Endoscopy Wing, July 14th, 2104 – “Nate, we found a large tumor and it’s cancer, but she’s young and we’ll fight it aggressively. I’d start the prayer chain.” Words I never thought I’d hear and certainly didn’t see coming that day. My wife Dana was having trouble swallowing. We took her to the ER and they ran some tests. We thought it might be an ulcer or something. As she lay on the operating table still waking up from anesthesia, those were the words we heard from the surgeon – It brought us to our knees. Did this just happen? God…seriously? How can this be? We’ve always felt so young and invincible. These things don’t happen to us. But the reality of God asking us to walk through this valley hit us pretty quickly.
Dana began sobbing and all I could do was try to comfort her. It’s amazing how we all deal with grief and news like this differently. The weight of it hit her instantly but I just felt this numbness take over as I tried to process what was happening. About 2 days later as I woke up at 6am to my wife, with tubes hanging out of her and the nurses sticking her with needles, it just hit me like a crashing wave. I ran out to a bathroom in the hall of the hospital, dropped to my knees and began to cry uncontrollably. I was trying so hard to be strong for my wife, but there was nothing I could do. This wave was coming and I had to get somewhere and be alone with God where she couldn’t see me.
So much was happening so fast. We had just bought an eighty year old house, we were rehabbing the kitchen down to the studs, staining all the floors, unpacking enough to sustain a family of four, I was driving to Nashville to write songs and keeping up with my normal workload, I had 3 weeks of rehearsals and tour dates coming up, Dana’s business was constantly growing and she was traveling, the kids were about to start school – it was already so insane! And then….cancer. We later found out she has stage 4 esophageal cancer. It has spread to her stomach, liver and 4 lymph nodes. We need a miracle.
Everything we know as our “life” changed in that instant in the endoscopy room. So many questions arose in our hearts. How could God be in this? How could He allow this? Where is He? Do we even trust Him anymore? We pray for the health and protection of our family, together, every night - and this is what we get?
As the shock wore off, God began to poor out His love on us through His church. By the grace of God we were able to put all the questions aside and rest in His goodness. This is where our theology gets the ultimate test. Do I trust in His sovereignty or is that just something I say when things don’t make sense? God gave our good friend and mentor Mike Shepard a word for us that has sustained us to this day – “Rest in His sovereignty, but Reach for His promises.” Oh the peace of knowing GOD IS SOVEREIGN. He knows all, sees all, is all, and He is not surprised by cancer. Romans 11:36 says; 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. ALL things means ALL things. If All things are from Him and through Him and to Him, then that includes this cancer. So, we stopped asking “why” and began to ask God to be glorified in our suffering. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
I can’t explain what happens in our hearts as we suffer. I can’t even begin to fathom how God can be glorified in cancer, throwing up blood, tears and sleepless nights, radiation and chemotherapy – but somehow, He is. In a million ways we may never know, He is. So many lives are being affected by our suffering. The church is rallying around us like we’ve never seen. Families are so burdened by our struggle that it’s bringing them to their knees – some for the first time in a long time. And there’s a beauty in that I can’t explain - the beauty of suffering for Christ and taking part in His suffering. “Blessing” has been redefined.
God’s way of showing us love has been redefined. John Piper said it best, "Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of His Son, He enables you to enjoy making much of Him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?"
God making much of me shouldn’t be the way I know that He loves me. Having a nice American lifestyle, big house, nice car, does not mean I am “blessed”. It certainly can be God’s blessing, but so can Him asking us to suffer for His glory. In fact, the love you feel in suffering carries so much more weight. James 1:2-4. 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Joy in trials and suffering? Yes! The joy of The Lord and my comfort have nothing to do with each other. My joy is found in His glory and Him being made much of. Not Him making much of me with comfort and success. He made much of us on the cross. My life is now a living sacrifice, paid for in blood. 1 peter 4:12-13 12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Oh God let Your glory be revealed. Yes, even in this suffering. It’s the cry of our hearts in the dark hours. It’s the strength we have and the joy before us, that we can make much of Him while suffering. I don’t understand it and certainly plead with the Lord to remove it quickly. No one likes to suffer or watch someone they love suffer. But if we must, then let Him be glorified.
As we rest in His sovereignty, we also reach for His promises. We know that God is our healer. We know that He still heals today and we make our requests known to God according to Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.We plead with the Lord just as Jesus did in Mark 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
I don’t pretend to understand it all. Nor do I wish to minimize our situation or sugar coat our struggle. There is a very real battle being waged in our life right now. But, I know God is God and I trust Him. I know He is faithful and His will is being performed. We’ve always wanted our lives to bring Him glory and for reasons only He knows, this is our lot. It’s like when the disciples asked Jesus why a man was blind in John 9:1-3 1As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.2And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. The hope of our story is that the works of God would be displayed in us. Certainly God would be glorified in a miracle healing and Dana walking away without so much suffering. But If He requires us to walk through the valley, He will be glorified as well. And one way or another, she will be healed and whole.
The cancer Dana has is a particularly violent one. It’s hard to keep her strong physically because she is unable to eat due to the tumor, so she has a feeding tube in her small intestine. The nausea, pain and fatigue are relentless. So, in the natural, times of joy are hard to come by. But the goodness of God has sustained us. He has showered us with love and support. The joy we experience can only come from the Lord. The peace He has given us truly passes all understanding. We are in a place of trust like we’ve never experienced and we know that God is with us – He proves it every day.
We are Resting in His sovereignty and reaching for His promises. We covet your prayers and we trust God for healing and the strength to endure. January 1, 2014 God gave me the mission statement for our family, for His glory, by His grace. I had no idea how much we would need that in the coming months. We live, breath and suffer for His glory. Amen.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For His glory, by His grace….