I was asked to write a short article about my testimony. Funny how something you have lived blesses you when you revisit it. As I write this, I know a faithful choir member is on the verge of being free from the earthly suffering of cancer (may already be free). Celeste – you lived this even more than me. Your glass was always full and you ministered to so many. You amazed me when you were first diagnosed with colon cancer. You amazed me the Carols after that when you were on the ladders hanging garland and in your place every time for rehearsal and concerts. You simply amazed me. And I will miss you as will many others.
I consider myself a “glass half full person”. My tolerance for whiners or folks who persist in looking at the dark side of every event they encounter is very low. I was very much of that “try to see the best in everything” mindset during 2003-2004 when I decided to focus on joy. I wanted to develop my understanding that experiencing joy was a choice, not a given and not dependent on circumstance. My personal verse for the year was Philippians 2:2 (NIV): then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
I was busy. I served as Sanctuary Choir President for the third time. Work was busy and unsettling as election years often are (I work for the State of Mississippi). Yet, I was restless. God was working in me (and in Steve) and I was struggling. Verses like Malachi 3:3 (KJV) came alive for me: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. You have been there, I am sure. I laugh now, but I prayed for patience in the period of refinement. Frankly, I am not sure I will ever do that again. And I wondered since my focus was joy why pain might accompany that.
On May 18, 2004, I received that confirmation dreaded by everyone. You have cancer. That spot you came to see me about is definitely malignant. Talk about a body blow. Steve had really convinced himself nothing was there as I underwent the testing. I think I knew all along that this might be a part of that “refinement” thing and I was going to learn a lot about choices, including the choice to be joyful. That night, we called friends who came and prayed with us. When they left, I sat down at my desk and opened my Bible and the pages fell to Psalm 34:4 (NASB): “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” I honestly believe that God put my hand on that verse because it was not one I had marked before. And I remembered that as He delivered me from my fears, it would be up to me “choose joy”.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment is like drinking from a fire hose. You have the personal aspect – Steve could not get a grip initially; my parents were devastated – three girls out of three with cancer – why; well meaning folks offering everything from solid advice to horror stories – none of which you can process at the time; and decisions to be made. And then you have the aspect that your life for the period of treatment is very much lived in a fishbowl – especially if you chose to move forward with living in parallel to treatment.
I manage projects for a living, and this was how I approached cancer. I knew God was with me at every step – in the medical decisions, in the support structure, in teaching me I could not do this on my own. And I was constantly reminded that people were watching me and would be impacted for Christ one way or another by how I handled myself during what I was going through. They would see my choice be it joy or be it anything else. His Word and His people sustained me. God opened so many doors through the experience for me to be a support and encourager to others who have walked that path since I did.
I would never wish breast cancer on anyone. I would also never give back that period in my life. Jesus was, and still is, my strength. He did “calm all my fears” and still does. And because of Him, I am still choosing joy!