Friday, August 5, 2016

A Personal Letter

Below is an email I sent to a close friend a couple months ago. It was in response to her email, asking how I was coping mentally and emotionally amidst a painful journey of suffering. There was no doubt what I would share. And now I'd like to share this personal email... but this time it's written to you. Yes, you.

Hi friend,

It's always good to hear from you and I really do appreciate your honesty. Please never hesitate to send emails like this... with questions or whatever is on your mind. I love thinking through these topics and sharing what I've learned.

First of all, my heart breaks to read this because I get it. The feelings of being really down, bearing through pain that only you understand, feeling like giving up amidst it all, eugh! The journey of suffering is tough and sometimes it's helpful to just admit that. Know that I am crying through it alongside you. Honestly, where do we go from here? While friends around us try to understand and support, it's impossible for anyone to fully understand the circumstances, thoughts and challenges of another person's experience.

So you asked if I had any advice for you from my experience with suffering... my only advice is to get curious about who God is and start a faith journey. I don't know what your religious background is, but my relationship with God has been by far the most important thing to carry me through this difficult journey. I just want to be completely honest with you. I'm sorry if this is not what you were looking for, but I honestly do not have other answers for you.

While an optimistic outlook can be very helpful, I believe positivity can only take you so far. There is no way just having a positive attitude could have gotten me through the dark moments/seasons post-surgery in September and January... those times were tough and I needed to wrestle with those dark emotions rather than sugar coat them with fake happiness and smiles. That only brushes them under the rug to be dealt with later.

In the dark moments, I realized that I needed to figure out what true joy, true peace and true hope really were. Hope is the most important of the three. When we can find a true, deep-rooted, lasting hope... we can't help but have peace and be filled with joy. I've found these things because of God, so I'm going to try and share the journey with you.

So let's unpack hope. When I was struggling with infertility, so badly wanting to be pregnant and have a baby with Andy, I remember coming across this verse in the Bible, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12. I was like ok, sweet, let's figure this out. So I started with the "be joyful in hope" part. It made sense, I would hope for a baby! That was a joyful thought... that someday we would get pregnant! So with that hope in mind, I could be joyful. However, this failed. Month after month my hope was crushed. Eugh, we still weren't pregnant AND there wasn't any joy in hoping for a baby when it seemed so unlikely!  It was then I realized that happiness was based on circumstances (i.e. riding a roller coaster, going on a date night with the hubby, eating ice cream, getting a new sweet job, getting pregnant, cancer not coming back, etc.), but joy was not. Joy went deeper. It was based on something deeper than circumstances. Joy was rooted in hope. But what would I put my hope in?! Hope that I'd have a baby wasn't working! So I came to realize that hope needed to be in something bigger than the changing, uncontrollable circumstances in life. My hope needed to be in God. 

What does that even mean? How can my hope be in God? Well, to be completely honest, my ultimate hope is not that I'm cancer-free. Of course, that is what Andy and I pray for daily and want so badly. BUT, if I put my hope in the circumstance that I become cancer-free, my hope and joy will be weak, easily shattered if that never happens. Hope and joy cannot last if they're tied to good things happening, because the reality on this earth is that "shit happens." So my hope is in God. And that is a secure, deep-rooted hope. It doesn't constantly change like our circumstances (which dish out happiness or sadness). Instead, God's love for me is constant, unchanging and limitless. THAT brings me hope! 

So how do I know that God loves me? How can I be so certain in God that I put my hope in Him? I think this is a question you need to think about and wrestle with yourself. However, I will share the reasons I have. 

