A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend. She and I have known each other for almost 20 years, but life circumstances and ministry assignments have kept us mostly out of touch for a lot of that time. Though we currently live over 9,000 miles apart, a shared experience has knit us tightly together. Six years after I went through brain cancer treatment, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was sick, she sent me cute headbands and clunky-cool earrings to brighten my day. When it was her turn, we sent Graeter’s ice cream.
So, that night at dinner was fun. But it was also deep, teary, and heavy with reflection.
What Tanya and I have in common goes so much beyond diagnosis, hair loss, and feelings about our MRIs. What we share is rooted in thanksgiving and awe at God’s graciousness.
He didn’t and doesn’t owe us healing. And, to be honest, I didn’t much pray for it. So sure was I that that wasn’t what God had for me. I prayed for my kids and for Ben and our families, that He’d sustain us as we suffered great loss.
When you’re dying (or think you are), a plethora of options present themselves: prayer, bucket lists, denial, obsessive funeral planning, and goodbyes, making amends, making something -anything- of the time you have left. It’s a smorgasbord of coping mechanisms.
Within each of these are hidden a gift and a temptation. The gift of intention and preparation sits next to the temptation to become the author of the rest of your story. I made plans for Ben to marry again (which he is still upset about), plans to protect my children’s happiness.
All the while, the voice of Jesus quietly asked me to let him handle it- to let him be my restore-er. I expected him to handle it in a way that at least loosely resembled my plans. I got these plans started, God, my heart said, but you take it from here.
My family’s restoration threatened to become my project as I made plans for the time we had left together, and their life when I was gone. None of these plans were bad or sinful, nor was the making of them. They were a wife and mother’s loving gift to her family.
But God gently wrestled my plans away from me and offered something so much better than a Plan B. He offered me and us True Restoration.
He gave me life when I made my peace with death.
He gave us anniversaries and birthdays and celebrations and graduations.
He gave me the career I’d dreamed about since I was a child, and set aside for years.
He gave us Annie, and me the time to know her well and make memories with her.
He gave us a house and roots and tangible beauty in a home so far from home.
He gave back what cancer had taken from us, and what we’d laid down in submissive sacrifice. He gave us more than we’d asked for and keeps giving every day.
Restoration is not a transaction. And it’s not an event. It’s an ongoing experience of receiving and participating in God’s plan of putting things back the way He meant them to be.
I share this little glimpse of my restoration with you in celebration of my eleventh birthday since the doctor told me I had 3-5 years to live. I share it in celebration of Tanya’s three and a half years of life and ministry since surgery made her cancer-free. I share it in celebration of Rwanda’s restoration. I share it in thankfulness that part of God’s restoration was his inclusion of me in helping to found B2THEWORLD. I share it in hope for the people and stories that are right now broken and breaking. I share it as a prayer for them to the God who promises to restore the years the locusts have eaten.
Iraq, Cameroon, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, Ukraine, North Korea, and others are places in need of God’s restoration. But more importantly, they are full of children and families God longs to restore.
In my story, God asked me to step back and let Him do it. In their story, God invites me to join in and participate in the restoration He’s working on. Their restoration becomes part of mine, and mine becomes part of theirs. How beautiful.