“…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
~2 Corinthians 12:7-9, New International Version
It has been awhile since I have been able to sit down and serious concentrate on writing. I could not seem to find the words to express the roller coaster of emotions that occurred with my last doctors appointment. Since November of last year, we have known that I had roughly three masses in the lower lobe of the right lung that would require surgery to remove. The doctor sent me home from that appointment with the reassurance that the lanreotide would control their growth and allow me to completely heal from the massive laparotomy that was performed in September. The months ticked slowly by and the check up in January revealed they were, indeed, still there and surgery was scheduled for March.
True to the wonderful spirit-led people in our church, they bathed me in heartfelt prayer for miraculous healing of the lung tumors, no surgery, and, most of all, for peace.
Something about this particular surgery did not sit well with me and, quite frankly, I stressed over it. Just before we left for New Orleans, I felt an incredible need to make sure that people we know and love at our church prayed over us. True to the wonderful spirit-led people in our church, they bathed me in heartfelt prayer for miraculous healing of the lung tumors, no surgery, and, most of all, for peace. It was with these prayers running through my heart that we set off for New Orleans and yet another surgery.
For those of you reading this who have been in a similar situation, I do not need to try to articulate the range of emotions that comes with an impending cancer surgery. Some days it is hard to keep a stiff upper lip, a smile, and a positive attitude. There are days when it would be so much easier to give in and have a good cry, to scream out to God and ask why, and just curl up in a secluded place and think about life as it used to be before cancer entered the equation. With this full range of emotions surging in my mind, I had to face a gallium 68 DOTA PET scan. I sat in a dark, quite room for an hour as the radiation made its way through my body to be greedily absorbed by the tumors. I choked back tears as I laid in the scanner for 45 minutes, wondering what on earth the scan would pick up that all the others had seemingly missed. As I waited to see the doctor to discuss the findings, my husband and I went through the in-processing for the surgery; in my heart I felt there was no avoiding this and I needed to finally resign myself to the fact that my lung was going to be punctured, burned, and then the process of healing could begin.
I need to take a moment and say that I know in my heart I serve an incredible God. I have experienced His grace more times than I can count and His peace has reigned in me since diagnosis two years ago. He has been my rock, my fortress, my strong tower when the emotions of battling cancer have been more than I could take. I have cherished every single prayer from our friends and I have a faith that I know can move mountains; however, all this does not stop the human side of me from worrying, from being terrified of the next steps, from knowing that this insidious disease will take me at a relatively young age. What I do know is that I was not completely prepared for the news the doctor had for us based on the scan results. With a serious, yet confused look, the doctor told us that there would be no surgery because the tumors in the lung were gone. He sat us down and showed us where they were on the CT scans and where they were not on the gallium DOTA scan. Gone. Tumors that in the doctor’s words do not just disappear without some type of intervention.
With a serious, yet confused look, the doctor told us that there would be no surgery because the tumors in the lung were gone.
God had reached down during those heartfelt prayers and healed the tumors, that is the only logical explanation for what happened. Again, there are no words to express the range of emotion that comes with knowing that a sheer miracle has happened; that God has come down from on high and wrapped me in His healing hands. He felt my pain and distress. Yes, God is still living and active; a God of the miraculous and unexplainable.
This incredible news, however, was tempered with new findings. After an aggressive resection of the liver that removed 15 tumors, four are still present and, as the blood work has indicated for the last year, it has been confirmed that it has metastasized to the bone. Now I’m back on the three month monitoring schedule. The lanreotide should contain these tumors but, eventually, I will need surgery again. This is life with an incurable cancer. A life of scans, blood work, doctors appointments, and impending surgeries. A seemingly never ending battle against my own body’s cells that have gone rogue. It is so hard to mentally come to terms with what these mixed test results mean in the broad scheme of things. I’m healed but not cured. I’ve escaped one surgery and I’m waiting to see if there will be another. To use the cancer as war metaphor, I am hopelessly stuck in a war of attrition, waiting to see which side will finally wave the white flag of surrender.
In an attempt to try to come to terms with my “new” life, I have decided to follow the prompting of the Spirit and write a book that has been on my heart shortly after I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. During my research, I came across a verse in Scripture that fits beautifully with the situation in which I am living. Many of us know this particular verse about Paul and his thorn by heart. In my own life, I have come back again and again to this verse to find both hope and strength in Paul’s words; however, I have never taken the time to explore the rich meaning of the words in the original Greek and this is where I have found a comfort I have not yet experienced. While the actual identity of Paul’s thorn is in debate, it is obvious that he was plagued, pricked, and experienced a bodily annoyance from this intruder and pleaded with God to remove it. Despite Paul’s cries, God tells him no, there will be no relief; however, God tells him that He will be with him, perfecting His power through Paul’s weakness. Paul can rest from his tribulation because he knows that God will be working all things, filling in the gaps, and carrying Paul along as he spreads the Gospel among the Gentiles.
