How to cope when you can't cope: Ask how not why
The below article is by Alice Richardson (my sister!) whose daughter underwent two bone marrow transplants in an attempt to cure her of leukeamia. To say that Alice and her husband experienced a storm, or were under pressure is a monumental understatement.
Ben and I were on the planting team for Harbour Church whilst the they were going through this storm. Many of the things Alice felt God teaching her I found I could directly apply to the struggles and pressures we were facing in planting a church.
The below is one of the many things she taught me through what she was going through.
On October 5th 2015, our daughter Hazy was diagnosed with Juvenile Myelo Monocitic Leukeamia, a cancer of the blood which only affects 1 in 3 million children and for which the only cure, they hoped was a bone marrow transplant. She was 18 months old.
At some point in life, we will all experience challenges. Challenges are not elective courses we choose in the university of life, they are simply part of the national curriculum. Nevertheless they have the potential to paralyse us and make us feel like we can’t cope.
I remember times sitting in the kitchen sobbing about the hopelessness of our circumstances.
I could not cope. This was not what I planned for my family. God – why is this happening?
Well, what I’m coming to see is that – struggling through WHY doesn’t actually help me make progress. Even if we had the answers, it doesn’t lessen our pain or suddenly make our challenges surmountable.
But Jesus offers another approach I can choose – which is – how.
How might this situation be used to display God’s glory?
HOW might God’s greater purposes for good pan out, even in the times we can’t cope.
When you go through a bone marrow transplant, you live in an isolation room (with your parents) and the patient is not allowed out. For 3 months. Every day and throughout the night Hazy was wired up to machines pumping drugs and supplying her with nutrition and fluids. The chemo protocol she had gave her liver disease, so toxic it could have been fatal. The immune system is wiped and she got double pneumonia. Twice. The chemo strips the mouth, esophagus and gut and causes membrane breakdown from tongue to bottom rendering the child unable to eat and on a 24/7 morphine pump. Without any immunity, the medical position is that the chemo can kill the cancer, but the chemo can also kill the patient. The new transplanted bone marrow is so immature that the body depends on blood and platelets transfusions daily. Some drugs can affect the retinas during transplant. Others can cause hearing impairment. Sickness and vomiting are par for the course and the contents of nappies is black. Every night you have to bath her attached to a beeping pump of machines - every movement of the water agonizes her body and breaks your heart and every ounce of grit and grace has to be summoned on a minute to minute basis. By EVERYONE. After 90 days of this, she relapsed and the entire process had to be repeated.
Ok. I WANT to ask WHY.
But I’m trying to choose – HOW?
How can God’s glory be revealed through this?
You know the story in John chapter 9:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
In their question, the disciples were asking all of our whys. But in his answer, Jesus changes the why to how.
The answer to why doesn’t help me deal with my circumstances. But choosing to believe that God’s glory can be displayed, even in the hopelessness of what was going on with Hazy, gave me HOPE. This helped me cope.
We have yet to realize the thousands of ways Hazy’s new life is going to display God’s glory. But for Paddy and me, God has worked through something he hates, cancer, to accomplish an abundance of what he loves, which displays his glory. To come face to face with Jesus’s hands and feet, in the human form of Hazy’s nurses and doctors, displays his glory. The love that Hazy’s sickness has unlocked in hundreds of hearts, displays his glory. We have realigned our priorities and dropped our prejudices, displaying his glory. And people around us have started new spiritual journeys of faith and discovery of the true comfort and strength of Jesus’s love, displaying his glory.
If we’d chosen to stick with asking why, we’d never see how God has been working through it, displaying his glory.