What happens when the “healing” doesn’t come?
Some of you know, others don’t. My closest aunt “Auntie Barb” (2nd mom really) has terminal cancer. She was diagnosed last spring and the outcomes and life expectancy for this type of cancer are grim and less than a year. As I write this, she’s been given a timeline of only a few more days and is in hospice.
So what happens when the miraculous “healing” doesn’t come? Is God really just watching from on high, without intervention? What happens to our faith, our walk with God and our relationship with others? Here’s a part of the story – a few lengths of how I have swam and continue to swim in these deep waters.
Off the bat, you need to know that I never felt compelled to pray for her healing. Such an odd admission isn’t it? Perhaps I had too many doubts that it would happen, maybe I couldn’t bear the answer “no,” or, most likely, there was something I knew deep-down. I somehow understood, from the start, that this was to be journeyed and endured – not quick-fixed. That this cancer was going to happen and it was going to happen to all of us one way or another.
Early in, I experienced (and was incredibly grateful for) the miracle of unity in our family. I say miracle because if you have experienced anything like this, having everyone in agreement and “on the same page” for the better part of a year is a pretty huge miracle. Plain and simple. None of us could have sustained the unity we were privileged to experience in our own strength or will.
My extended family worked as a caring team – we surrounded my aunt with care and support – practical and emotional. We did not and do not disagree on how we move forward. We choose to overlook words that hurt. We forgive. We let go. We prioritize love and grace over being right and having our way. There is a core group of us called “Barb’s Babes.” We text each other and plan, we cry, we help Barb, we do a lot of ugly cancer stuff and we laugh. Perfect segway to another huge miracle.
We laugh – often. It may sound absurd, but we do. Cancer is cruel. Barb, like all terminal patients, lose their vitality, their independence and their dignity. To not find a measure of humour in talking about hair loss and bodily functions, how Barb has become a diva, or the ridiculousness of some things people say; our family would perhaps get lost in a pit of cancer despair. It is a laughter that comes from the confidence in knowing where our laughter springs from – and it is certainly not from our current circumstances. It is rooted in love and trust - knowing one day, very soon actually, she will be free from pain and suffering.
Miracle three: the comfort and care of people God places on your path. This is where the list could and does get very long. To call it “miracle three” understates the countless times God was present practically for me and for my family. While these moments are better shared over a coffee, here are a few…
Just Sunday, a gracepointer was answered prayer for me. I was sitting in my seat weeping over this horrible cancer situation and he simply came up, put his arm around me and said: “I am sorry this is happening. E and I are praying for you.”
How’s this answered prayer you ask? Because in that moment, I needed someone to see me, I did not have the strength to get up and go for prayer. I had been pleading with God for someone to just come. God showed up and the person arrived.
Or how about Barb getting into the nicest hospital facility mere hours after the call being made by the hospital. That doesn’t just happen. Seriously. It really doesn’t. That is God working it out for us – for her. To lessen the pain of the moment. To give strength for the next days. To care.
There are countless people that have been part of this journey, who’s role left an indelible mark. Each and every person placed there by my loving Father, in a certain moment to practically care for me, Barb and our family. There have been people who have wiped and caught tears. There have been the kindest of doctors and nurses – I think of them sometimes as angels really – who cried with us and comforted when news was hard to stomach. Others have over looked rules and policies to “make moments happen” for our family (i.e. wedding dress shopping in hospital – yup that happened!). There has been flexibility with work schedules and expectation to give space for all of us to breathe and find our bearings. Friends have sent so many notes, words, prayers. I wish I could list them all as they were so needed in the moment. There has been care and support in very way. Like I said, the list is long and this is only the highlight reel.
But here’s the overarching, big miracle: God did heal and continues to heal. It’s just not the way I expected. It is true that it looks like I won’t have the story of “God healed my aunt’s cancer” But in some ways, I may have a better one. I have the story of “these are all miracles He did to hold our family together and hold me. This is how He was with me. I SAW Him at work.”
Now I don’t want any of this to sound cliché or a contrived “spiritual reflection.” You need to know that I have spent most of this diagnosis right pi$%ed off and incredibly devastated that this was and is happening to Barb and my family. Even now, I am 99% sure I would still trade a physical healing for all the other miracles – amazing as they have been. More time with auntie Barb would be lovely.
But the Holy Spirit whispers – often and repeatedly - “I am with you. Do not grieve like those who have no hope.” And I SEE. I see and feel Him with me in a way I didn’t know before. He says this often these days because I easily forget right now as time get shorter. I forget because I want a different miracle.
He floods my mind of moments from the past months so I don’t forget. So I keep seeing His hand holding me, being with me and carrying me through this very difficult walk. That’s the big miracle for me in this – being sustained and carried. Seeing the promises of God come to life in my life. Recognizing miracles as they are happening. Being OK with the tension of “wanting a different miracle” and “thankful for the ones I have.”
He was and is a very present help in times of trouble. He is very much with WITH me, He is love and strength and grace in me and my family - when we in our humanity would stumble and fall. He is enough.
I confess that I continue to work out my theology and acceptance on why some people get healed, but many don’t. For me, it is complex, difficult and hurts right now. I’ll keep working that out for some time. But for now, I rest (for the most part) knowing that God heals the hurting – it’s just not always a physical ailment. Knowing that God is healing my hurts on this and will until they heal.
So now, as we walk these final days, my prayer is that my family and I do not grieve as those who have no hope and we rely on the declarations found in 1 Cor 13: 4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.