Today, December 8, marks the three-year anniversary of the day Philip and I heard my doctor say, “You have cancer.” Every cancer sufferer remembers that moment. For some it is the worst moment in their memory. I understand that. For at least the first year of my cancer storm, I would have said the same thing.
But today, that moment is three years in my past. I am three years down the road — a road that has been marked with unexpected suffering and unimaginable blessings. The good news is the blessings have won out.
I am marking this day. Philip and I will celebrate by going to one of our favorite restaurants overlooking Balboa Bay. We will sit at an outside table, under the warmers. We will lift our glasses, clink them together and salute our memories. We will remember and speak of the pain and suffering and at that outside table under the warmers, we will sanctify our memories.
“Sanctify” is an interesting word, a very special word, really. Today it tends to be used in mostly a religious context. But Baker’s Bible Dictionary tells us that the generic meaning of its root word “sanctification” is “the state of proper functioning.” To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer.
So that word “sanctify” as related to my three-year cancer storm really hits its mark. As Philip and I remember our journey at tonight’s celebration, we will be setting apart my cancer storm for its “state of proper functioning” — we will be remembering and honoring my cancer storm for the purpose God intended it. Not to destroy me but to remake me. Yes, that remaking required the hard — awful, really — days and weeks and months of cancer treatment and many more months of painful surgeries. But in that tearing down of who I used to be, God designed a new me shaped and formed by the painful season of suffering.
To “sanctify” used in its spiritual sense, means “to make holy.” Now, I remember that only God is holy (Isa 6:3). No human being or thing shares the holiness of God. Yet God calls human beings to be holy as holy as He is holy (Lev 11:44; Matt 5:48;1 Peter 1:15-16). And I have found that the process of suffering can produce holiness in a measure unequaled perhaps by any other human experience.
This “new me” made by God through my season of suffering, I pray, is a more holy me. A person clinging more closely to Jesus with a greater awareness of His love for others and a greater measure of His compassion for the suffering of others. A person more convinced that God desires that all would know Him and be rescued by Him, as I was rescued first in my salvation as a young child and then over and over again in my cancer suffering.
My season of suffering must be sanctified, set apart to honor God’s purpose and design to remake me. And I must be set apart to be holy — at least holier than I was before my cancer storm.
So tonight Philip and I will clink our glasses and salute the days of suffering. In that little act of celebration, we will sanctify our suffering and we will pray that God will continue His work of sanctifying us so that we might be holy — set apart for His work in, with and through us.
Celebrate with us — three years of growing closer and closer to our Kind Savior!
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.