Cancer and Faith

So I have cancer one more time.

Based on what my doctor said, it’s an easier one this time. I doubt lymphoma is always less dangerous than leukemia, but in my case, it is. This is Little League compared to the Big League version of leukemia I had.

I get to face chemo at home, here in Memphis with my brothers and sisters, though the final authorities on my treatment will be the stem cell transplant team at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

How Should I React?

Hearts are tricky. We have to guard our heart because out of it come the wellsprings of life, but we cannot trust it. Without the daily exhortation of the saints, the craftiness of sin will disguise bad as good and make our hearts unmalleable.

For me, cancer has been the great revealer. Leukemia answered questions about my heart that nothing else could have. Do I believe what I teach, that it is far better to depart and be with the King, or will I shrink in terror when death comes near? As it turns out, physical death came and breathed in my face, and I smiled at him. He found nothing in me, and he went his way.

I told people that if they were faithful in the little things, that if they bit their lip when they wanted to insult, that if they gave way when they wanted to step forward, that if they eschewed glory rather than pursuing it, that all the little acts of faithfulness would give them strength for the big acts of faithfulness.

I repeated Amy Carmichael’s words: “In acceptance lieth peace.” I repeated Watchman Nee’s teaching that the circumstances that come to us are God’s chisel, molding us to fit precisely into his eternal temple.

But I had no way of knowing whether I believed those words until I was writhing in pain on a hospital bed, in honest gratefulness that I might be delivered from my soft American ways and be a soldier in God’s kingdom.

So here comes the chisel again, shaping the hardness of my heart to the power of his will, making me fit into the stones that surround me in the wall of the temple of God.

Such chiseling, shaping, and smoothing does not come by prayer or discipline. It comes by troubles and suffering.

Mia Hamm, the great women’s soccer player, once said that the image of a champion is not holding a trophy aloft, but bent over, gasping for breath, and drenched in sweat long after everyone else has gone home.

The picture of the faithful saint does not consist of the sweat of labor, but of songs through tears and cries of praise in the midst of groaning. It is joy in suffering, and as Paul and Silas proved, that joy and those songs shake the earth and set the captives free.

We don’t have to make the best of the suffering that comes our way. It already is the best. We just need to embrace it.

“May all who come behind us find us faithful.”—Steve Green.

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18 Responses to Cancer and Faith

  1. Jennie S says:

    I don’t know what to say except that I’ll keep you in my prayers. And thank you so much for sharing your struggles and insights.

  2. David Noah says:

    OK …that was supposed to say … when you let that faithfulness shine through you….( it’s morning and I’m old) ‘-)

  3. David Noah says:

    Our Father is forever faithful and I love it when you, my forever friend, let that faithfulness shine through you! May your day be filled with the comfort that only comes with His nearness. Much love

  4. There are those of us reading these posts that have never suffered the way some of you have suffered in your physical bodies. I can only imagine that there are spiritual battles you all are facing as well.
    I simply want to say thank you for taking the time to talk about your struggles, to talk about your pain, and ultimately to give all glory to God.
    This builds up our faith.
    Prayers and blessings be to you all!

  5. Anna says:

    Ouch. Prayers.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thank you, Anna. For those of you reading these comments, please pray for my friend Jerry. He was my “chemo buddy” when we both had leukemia, and his repercussions from the bone marrow transplant are much worse than my mere lymphoma.

  6. Kyphir says:

    I have been blessed with a body that heals very rapidly. Cuts and bruises, bites and boils, viruses and infections all clear up fast and with a minimum of pain. I had eyesight and reflexes that put me at the top of a short list to be the next Chuck Yeager of pilots. I could do no wrong in school.
    I thought myself indestructible, favored of God.

    Then, the heart attack.

    This was when I was but 17 years old. I was crushed. Why would God make me such a perfect candidate for a life as a fighter pilot and then remove it from me? Why, oh Lord, must I wait? Why do you look the other way?

