"...in this world you will have trouble..." ~ John 16:33a (NIV)
There is a new catchphrase in our society today. If you are on Facebook, or have teenagers, you've probably already seen or heard it: "The Struggle is Real." This is about the moments when you are going about the everyday details of life - getting things organized, making it to your appointment on time, enjoying a little quiet time, or finally getting your car repaired...just to name a few - when in an unexpected second something goes wrong and complicates the once-expected outcome. These are the moments when you are tempted to think, scream, or simply admit that the struggle IS real!
Because the Word of God is clear, we know that life will come with its fair share of troubles. The truth is that dishes will break, traffic will get in our way, our kids will frustrate us, our husbands will disappoint us, once-clear decisions will be questioned, our job situations could change, or an unpleasant person might get in our way. Some of us may be tempted to wonder whether or not we deserve the trouble. In fact, if we've made good choices, why is there a struggle? Well, in all of our problems and inconveniences, there is a God-perspective that can be applied; one that can help us to soar above the difficulty as we walk through our struggles. Here is how I am learning this, too...
April 2014 marked the start of two major difficulties in my life, the effects of which I continue to feel today - both physically and emotionally:
The first was initiated by a virus that infected many people I know, including my kids, my husband, and I. In our home, I got hit the hardest. I experienced lingering effects over a month later that left me questioning how long the discomfort was supposed to last. The effects resulted in never-before-experienced anxiety, various visits to my primary care physician as well as several specialists, many blood tests, two ultrasounds, a colonoscopy, and an endoscopy that finally diagnosed an h-pylori stomach infection. I was then given an antibiotic that led to continued discomfort, pain, frustration, an MRI, a CT scan, and finally drastic diet changes. Ugh. Some days I feel like I've been battling down a long road with no end in sight...
At around the time I was wondering when my discomfort would finally go away (May 2014), I received a game-changing phone call from my cousin, Pablo Javier. You see, back in January 2012 he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a.k.a. pre-leukemia. Everything had been well and under control...until then. He was calling to let me know that he would now need a stem cell transplant. "What can I do," I questioned, "I don't even know if I'm healthy enough to be tested for donorship." Little did I know that 8 months later (the evening of my h-pylori diagnosis) that question would be answered after receiving another phone call from Pablo in January of 2015. He gave me the earth-shattering news that his sister, the only possible stem cell donor, was rejected a visa to travel to the United States. After hanging up and talking to my husband, a clear thought came rushing into mind, "You need to find someone." That led to a joining of the minds between my brother, sister, and I that led to personal conversations, phone calls, letters, and emails to friends with jobs in key places, as well as embassies, congressman, journalists at home and abroad, the US State Department, and finally an immigration attorney. We began a 5 month process of applying for a humanitarian parole visa for my cousin, Ariela, in Argentina. She arrived on June 15th.
Because of my close contact with Pablo, being a homeschool mom, as well as my comfort with speaking and writing both English and Spanish, I was placed in immediate contact with the doctors who were caring for my cousin. Due to my physical condition, I listened to medical details with literal gut-wrenching pain; and I fought through anxiety symptoms to ask hard questions and speak to family members at home and abroad. Throughout all of this Pablo and I spoke almost every day, reminding each other that God is fully sovereign and full of unlimited grace for us. We chose to trust God's decisions and prayed together for healing, and for each other, often. In addition, I was gifted deeper friendships with my cousin Ariela and with Pablo's wife, who had been key in making sure I always knew what was going on - even when Pablo didn't want to worry us. Not to mention, my very large family in Argentina joined together to hold several fundraisers to pay for Ariela's travel expenses. I "watched" as across the miles, via Facebook and phone lines, our whole family overcame personal obstacles and jumped in with both feet to do whichever part each of us was able to ensure we'd all get more time with Pablo Javier and he with his wife and son.
After much prayer, many worship songs to get through the moments of physical pain and discomfort, and daily decisions reiterated to the doctors to choose trust in a God who is able to heal; Pablo went Home on July 29, 2015. We cried. But we continued to worship. We have been inspired to see that his faith in Christ never waned...it only grew...and a result, looking back, we see that God truly gave my cousin an amazing grace upon grace that the doctors, security guards, and visitors were amazed and encouraged to witness.
It was both beautiful and hard to watch my cousin's battle with leukemia. I miss him. I don't have enough space to share well the ways in which he touched my life. I have felt the ripples of what feels like post-traumatic stress. But, I have also realized that the greater battle we fought was not against cancer, but the fight of faith - the struggle to choose to continue to trust God despite what is tangible to our hearts and eyes. You see, we never saw "walls" out of the hindrances that came up after that January phone call; we saw "stones" in our way that needed to be stepped over. As a result, this experience has made clear to me that our struggles have purpose. They are creating a visible testimony and an invisible, eternal reward with the Lord. So, as I continue to work through figuring out what continues to ail my body a year and a half after that initial virus, I also fight to continue to trust that this struggle is full of a God-given purpose that will be beautiful to me, too, in just a little while...
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we do not look at what be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." ~ 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NRSV)