Kathleen & Bill's Story, Part 2: Lament
This spring, Kathleen McClure was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Just over a month later, her husband Bill had emergency triple-bypass surgery. The following are snapshots, shared in their own words, of their experience with suffering, lament, perseverance, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and a God who asks much of us and gives what he asks.
Right now I’m reading through the Psalms and a book on lament. I never really thought about that word before. It’s a prayer in pain that leads to trust. It’s putting words to what I didn’t have words for before. Not to get stuck in the lament and the negative side of that, but to acknowledge that I can tell God what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. He already knows.
What I’m working through in my mind right now is this: “God, how do you want to use what I’m experiencing? You gave this to me for a purpose and it’s so much bigger than me and my family.” So many people have said, “I’ve watched you walk through this, and your faith is so strong.” They don’t live with with me! I cried every day for months because of the overwhelming thought of everything that was going on in our lives. And yet, I think I have a platform I didn’t have before.
I wish suffering wasn’t like that. But as I’ve thought about Scripture, one that has come to me is Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” When. Not if, when. God tells us that we’ll have suffering in this life. I don’t feel like I’ve suffered greatly in my life, and yet I’m reminded that God said it would happen. So this is our time to walk through the deep waters. And God has met us.
Right after Kathleen was diagnosed, we had some of the most intimate end-of-life discussions. This life doesn’t keep going. There is an end, and it could be soon. But you go back to the foundation: what do I believe about God? Healing is going to come. It might be in this life; it will surely be in the next. We win either way.
There is a peace that passes all understanding, and that has held us. There have been a lot of tears for both of us. Big challenges and a whole new vocabulary to learn. But we’re also saying that if this is the conduit through which we get to talk to people about faith, we will. I’d rather do it through cars or athletics, but this is the conduit. And over the last few weeks, it’s opened all kinds of doors to talk about who Christ is and how he works both in provision and with a daily sustaining power.
I’m thankful that we fought hard for peace. I’m glad we worked as hard on faith as we did on fitness because had we not, we’d be in a deep mess in our spirits and we’d be in a deep mess physically. We probably wouldn’t have made it through. I’m thankful that we put in the work spiritually so that we can go through this and still be intact in our marriage, still love the Lord, and still seek after how he is going to use our experience in our neighbors’ lives. I’m thankful for those opportunities.
I honestly never went to a place where I said, “This is unfair.” It can happen to anyone and I’m anyone. Why not me? It’s humbling to accept that God wants to use me this way. I don’t want it, but this is the way he wants to use me. Those aren’t platitudes. We wouldn’t be saying it if it wasn’t real. We’ve had to fight for this peace.
There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus sending the disciples out on the lake. One of the gospels says they were straining at the oars because the wind was against them (Mark 6:48). That just hit me. Until Jesus shows up, what do I do? Keep straining at the oars. Keep persevering in the faith. Keep leaning upon those promises.
I got some bad news recently. There is a good possibility this will come back as another cancer. Both of my kids had the same reaction: “Mom, Dr. T doesn’t know when you’re going to die. Only God does.” If there is a pill I can take that’s going to prolong my life, I’m going to take that, but ultimately, my life is not in my hands. My life is in God’s hands. It’s sweet to me that my children can rest in that and so can I.
In the midst of all of this, my friend died of cancer. These aren’t just words to me. This is real. I’m not afraid to die. We are all going to die. But I am going to be grandma again in February, and I want to hold that baby. I want my grandchildren to know me. But if that’s not God’s plan, my family will keep my memory alive. I think of my friend and my heart grieves for her kids and her husband, but she doesn’t wish she could come back here. She doesn’t. In the end, either way, I win.
The other verse that has come back to me over and over is 2 Peter 5:10: After you have suffered for a little while, he himself will restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. That’s been a verse that God has really ministered to me personally but then also to share with others.
As I’ve met people at chemo or in other places, they’ll say things like, “There’s something different about you. There’s a calm about you.” Every time, I say back, “It’s not me. It’s Jesus living in me.” It’s been my prayer all along that God would be glorified no matter what, and I see that happening despite my fears, my tears, my “Wow, this is a lot.” God is still very much using me.