Several weeks ago I had the notion to go back and read the "first part" of this blog. I guess I wanted to go back and see what it was that I learned through my breast cancer journey. It took all this time for me to go back and read about my experiences. I just wasn't ready to relive the experience. I regret that I did not write more than a year. I didn't write about what it was like in the aftermath of the awful treatments and how difficult the three subsequent surgeries were that would end up in my future. Hm. Maybe someday.
While I was reading the entries, along with the comments, I was reminded of a certain woman who followed my blog. We did not know each other. She had been recently diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer and kept an inspirational blog of her own. She searched other blogs by women going through their cancer trials, and found me. She would leave uplifting comments from time to time. I would go read her blog too. She used the name Whitestone as her blogger identity, but her name was Judy. And she was from a tiny town in Iowa. She had been a Sunday School teacher at her church and taught bible classes at the women's prison for many, many years. Her blog entries were often insights she received with her daily New Testament scripture study. She always amazed me.
So, having forgotten about Judy (after I had virtually abandoned my blog) I went to her blog to see how she was doing. I burst into tears as I read the final entry, written by her husband, along with her obituary. Just this past June, Judy passed away from her 4 year fight with ovarian cancer.
I took it really hard. I couldn't think about anything else for several days. At first I was sad for her family. Then, I was sad for ME. It became personal. Because, I was diagnosed with the same Stage of Ovarian Cancer that she had, and she didn't even get the full 20% chance of 5 years. This the same as they have given me, and best they can offer, at this time. Over the next week, I went back and read many of her entries, ones that I missed because as my breast cancer episode was resolving, I forgot to go back and check on this dear person who never knew how much she meant to me. In my readings of her words, I found incredible comfort and peace.
There were a couple entries that I feel inclined to share on this blog, so that they will never be forgotten. Judy recognized truth when she saw it. I'm grateful that she wrote her insights down for the benefit of the rest of us who would read. I'm going to share two of those entries in this post.
How many times have we heard people question how a loving God could allow painful trials to happen to good people? For that matter ANY of his children? For those who are filled with faith in a loving God whose plan for us is always better than OUR plan for us, we find comfort because we know that this mortal life doesn't represent the culmination of our existence. In fact, I would dare say, we are really early in our existence, since what is in front of us is, well, all eternity!
But, while Judy was reading her scriptures one morning, she was struck by a meaningful passage because of what she had been going through in her life.
"These past two months my heart has been touched by the number of people who have sent me "Get Well" cards and wishes and who have been praying for me during serious illness. These well wishes and prayers remind me of 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I think it is a true statement to say that those who have gone through suffering (of whatever kind) are able to be compassionate in a way that others might not be able. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and each individual life will experience its own trauma and trouble. I believe that those who have suffered and have experienced the grace of GOD during their time of suffering are able to extend compassion and prayer towards others in a way that had been enhanced by their own experience. Their own passage through pain gives them an empathy for those in similar pain.
If that be so, then I welcome the suffering for it is a blessing of God to me. On the one hand He comforts me and on the other hand He teaches me to be of comfort to others in a way that I did not do before. And I pray that through all of this my heart will become more compassionate towards others."
An Old Experience Teaches Me Again
When I read her words, I knew that I had been given opportunity to learn these truths back in 1994. In addition to my 8 births, I also experienced 3 miscarriages. Two were very, very early term and I was able to cope fairly well. But, one of these miscarriages happened when I was days from the end of my first trimester. This pregnancy was a year and a half after Daniel (number 7) was born. We were all optimistic that we would add another girl to our family. It was a Thursday that I started spotting and cramping. There was also a terrible ice storm beginning to bombard the Raleigh area. I called my OB and was told that if it was indeed a miscarriage that at this point, there was really nothing I could do to stop it. They were sending everyone home and would be closed on Friday. They made an appointment for me on Monday - Valentines Day.
I had to go the whole weekend, in significant pain, anticipating my appointment first thing on Monday. I saw Dr. Toskey that day, my first time meeting him. He got out the Ultrasound and looked and listened. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Plautz, there is no heartbeat." We were stunned. At the completion of the miscarriage I saw that it was a girl.
I knew that I had seven healthy children, and yet, that knowledge did not for one moment erase the pain of the loss of this child. I had already started thinking of the baby as Alexis…like I said we were optimistic. That night at our Family Home Evening, we told the children. I remember 11 year old Christian having the most difficult time. He just could not understand.
I had several good friends that were having a very difficult time conceiving and/or maintaining pregnancies. How could I even expect to compare my experience to what they were going through? I mean, I have already had many children.
