Nothing about my wife’s cancer suggests it’s going to take her life. We don’t fear that; we don’t believe that.
However, since the mention of the word cancer - pre-biopsy - at the Breast Cancer Center, we’ve gained new lenses, a new perspective on life, relationships, and all that’s really important.
My own mother walked this path 30 years ago. I was a young newlywed, living a few hundred miles away from home at the time and I’m sure the distance allowed me to nestle snuggly into the false comfort of denial. My mom has had no reoccurrence of the cell-mutating disease. She’s still working every day – an example of not mere survival, but a champion who thrives today.
My younger sister just finished, not a single round, but two rounds of chemo to eradicate the cancer in her body. Now, we’ve learned there are more tests, new questions, and reasons to continue praying. Even so, she’s shown us what it is to laugh your way through blinding uncertainty, counting your blessings with the fresh eyes that come in spite of the inability to see the next step.
I’ve talked with dozens of neighbors, friends, and church peeps over the years, responding sensitively with genuine concern and hope for them as they walked a path I’d never really traveled. Those days are over.
I don’t have cancer, my wife does. But there’s no one on the planet with whom I’ve shared such exhilarating highs and crushing lows; laughter ‘til we cried and crying that didn’t seem to stop; precious seasons of remembering old memories and making new ones that we’ll never forget. She’s my best friend, my parent-partner of our baby girl, my lover and my soul mate. God’s done for us what he promised he’d do when two people pledge their love in marriage: he’s made us one.
So, this is a unique journey for both of us. For her. For me. For us. And I couldn’t be more grateful to share this season with her.
We’ve long understood from the Scriptures that our personal faith gets tested in this broken-on-itself life. It’s not as though Christ-followers get “targeted.” Jesus said “it rains on the just and the unjust.” Or in more current terms – “everybody gets crapped on – Christ-followers, too.” And when the rain pours and the crap flies, our trust in God is tested. After all, it’s one thing to soar with a smile, believing God loves you when everything is going like you hoped it would. It’s quite another to believe he’s still holding your hand when his hand seems empty, apparently withholding the thing you think would make you happiest.
I’ve been in circumstantial vices when I was sure God wasn’t holding my hand because I was shaking my fist in his face. If my faith was being tested in those seemingly God-forsaken seasons, I surely failed. But, that’s not been Laura’s experience. The first thing I heard her say after “I have breast cancer” was “God’s got this; God has me.”
Is Laura’s faith being “tested?” I think so. But, I have a fresh understanding of what it might mean to be tested.
Growing up I took my fair share of tests in school. I was a decent student, I suppose. Even so, tests were about recalling what you know. The outcome was pass or fail. And on most occasions passing had levels of “goodness” assigned in letter grades with “A” being the prized and preferred score.
Tests often come to all of us with a level of dread, fearing our ability to recall what’s been taught and studied, if we studied at all.
I don’t think God “scores” us in tests or trials. I don’t think a painful journey is merely about what we have the ability to recall. Can we fail such a test? Sure, I know I’ve used denial, rebellion, and escape maneuvers to bypass the difficulty of a rough season or circumstance. I’m sure I failed to benefit from the lessons I could have learned. However, I don’t think God “scored” me and placed me in a remedial class, although I’ve often felt that’s surely what happened.
I believe when we lean into the experience – however painful, hurtful or undesirable – we actually see that testing means “strengthening.”
I’m watching Laura’s faith grow stronger, not weaker. I’m seeing her trust go deeper, not more shallow. The testing of her faith is teaching her perseverance. If there was a score, it’d be an “A.” But then, that would be religion, not a relationship. And her relationship with Jesus has never been more intimate, more full of trust than it is right now.
But, I believe I’m watching something else happening in addition to Laura’s faith being tested. I’m watching what was already true about her before the threatening cloud of cancer was visible. You know that familiar adage: “When you’re being tested, you see what’s really on the inside?” Like a tube of toothpaste (I don’t know why it has to be toothpaste, but it works.) being squeezed, what comes out is what’s already on the inside.
Although Laura will no doubt be stronger after this season, I also believe what I get a front-row seat to watch is a strength that has already defined her. Her trust is already strong. Her faith is already solid. Her attitude is already positive. Her eyes to see the glass half full are already open. Her ability to smile under cloud cover is already present. And this already damned disease is shining a brilliant light, revealing the great hope she possesses – already.
This ambiguous season is demonstrating her trust and God’s goodness. This uncertain path is clarifying her resolve. This fight is calling out the strength God’s giving her moment to moment.
She is fierce. And Jesus already fiercely defeated fear.
She is determined. And God has already determined her eternal and daily joy.
She is trusting. And God has always been trustworthy.
I’m a better man for sharing this life with Laura Lynn Waltz. My own faith is strengthened watching hers. My own trust in Jesus is filled with more peace because of her trust.
And we’re both more who God originally made us to be because of Jesus. Because of his original creation of us. Because of his restoration made possible in his resurrection. Because of his personal, right-here-right-now presence. Because he is faithful. Yesterday. Today. And always.
I thank God for you, Laura. I love you.