Sunday, June 26, 2016

Living a Paradox

It's been a year since I heard the words, "It's cancer." On June 18th, 2015 at about 11am I got the call from Juravinski with the results of my biopsy surgery. To my shock and dismay it was the worst of the three potential options; it was stage 3C epithelial ovarian cancer.

We had been hoping for a benign tumour or germ cell ovarian cancer. My mind was spinning as the oncologist explained my treatment options moving forward. In a dull haze I ended the call and immediately called Andy. He left work and came home to me crying over my laptop as I tried to wrap my head around the diagnosis and statistics. What did this mean? How did this terrible disease grow in my healthy body? How would we ever digest this news? Where was God in this mess? How would we tell our families and friends?

Fast forward a year and I'm sitting at my laptop again, but this time with the intention of sharing a big picture reflection of this past year with cancer.

There's no doubt this has been the hardest year of my life. I don't share that lightly; I've truly come to the end of myself over and over. Last June I had no idea what was ahead or the brokenness I'd experience physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And yet, as much as I would have never chosen this story, this has also been the richest, most life-giving year of my life. I also don't share that lightly; it's through tears of heartfelt conviction that I can truthfully tell you I've come to discover incredible truths about who God is and have experienced more fully the abundant life. 

So this year has been the best and the hardest simultaneously. Seems a bit unbelievable, I'll admit. But life is full of these paradoxes, isn't it? Beauty uncovered in ashes, good pouring out of evil, pearls forming from parasites, peace found in uncertainty, hope despite disappointment, love bursting forth amidst hatred, etc. Have you too seen the best of life and the hardest of life in your own story, throughout history or as you've journeyed with me?

Beautiful artwork claiming light, colour and freedom over the darkness the Berlin Wall represents.

That's where I find myself, living a paradox of hard and beautiful
. There are moments where I'm fully submerged in the hard, moments when I'm caught up in the beautiful and moments when it's hard and beautiful all at once. Another way I've described this is that I'm living in the tension between my broken humanity and God's endless love. Sometimes I lean more into my brokenness, overwhelmed by the circumstances of life and succumbing to my human fears. And other times I lean more into God's love, trusting His presence will be with us in each step. But most of the time, I'm in the tension between. You see? I'm living a paradox. 

"Therefore we do not lose heart
Though outwardly we are wasting away, 
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us 
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

A month or so ago, I sat down and journalled a list of some things God has taught me this past year. It was a pretty eye-opening exercise. I didn't have to think long and hard to come up with these, they just flowed from my heart and went on for pages. Here's a few of the beautiful "unseen" truths gleaned from the "seen" hard of cancer
  • God's not shocked. Nothing that happens in our lives catches Him off guard. He knows, always knew and yet His compassionate heart still breaks as we are shocked by the news.
  • What we're going through and learning from God now, in this moment, are tools for what's ahead. Feel the emotions, explore your feelings and live in the present as God wants to equip you for what's ahead. He prepares us in ways we aren't even aware of.
  • The body of Christ (our church, our families' churches and even extending to believers around the world) is so beautiful in action. They have reached out and cared for us beyond what we could have imagined. God uses His people to tangibly love us. It's overwhelming, humbling and amazing.
  • God knows suffering. Such a deep, powerful comfort when faced with our own suffering. Our God is not distant from these emotional, physical and relational pains. Jesus chose to suffer out of love - unreal.
  • True joy is rooted in hope in Jesus Christ, not in preferred happy circumstances. Joy flows out of our understanding of what Jesus has done for us eternally. Our ultimate hope isn't hinged on circumstances changing, being cancer-free, getting that job, etc. Hope has to be rooted in something far greater, something beyond this earthly life.
  • Perspective is completely changed amidst suffering. What matters now? Not the mortgage, finances, success, empire building, job stuff, striving for the perfect life, etc. What matters most is faith, family and friendships. These are the key ingredients of the abundant life.
  • Recovery takes time and can be a dark place. Know God is with you, but you may not feel Him. Be patient. Play worship daily. Meditate on Bible verses. Cry when the tears come. Laugh at the funny moments, soaking them in. Press on.
  • Vulnerability allows God to work in your own heart and to move in those around you. Share. Be real. Know who to share with and how much - always being authentic, but setting boundaries for yourself. Let people in. Your close family and friends will truly carry the burden with you... such a comfort and evidence of God's love overflowing from their hearts.
  • Grace. Walk with grace through suffering, not complaining, exaggerating or keeping the focus on yourself. We need to live in the grace God extends to us daily. Be gracious with yourself and shower grace on those around you. People will say the "wrong" things. Cover them in grace by seeing beyond and look for the heart behind it. People care. 
  • Admit brokenness. This is human. This is real. And this is the start of climbing out. At the end of me is where I'm swept into God's arms and carried onward.
  • Explore your raw emotions. Share them with God. Faithful men and women have cried out to God openly and honestly for centuries. You are not alone in your emotions or prayers. God wants to hear from you. Open the dialogue to build your relationship with Him.
  • Faith is a journey. Take one step at a time. You don't have to have all the answers in order to take one step. I believe we're all somewhere on a faith journey. Seek truth. You will find it.
  • Be encouraged by prayer. There are some real, mighty prayer warriors out there - from children praying simple prayers of healing to friends crying out to God on my behalf to wise, long-time Christians committing to pray daily by alarm. Soak in the reality of these prayers - wow. 
  • God walks with you. While there is no promise of exemption from pain or suffering in this life, I know He is with us in the present moment, providing for our needs and loving us. This is my favourite of God's promises.
None of this is rocket science. In fact, I was originally embarrassed to share these because they're all quite simple truths. But I've come to realize over this past year that the simple truths are the things that matter most. So while the more we learn about life, the world and God makes us realize how little we know, it also brings us full circle to the seemingly simple, yet life-changing truths of the abundant life in Christ. There is so much I don't understand and many big questions left as mysteries, so my handful of simple truths become all the more significant. So I will cling to those, ultimately clinging to the God I know loves me and walks with me.