Of course, time went on, my body and my heart healed and I added this to my list of trials and adversities that help me turn to the Lord and strengthen my faith.
Then, within a year or so, a good friend, who I met at BYU when we were in a musical together, moved into the Cary 2nd ward. Friendship renewed, and with 3 year old boys the same age, we spent wonderful time together.
One day she called me. Her husband was either out of town or could not leave work, but she called me because she was experiencing the same symptoms of a miscarriage that I did back in 1994. But, she didn't know that. I was able to talk to her and understand what to say in a way I don't think I could have before. She was about the same number of weeks along as I had been. I knew what she was feeling. She also had several other children, and yet, I knew exactly what she was going through.
I remember thinking to myself and saying to Heavenly Father, "If the only reason that I went through the experience of that miscarriage was so that I could feel empathy for my dear friend, Susan, then I am OK with that."
We know that it is our ultimate goal as Christian's to become like our Savior. "Come, Follow Me" he entreats us. Be LIKE me! We know that because Jesus Christ suffered ALL things for us, while he fulfilled the miraculous task of atonement - not only for our sins, but for our afflictions, our sorrows and grief - that He does indeed have pure empathy for each of us, regardless of our trial or affliction. That is why He is the source of living and healing waters.
But what of us? Each of us can't possibly endure every sorrow, grief or affliction possible. How then can we develop this empathy for which we must have to become like Him? Many of us have compassion, but that is NOT the same as empathy.
Compassion, n. - sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others
Empathy, n. - the feeling that you understand and share another persons experiences and emotions
While having a wonderful conversation (about this entry that Judy wrote) with one of the sweetest and most wonderful young women I have the pleasure of knowing, the spirit put into my mind this thought. We might have experiences in our lives that so parallel another's experiences that we really can understand and share their experiences and emotions, but….BUT, when we don't, we can still feel pure empathy, THROUGH THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST! Although our ability to feel compassion can be powerful, we can be empowered through Christ, to fill in the gaps we have, so that we can always have the ability to have empathy for everyone.
Mere Compassion ends and pure Empathy begins.
So the next time you go through something difficult and you cannot find meaning or purpose in it, just know that someday it will. No suffering that we have here in mortality will be wasted. Not one minute of it. I know this to be true. And when you are filled with compassion, but feel the desire to go deeper, go to the Lord and ask Him to fill your gaps with His experiences. You will go to deeper spiritual places than you ever have been.
A word (by Judy) on not wasting our trials!
I'm going to close out this entry by sharing the other post by Judy that really left a great impact upon my spirit. Can I just say that I wish that I had actually known this woman and spend time with her? That will come….later. And while the words here talk specifically about the adversity that a cancer diagnosis brings, it is not difficult to apply this counsel to any of life's trials and tribulations.
Here's what she wrote:
"A couple weeks ago I read a message by John Piper written when he had prostrate cancer in early 2006. The message, entitled "Don't Waste Your Cancer" contains ten points that he makes in regards to cancer in our lives, and how we, as Christian's, should not "waste" the circumstances of it.
I won't copy Piper's message here in its entirety. Piper mentions ten points, but here I want to share point #5. Here's what he said:
'You will waste your cancer if you think that "beating" cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
Satan's and God's designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God's design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord." And to know that therefore, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phillipians 3:8 & 1:21)
I believe that my cancer was part of God's plan for my life before the foundation of the world, before creation began, before I was born. King David, in prayer to God, says it this way in Psalm 139:16 -
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written. The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.' "
Judy continues, "God is sovereign and awesomely more than we imagine in our wildest dreams. Our lives are like "little stories" that are part of God's "Big Story". From our personal viewpoint we tend to think that it is "our" lives that are "big". And they are! But when considering our minuscule lives in context with the Eternal Almighty Creator God, we must admit that we are just a bit of fluff in terms of time, space and eternity. And when we begin to realize that….that we are the created and that HE is our Creator, the one who works in all aspects of our lives, the one who saves us from ourselves, the one who rescues us from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13), when we begin to realize the awesomeness of that, then we are compelled to bow down in humble and grateful thanks. No matter what."
No. Matter. What.
Powerful! Such a powerful testimony. She got it. And I know that when she left this world to meet her Creator, He knew that she got it!
And now, I am learning to get it. I thought I had come really far until I read her words. I still have a long way to go.
But, it's a journey I am absolutely willing to take.
Click HERE for a link to Judy's Blog: