We sang the song on Sunday and the words woke me before the sun touched the horizon on the day of surgery: Keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace. For I am Yours and You are mine.
Tip-toeing downstairs I knew I had some business to do with God if I was going to bravely walk into that hospital choosing faith over fear, my ultimate goal for this part of my trial.
As the birds started their morning song, I asked Him to help me choose faith over fear. Then came the still small knowing: Child, if you are going to choose faith over fear, you must speak faith-filled words.
I knew what the Lord meant. I had been voicing my worst fears only to him – the one I shared my life with – while being strong and brave with everyone else. Wasn’t that allowed? But bringing those fears out into the open was enough for Satan to use against me. Yes, I needed to choose faith-filled words in the privacy of my own home and in the intimacy of my marriage too.
Some of our hardest work is done on our knees, but the feeling of peace and calm that washes over a person after surrendering the thing to God is well worth the effort.
After getting the kids off to school and packing my hospital bag, we spent our lasts few minutes sitting on the deck soaking up the warm June sun. A perfect day.
“Let’s just stay here,” I suggest. “It’s too nice to spend the day in a hospital.”
He smiles and stands and takes my arm. Time to go.
On the way I listen to that song one more time: I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.
God’s peace that passes understanding washes over me again.
We arrive and they tell us to take a seat among all the others waiting. I glance around the room. Some waiting their own procedures, others waiting for loved ones who are in surgery; some pacing anxiously, others calmly reading; some sitting in silence, others chatting quietly with the person next to them. There is a story – a trial – behind each face in this room, and I wish I could spend time talking to each one.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).
It’s perhaps the most ridiculous statement in all of scripture, and yet a command of God through James.
This room is absent of happiness, which is to be expected because happiness is circumstantial and flees quickly in these kinds of situations. But joy … joy is possible even here because it is supernatural. However only a Christ-follower can understand and demonstrate joy in a place like this. A follower of Jesus Christ knows there is far more going on – far more at stake – than what is apparent on the surface of the situation. Joy delights in the person and purposes of God which go far deeper than mere circumstance.
Yes, consider it all joy. I desperately want others to see it written all over my face. When the pressure is on, that’s when we get to prove the difference Christ makes in a life.
It’s not long and I’m called in to another room to be prepped for surgery. As the nurse is taking my temperature and my blood pressure she asks me about the cards in my hand.
“Is that a motivational thing?”
I smile. “No, not motivational. Life-giving. They are Scripture verses.”
I had spent time that very morning writing down all the promises contained on these twelve small cards. Dozens of promises of God’s saving presence. Multiple instances where He reminds that help comes only from Him. Again and again He commands, “Do not fear.”
The gentle blonde nurse says it’s time to put in the IV. I glance nervously at my husband and he points to the cards in my hands. He knows it’s one of the parts of this process I dread the most, but I remember the words God had given me that morning:
“God’s Word and His gospel should be like an IV bag that keeps your soul hydrated with living water, steadily dripping the hope-giving, life-altering, joy-igniting, perspective-changing truth – truth that will then shape how you feel, regardless of what’s going on around you, because its based on the objective, unchanging truth of God’s Word, instead of your ever-changing, easily deflated, and often misguided feelings.” (Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason).
Soon it’s over and the liquid is dripping into my veins, the peace that passes understanding dripping steadily into my mind and heart.
The nurses leave and say they’ll be back to get me in a little while. A glance at the clock. 12:30. One hour to wait.
We settle into the waiting and the clock ticks nosily.
A few minutes later a different nurse walks through the door, this one familiar. I recognize her as the mother down the street of the little boy who often rings our doorbell. I didn’t know she was a nurse. She said she saw my name on the board and says she immediately started praying and came to find me. So kind. So gracious. Sisters in Christ. She asks which surgeon I have and when I tell her she smiles reassuringly. He’s the one she would choose to operate on her family, she says. Peace and calm wash over me anew. How did she know those were the words we needed to hear right in that moment?
They call my name and its time. I follow the nurse down the hall while pushing the IV pole. We approach large double automatic doors and she turns to my husband and says, “This is as far as you may go.”
I give him a panicked look and he kisses the top of my hand and looks straight into my eyes and says, “I love you.”
I follow the nurse through the doors into a world I have not known before. A world of people facing perhaps their worst fears, of hours lying on an operating table, of top-notch surgeons performing life-saving surgery. My little surgery is none of these things, yet there are people here whose lives could be changed in an instant. This world – so foreign, yet so intriguing.
The nurse carrying my chart settles me into another waiting room, this one occupied by three other people, one a patient and two hospital volunteers. The patient – an older lady sits across from me in an identical hospital gown. She’s looking anxiously from the clock to the small television in the corner and back to the clock, while nervously fidgeting with the IV tubes running from her wrist to the pole.
The sweet grey-haired volunteer sits at a desk in the corner, and turning towards me asks, “Are you Shannon?”
I smile and nod.
She checks me off her list and welcomes me warmly to the OR waiting room, then proceeds to tell me what will happen from this point on. “The anesthetist will come and talk to you a few minutes before your surgery, then the nurse will come and get you and walk you down one of two hallways to your operating room.”
My eyes blink back the tears. The fear is creeping in again and I feel like running and hiding. But there is nowhere to go.
