Tag Archives: cancer

Restoration: The Promise of the Resurrection

"Dad, are we going tonight?" asked the young girl in the row in front of me, her voice full of anticipation. "No, once we land we are going to find our hotel and eat dinner, then we'll go to Disney first thing tomorrow morning," the father replied. The little girl then turned to her brother, and the two talked with excitement and childlike wonder about finally getting to visit Disney World.

Abby

I couldn't help but smile hearing them talk to one another. And then I thought about Abby and wondered how much longer before she can take her Make-A-Wish trip. Abby is a 16-year-old girl in our church currently battling cancer. She went to the doctor a year and a half ago with flu-like symptoms, and tests revealed that she had leukemia and would need to begin chemotherapy treatments immediately.

My plans in Orlando didn't include Disney. I was traveling to attend The Gospel Coalition National Conference at Rosen Shingle Creek. Apart from my time in the airport, I didn't see an advertisement for any of the parks or usual tourist attractions that bring people like me from Ohio to Orlando. But as I listened to the speakers throughout the conference, the simple joy of the two kids in front of me on the plane and the hopeful anticipation of Abby's trip regularly came to mind and challenged me to ask: what is unique about the gospel that can bring deeper joy and hope into the lives of everyday people than "the greatest place on earth"?

Suffering and Consolation

Disney has partnered with Make-A-Wish almost from the beginning, and Disney-themed wishes continue to be the most popular requests by children to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. One result from this demand is Give Kids the World Resortan entire 70-acre nonprofit resort where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families are treated to week-long, cost-free, fantasy vacations. 

Abby has heard firsthand about what's included in a Make-A-Wish trip from Holly, another young lady in our church who battled cancer and had her wish to Disney granted eight years ago. Holly and her family know the suffering that cancer and its treatment brings. And they know the need for hope, like a dream vacation, to give you something to look forward to in the midst of treatment.

Learning about the work of Make-A-Wish is simultaneously exciting and heart-breaking. If you are eligible for one these dream vacations, it is because you have lived a nightmare—it's a consolation for the pain and suffering. Some children never recover enough to be able to travel, and others await additional funds before their wish can be granted (if you are able, you can donate here). So what does the gospel offer that is better than consolation?

Resurrection and Restoration

In the final plenary session of TGC's National Conference, Tim Keller expounded on Luke 24 and the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus. He commented on verses Luke 24:40-43, where we read: 

and when he [Jesus] said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Keller argued that these seemingly minor details about food make a major point. Jesus—body and spirit—was raised from the dead. He did not merely appear to his followers in a dream, nor did he simply "live on" in the memory of those who loved him. He is risen from the dead! The fact that Jesus could show the disciples his hands and feet, and that he could eat broiled fish, demonstrates that the hope of the resurrection includes renewed physical bodies in a renewed physical world. "The resurrection promises us more than consolation for the suffering and death we experience in this world; it promises us restoration," he said. "The resurrection means nothing is truly lost."

Then Keller applied this truth to single people and those in difficult marriages, but I immediately thought of those two kids on the plane and the young people awaiting their Make-A-Wish trips. I thought of every parent who weeps over a sick child and thinks, My son will never be able to play outside or, My daughter shouldn't be confined to this hospital and miss out on high school. There is real hope of a renewed creation because of the resurrected Jesus.

As Christians we don't believe that all good things must come to an end. We believe that all that is genuinely good and of God will never end. The good news is better than the bad news is bad.

Abby has cancer, but cancer doesn't have Abby—Jesus does. And so she regularly lifts her hands as shown in the picture above and worships him, just like the disciples in Luke 24:52. The promise of restoration in the resurrection of Jesus is unique, and its joy is deeper than any temporary consolation.

Whether I Live or Die, God Wins

The Storyframes Collective is a collaborative effort between The Gospel Coalition and the Austin Stone Church for the purpose of celebrating the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people. Through excellence in the art of storytelling (film, photojournalism, spoken word, and writing), this project aims to recount God's redemptive, transforming work in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In form, this website collects encouraging stories about God's grace. In function, we want these stories to inspire you to praise God.

As a collective, we hope that people from around the world will join us in collecting and telling the amazing stories of God's grace and the power of the gospel. We hope this project will increase your faith, encourage your spirit, and open your eyes to the extraordinary work of God every day in your life and in the lives of others around you.

While these stories differ in characters, formats, and locations, they share the same hero: God. Whether highlighting addiction recovery, healing, renewal, transformation, or any other form of good news, they testify to God's power and grace, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We hope you not only enjoy reading, hearing, and seeing these stories, but also take time to observe the stories of those around you. Tell others the story of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, and tell us your story—what God has done in you.

Real Life

Ever since Jen McManus was first diagnosed with a malignant tumor, she's been fighting—fighting against cancer, and fighting for hope. However, far from being rooted in the vagueness of wishful thinking, Jen's hope is anchored in the certainty of Christ's love.

"Cancer has made death more real—and the gospel more real," she says in this narrated gallery. "I'm joyful because of the gospel and because of the story God is telling through my life."

