Given here in manuscript form - it was given out as a booklet at the June 3rd 2017 Memorial Service.
Lessons God is Teaching Me on My Journey with Cancer A transcript of a testimony shared at my church on October 26, 2014
Recently people have asked, “Now that you’re retired, what are you going to be doing?” I really feel that God has given me this ministry of serving Him – honoring Him – with this cancer. I want to use it as a platform to share Christ and to glorify Him. As John Piper says, “Don’t waste your cancer!” and I don’t want to do that. So I take this assignment as coming from God’s hands to me.
Most of you know that I’ve been on a journey with cancer for six years. I went through chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Then I was declared in remission for about three years. Two years ago, the cancer recurred and metastasized to my liver. My oncologist then prescribed a series of oral or injectable chemo drugs to keep this tumor stable with the hope that it would even reduce it. When one chemo drug lost its effectiveness, he put me on a stronger treatment. I’m very thankful for the wisdom and kindness of Dr G. I've hear that he’s known as “the Doctor’s Doctor” when it comes to this kind of disease. He is also a believer and has been to Jamaica with TEAMS for Medical Missions on several of our quarterly J-Teams.
Glimpses of Grace would be the theme I want as a foundation for my testimony. 1 Peter 4:10 talks about “the manifold grace of God” – the many facets of God’s grace. So rather than little glimpses of grace, I feel like I’m walking down a long corridor with these murals of grace beside me. When I need hope, that’s the grace gift He gives me, or encouragement, or mercy. His multi-faceted grace always is matched for every specific need: hope. . . mercy . . . compassion . . . faithfulness . . . Himself. That just leads right into Lamentations 3:19 where Jeremiah says, “Remember my affliction. My soul sinks within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope in the Lord. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ therefore I hope in Him.”
This passage of Scripture ties in so well with 1 Peter 4:10 and identifies some of the grace-gifts that God makes available to us. All of us come into these times of difficulty where we need His grace to get through. And God says, “Here’s the grace gift that you need. You need to know that I am your portion. I am all that you need.”
Another area where I am blessed, besides God Himself and His grace toward me, is His Word. For both Ray and me, we are grateful for the godly heritage from our parents. Both of us began to learn God’s Word at a very early age. I am so grateful that in these older years, the verses that I learned as a child now come back to give fresh hope and encouragement. God uses these familiar verses – and even songs – to comfort me. His Word is a great treasure in times of difficulty. Memorize it, read until your heart glows, apply it to your life, and claim it – God’s Word is true.
I’d like to share a few lessons that God has taught me on my journey. Shortly after I was re-diagnosed with cancer, a friend from Virginia sent me a book: The Red Sea Rules. It was written by Robert Morgan, a pastor from Tennessee, as he was reading and studying Exodus 14.
This recounts how the children of Israel were trapped by the Red Sea. Out of Exodus 14, Pastor Morgan took ten strategies or ten principles for what we should do when we find ourselves in a difficult place. I said, “OK, I’m in a difficult place. What are some principles that God wants for me?” I was eager to read this book because it was taken right from Scripture. When The Red Sea Rules came, Ray and I decided to read a portion of it each night together. I highly recommend this book.
The first lesson I learned is in Exodus 14:1-2 – I’m in the right place - God has a purpose for me to be where I am. If we look in Exodus 14:1-2, we read, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Speak to the children of Israel that they may turn and camp . . . [and then He names three places that are very hard to pronounce]” He wants Moses to get off the road they are traveling and make a definite turn to take the Israelites to this particular location, between the mountains and in front of the Red Sea. From these verses, we see how God can redirect us to be right where we are.
Sometimes we think, “How did I get here?!” or “This place is really beyond my comfort zone.” Yet from this Scripture we see that when God turns us and puts us in a new situation – often one that we wouldn’t have chosen at all – that that’s really where He wants us to be. When I saw this, I thought, “Alright, Lord, this is Your plan for me. You’ve put me here for a reason. I want to be thankful that I’m in this place. I can say, “I know I’m in the very center of God’s will.”
The second principle that we find is in the next two verses – Be more concerned for God’s glory than for my relief. Maybe we won’t always know exactly why God put us in this place, but God has put us here for a very specific and wonderful purpose. God says to Moses in verses 3-4: “For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, 'They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD."
Isn’t that a wonderful purpose? God turned them aside so that He would get the glory over a great victory, resulting in all of Israel and Egypt knowing that God Himself was the Lord. So here I am. I don’t know exactly why I’m here, but I do know that I need to be more concerned for His glory than for my relief. How can I glorify God right now?
All my ministry life – right from my teenage years – I have wanted serve the Lord wholly. Now I’m retired and He says, “I’m not done with you yet. I still want you to glorify Me.” I don’t want to waste this cancer. I want to use it in a way that will give God the glory. Somehow I must let people know that I serve a great God who can do all things. I’m no longer in Jamaica or South Africa, but I can still share the hope Christ gives with other patients or people in very distressing situations. God is bringing these to me to minister with the same comfort that He is providing to me.
Philippians 1:29 comes to mind here where Paul says, “It has been granted, on the behalf of Christ, to not only believe in Him, but to suffer for His sake.” We think of grants as good things: a college grant, a research grant, or possibly a home improvement grant. But this is also a good grant. God has granted to me, on behalf of Christ, to not only believe (which brings a stronger faith), but also to suffer for His sake. It reminds me of a poem that Amy Carmichael wrote. This is just a part of it:
Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand? Hast thou no wound? Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent, Leaned me against a tree to die. No wound? No scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, And pierced are the feet that follow Me. But thine are whole; Can he have followed far Who hast no wound or scar?
