Without saying a word, my little boy taught me the one thing you must know when the poison of suffering is injected directly into your unsuspecting soul…
Seeing the Invisible
You don’t have to be a seminary graduate to recognize that the Bible is full of symbolism. From the sacrificial offerings in Leviticus to the communion wine in the gospels, God delights in using physical images to communicate spiritual realities to an otherwise unseeing people.
It’s with that understanding in my late 20’s that I began to view the world around me in a completely different way. Aided by the thoughts of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity, routine events took on deeper meanings as they directed my thoughts to the things of God. The discipline I handed down to my child for the umpteenth time over the same bad behavior shifted my thoughts to God’s patient discipline for my routinely rebellious heart.
This habit of thought eventually ruined movie night for me and Mandi. Out of sheer joy of the discovery, I would click pause on the remote and begin explaining to Mandi how this or that aspect of the movie pointed to some unique spiritual truth. She graciously listened and never once rolled her eyes at her overzealous know-it-all husband.
I didn’t know that God was preparing my mind to process a much more vivid physical picture of a profound spiritual truth.
On our 8th wedding anniversary, Mandi and I sat in room 504 of Wolfson Children’s Hospital waiting for the oncology nurse to administer the first dose of a nearly four-year long chemotherapy treatment plan for our son Andrew. Despite the bright Florida sun beaming through the window, it was one of the darkest days of our lives. The heaviness we felt that day and for the first few months after Drew’s diagnosis were a shock to our system. We had never experienced sorrow like that.
Truthfully, up until to the leukemia surprise, we had never experienced suffering at all. No financial problems. No marital problems. No health problems. No real problems, at least not within the confines of our immediate home life. While friends and family around us were thrown into seasons of suffering either through infertility, infidelity, disease, or divorce, all was well with the Wood family on our quarter-acre plot in the suburbs of Jacksonville.
I quickly learned in those early post-diagnosis days that trusting God is a pretty simple task when the bills are paid, the kids are healthy, and the marriage is solid. It’s a whole other story when one or all of those are threatened. How do I trust a God who allowed the bone marrow cells in Drew’s body to mutate into deadly high-risk leukemic blasts?
Around 2pm that afternoon, two nurses walked into the room dressed in what could only be described as Hazmat gear complete with disposable aprons and protective gloves. One nurse accessed Drew’s newly implanted chest port, then hung a bag of liquid that was labeled “CAUTION: Chemotherapy. Handle with Care.” As a parent, I could only stand there as the nurse began the infusion of poison into my son’s heart. Chemotherapy is poison. Its poison that kills cancer cells along with healthy cells and it’s the only medically-proven method that promises to give Drew a fighting chance. The countless medical release forms made it clear, this was going to hurt.
Two years later, I can still recall the incredibly stark contrast between the innocent serene look on Drew’s face and the panic in my own heart knowing what was being injected into him. How am I going to trust God through four years of poison?
God delights in using physical pictures to communicate spiritual truths and this was going to be no exception.
It was in those moments of quiet panic that God spoke to me, “What looks like poison is actually for your good.” Though this cancer was going to strain my soul to its core, I was commanded by God to trust that He was purposefully allowing this for my good, the good of my son, and the good of my entire family.
Drew didn’t know much that first day of chemo. All he knew is that he woke up in that same cold hospital room then was whisked away from his parents to another well lit room where strange men in white coats put him to sleep and then inserted a device under his chest. Despite the chaotic circumstances around him, Drew never once panicked. He cried but never panicked. In his little mind, all he knew is that mom and dad loved him so this must be good for him.
And at the end of the day, that is all we know. Because our invisible Father displayed his perfect love in the visible image of His Son Jesus Christ, we are left with no alternative but to trust that this season of suffering is good for us. Regardless of the chaotic circumstances around me, this is the one thing I must know.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.