So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
The darkest day, by far, for me since I learned I have cancer occurred the day after our initial visit with my surgeon in Chapel Hill. My husband, Gil, and I had gone to that
appointment, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, thinking that the surgery to remove the tumor in my parotid gland would be relatively simple – and that once I had received radiation treatment I would be cured and could put this whole episode behind me. But the report we heard that morning was very sobering and disquieting. From a medical standpoint, surviving this cancer would be a challenge.
For the next two days I barely ate anything and the intermittent pain I had been experiencing, in and around my right ear and across the back of my head, increased dramatically and became constant. During my appointment, my surgeon expressed surprise that I did not have any paralysis on the right side of my face, which normally happens in patients with a tumor as large as mine. But the next day the paralysis began to set in, and by the night before Thanksgiving, I could no longer close my right eye completely or smile with the right side of my mouth. In just a short period of time after receiving my surgeon’s report on my condition, I had become an invalid.
It was at this point that I wanted to give up; cancer had taken over my life. I lay on my bed envisioning the months ahead filled with pain and disfigurement from surgery and nausea from the follow-up treatment. Everywhere I turned in my mind’s eye, cancer was there – and I saw no way past it. I remember asking myself what had happened to the faithful woman who, one night just the week before, when she couldn’t get back to sleep due to the pain from the “lump,” decided to sit up in bed and give praise and thanks to the Lord until it didn’t hurt to put her head back down on the pillow. “But that woman didn’t have cancer,” I answered back, “she simply had an infected gland.”
I discovered in that moment an awful truth: I had given cancer authority over my life. I had allowed my surgeon’s description of my disease to define who I am. It was cancer that my mind’s eye now saw as “in charge,” and not the Lord, and I had quickly set about arranging my life in accordance with what the disease dictated. My eyes were fixed, solely, on what is seen, and no longer on what is unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
According the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, an early mentor of mine in ordained ministry, “the Christian community [must see] two things at once: the reality and power of evil in this world, and the often hidden but still greater reality and power of the utterly unpredictable and unmerited intervention of God. If we see only sin and death [and cancer] around us, we will be driven to cynicism, hopelessness and despair. If we see only grace we will be deceived by sentimental untruths all our lives.”
I know plenty of Christian “cynics,” people who profess faith in Jesus Christ but do not think he is actively involved, in our day and time, in combating forces of evil in this world. Neither do they think the power of Jesus is given to the church today to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2). So, they turn to Jesus to help them cope with life, but they have no vision of being “more than conquerors” over trouble, hardship, persecution (or illness), as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (8:37). Victory over “the world, the flesh and the devil” is something they relegate to the next life. I also know a number of Christian “sentimentalists” who are always trying to smooth over the fact that life can deal some deadly blows. Neither of these groups possess the vision of God Christians are called to hold.
The vision I am called to hold as a child of God and a follower of Jesus is one in which I “see” that I am up against a manifestation of evil, one that claims many lives each year. However, under no circumstances am I to give it any ground. Jesus, alone, is my Lord and Savior and he came so that I might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). I am to look to Jesus, not cancer, to define my life. So, on Thanksgiving day, although still cognizant of the disease assailing my body, I fixed my eyes, once again, “on what is unseen.”
An amazing thing has begun to occur since the day I allowed the Lord to restore in me a rightful “vision” of life under his authority – and just after a friend prayed extensively over me for healing. The paralysis that set in just before Thanksgiving is slowly reversing itself. Today I can now playfully wink at my husband with my right eye, and it closes tightly, and when I smile both corners of my mouth go way up. While I don’t know if the countenance of my face will light up in just this way after surgery tomorrow, the Lord is giving me a “glimpse” of what is possible under his authority.
A note to Readers: Thank you for the comments you are leaving. Although it is not possible for me to respond to each one at the present time, I am reading them, whenever I have an opportunity. Thank you for taking the time to write. Claudia