"But I trust in your unfailing love
my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing the LORD's praise, 
for He has been good to me." 
- Psalm 13:5-6

Lastly, remember when I was crying out to God in my last blog post, desperately looking for "rest for the weary"? Well He heard my cry and your prayers too, granting me a summer of taking a different oral drug. Praise God! For three months I will take this oral drug (popping one pill a day with minimal side effects beyond fatigue, mild nausea and aches)... who knew this option existed?! I was dreading having to drive into Toronto maybe multiple times a week for some sort of heavy trial, something I just do not feel up to at the moment. I also did one targeted radiation treatment on my pelvis bump last week. It's made me sick a few times thus far, but we're hoping it will slow or remove that tumour growth.

The other encouraging thing about the oral drug is that a bunch of my oncologists from Hamilton and Toronto were just at a conference presentation of the latest research on low-grade ovarian cancer, finding that the oral drug I'm taking now actually showed more effectiveness than the one I just stopped taking! Timely information to inform my incredible medical team of the next best treatment option for me going forward. I'm praising God for hearing my plea and granting me a summer of an easier treatment so that I can rest up for potentially more difficult treatments in the fall. He has been good to me.


  1. Thank you for sharing your precious, simple truths dear Julia. They are so very real and important. Continued prayers for you and your dear family in this season and I hope you can enjoy your summer fully! xo Glenda
    So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.

  2. Julia, I am not religious. Raised in a liberal thinking church going family, confirmed in a United Church at 16 and perhaps that was the end of my exposure to bible verses and formal religious education. Yet, I learn much from reading your posts and how you draw strength and reflect from bible verses, Jesus and God. What would I do under your circumstances? Perhaps turn to nature for my spiritual strength as I am drawn to the Buddhist way of thinking of eternal life. I envy the strength you can find in your faith. I learn from you with every open, honest, heart felt post. You sharing your journey is a gift to everyone who reads it. Love Lesley D.

  3. Dear Julia, I have not met you...but have been a friend of your Aunt Barb....and my late husband, Harold knew your Dad well from living in Mtl ...I journeyed with my husband through cancer in which he was healed (both his Drs. used the term miracle) and given the gift of life for 28 years to help raise our 5 young children..and a second in which God healed him by taking him to Heaven. I was encouraged by your very well put thoughts above about your journey...and found too, that I would not have wanted to miss the precious things that the Lord taught us...and his tender mercies in the midst of very dark, frightening times....(but could not honestly say I would choose to go through the trials again!) We were encouraged by knowing that God understood when we didn't always 'Trust and not be afraid'..because He also said, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in You" In 1986, as I sat awaiting my husband's return from a surgery in which they just closed him up because the cancer was around his vital organs and couldn't remove any of it, thinking about how I might have to raise our 3 preschool boys and newborn girl, Amy Jo (a friend of your cousin, Heather's) alone, the Lord gave me what proved to be a "life-line verse" in the days to come, Psalm 9:9,10...another life line verse was shared with me by someone who had 2 children with a disease expected to be fatal by age 20.."God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind" During the last journey through my husband's cancer, the Lord gave us songs for different stages....and I would sometime pray, "Lord I need a new song"...One of the songs was Blessings, which my husband put on the wall and still hangs there. Laura Story has just written a book titled, When God doesn't Fix it (her husband had a brain tumor and still is affected afterwards) She has just started an on line Bible study using it...and for a short time the videos are available on line...and worth watching, even if you don't do the study.... I think we all wrestle with the questions she shares....why God allows terrible things to happen--especially to those who are trying to follow the Lord.. (my daughter in law & son are serving in missions & was hit by a hit and run snowmobile on their honey moon...smashed both her legs very badly...She has had a long road to recovery. As we have heard of your journey, it too doesn't make sense...this side of Heaven...
    Praying for peace, strength, and healing...and blessing on the 'medical mission' you never wanted to sign up for...Mary Smith week 1 Week 2 Video

  4. Julia, an amazing walk. I would like to share John MacArthur's video, "Why does evil dominate the world". It starts a bit slow but has a powerful ending with deep spiritual truth. I don't want to spoil the ending for you but it supports the truths you have discovered. God is in control of everything. He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving. Blessings....xx

  5. Nice post. I have also started blogging and would love to share such stuff with readers. The LookBook

  6. Dearest Julia, thank you! Thank you LORD God, again and again for Julia's sincere honesty, thank you LORD God for creating your beautiful beloved daughter and blessing us with such a precious gift in her! LORD, I thank you for the new medicine and the skilled doctors that are treating her. I thank you for your faithfulness each day and that you alone are truly the steadfast "Anchor of her Soul." Dear LORD, I pray that all of us will continue to be faithful in prayer and be guided by you as Julia, allows us to share her journey with us. In you alone LORD God be the glory and honour, in Jesus' life giving name, Amen Psalm 65:5 You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas


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