The Wilderness: Life Post Active Treatment for Cancer
Sometimes after I speak, in the quiet of the car as I drive home, I review in my mind the happenings of the day. I picture the faces of the women who have come up to talk with me. If they express appreciation, I try to graciously receive each gift of encouraging words like a wildflower. Then, in the quiet of the car, I present to God my little bouquet of wildflowers as a thanksgiving offering. I remember reading Nazi concentration camp survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, presenting her flowers of thanksgiving and decided to adopt the same practice.
All things with Him, through Him, by Him and for Him.
Usually, after presenting the flowers of thanksgiving, I review my talk. And most of the time I come up with a few things I wish I would have shared or elaborated on more. This past Good Friday, after sharing my cancer journey with the women at NewSong Church in Irvine, I thought about the first 18 months following active treatment. I called it the wandering wilderness time. Looking back, I wished I would have taken more time to encourage the women with these words:
The year and a half following active treatment (surgeries, chemo and radiation) was a time of confusion and bewilderment. All of the delayed emotions I had stuffed in order to make it through the physical demands of treatment finally surfaced. I felt lost. Unsure. Wobbly. I related to the Israelites in the Old Testament who wandered 40 years in the desert after escaping Egypt. God provided in ways unlike anything they had experienced pre-wilderness. Sweet manna was available morning by morning for them to gather and eat, quail dropped from the sky after they complained about missing meat, and when they could not locate a water source to quench their thirst, God provided water from rocks. Their shoes never wore out. They followed God’s lead by following a pillar of fire at night and a cloud during the day. Following the wilderness time these provisions were discontinued. The Israelites would learn to trust and obey God through different means after they entered the land.
The wilderness time was a unique time but not the final destination. God never intended the Israelites live as nomad wanderers. He was clear from the beginning when He promised Abraham the land. Moses was tasked to lead God’s people to the promised land. Joshua and Caleb surveyed the land and reported back the land God promised was all God said and more. The wandering time was a detour time. The wilderness was only for a time.
The story did not end with walking in circles.
I was reminded the cancer, post cancer wandering time was not the ultimate destination. It was for a time even though at the time it seemed like it would never end. I’ve experienced other wilderness type times. I’ve had dry and desert like periods in my spiritual life. Showing up to read my Bible was void of exciting, new insights, and I felt like a worker on an assembly line going through the motions. Prayers seemed unanswered or bounced off the ceiling. I imagine the Israelites had times when the manna grew mundane. As a young mom, I remember the same sensations of feeling confused, unsure and wobbly. The day in and day out of caring for little ones seemed unending. I felt like I was walking, and sometimes stumbling, in circles.
Looking back, God was able to redeem the wilderness time. He used the wilderness to teach lessons I would have otherwise missed. Trees develop stronger root systems when forced deeper underground to find water. I’ve noticed strength of character is forged through the wilderness times. The daily acts of faithfully showing up to gather spiritual food, the willingness to break down camp and move whenever and wherever the pillar of fire moved, and the wandering in the wilderness builds resolve. God uses the wilderness to strengthen, refine and surface what truly fills our hearts.
The biggest gift from the wilderness is the realization God was WITH the Israelites. He is with you and me. He reveals Himself and we learn to trust God in ways unlike “bountiful land” times when we walk in and through the wilderness.
Perhaps you are currently in a wilderness time. I want to encourage you to not lose heart. The wilderness is only for a time. The wilderness is not the final destination. I want to encourage you with the truth that God is WITH you and has not abandoned you to walk the wilderness on your own. Don’t give up.
How about you? What are some of the lessons you have learned in the wilderness?