In the midst of trials, our natural response is to escape and run and hide. But God wants us to remain under the weight of them so He can develop steadfastness, endurance, perseverance, and patience in us. The truth is, the Christian who doesn’t remain under the hand of God will never see the purpose of God in the trail. Sadly, it will be all for nothing. Remaining in the place of pain produces the intended result.
No, I’m not running. I want to be in total submission to God in the midst of this and be willing to receive whatever He wants to teach me, because quite frankly – I don’t want to have to learn this one again.
God, what are you trying to teach me through this? Besides the cancer, what needs to be cut out of my heart and life to make me more like Christ? I have to be willing to ask this in faith, without any conditions. No part of my life off limits.
The older volunteer is training the younger one by her side and turns to whisper instructions.
I assume the room will settle into silence broken only by the drone of the TV, but when she’s done instructing the young girl she turns back to me and starts asking about my family. She’s sweet and easy to talk to, and I immediately relax. She’s worked her whole life as an OR recovery nurse right here on this very floor of the hospital and now volunteers her time to make patients feel at ease as they face surgery. She’s truly gifted to serve in this way and I’m grateful for her ministry.
A mom and her two-year old daughter enter the operating area across the hall and the volunteers quickly go to make them feel comfortable and answer any last-minute questions.
Now alone with the patient across from me, I glance at her and our eyes meet. She laughs coarsely and says, “I’m so thirsty I could drink the toilet water.”
I laugh too.
Of course, not eating or drinking for more than 24 hours makes any water seem appealing.
She’s broken the ice and we chat easily about family and surgery and her surprise new baby grand-daughter. She’s been waiting in this room for over an hour past her scheduled time and she’s getting frustrated. I ask her if she’s nervous, and although her actions betray her words, she says no. This is her third surgery in a few short months.
The volunteers come back in the room and the older one hands me a thin blue hair net for my head. I almost laugh at the irony. The four fashion divas on the television, wearing pumps and short skirts and more jewelry than I own, are debating style verses comfort. This hospital gown, fancy gauze slippers, and hair net are certainly neither.
It’s time for the toddler across the hall to make her way to the operating room, and a gentle nurse peels her from her mother’s arms. Her screams echo loud down the hall as she reaches back toward her mama and a mother’s heart breaks into pieces. I whisper silent prayers for them.
Then finally the nurse comes for the woman who’s been anxiously fidgeting with her IV and dreaming about water and off she goes.
The minutes tick well past my scheduled surgery time. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest.
But it’s in the waiting that God often does a good work. The question is, will you wait on God by faith in the midst of your trial, until the darkness turns to light? How long, you wonder? God alone knows, but it will be in His perfect timing. Do you believe God is sovereign and He is good, even in this?
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).
I spend my time praying for the little girl and the older woman now under the knife.
Finally the anesthetist comes and tells me how he’s going to put me to sleep, followed shortly by the OR nurse who tells me to come with her. My heart begins to pound. Here we go.
I follow her down the far hall and she pushes through double doors into the operating room, grabbing a mask as she enters. I try to take it all in. The room is very large and cold and full of unfamiliar instruments. There is a singular narrow bed in the middle with two huge lights above it, and there are six medical staff scurrying about wearing gowns and masks.
She tells me to climb up on the table and lie down. My arms barely fit by my side and I try turning my head to the right and left, memorizing the scene.
The words of my daughter’s prayer come back, “God, help mommy to know you are right beside her when they cut her neck open.”
Jesus, You fill this room. You were in here before I came in. Your presence is so very real.
We are all waiting for the surgeon now, and I hear them page his name. One nurse smiles and pats my arm while another one straps me to the bed.
The surgeon bursts through the door and immediately begins giving orders. He pauses to turn to me and smiles reassuringly. “We will take good care of you,” he promises.
Then the mask and breathe deeply and the world goes dark.
When we are in blackness darker than the dark of night, it’s so reassuring to know God never slumbers nor sleeps. His eye is on the little girl down the hall and her frantic mother in the waiting room. His eye is on the older woman who desperately wants to watch her baby grand-daughter grow up. And His eye is on me as they remove the cancer.
I wake up in a room bustling with activity. I’m the last in row of hospital beds, each with a computer and a nurse stationed at the end. Immediately I notice a clock on the wall to my right and I struggle to focus on the time, but the room is swimming.
Thank you, Lord.
My breath slows and I hear the woman at the end of my bed say, “Take a deep breath, Shannon.”
I do and fall back into the black nothingness.
Its three hours of swimming in and out of consciousness, while they continue to monitor my vitals and take blood, and my family waits patiently in another room.
Finally I’m able to force my eyes awake for longer than a few minutes and they say I’m ready to be taken to my room for the night. As the porter wheels my bed out into the hall I catch a glimpse of my dad in a room as we pass and I reach for him.
After setting into the room where I will spend the next 24 hours, my husband, dad, and sisters come quickly to my bedside.
I smile weakly. “It’s over,” I whisper.
Yes, this part of the journey is over.
For a Christian, life is about displaying the superiority of a life lived in God. Why do Christians get cancer? Why do children of believing families get sick and why do loved ones die? Why do Christians fall into hardship of any kind? Because the sons of God behave differently in trials than the sons of Adam. While others run and hide or crumple under the weight, believers are given supernatural resources to remain under the difficulty, allowing God to transform their characters in the process.
This is what I desperately want for this trial.
Is it easy? No.
Is it possible? It must be. Why else would He tell us to consider it all joy?
What can you do in the midst of your trail to display the superiority of a life lived in God? All for His glory …