Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Journey Through Suffering


When life unleashes all its pain and hardship with ruthlessness and cruelty, and you find yourself groping for that light at the end of the dark tunnel, it is easy to despair and be despondent. You are bedeviled and confused. You spend so much time thinking about possible reasons why your seemingly carefree existence has been brought to a screeching halt, without any obvious prior warning signs. Answers are not easy to come by!

It has been almost a decade since my self-imposed retirement from journalism. Yet, it is easy to put pen to paper when you swerved off life’s road and you know that it will never be the same again. The past is gone; the present is tense and you do not know what the future holds. But you are sure it can never again be like it used to be. Such a situation can either make you stronger, more resolute and more determined or it can completely crush your spirit. Some unanswered questions kept haunting you: Why and why now?

Some months earlier when Ting, my wife, was diagnosed with cancer of the carcinoma nasopharynx, it was a virtual upheaval for the family, especially for our kids. Our youngest daughter’s second birthday was just weeks away. Everything turned topsy-turvy. We embarked on a journey of uncertainty with fear and trepidation, a journey into unknown territory. We were fully aware that the difficult steps in the initial stage were an easy challenge considering the tension, pain, longing and separation that we had to endure. Yet, we were confident that “though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), we will be “sustained” (Proverbs 18:14).

It all began over a year ago when Ting complained of “ringing” in her right ear. We took several trips to the doctors at Tezpur, the cultural capital of Asom. Then we consulted a specialist at Downtown Hospital, Guwahati, who after several visits over a period of months concluded that it could be a case of mastoid abscess. But she got no relief. During a furlough back home we visited another doctor who offered to operate. The good doctor’s offer prompted us to consider going to a reputed hospital for a second opinion and necessary treatment. And Christian Medical College, Vellore, was our obvious choice.

The initial battery of tests and investigations did not reveal any definite diagnosis. A neurosurgeon ordered an MRI scan which finally revealed a tumor. A biopsy was conducted to determine whether the tumor was malignant or not. It was a real test of character and faith as we await the results. During the week leading to the day when the biopsy results would be known, we tried to be calm and composed as best as we could. However, no preparation was good enough for what was to come. But deep down in my heart God said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9). The samples taken during the biopsy confirmed our worst fears. Ting rang up late in the evening. Between her hysterical cries I managed to mumble a word here and a word there. She cried her hearts out that night, I was told. Dazed and tired, I decided to sleep. Before I retired to bed that March night which seemed so long ago, I said a prayer and claimed for the family one of the most promising verses in the Bible: “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Once the reality of the situation sank in, Ting faced her treatment with songs and prayers in her lips, and reading of books. The doctors ordered thirty-three rounds of radiation and six cycles of chemotherapy. When I was able to offload my duties and plan my trip to be with her during the course of her treatment, she asked me to “bring the hymn book”. Since that first trip to CMC, I had made numerous trips and every time I stepped inside the hospital I experienced a strong feeling of comfort. As a Christian, the wall hangings with Bible verses provided much comfort and solace. Ting’s department, the radiation therapy unit, was no exception. Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me……” seemed so new and so refreshing.

During the course of Ting’s treatment we have learned to exercise deep faith in the power of prayer. It can give immense comfort to weary souls like ours. Relatives and friends called and SMSed to give words of comfort. They really made a big difference. The elder of the church which we attended in Shillong eight years earlier called to offer sympathies and words of comfort. It was like “cold waters to a thirsty soul” (Proverbs 25:25) to hear his soft voice after a gap of almost eight years. I was overwhelmed with emotions. When I first reached Vellore with a handwritten get-well card signed by my daughters, sisters, brother and other close friends, she could not stop crying. I know crying can do a lot of good. Someone who knew better once said: “I know two people who claimed to have never cried – one committed suicide and the other ended up in a mental hospital”. Through it all we have learned that we are surrounded by people who care, who pray for us. Though this journey is not of our choice, we continued to see the goodness of God and His presence (Matthew 28:20, Jeremiah 29:11).

Books can be a great source of comfort too. Most of the time when she is able to, Ting read books. We bought enough books which would have taken the uninitiated a lifetime to read. Apart from periodicals, she devoured many of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul Series” books, making her cry as she read them. “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn gives new insights on the subject of heaven. David Biebel’s “If God Is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Bad?”, “Jonathan: You Left Too Soon”, “Finding Your Way After the Suicide of Someone You Love”, and “How to Help a Heartbroken Friend” offered comfort in time of crisis. Former secular novelist turned Christian writer Francine Rivers’ novels especially “Redeeming Love” touched one’s soul. Carole Hamm’s “Springtime of the Soul”, Martha Hubler’s “Draw Me Closer, Lord”, Terrie Williams’ “A Plentiful Harvest”, “Stay Strong” and “The Personal Touch”, Dr. Gary Smalley’s “The DNA of Relationships”, Alistair Begg’s “The Hand of God: Finding His Care In All Circumstances” and many others were a real blessing to us.

I believe the most difficult part of the journey has been walked by the children. They needed to be relocated which was easier said than done. They had to go to a new school halfway through the academic session. They had to learn to live in a totally new environment. But the unknown faces soon shed off their masks and they discovered a whole lot of new friends welcoming them with open arms. God in His wisdom and grace has allowed each one of them to settle down quickly even in our absence.

And that leads us to the inevitable question: Does God have a purpose in this? Possibly! I don’t assume a false sense of knowing something which I definitely do not know. But I strongly believe that God does not take pleasure in letting someone suffer for one’s good. We do not seek for answers. We do not ask for reasons. But we believe that God in His infinite goodness has allowed this to happen to us. We must admit that good things have happened to us as a direct result of the situation we are in. It also has been a humbling experience, the best class-room for a life-changing lesson in humility. It teaches you to be more sensitive to others who are suffering. It draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to Him.

The lesson of life God taught us as we continued this journey is not to despair. Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and our well-laid plans, but deep down in our heart of hearts we are assured that God is not helpless even among the ruins. In the words of another hope-r, “I pray in hope. I’m going to keep hoping to my grave”. Hope is what keeps us going. Not only hope in this life but also in the next! For it is hope that is all that we have and we know Hope will take us through to the end!

Do I hear the faint and distant drum-beats of hope getting closer?

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