So many have been so faithful in praying for my recovery from my BIG surgery which, believe it or not, will be six weeks ago as of tomorrow! I must report that I am doing well, gaining strength every week, and I am grateful for the success of this surgery — and it has been extremely successful, praise the Lord. I now have two almost real looking “mounds” on my chest where my breasts used to be and a very (VERY) flat stomach which is where the fat, skin, and muscle came from which was used to form my right “mound.” (Sorry, guys, if this is TMI, but I’m committed to authenticity in this blog!)
There are two more smaller surgerical procedures yet to go but Prince Philip and I know we have now been through the worst and hardest of my two-year cancer storm. My surgeon says that I’ll be fully healed from this last surgery by Thanksgiving which is great news. It was December 8, 2011 that I was diagnosed with this awful cancer, so we will have much to celebrate on that upcoming two-year anniversary!
I had the strength to be present at all three of our worship services both September 22 and yesterday, September 29. These were our first two Sundays worshiping at Mariner’s Christian School Auditorium (MCS) in Costa Mesa since we had to leave our beloved 70-year old beachside church on September 21. I also had the privilege yesterday of preaching at all three services which is always a great joy and honor.
I preached from 1 Timothy 6:12 on Paul’s charge to young Pastor Timothy to first, “take hold of the life to which you were called” and secondly “to fight the good fight of faith.” Just for good measure I tossed in a third point from Phillippians 4:11 where Paul says that he has “learned to be content in any and all circumstances.” These three points spoke strongly to us as a congregation now transplanted into a completely new and different church environment. In order to fulfill God’s purpose for us as a congregation we must grieve our losses, but we must take hold of life, fight the good fight of faith, and LEARN to be content in all circumstances in which we find ourselves! Wow — the Word of God IS most certainly, “alive, active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).
But I want to share with you that this was a sermon birthed and written through my own personal struggle, even anguish, over two life circumstances which are painful for me personally.
The first is the reality that our dear flock has had to leave a House of Worship which God gave us and holds for Prince Philip and me almost three decades of beautiful and godly memories. It’s true that leaders must exhibit strong faith for our congregation in times such as these. We must offer calm, compassionate leadership in these hard times. It needs to not be about us as leaders, but about the flock of God and caring for them. But pastors are also just plain people with their own inner struggles and it was while preparing this sermon that the Lord led me to face my own sense of personal sorrow and to grieve my own loss in this matter. This was not a bad thing to face — in fact, it was a good thing. As my mentor, the Rev. Jose Poch taught me — when preparing a sermon, the preacher should always preach to the preacher first. Good advice.
The second layer of struggle was the reality that this last surgery, although a very good and important part of my healing, was a hard one to endure and one that leaves even more and larger scars on my body which was already beset with scars from prior surgeries as a result of the cancer. Again, this was not a bad thing to face — in fact, it was a good thing. It’s important to face my own sense of personal sorrow and to grieve my own loss in matter. Just like the loss of the church, the loss of life as Philip and I knew it before cancer, much treatment and many surgeries must be grieved also.
In order to preach a sermon that asks our dear congregation to first, take hold of life; second, to fight the good fight of faith; and third, to learn to be content in any and all circumstances, I had to be willing to go to a hard place with the Lord and work through my own sorrow with Him. This sermon led to private tears being shed before I could stand in front of my church family and preach it with true joy and conviction in my heart.
We all have hidden wounds. We all have scars that don’t show. It’s critical that we don’t hide them or pretend they don’t exist because if we do, we will find ourselves turning away from God because in His presence our pain can’t help but surface. This only leads to sadness, bitterness and hardness of heart toward God and others. Rather, it’s important that we go to God and lay our hearts open before Him — loss, wounds, scars and all — and find that in His presence is found comfort, healing, and hope.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17, St. Paul promises that “our … troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” In the heavenly home that awaits us, this will be fully and gloriously realized. Joni Eareckson Tada in her book “When God Weeps”, says that “Heaven will be wonderful, not just in spite of our suffering, but it will be wonderful because of it. A faithful response to affliction accrues a weight of glory.”
I believe that. I want to live into that. My scars don’t need to show from the outside. Jesus and I know they are there. Jesus and I know what I have suffered. And someday in heaven, I’ll see the full glory the faithful response to my suffering has accrued for me. But in the meantime, I am satisfied with seeing the glory it produces this side of heaven. People encouraged. Faith strengthened. Smiles in the midst of tears. Hugs freely given. Communion bread and wine gratefully received. The Body of Christ together, unified in the common goals: Taking hold of life; fighting the good fight of faith; and learning to be content in any and all circumstances.
Life is good.
Thank you for your faithful prayers!
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.