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FIRST PERSON: Belief in an all-knowing God brings peace to the chaos of cancer

ATLANTA (BP)–It’s been only a week of radiation and chemotherapy, but by now my missionary sister knows the torture of standing by helplessly while her beloved suffers. Ramona has only the words and actions of her prayers and encouragement when Joseph bravely submits to IVs carrying toxic doses of chemicals.

The extreme measures were prescribed for five days a week for seven weeks in order to shrink a malignant tumor growing in one of Joseph’s sinus cavities.

Interesting it is, though, to realize that even through the wall of pain and isolation Ramona must feel while watching her husband either writhe in pain or endure a merciless wave of nausea from drugs she still remembers to praise God for the good things in her life.

I honestly don’t know how I would act given Ramona’s situation. I am sure that my brief visit to the dentist last week — despite a rubber dam and an abscessed tooth — is miniscule to Joseph’s pain and treatment. However, for me it was an emergency that put me behind nearly a week.

Lamenting about that lost week, I bounded into my office Saturday morning to find the icon on my computer telling me I had messages. After reading the ones related to my now long past deadlines, I finally opened Ramona’s e-mail.

Ramona is a gifted writer. I’m sure she doesn’t think of herself in that way, but there it is — detail after detail of what’s happening. The only part that’s missing is how she’s taking it all. But I learn to read through the lines, so to speak. I learn to look for the hidden messages, the utter frustration, feelings of helplessness or even anger. But the funny thing is there’s nothing there.

My sister can’t be dishonest. I get this notion reading her messages. She has nothing to hide. She genuinely has a faith and trust in the Lord that all this is temporary, that things will work out for the best and that he will take care of all that is happening.

I can learn from this. We can learn from this.

It’s not about well-intentioned platitudes. I would never knowingly say to my sister, “This is happening for a reason,” “God knows what he’s doing,” “Just pray hard and Joseph will be fine,” or “I’ll claim a victory!”

I can say only “I feel for you,” “I’m here for you,” “I am praying for all of you.” I would like to say more, but then how could I face my sister when the even worse times come? And there’s bound to be more.

God has not promised us a rose garden life. He did say, “Call on me when you are heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.” He did say he abides with us if we abide with him. He did instruct us to pray without ceasing and he told us to not be anxious or to worry, but instead to bring our requests to him, and he would give us the kind of peace we can’t begin to understand.

But we also look at Job in the Bible and know that sometimes there appears to be no human rhyme or reason for things that occur. We also know that the way we look at life’s happenings and the way our heart perceives the situation will determine our response and might even bring a blessing out of a near tragedy.

That’s not to minimize what people go through. I would never do that to Ramona and Joseph, but through them I am learning that my response to life’s challenges can determine and even influence the outcomes.

Several months ago another relative had a few bouts of various ailments. At each juncture the extended family was caught up in an emotional firestorm. The panic caused harsh words and accusations to fly. Old feuds came into play and instead of bonding together, family ties were again stretched. The ensuing ailments went away rather quickly, however, but because the circumstance was not surrounded by the peace that comes from knowing God is in control, there is fallout from that incident.

I do not know the outcome for Joseph and Ramona. They are faithful missionaries to the Czech Republic, where their daughter and son have continued to serve this summer while their parents are in the Portland, Ore., area for medical attention. We speak only of this month now, when the youngsters leave Czech to make a brief stop in Portland before they continue to Liberty University in Lynchburg where they go to school. We dare not speak of December or our former plans to spend the Christmas holidays together for the first time in more than 17 years. For now we live a day, a week, a month at a time.

Sitting at a computer nearly a continent away in Georgia, I pray earnestly for them and can rest in the thought that a loving God hears my prayers. A new theology says that God does not necessarily know what is going to happen, that our actions will determine his intervention and the results. As theologians debate the implications of that kind of God, I will rest in the assurance that my God is a loving God who desires my attention, hears my prayers and knows the future for certain. To think otherwise would not bring peace, but only chaos.
Hannigan is an English and journalism teacher in the Atlanta area. Her sister and brother-in-law, Ramona and Joseph Steckmann, are missionaries with Cooperative Baptist International (CBI) of Wheaton, Ill.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan