[Note: It’s been over seven years since we began the cancer walk with our young daughter when she was twelve and thirteen years old. It was a difficult journey, but we made it. And now, each yearly follow up test continues to show no sign of cancer – praise God! I wrote the following message in April 2013 as we were in the middle of treatment, but it continues to shape much of my view of our daily life. And as I read the message now while we are all facing such a difficult and uncertain time, I believe these words are even more important.]
I knew the question was coming. I guess I’m surprised she hasn’t asked before now. But this week, when her stomach pain was causing tears, she asked; “Why is this happening?” And there it was. After three months of tests, surgery, and three rounds of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, after three months of near constant pain, my thirteen year old daughter looked at me, trusting that I held the answer, and asked: “Why?”
Parenting has some difficult moments. Fortunately, I’ve had three months to process this same question before it was asked. I had worked out an answer which satisfied my thinking about God, His workings in the world, and His plan; but what should I tell a thirteen year old…child. I quickly realized that she needed to hear my thoughts, the same way as I would talk with any adult. She was the one living through this trial, and she was the one who would be required to live with the uncertainty which cancer brings for the rest of her life.
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
The answer to my daughter’s question called for a little perspective. I admit this perspective was not part of my thinking until recently, especially when I was pondering how James could tell us to, “Consider it pure joy” (James 1:2). You may recall that I was having great difficulty finding any joy in our situation. Cancer stinks, and I was hating seeing my daughter suffer. I had concluded that God does not cause cancer, and I was confident that His plan is simply that we love Him as He walks with us through our trials. But the perspective of some recent events helped to better answer her question of Why.
Early last week an eight year old boy was watching a race in Boston and, in an instant, was killed by a bomb. Much closer to home, here in Texas, a fertilizer plant exploded and, in an instant, at least 14 people lost their lives. In 2004 an earthquake in the Indian Ocean started a tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Another 200,000 people were killed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. [And as I send out this message, 75,000 people around the world have died from this terrible virus.] The list is long and ugly. Every moment of every day, people die unexpectedly, with no warning. Many more die from starvation and disease. What message am I trying to convey? Life is very, very fragile.
When my daughter asked the question of Why, I answered the best I possibly could: “I don’t know!” I don’t know why she has cancer and I don’t know why any of these bad things happen. But as we talked through each of these tragedies listed above we came to the undeniable conclusion that life is fragile. We have no guarantee of the number of our days here on earth, nor even on the quality of those days. That may be a lot for a thirteen year old to process, but I believe it’s necessary for each of us to process down this same path. And the result of this processing, I told my daughter, ought to shape how you live the rest of your life; how you spend your time and energy; how you think about God and the values you hold.
“I don’t know” turns out to be a beautiful answer. It’s beautiful because in the implied uncertainty we are able to see not just the fragile nature of life, but the beauty of the moment we are living right now. This day is significant! The conversations you are having, the relationships you are developing, even the notes and smiles you freely give, are filled with meaning and value. Each moment counts!
We are not yet done with this journey through cancer. We have one more round of chemo next week and then some tests to see if the chemo has done what it was supposed to do. Kaylee is strong, and she is getting stronger every day. And through this difficult journey, at this very early age, I pray she truly learns the life-transforming lesson that every moment is a gift.
Have a Christ Centered Day!
God’s Daily Word Ministries
**** Reading Plan ****
Apr 7 Deuteronomy 31:1-32:29; Luke 12:8-34; Psalm 78:26-45; Proverbs 12:21-23