Written by: Christina M. Clardy
Edited by: Janet Kibler
Fall. The word itself makes me smile. It’s the season when verdant trees trade their play clothes for vibrant gowns of flaming foliage. The warmth and heat of sun has poured itself into every leaf, leaving the air cool and refreshing as we pull on extra layers. Our sight instead of our skin is dazzled by the sun’s touch. I can never get my fill of pumpkins on front steps, spiced baked goods, and seasonal coffees, of crunching through trails lined with leaves giving off their last beauty before melting into the soil. This is the time of year that my kids pull on pants for the first time in many months underscoring just how much their legs have grown over the summer. They head to school full of enthusiasm, ready to learn new things and fill up a clean slate with who they are becoming. This is fall to me: lovely, comforting, and exciting. I anticipate the arrival every year as sweltering August slides into nipping September.
Fall is different this year. What is spread out across the horizon are ugly words like cancer and chemotherapy. While many are planning school shopping, apple picking, and homecoming, I am looking through our family calendar trying to figure out if I will be wretchedly sick during three of our six immediate family member’s birthdays. Instead of lovely, comforting and exciting, I am dreading the fall, something I have never done. It’s a heavy burden that I do not want to carry. It’s a load that I don’t want my loved ones to shoulder, even if only in part.
What can I possibly do about the ugly, hard, dark things that seem to overshadow the simple joys of the season? How can I let the delicious remain exquisite while being honest about our current reality? I cannot help but admit that I am tempted to be bitter as I ask all the normal questions. Why me? Why our family? Why now? However, I have allowed pain to grow bitter roots inside of me before and I know that it is like rotting from the inside out. Having the physical picture of how cancer can do the same, I know I want none of that. I want the opposite. I want growth. I want growing even if it is slow and laborious. God is pretty explicit in His word that this is what He wants for me too. What He wants for each of His children is to be moving toward something better than ourselves.
I grow in hardship when I begin with joy. This seems contrary to what I am internally experiencing. My antennae are up because I don’t want to be one of those Christians who moves past the hard things too quickly. I don’t want to candy coat or tie things up in neat packages. The book of James says this, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” At first glance, I want to incredulously ask, “What?!? You want me to consider trials a joy?” The reality is that the joy is not found in the trial itself. God does not ask us to call the sad, happy or the painful, pain-free. He shows us pain and grief throughout the Bible. He admits our trials will test our faith. That they are not easy. Instead, He is calling me to see that my hardship is producing something in me that is pulling me toward Christlikeness. This molding to be more like my Jesus, is this not what I truly want, even if it hurts? This is what I find joy in. When the surgery that removed my tumor forces me to learn how to rebuild muscles and nerves so that I may walk again, when I suffer the sickness, weakness, and loss of so many things while chemo kills both the healthy cells and the cancerous ones, God is producing something in me. He promises it in these verses and many others. I get the uncomfortable, gracious privilege of developing into someone who resembles Jesus more and more. I become steadfast and more complete. I have not arrived, but my pain allows me to arrive one day at the feet of Jesus more like Him. So that when I say I am a Christian, I may actually look like Christ! The joy is realized when my eyes are open to see that what I would normally consider a burden is actually an opportunity. Isn’t this just like God? He uses people and circumstances as a means to accomplish things in ways that we would never choose. He is the ultimate transformer. The ugly becomes beautiful, the hurtful is reshaped to be useful, and the sinful is made holy.
I will grieve; I will doubt at times, and if I am honest, there will be sincere misery. I will think how wretched this body of mine is, how I want to be done with this trial, and how I desire to be with Him in heaven. I will long for the mountain top after this steep, aching climb. However, I will not lose hope. He promises that there is purpose in my pain.