Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick. We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma. Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.” In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her. Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.
Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good. She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared. You’d have to know my Mother in Love. She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit. She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all. She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid. Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”
I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life. Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message. It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus. Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ. Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.
For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry. Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground. People from many different denominations of the Church come. There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled. I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives. Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.
I’m certain that life in Jesus is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face. I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life. I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain. I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today. Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?” My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain. My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.” Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.
I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late. It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”. The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing. You give beauty for ashes. You turn shame into glory. You’re the only one who can.” This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us. He’s the only one who can!