    So I turned away. Not long after came the industrial back injury where I was informed I would never be able to walk or run without pain, broken bones, shoulder surgeries and, finally, the death of someone close to me.

    I found myself at the end, completely destroyed. Except… God.

    I was 38 years old, working in law enforcement as an investigator. Two of my friends and co- workers were killed in the line of duty. I was called upon to investigate their deaths. I could not take time for aches and pains, heart conditions, or even grief. I had to do this job, to give closure to those who had loved and lost these good men. So, for the first time in many years, I prayed:
    “Lord, I can’t go get my medications, my therapies. I need to get this job done, I need Your Strength to carry me.”

    Three months later, the job was done. In all that time, I never took my heart medication, without which my heart would stop. GOD HAD HEALED MY HEART! My eyes and ears were opened again! I was whole, strong! I could fly again! I could… wait, um.. God? you want me to leave my job, leave my home, and go to Texas with nothing but my truck? What?

    So I went to Texas. I didn’t become a pilot. I became a husband, instead. I found real love, both for God and for a wonderful woman of God! Even when the enemy dropped a car on me, put into a wheelchair, told by the world I would never walk again, He was with me. By His Grace, new muscle was put in place in my legs so that I might stand and walk again!

    I look at my wife, who now is suffering her own recurrence of an illness long thought to be healed, and continue to ask God to carry her as He has carried me. She continues to look to Him for strength, as her own fails. Now I ask God to do the same, once and again, for you!

    • paulfpavao says:

      That, my friend, is quite a story. Thanks for sharing it with us. (For those that might wonder, this is not spam. There is no link attached to the comment. This is just someone telling their story.)

      • Kyphir says:

        As an aside, the woman who I mention as my wife is Jody, above.

        • paulfpavao says:

          Yikes. Well, congratulations on being able to keep your head up and your eyes on the Lord Jesus! In eternity that will be all that matters, and the sufferings of this life will be long forgotten.

  7. Jody says:

    It seems that those of us who have experienced remission (or like some thought, a miraculous healing) are going through another bout with either the same disease or similar recurrent health problem. Ah, at least we are not suffering in pain alone and for the joy of the Lamb are one in giving thanks and praise to our Lord and our G-d who is not only good, mighty, and awesome but grrrrrr888888! To Him be all glory, honor and praise and let haSatan wallow some more in failed attempts to pull faith from those who have chosen the Cross and the life of the Lamb for their portion (all in the strength of our Lord, not one thing of our own to claim, Hallelu-Jah). Peace and grace to you Paul. Again I’m expecting another bill of clean health for you, j.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thanks, Jody. I believe in divine healing, but if it doesn’t come, I believe in kissing the hand of God for everything he gives, even a dose of lymphoma. It’s possible the drugs that suppress my two-year-old immune system caused the lymphoma. If the treatment goes smoothly enough, this could be a great thing. I got an immediate drop in my immune-suppressing drugs as a reward for the lymphoma, which means I get my feet all the way back … reduced swelling, no numbness or tingling, increased ability to exercise. I’m sure the chemo will get in the way of that a little, but hopefully only a little. During my first round of chemo for leukemia, I walked 50 miles and biked (on an exercise bike) another 20 or 30, all in 35 days and most of it attached to an IV pole.

      Health to you, too!

  8. Ben says:

    May you be strengthened and blessed.
    Peace be with you.
    -Ben

  9. Jim Needler says:

    Stay strong…..I am on my third go around with CLL…..will lift you up to the Lord in prayer.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Back in the days when I was blissfully ignorant about leukemia, I was horrified to find out my leukemia was acute, not chronic. I had “the bad kind,” I was told by a friend. Acute leukemia can kill swiftly–mine would have got me in 6 weeks maximum without treatment–but it’s curable. Now I know all leukemia is the bad kind. Either you fight a strong, fast, life-and-death battle with a clear winner and a clear loser (acute), or you go on battling, probably forever (chronic). A few more breakthroughs, and you may be able to quit going around with CLL. I’ll pray for you, too. Thank you for your prayers.

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