“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”ISAIAH 9:2
The first time I found out I had cancer, the discovery was not as traumatic as you might expect. Perhaps that's because I was partially relieved to finally have some answers after months of "chasing rabbits", or maybe it was because I didn't fully understand what "Stage 4 Lymphoma" meant and how difficult the road before me would be.
Finding this diagnosis was not a pleasant experience. During a particularly painful exam where I had to hold my arms above my head for over a half hour, I began to feel despair creep in as I struggled to keep my arms up and hang on to my Joy. In that moment, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me of Christ hanging on the cross. It was not a detached challenge to "be stronger"; it was a gentle reminder that He has also suffered...and that I was not alone. In that moment my heart and body were strengthened, and my Joy was restored.
The incredible support of my husband Harold and the many friends who gathered around us carried me through the difficult treatment and recovery process. As a high school teacher for over 30 years, it was my incredible Joy to look into the eyes of all the students who had watched as I walked out this process, and tell them of the faithfulness of God in my life.
The second time I found out I had cancer, I didn't handle the news as well as before. It was just a few months after finishing my chemotherapy and getting the "all clear", and this time, the despair was overwhelming. I was, of course, concerned for my own life. But what made this time so difficult was knowing the testimony I had just shouted from the rooftops was now a potential stumbling block for those who might doubt the Lord. In addition to that, I now understood how difficult this road would be and I knew that I could no longer teach my beloved students, and that broke my heart.
The day I went in to resign my teaching position, my heart was so heavy that I felt as if I would never feel Joy again. A fellow teacher and dear friend saw me crying in the hallway and offered to pray with me. She knew that one of the biggest burdens I was carrying was the sorrow over abandoning my students without a good person to fill my position. My principal called the position in and within an hour the HR
Department had found an excellent candidate to pick up the work I had begun. You might not think this would have made such a difference when facing life and death, but the provision of a replacement that I trusted was the spark that reignited the Joy in my heart again.
I completed the second round of treatment and my doctor felt that I was a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant that would completely rebuild my immune system. I had seen the faithfulness of the Lord and I had experienced the incredible support and love of the body of Christ; I knew that this procedure was an opportunity to put this entire season behind me and move forward. I decided to have the transplant and despite knowing that it would be hard and require a lot of recovery, my heart was full of Joy and I knew that the Lord had opened this door.
They say that depression is the most common struggle for people with cancer. I can understand why that would be the case, but it wasn't for me. The strength of my husband Harold; the encouragement of the scriptures and tender notes from dear friends, and the continual reminders from the Lord that I was not alone allowed me to cling to the Joy of the Lord.
This year marks 10 years since my original diagnosis and 7 years since I had any signs of cancer. I was even able to return to my beloved students and continue teaching until retiring recently.
The Joy of the Lord is our strength.
His Joy sustains us when our hearts want to fail. It protects our hearts when our bodies do fail. It draws us close to Him and surrounds us with the love of others. Our Joy isn't based on our circumstances; it's there in spite of them when we run to the Lord. His sacrifice is the source of our Joy and we are the way his Joy is shared with the world around us.