To pick one moment and say, “that, that right there was when God wrecked me,” is hard to pinpoint. It wasn’t the moment our 6 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer, it wasn’t the moment my husband deployed, or the moments I thought he would never return. It was a gradual build up, a gutting of everything I held dear before the final sweep of the wrecking ball knocked through my walls.
Our first child was born during the week before finals of my second to last semester of grad school. I was on track for the life I’d always wanted, the one I had mapped out in colored charts and minute by minute diagrammed schedules. I graduated the next semester from the school I had dreamed of going to since 6th grade. I rushed into the world of ministry ready to conquer and only met the backside of doors and the kind words “when a volunteer position in children’s ministry opens I’ll call you.” There wasn’t one mark of experience or training in children’s ministry on my resume. I had missed the warnings that women don’t do ministry as a profession in the Bible Belt, at least not in the denominations I kept gracing with my feminine presence. I was supposed to be raising a family, not putting my feet to my calling.
I soon found myself working three jobs to help keep our heads above water. But I wasn’t giving up. Soon baby #2 was on her way and I was still knocking on doors. I had learned my lesson though.. I had been properly put into my place and moved on to parachurch ministries. It did not take long to be told I had my priorities wrong and needed to raise my children. All I could think was I needed to feed them and I wanted to do that while following my passion, which was serving Christ. So I volunteered when I was permitted and kept my head down.
Our Katie was born and whether it was the exhaustion of rejection or mothering small children (or both) I was overcome with postpartum depression. I wanted to pack up and leave, to drive until I ran out of gas and start over. But God blessed me with a wonderful man who pays attention. He got me the help I needed and I found momentary contentment in Zoloft and an old administrative position I held while in college. I needed a rest from the rejection.
When I was in grad school my husband and I had made an agreement. When I got out I would work full time and he would finish his college degree. Unfortunately, after more then a year of “no,” he realized his dream was starting to slip. He started talking Army.
March of 2007 we took our daughter to the doctor. Life was getting good. I was working only one job. My husband had found a pretty decent management position and had started EMT school. We had moved from our duplex with paper thin walls and black widow spiders to a three bedroom with a full kitchen and all of our own walls. I was content raising my children, clocking in my hours, just attending church, and paying off my school loans a dime at a time. I mean, I had tried and the answer was no so I went to my Bible Studies and kept my mouth shut.
The doctor said they would keep an eye on her and check her again in three months. So we called the eye doctor, who sent us straight to a specialist. The specialist didn’t want to commit. He had never seen Retinoblastoma before so he wasn’t ready to name it. He sent us St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN. Katie had a tumor so large it had torn her retina loose. She was blind in her left eye with very little chance of recovering her sight even with radiation and chemo. So we chose enucleation.
I hated the surgeon who cut her. I hated the circumstances we were in and I was angry. I had seen God heal and knew He would do the same for her. When they walked in the waiting room I expected to hear, “It’s a miracle! The cancer is gone and her sight is restored!” Instead I heard, “Everything went as expected. We took her eye and a portion of her optic nerve to test. You can go back to recovery and see her in a few minutes.” The room dropped 20 degrees as all the air rushed out of it.
But that’s not when God wrecked me. He was still chiseling.
I shut my Bible and didn’t pick it up for a year. My four years in seminary and a lifetime of doing things right, doing things the way I thought I was supposed to, hadn’t worked out. I had followed the rules, checked the boxes, and done my time. I had put God in a tidy box. It wasn’t just my life goals I had charted and diagrammed. I had done the same to Him. I had removed the mystery, figured out the formula, and when it didn’t work out as I had believed it would, when it turned out that God was bigger then my understanding, I wanted nothing to do with Him. I suddenly thought He didn’t care. I would have saved my daughter from pain, He didn’t even save His own son from death… how could I trust Him with my daughter.
Soon the Army became our solution. I couldn’t work. I was traveling to Memphis every three weeks and staying for a week. John was unable to continue school and we had to downsize when we had barely upsized. We were learning how to be married apart. He enlisted, a 36 year old private. I moved in with my parents until we found ourselves in El Paso, TX pregnant with our third child… and terrified.
Soon, out of loneliness and not sure how to connect any other way, I began attending a Bible Study. And God met me there. He called me back. In the story of Lazarus He reminded me of His love and His biggness. Two years after I shut Him out He reminded me He had never left. Suddenly the mystery of God and the providence of His hand throughout my daughter’s story began to appear. I saw how He guided the people in our lives to lead us to the one place who could save her life. I saw the people He had scattered throughout the journey who hadn’t let me completley let go of my faith but prayed for me and daily reminded me of God’s love through example.
God still wasn’t done with me.
Deployment came quickly followed by a second one. Suddenly there was no one to give my fears to except God. He comforted me when I felt out of control and He reminded me over and over that I was not alone.
Now when I read scripture I don’t look at it through the eyes of a bright eyed seminary student who has charted every book of the Bible in every color of the rainbow and more. My faith isn’t learned from dust covered books but through a life lived hard. A life, though I ran from Him, that was never absent of Him.
None of my theology is set in stone. Why? Because God is so much bigger then me. Dusty volumes of books can’t contain Him, they can guide us in understanding more about Him, but there is still so much mystery and so much to discover. His love doesn’t come because I strive to serve Him, because I spend years at seminary or time on the mission field. There is NOTHING I can do to earn His favor. It is a gift, a mysterious gift from a God.
Doors slammed in my face straight out of seminary because I was a woman yes, but also because God knew I wasn’t ready. I had the book smarts but He needed to make sure I had the life experience too. My daughter is healthy, beautiful and vibrant. Our lives are richer for what we have been through with cancer and deployments. Our faith is stronger. Would I take the easy route if I had to do it all over again? You bet! Thank goodness I don’t get to make that decision.
Katie is 8 years and 6 months cancer free. God has given my family a ministry in the military and has blessed me with an amazing calling at First Presbyterian Church in El Paso. Doors are opening and I’m thankful beyond words.
But God isn’t done with me yet.
A Repost from My Journey of Faith Magazine
Reader’s note: Katie is a now a 12 year surviver of cancer and Hope’s family has a new beginning after leaving the military.