I want to be identified with Christ somehow. My scar or wound, if you want to call it that, is so small in comparison. You think of those who are persecuted overseas. You think of those who have suffered long or who have lost someone very precious to them because of the Name of Christ. If I can identify with Christ in this way, it is all glory to Him. Remember what Jesus said of Lazarus, “This sickness is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” John 11:4.
We claim these promises – “He gives power to the weak” . . . “I can glory in my infirmities” . . . “When I am weak, then is He strong”. . . “I have chosen you – even in this place – I have chosen you to go and bear much fruit.”
I don’t want to waste this cancer.
The last principle that I want to share with you is right near the end of the chapter in verses 21-22. You know this part of the story. We all know how “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused it to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
In the morning, the Israelites saw a dry path – a path no one knew was there (Psalm 78). They went through safely to the other side and were delivered from Pharaoh’s army.
This last principle then is to trust God to deliver in His own unique way. I’m sure the Israelites had been complaining to Moses those previous hours, “Aren’t there enough graves in Egypt where we should have stayed? Look at the size of this army that is chasing us!” They had no idea that overnight God was going to make a path in the sea. I’m sure they were trying to think how they were going to hide in the mountains! Yet God delivered in such a unique way. Not only was it a unique way where God got the glory and praise right then, but we read in Joshua 2 that when the spies arrived in Jericho, Rahab was still talking about this great thing that Israel’s God had done forty years earlier! It became praise, not only for the Israelites and a mighty witness for God in Egypt, but this great deliverance went years ahead. The Psalms review this story often and even Paul, in 1 Corinthians, refers to this miracle at the Red Sea. It was a great deliverance. It was a miraculous deliverance!
For me, I know God is going to deliver me as well. It might be miraculous. We know that our God performs miracles because “nothing is impossible” with Him.
It might be providentially. For me I believe God is answering prayer and delivering me in this way now by putting me here in the Lehigh Valley where there are good doctors, medical care, and even a brother in Christ as my oncologist. I haven’t experienced dreaded side effects that seemed to be certain to come. I’ve also been able to afford these medicines. The medicine I’m on now is $4,000 a month. The last one I took was $12,000 a month. When I called the specialized pharmacy in Nebraska where I have to get these prescriptions filled, the pharmacist said, “We have a grant for you [that’s a good grant, you see.] It will cover everything. Whenever you need a refill, we will take care of everything for you." Some of you know this story as I shared it back in March, but that was just an amazing provision of the Lord. So again, God is delivering me providentially.
God can also deliver His children mysteriously. Here I think of that verse in John where Jesus says to His disciples, “What I am doing now, you do not understand, but you will know after this” (John 13:7). Someday God is going to reveal that to me. If He doesn’t deliver me here, He will deliver me ultimately when I enter Heaven to be with Him forever. There won’t be any wheelchairs in heaven, there won’t be any pharmacies in heaven, there won’t be any aches and pains in heaven, or even first-aid kits there. God is going to heal all of us ultimately and for that we praise Him.
Wait and see what God will do – His ways are always good, acceptable, and perfect!
The final Scripture that I want to share is one I memorized when I was four years old. It is Psalm 23. It has 114 words or so. Probably all of you know it and have heard it many, many times. I ponder and meditate on this Psalm often. I love the Shepherd / sheep visual of God’s care for us. Tucked inside these six verses are truths for all times and all situations.
The Lord Himself is my Shepherd.
When I find myself walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I can pray, “Lord, I’m thankful they are merely shadows.” I’m thankful that the valley is temporary. Up ahead there are the tablelands that He’s preparing for me and a cup of oil that is poured on my head and even overflowing. There are good things up ahead. I have to remember that this valley is just temporary.
One night I was very fearful of my enemies. You know, “Your tumor marker numbers are up. We are going to have to begin a new level of chemo for you that is more potent.” There’s the fear of not knowing. Do I plan for next summer’s vacation or not? I don’t know. These things begin to weigh on me. Then I realize that I’m concentrating on the enemies. “Lord, You said that you would prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” So even when surrounded by these “enemies”, I know God will nourish me and care for me.
I want to end my testimony like that little sheep. When I get near heaven’s door, I’m going to look back on my life. I’m not going to see the valleys, the enemies, or the tough times, knowing I was on the right path. I’ll see my life as a tapestry that is perfectly designed and whole. I will stand there like that sheep and testify, “Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all my life.” Then I’ll do a 180 and I’ll turn around and I’ll say, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I’m going to be with Him, and that is “far better.”
I’m so thankful for the Lord. I’m so thankful for His Word. I’m thankful for my family that God has blessed us with who have taken the baton of faith and are passing it on. I’m so thankful. I pray that you would recognize with me that “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30) – and we don’t want to mess with perfect, do we?
May the Lord receive the honor and glory for what He is doing in our lives. _______________
A brief PS written on April 6, 2017 - Now, over two years later, I am still on this journey. At my appointment in mid-February, Dr G said “the disease is progressing” and he recommended beginning hospice care. I continue to be grateful for each new day as a gift in which I can serve the Lord. My “outside” ministry has stopped for now. Rather now I have time to do some brief e-mails and praying for people who are also struggling. Ray has been such a great encouragement, as have our children and grandchildren. We always look forward to being together as God arranges our schedules. Thank you for your ongoing prayers for me – as the Lord reminds – and for your unwavering work for the Lord. May God bless you richly! Love you! - Ruth