While I can compare an incurable cancer to a thorn in the flesh, it is not this metaphor that struck me. The words, or should I say word, that follows is what captured my imagination. After the disappointment in God’s refusal to provide Paul with relief, he states that he will boast ever more in his weaknesses because it is through this weakness that Christ’s power can rest on him. The word Paul uses for rest, episkenoo, occurs only once in the New Testament and not at all in the Septuagint; in fact, scholars can only find this word used two other times in the Ancient Greek. Wow. What point is Paul trying to make through this obscure Greek word that so easily escapes our attention when translated into English? The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines episkenoo as:
To rest upon, take up residence, rest on, to tent upon, abide with.
A form of this word, skenoo, is used in John 1:14 to refer to Jesus “tabernacling” among his people. This word picture that Paul is painting is of God taking residence in His people and holding us up in our infirmities. Albert Barnes describes episkenoo as meaning to pitch a tent and then dwell within or upon. He further elaborates that episkenoo gives a sense of:
“Abiding upon; or remaining with. The sense is, that the power which Christ manifested to his people rested with them, or abode with them in their trials, and therefore he would rejoice in afflictions, in order that he might partake of the aid and consolation thus imparted” (sermonindex.net).
God may have answered the prayers regarding the lung tumors and blessed me with a miraculous healing, but by leaving the other tumors in place has left me an infirmity that can only be born up through His strength that abides within. He has not left me nor forsaken me to the wiles of the cancer, instead He has provided me with a way to feel the same power surging within me that raised Christ from the dead. What an awesome thought. What an incredible blessing to give to His people.
That’s not all. The other two uses of the word episkenoo are found in the Histories by Polybius. In my research, I found that Polybius had a heart for wounded soldiers and decided that the wounded could not be expected to march with the others. They needed to be quartered in order to properly heal. He saw to it personally that his warriors had proper housing during their healing and would personally check on them to see how they were progressing (Prioreschi 524). Care and provision of wounded warriors; Paul used a word whose only other use has been in the context of housing warriors, especially those wounded in battle. Paul was a wounded warrior and God saw to it that His Spirit was quartered with Paul, helping him where he fell short. As a cancer patient, I have embraced the battle metaphor and I feel like a wounded warrior. I have been fighting an intense battle against my own body and my efforts are coming up short. I am in desperate need of healing, both emotional and physical. There are days when I cannot bear to face the world and self-pity reigns.
Care and provision of wounded warriors; Paul used a word whose only other use has been in the context of housing warriors, especially those wounded in battle. Paul was a wounded warrior and God saw to it that His Spirit was quartered with Paul…
I shudder to contemplate more blood work, scans, and appointments. I dread hearing the words, “we’ll see you back in three months.” I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, and at the end of myself. How comforting to know that God has pitched His tent with me and has promised to pick up where I fall short. No longer do I need to face this alone, for if God is with me, who (or what) can be against me?
I know I am not alone. There are so many of you out there fighting your own personal battle. I know dear people with autoimmune disorders, chronic health issues, and cancer. All of us feel forsaken at times. Helpless. Lost. Alone and fighting a battle we cannot possibly ever win. How comforting is it to know that God has not left us to fight this alone. To know that He has pitched a tent within us and is there when the battle rages. He picks us up when we cannot manage to take another step. He is there when the doctor says there are more tumors. He is there when a family vacation has to be enjoyed from the confines of a wheelchair. He is there. He has not left or forsaken us. We may be weak. We may be fighting a battle against our very bodies, but God is there, encamped and ready to fight for us. No matter what we may be facing or what the future may hold, we can rest in the knowledge that God has used our very bodies as a place to quarter his Spirit, to give us unlimited access to His power so we never have to feel weak and helpless again.
Episkenoo. Greek Word Studies: Dwell (1981). Sermonindex.net. 2017. 29 March 2017. Web.
Prioreschi, Plinio. A History of Medicine: Roman Medicine. Horatius Press. 1998. Web.
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2003. Print.
Strong, James LL.D S.T.D. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Nelson. 2010. Print.