A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life

Rod Dreher's younger sister, Ruthie Leming, was diagnosed with terminal cancer when she was only 40 years old. A beloved middle school teacher, mother to three young girls, and the happy wife of her high school sweetheart, she faced cancer with the conviction that whatever happened to her, God would bring good out of her illness. Her small town of St. Francisville, Louisiana, (population 1,700) rallied to her side during the struggle. But she died in her husband's arms, in a harrowing scene vividly recounted by Rod Dreher in his new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.

The whole ordeal led Rod, a journalist who had worked in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Dallas, to re-evaluate his life and move home for the first time in 20 years. He joined me to discuss faith, tragedy, family, love, and the secret of a good life. You can download or stream the audio below.

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Rod Dreher on the Little Way of Ruthie Leming

The Beauty of Faithful Suffering

I knock on the door expectantly. My friend Debbie greets me in sweatpants that hang loosely on her diminishing frame. Her face is slightly paler than the last time I saw her, and soft peach fuzz graces the top of her head.

She is the most beautiful woman I know.

I hug her tightly, not wanting to let go, wanting somehow to freeze this moment in time. The cancer that began in her breast continues to spread throughout the rest of her body. She has more tumors than the doctors can count, rapidly overtaking her brain. Daily she faces agonizing stomach pains and discomfort. In the midst of the physical pain is the emotional heartache of saying goodbye to her husband and two young children.

Deep waves of suffering have come to my sweet friend, whose faith is still so fresh and new. Her journey with cancer four years ago was the beginning of her journey to faith. Debbie describes God's work in her life:

I was struggling with my faith in Christ for several years before my diagnosis. I prayed to have the faith of a little child again, I read, I researched, and I tried to make myself believe. The problem is that you cannot make yourself believe in Christ. It is purely a gift, and God gave me that gift with my first cancer diagnosis in December 2008, and the following chemotherapy treatments and radiation through 2009.

Then, in July 2010, during my battle with my first brain tumor and first set of partial brain radiation treatments, he spoke to me, told me that I was his, and filled me with the Holy Spirit. I learned more about finding true joy and contentment in all circumstances, and I gained new spiritual gifts as he continued to work to transform me.

In November 2011, with the diagnosis of a second brain tumor, followed by two brain surgeries and a second round of partial brain radiation treatments, along with surgery to remove a tumor in my lung, he taught me yet more dependence on him. But still this wouldn't be enough to bring me to where my soul needed to be.

This past April, I got the diagnosis of four more brain tumors, now on the left side of my brain, followed by 12 whole-brain radiation treatments. It took this last battle to completely humble me, to make me understand my complete dependence on God. I finally feel like I'm on the road to the daily conversational relationship with my heavenly Father that I've always strongly desired and envied in the few people I've seen who truly have it. It's been worth every day I have suffered. God has been weaving a story in my life. When I thought he was refusing to answer my prayers and refusing to show himself to me, he was just standing on the edges, but never gone. He knew the full picture. He cares about my soul.

Debbie was a seeker when she came to our outreach Bible study four years ago. Now, through her example, she is teaching all of us the beauty of faithful suffering. In the midst of losing hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, she glows with indescribable radiance. The dark depths of her affliction make her faith shine all the more clearly. She believes her suffering has value because she treasures the growth it brings to her spiritual life. She knows her soul will live, even if her body fails.

Her four-year-old faith puts my 25-year-old faith to shame.

Her example reminds me that I am called to suffer well while walking in the brokenness this world presents. I am not to succumb to the despair I often feel. I am to faithfully accept the difficult circumstances the Lord weaves into my story. I am to value my soul's health more than earthly comforts. My greatest hope should be for God's glory, not my ease.

No Denying Reality

In this struggle Debbie has fought cancer with every ounce of her being. She wants to live and see her children grow up. She wants to be able to tell others about Jesus. She has honestly shared her struggles and the pain she experiences. On this road, there have been dark days of affliction when God seems distant and the fear of greater suffering is paralyzing. Together we have prayed, wept, grieved, and asked hard questions. For Debbie, suffering well has not been a denial of reality. It has been an embracing of a deeper reality. She knows that all things must be working for her good. Embracing God's Word has been a healing balm for her soul; an active experience of the truth found in Psalm 119:50: "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life."

Just before his death, Jesus told his disciples, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). We are promised trouble in this life. Why, then, are we so often surprised by it? Why do we seek our peace in circumstances rather than in Christ? Even if physical healing comes tomorrow for Debbie, death will eventually come. It comes to each of us. All that matters is knowing Jesus. Some lives are dead long before they die. In facing death, Debbie gives life to others by witnessing to the hope found in Christ alone.

Does it matter how we walk in the face of suffering? The Bible makes unapologetic claims about how we should face suffering: "But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4:13). Allowing us to experience the brokenness of this world keeps us thirsty for the next. The reality of death forces us to consider carefully how we live. Only by believing that a better home awaits can we experience any sort of light in this land of shadows.

Debbie would not choose her situation. She has, however, chosen how to live in it. She lives as a servant of God.

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;  in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;  through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors;  known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:4-10)

There is no more beautiful way to live.

Editors' Note: You can follow Debbie's developments at her CaringBridge page.