You find out who your friends are when tough times come around.
My wife and I have discovered over the past year that we have a lot of friends.
It started last fall, when Hwa (my wife) found a lump in her left breast. It was malignant, Stage 3 cancer. It had spread beyond her breast to the lymph nodes under her arm. It was also “triple-negative.” Without getting into a bunch of medical jargon I don’t pretend to understand, triple-negative cancer is typically aggressive and doesn’t respond to several standard treatments. Powerful chemotherapy is the way to go. If that doesn’t work, you might be in a world of hurt.
Wait a minute. Something like this is what happens to “other people.” But it was happening to us.
I was numb, but I put on a brave face so I could support Hwa. She’s much stronger than I am, but she was scared. Would the cancer spread farther? We didn’t wait to find out. A great team of doctors and nurses recommended a game plan, and we followed it. Surgery removed the tumor and cancerous lymph nodes. Next came six rounds of chemo, which attacked cancer cells that might have gone elsewhere. After that, 35 radiation treatments blasted the danger zone.
Since about halfway through chemo, our oncologist has been telling us he thinks the cancer is gone. A final scan later this year, we hope, will confirm that Hwa is in the clear. Her hair is growing back and she’s gaining strength and energy every day. The cancer could return someday, but we take life one day at a time now.
God, ever faithful, has bathed us with His love, His presence and His Word from the day Hwa was diagnosed. What has amazed us, however, is the many people He has used to encourage us. This column would be book-length if I mentioned them all, but to highlight a few:
n Our daughter, Heather, created a handwritten book of personalized devotions — one for each day of Hwa’s treatment.
n Former missionary Kim Davis delivered fresh bread, hot out of the oven, every Monday during chemotherapy.
n Church ladies brought overflowing bags of lovingly prepared meals every two weeks for months on end. They wanted to bring them every week, but we didn’t have enough room in the fridge. Work friends from IMB brought many more home-cooked goodies. Yes, I’ve gained weight.
n Church folks showed up unannounced to do yard work. Brothers and sisters from the Indian fellowship related to our church paid a special visit at Christmas to pray and sing worship songs in several languages. Yes, they also brought food.
n So many cancer patients and survivors — some longtime friends, some people we had never met before — have loved us, counseled us and given us the benefit of their spiritual insight. “God is bigger than your cancer,” said one wise friend who has been through it. He is also bigger than all the fear and uncertainty, all the medicine, treatments and other overwhelming stuff.
n Jeannie Elliff, wife of retired IMB President Tom Elliff, died July 20 after the cancer she had struggled with twice before struck again. Yet in the midst of her illness, she took the time to encourage us, just as she encouraged thousands of people during a lifetime of church and mission ministry.
n People prayed for us and continue to pray. Missionary friends thousands of miles away have prayed. Our church family has prayed. Co-workers have prayed. People we hadn’t heard from in years contacted us to tell us they were praying. Thank you. We still need it.
The love and faithfulness displayed by others throughout this experience has reminded us of Jesus’ words to His disciples at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35 NASB).
I hope we’ll be a little more faithful in loving others the way we have been loved, starting with other believers. But not ending there. Maybe we’ll be more compassionate toward lost and hurting people all around us who have never experienced such love.
It’s a dark, cold world out there. The body of Christ, His church, is the warm shelter for His children — and the shining beacon in the darkness to others searching for Him.