AS A CHILD I was taught that God was a caring God. He cared about what I felt and what I was going through. However, when my husband, Ben, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2013, that belief of God was challenged and questioned. We had only been married two years and our son was about to turn one.
Besides chemo and radiation, we did everything under the sun to try and beat the cancer. My parents and I researched alternative medicine and treatment. We tried the Gerson diet; Ben went to two different alternative medicine doctors; and he went to a healing room to receive prayer every week. I remember thinking that maybe we could beat this.
There was a point where many of his cancer tumors started to shrink and completely disappear. The doctors couldn’t believe it. It was a miracle. We all thought he was going to pull through and beat the cancer after all.
But it was short-lived. Eventually his cancer began to win. And just as the doctors predicted, his body stopped responding to chemo. My heart was devastated.
I grew tired of praying. I grew tired of going to healing rooms. I grew tired of all the stress. I grew tired of crying myself to sleep and pleading with the Lord to heal him.
I grew tired of praying. I grew tired of going to healing rooms. I grew tired of all the stress.
Didn’t the Lord care about all the stress cancer put on us so early on in our marriage? Didn’t God care that I had to watch my husband slowly deteriorate in front of my eyes?
I remember my counselor advising me to pour all these feelings and thoughts to the Lord and ask Him to join me in those intense moments. An image a friend gave me was of breaking plates with the Lord. I didn’t actually break plates — though I certainly wanted to — but I “broke plates” in my mind in prayer. I let out my anger and told the Lord that I was so angry with Him for not doing anything, and so angry we were in this situation.
I realized there were only two options: Get through cancer without the Lord or with the Lord. Either way there was no getting around the horrible situation I was in.
The first option of getting through the cancer journey without the Lord was something I wanted to choose almost every day. It was hard to trust in a God who I had felt let me down and disappointed me. On the days I didn’t invite the Lord into my stress and disappointment, I felt weighed down, hopeless, and drained. I had no peace or hope.
It was hard to trust in a God who I had felt let me down and disappointed me.
When I did things with the Lord, it never took away how I felt, but it did give me a sense of peace and hope that I was not walking or doing anything on my own. Not only did I have the Lord, but a whole community of friends and people reminding us to keep pressing into the Lord. Friends drove my husband to chemo appointments. People cooked us meals, cleaned our apartment, cried with us, and did so much more. Staying connected to community showed me where the Lord was when I couldn’t see Him; it reminded me to keep seeking the Lord, even on those days I wanted to give up.
After my husband died, it felt like the many dreams and plans I had with him were all destroyed to ashes. And just like the cancer journey, I could either walk without the Lord or with the Lord.
After my husband died, it felt like the many dreams and plans I had with him were all destroyed to ashes.
But I realized death was never God’s plan for us. It grieves Him to see families separated by death. He did make a way for us to be reunited in the end when He died on the cross, but that doesn’t take away the pain I felt when my husband died. That pain is the fate for all of us; there is no getting around the pain and suffering in this world. But the Lord promises to be Emmanuel — “God with us”.
Seeking the Lord and inviting Him into our pain and suffering can be a beautiful thing. God promises to give us “beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). This exchange doesn’t happen right away nor should it be rushed. The first step was letting the Lord join me in my loss and mourning. Another image someone shared with me illustrates how the Lord longs to mourn with me: I am in a field of flowers, each flower representing a memory of my husband. Some memories are sad and some are joyous. Each time I approach a flower, the Lord joins me and holds my hand. He lets me take as much time as I need with each memory.
I have found that the more I invite the Lord into my grieving process and to come alongside me as I remember and miss my husband, the more I have begun to slowly see beauty in the present. What He cares about the most is tending to how I am in the present; He is willing to join me in whatever I am feeling. To me, that has made all the difference in the world. God joining me in my grieving doesn’t take away my sadness, but it has given me comfort. Comfort and consolation are the most healing steps of God giving us beauty and joy after so much loss and mourning.
The more I invite the Lord into my grieving process and to come alongside me as I remember and miss my husband, the more I have begun to slowly see beauty in the present.
After being comforted and joined, I began asking the Lord to show me where He is and how He is exchanging my ashes for beauty.
I have begun to see the beauty of how my son laughs when he is with his friends. I have begun to see the beauty of being able to call or be with a friend when I am missing my husband. The biggest beauty exchange happened when the Lord answered one of my biggest dreams and passions of being on the performing arts team for Urbana 2015. All of these things have given me joy in the present. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss my husband or never cry or feel sad, because I still do. It does mean that when I continue to embrace the Lord, He can still bring beauty in the place of my ashes of loss.
Joy to me is not a feeling or suppression of emotions, nor is it pasting on a happy face in times of trouble. It is a daily seeking out of the Lord. All of us are prone to get angry or worn out by life, but rather than letting those things separate us from the Lord, it is important to press into Him and invite Him to be with us no matter what we go through.
Joy involves letting your emotions be felt, validated, and tended to by the Lord. It is a decision to live in the present and to keep seeking out the beauty of new dreams and new beginnings with the Lord.
Joy involves letting your emotions be felt, validated, and tended to by the Lord.
But most of all, it is being aware of and feeling His presence through and in the midst of the deepest joys and pains in life.
Joy is embracing all that we experience: pain, happiness, sadness, depression, anger, disappointment, shame, guilt — and doing it with the Lord.
The only way through hard times or life itself is not the removal of pain or what we go through, but holding on to the Lord’s hand and walking it together.