First of all, throughout the Bible it's so evident that God loves humanity. He created them in the first place to just be in relationship with Him. Out of love, He also gave humans the ability to choose. Pretty quickly on, Adam and Eve chose to do things their own way and reject God. Again and again throughout Biblical history, humans reject God for one reason or another (usually bad circumstances happening to them). But what amazes me about God is that He never stops loving them. He listens to angry complaints of disappointed individuals, patiently waiting for people to realize who He really is and return to Him. Time and time again God's character is compassionate, loving and forgiving. In all the situations and stories throughout the Bible, God doesn't just judge people from afar, punishing them for doing wrong... instead God is providing food, water, etc. for people, rescuing them from dark moments and graciously taking them back when they decide to come back to God.

Secondly, I know God loves me and I can put my hope in Him because of Jesus. This Jesus name is tossed around a lot, but it's because Jesus is SO central to the message of the Bible. If you were looking for a place to start on a faith journey, I'd highly recommend reading about Jesus. Figure out for yourself who you think Jesus is. Read the book of John in the Bible for the story of Jesus. There are also three other accounts of his life in Matthew, Mark and Luke... I just like John the best. Anyways, so who is Jesus? Jesus is God's son. God sent Jesus to earth to show us how to live and ultimately to die in our place. What does it mean, "die in our place"? Well, because we as humans are imperfect, we cannot get to God. We make decisions that reject God all the time (i.e. lying, being prideful, cheating, etc... all this stuff is referred to as sin in the Bible). Because of this sin, our imperfection as humans, we are separated from God because God is holy, perfect and sinless. In order to reach God, our sin has to be dealt with, it has to be paid for, so a sacrifice has to be made. Before Jesus came, the people in the Bible (the Old Testament) would sacrifice a lamb on an altar to pay the penalty of sins in order to come before God, speak to God and pray to God. That was the only way imperfect humans could approach the perfect God... through a sacrifice. The amazing thing about Jesus coming to earth and dying for our sins (it's the only reason He died, for us, because He was God and lived a perfect life on earth) is that Jesus is now and forever the ULTIMATE sacrifice. His death made it possible for humans to approach God freely, because our sins have been paid for by Jesus on the cross. We can pray to God without making a lamb sacrifice. And there is nothing we can do that would separate us from God's love. Jesus has paid for all of that by choosing death in our place. Because of all this, we can be in relationship with God. 

So it's incredible Jesus did all of this. It reveals the character of God. He is loving, forgiving, gracious and compassionate. He longs so badly to be in relationship with us, so much so that God goes to the length of sacrificing His own Son in our place. That's intense love. That's sacrificial love that God and Jesus chose for us. But it doesn't stop there. Knowing these things is one thing, but choosing to believe them is how we become saved and start a faith journey. The Bible says that if we believe in our heart that Jesus is God and confess with our mouth that we have sinned (aka can't do this on our own, make wrong choices as humans, reject God, are imperfect, etc.), we will be saved. We just have to believe in God, believe who Jesus is and believe that it's only through Jesus' death and resurrection, not by our own works, that we can be saved. What are we saved from? We are saved from having to pay the penalty for our sins. The penalty for these sins is death. By choosing to be saved, we are accepting the gift of sacrifice Jesus offers. This means that when we do die here on earth, we enter eternal life in heaven with God. This is what God wants so badly for all humans, but because he lovingly gave us free choice, it's up to us to decide whether to take Him up on His offer or not. 

I chose to believe in God at a pretty young age having grown up going to church, but I've seen so many make this decision later in life. It's life-changing. All of a sudden, we have a whole new perspective. It's no longer about having a perfect life, keeping up with the Jones', living only for the moment... life takes on a whole new meaning. Now I can live in the knowledge that God loves me, so much so He sent His Son to die in my place and so there is nothing I have to do to earn my way to heaven. It's been paid for! I am free! And death is no longer something that scares me, because I have the promise of eternal, everlasting life with God! 

