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My Hope Through Terminal Illness

Take heart - in the world you will have tribulation.

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Throughout my life, tragedy has kept a comfortable distance away. Amidst the pandemic in 2020, however, my eyes were opened as a friend my age was diagnosed with ALS and a hero in the faith unexplainably lost his 20 year old son. Suddenly, it was easy to envision how suffering could intrude in my life too.

Theologically, I understood the trials and afflictions others faced as a shadow of what will come sooner or later, but only from the comfortable perspective as an outsider looking in. I knew I wasn’t immune to the realities of a fallen world. Jesus said so, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Would the low-grade, everyday hardships be my only difficulties in life? At 35, I was not afflicted by suffering in a personal way. I was busy in my roles as a husband, a father to 3 young boys and pursuit of an upwardly mobile life through a recent promotion. I have a full life to live, a family to raise, a God to serve!

My own tragedy struck

Then, the tidal wave of suffering came straight for me. An urgent MRI revealed a brain tumor causing a dangerous amount of fluid to build up in my head. Traumatic surgery soon followed and a week later I received the unimaginable news: pathology had revealed the tumor was an aggressive form of brain cancer with no cure. My life would most assuredly be painful and shortened by this terrible disease. There's not even a category of remission for high-grade gliomas.

Where do I turn? Will my life ever be the same? Can I return to my position at work? What will happen to my family? Questions mounted and fears of the future were suffocating. The perception others had of a man with “strong faith” started to look a lot more like flimsy self-reliance.

Comforts are hard to come by and when they do, sift through my fingers like sand. The only surety I had was that my situation was uncertain. I look at my boys now and long to be present throughout their lives. This season truly revealed how much I rely on myself and the ideal circumstances I've strived towards. Can all my dreams and desires be swept away by this storm?

In the early months after my diagnosis, I spent a good while reading through the Christian hope in the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians and the beginning of 2 Corinthians were worn, tear-covered pages in my bible. A familiar verse I’ve tended to gloss over shined bright in the darkest moment of my life.

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
- 2 Corinthians 1:9

Living with a terminal diagnosis has felt, at times, like I've been given a death sentence. I’m not headed to the gallows, but the verdict has been pronounced. My outcome as sure as the best doctors can determine.

What is your hope?

Despondency pressed in asking, "what hope do you have facing your inevitable death?" The cure I longed to hear about from my doctors, I heard afresh through God's word.

Sitting on my in-laws' guest bed, I silently raised my hands in praise. It was the word I needed to hear. A reminder of the hope I cling to even when all else is lost. Jesus is the one who, by his wounds, can heal our sentence of death (Isaiah 53:5) and raise us to life in glory (Colossians 3:1–4).

David Powilson has frequently helped me see with new eyes the ways in which God provides grace through suffering. He explains:

When God has written his name on you, suffering qualitatively changes. Pain, loss, and weakness are no longer the end of the world and the death of your hopes. Whatever you must face changes in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise that you, too, will live.
- David Powilson

Be still my soul and trust in the “eternal rock” (Isaiah 26:4). Life built upon Jesus can withstand the raging floods that will come in this life (Matthew 7:24-27).

Take it to heart, through faith in Jesus Christ, God will do nothing less than raise you from the dead!