It’s no coincidence that this Oswald Chambers quote has come across my path in several settings and through different conversations I have had with several people recently.
I didn’t hesitate to share openly about my new cancer diagnosis as soon as possible with my family, friends and church family in early April this year. I’ve also been proactive in journaling and even writing about my ovarian cancer diagnosis here on my Journey Thoughts blog. So many people have commented that they appreciate that I have been open and honest about this health challenge so they can pray specifically for me and come alongside me in practical ways as well.
I have learned through my previous experience not to “waste my cancer”.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, I didn’t understand the impact I had on others just by living out my faith throughout the “battle”. When first diagnosed, I didn’t want to share anything about what I was going through. It was partly because I was fearful to admit such vulnerability to others and I certainly did not want any kind of notoriety! I didn’t want curious stares, or pitying remarks, and I certainly didn’t want people to only identify me with my cancer diagnosis. I envisioned the whispered comments and I cringed thinking people were talking about me behind my back: “There’s Lynn – she has breast cancer, poor thing!” Ugh!
I fought against revealing my health struggle with anyone other than my husband and immediate family for several weeks and then God clearly spoke to me through Henry Blackaby, who was the guest speaker at our church one Sunday. I went up to him at the altar call and without getting too specific, I just told him I was facing a major health crisis and appreciated his prayers. He nodded and said he would pray but he was adamant that I share my health struggle with my church family. “They need to be able to come alongside you,” he said, “so they can support you and your family through this and you need to let them! God may use your health struggle to teach them what true koinonia is and it will be of great benefit to them and to you!”
I was floored. Did Henry say my breast cancer would actually be a “benefit” to myself and to others? That was the most bazaar statement I had ever heard! Surely I had heard him wrong.
He turned me to face my church family and quieted the congregation. “Lynn needs to share a health struggle she is facing so you, as her church family, can come alongside her in prayer and support her through this.”
I didn’t have time to react or even to prepare what to say. I cleared my throat and surprised myself by openly sharing that I was going to be undergoing mastectomy surgery followed by chemotherapy treatments over the next several months. When I was finished speaking, I was overwhelmed by the emotional response displayed by the congregation and the immediate outpouring of love as people swarmed me promising to pray and assist me and my family throughout the months ahead.
I did not know it on that day, but learned later, that there was a couple visiting our church to “check it out” that morning, and it was my testimony and the subsequent congregational response that prompted that couple to join our church! They said they wanted to be a part of a church that cared so much for others.
I didn’t totally understand what koinonia was until I experienced it first hand after my cancer diagnosis. Henry Blackaby defines it in his book: A God Centered Church: Experiencing God Together:
“Koinonia is the practical expression of God’s love toward his people….Koinonia is agape love in action. It is how we experience the fullness of God’s love for his people and in his people.” (p. 31)
My church family learned to love and care for me and my entire family through the two years of surgeries, and treatments I had to go through. I heard so often from so many, “When one member of our family hurts, we ALL hurt!” I received cards, daily emails, care baskets, meals, home care, babysitting for my young children, and the Worship Team even came to my home when chemo left me too weak to attend church services. The men’s group came alongside my husband, and the youth group surrounded my teenaged daughter with their love and support as well.
I wrote a blog in 2014, “Heart Scars“, that goes into detail what I learned after that cancer experience. I feel the need to share a portion of that blog post now that I am facing another cancer diagnosis.
1. God used pain to move me. I couldn’t ignore the fact I had cancer. I had to take action, it would have cost me my life otherwise. I had never thought much about my health or my mortality before. A cancer diagnosis forced me to rethink priorities in my life.
2. God used pain to move me towards Jesus. I ran straight into the arms of Jesus. I had no one else to turn to. Although I had the support of family and friends there were times they just couldn’t comfort me, try as hard as they might. In my pain, God revealed Himself to me more clearly and compassionately than ever before. I would never have experienced Him the way I did without journeying with Him through cancer.
3. God used pain to move me towards others. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, encourage, befriend, support, and love one another. I allowed others to minister to me during my time of need. I relied on them as I never had before. I let go of foolish pride to allow myself to become vulnerable not only before others but before God.
4. God used pain to bring me together with others who have experienced similar suffering. I have been blessed to be able to fellowship with many courageous women who, like me, have experienced breast cancer and some who are still experiencing breast cancer. We are part of sisterhood and we have a special bond and camaraderie together as a result. I can empathize with them, cry with them, laugh with them, but mostly I can point them to the One Who will ultimately brush every tear away and heal them of their pain…Jesus Christ.
One of the most profound things I learned was that pain is not to be wasted!
Whoa! Think about that. Whatever circumstance right now that you are in, big or small…if you are experiencing pain, do not waste it! If God has purposed you to experience cancer (or any other kind of “pain” physically, or if you are experiencing Heart Scars) do not waste the opportunity to draw nearer to God and to others through the experience.
I thank so many of my readers who have commented and stated they are praying for me. Your words and encouragement have meant so much to me! I pray we will experience koinonia together and that God will be glorified throughout this journey!
Hi Lynn! You are not alone on your journey and that is beautiful. Koinonia too is beautiful when a church family puts it into practice. Bless you, as you journey on with your family. I pray to God for your healing. I pray also your church family will continue to support and love you all. We know what such love feels like. Our church wrapped us in their arms as I journeyed with my wife during her experience with cancer.
Bless you Lynn!
Scarred Joy (aka Alan Anderson)
Wonderful, sound spiritual advice!