Now THIS is an incredible HOPE, am I right? This hope goes way beyond the circumstances of our life here on earth. This hope is beyond time and space. This hope is revolutionary. This hope opens my eyes to see that the temporary things on earth don't matter so much, instead what matters is knowing God. The more I learn about God (and this isn't always a happy, go-lucky learning... it means wrestling with big questions, journaling my real thoughts and doubts, crying out to God that I don't understand why "shit happens", etc.), the more I love God. I see that God is a good God. He loves us unconditionally. He longs so much for us to live abundantly, without fear. His heart breaks for us in those moments we discover cancer, experience chronic pain, walk through heavy suffering and just cry in hopelessness. God is not wanting to shut out the human cries... in fact, God wants to hear them. That's what it means to have a relationship with God. It's just like you would have with a good friend. You tell them everything, you cry with them, you laugh with them, you share your heart. God wants that relationship with us because He loves us. He wants to hear the good and the bad. He wants to journey with us. I think often people think of God way up in the clouds very distant from our problems, but God is actually wanting to journey with us right in the depths of those hard moments. God wants to be close to us, listening to our cries and gently reminding us that our hope is in Him alone.

When I'm reminded that my hope is in God, earthly things like health, wealth and success seem to fade away. They don't seem to matter as much as knowing God. Of course, I still mourn the loss of my health... I'm human and it sucks! But, below the surface of those emotions, I have this deep-rooted, unchanging, forever, secure HOPE in God that cannot be shaken. It's a secure foundation I can stand on despite the changing tides and unpredictable whirlwinds of cancer. My hope in God truly is the ANCHOR of my soul. It's in tears that I write this because it rings so so true in my soul. I've experienced this in the hard, hard moments. I've learned so much about God in this storm of cancer, friend. When I see others going through cancer or any hard, painful life event without God, I honestly don't understand how. It seems people rely on positivity and inner strength to pull them through... but I just don't feel like that is enough. 

The only reason I can have true joy radiating from me and unexplainable peace in my heart is because of my HOPE in GOD. It's not me. I'm not some special person with extra happiness or motivation to "fight this cancer". Instead, I'm a person that's truly been broken by cancer in so many ways. But because of GOD, I have been able to cling to HOPE! Again, it's not the hope that one day I'll be cancer-free and live a long life on earth with Andy, although boy do we long for that, the hope goes beyond that to a hope in a God who loves me, died for me and offers me eternal life. That hope is unshakable. That hope fuels me with true, deep-rooted joy! That hope silences my fears, replacing them with peace. And although I'll never understand why shit happens, I can trust that God is a loving God. I can trust that God's heart breaks for us when we suffer. And I can trust that God's ultimate plan is for people to enjoy eternal life in heaven.

Friend, I share this honestly with you because I care about you and would be lying if I said anything else. I know I've written an essay, and some of it might be confusing, but I hope you can see the truth in this. I so badly hope that you will give it a chance! Knowing God is what the abundant life is all about. Knowing God is what pulls me through each day and the reason I can have hope, joy and peace amidst the hard emotions. I encourage you to read the Book of John to learn more about who Jesus is (there are 21 short chapters in the book of John). Also, please email back if you have any comments, thoughts or questions... honestly anything... I realize I threw a lot of information out there and some of it might not make sense at first glance. I'm more than happy to chat about this, unpack things together, whatever. Believe me, I do not have all the answers, but I like looking for them. I'd be up for meeting up too if that's easier than back and forth emailing.

Much love to you. I wish your suffering would go away and will pray for that. But beyond that, I hope that you can find the revolutionary hope in God that makes all the difference. Big hugs, friend!

Julia XOXO

P.S. I mean it, my personal email is I'd love to chat with you about anything in this post or my blog for that matter. Thank you so much for reading and following my journey. It means the world.
P.P.S. 100 Huntley Street is airing a 15min mini documentary on my journey with cancer. They filmed Andy and I at our house a few weeks ago. It will be on YES-TV on Thursday, August 11th at 11am and 8pm (during the second part of the show). If you miss it, I will post the link on my blog in the coming weeks! Pray it would encourage all who watch.


