the glory of a life free from the enslaving effects of sin.
This is life. And these excruciatingly painful steps through it are not worthy to be compared to the glory that’s changing you now and awaiting you then. “Now for a little while you may have. . .to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith. . .may result in. . .glory. . .when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6, 7)
I wrote most of this post yesterday, my actual birthday, but am just posting it today. Thank you for all of the birthday wishes and love!