  1. Every time I read your posts I feel surrounded by the Holy Spirit. I can't explain it much more than that. But you've impacted my walk with Chrsit over this past year. Just reading your wisdom, and hearing about your journey through this blog and updates from Care, I am always drawn so close to Christ. Thank you for showing me what it truly means to trust the Lord. May the Lord bless you abundantly for your faithfulness towards Him

  2. You don't know me but I was told about your blog from a friend. I started reading your blog in May and it has impacted me tremendously. We are dealing with suffering of a different kind but just reading about your faith and hope in God has truly encouraged my husband and I. We will pray for you and your family as you travel this difficult journey.

  3. Deep waters. Thank you for this...

  4. Learning so much from the profound wisdom God has given you! Thanks for sharing your life with us. Continuing to pray for you and Andy! Sending hugs...


    In Christ alone, my HOPE is found.

    You shine for Him, Julia!


  6. I am on the waters with you my dear sister...cling to the only one who will never let you drown...a mighty anchor that does indeed, keep our souls..without Him, I would surely be lost...hang on dear sister...He is the life raft , and He will not let us drown

  7. Hi Julia,

    I just watched your story on tv and it was so touching that I wanted to reach out to you. I'm so happy to hear that despite all the pain and uncertainty you're going through in your journey that you're faith remains unshaken. Such a testimony and glory to God. I believe the Lord can and will answer your prayers to be cancer-free someday because our God is so good - and He is for us! Not against us! He wants our healing and recovery. That's why Christ came, after all, to heal us and bring restoration. We can stand on his word and be faithful to receive.

    I noticed the enemy loves to rob our faith when we're not looking and remind us of all the reasons why we might be foolish to rely on God - or that God might be punishing us for something, or that he's forgotten about us. I remember when it came to crises in my life, I was and sometimes still am tempted to wonder if God really cares about me? Or why he would allow me to go through so much and for so long? This is spiritual attack.

    The enemy loves to disturb those whose hearts love the Lord. But we are already victorious in Him. We are conquerers in Christ - and I pray we all stay encouraged and reminded that God is God and nothing and nobody can dethrone Him or change that fact. You are so secure! :)

    Thank you for sharing your story of pointing others to God through suffering - very encouraging to me as well & God bless you!

  8. Hi Julia, thank you for sharing your faith and helping others through this challenging time. My best friend sent me your link as we have also been going through our own faith building journey. It is our at the time eleven year old daughter who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant. She was in the hospital for 51 weeks exactly and went through so many complications it would take me pages to explain them all. Several times the doctors discouraged us from going to transplant as it was so risky and in the end she had less than a 1 percent chance of survival. She also had a blood infection thst put her in sepsis and her heart stopped and eighteen minutes of CPR later we got a pulse. Down in icu for three and a half weeks and our doctor told us to call everyone fully expecting she wouldn't survive. God told me otherwise and she is alive and well and truly a miracle from.God. to say this last year and a half has been a challenge would be a gross understatement but as you have said it has made my faith and trust in God grow like never before. God truly is faithful and i could not have endured this time without Him. I will be praying for you and your hubby. Big hugs!

  9. I just watched your interview on Youtube and was blown away by your faith, your courage, your joy. I will be praying for you and with you.

  10. Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing the Gospel with us all as you suffer. Your hope in Him is seriously inspiring. He is using you in many mighty ways!

  11. Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing the Gospel with us all as you suffer. Your hope in Him is seriously inspiring. He is using you in many mighty ways!

  12. You inspire me like no words can describe. Thank you Julia, for sharing your journey.

  13. Hi Julia

    I just saw your 100 Huntly Street interview. God is faithful even during difficult times. You truly are one tough cookie! I read most of your blogs last night until 3:00 am. You inspire me as I too am on a cancer journey very similar to yours. Blessings to you and your husband Andy.

  14. I love reading your blog and admire your strength. You are such an incredible inspiration and your voice and faith are truly admirable. Thank you, Julia.


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