When Hope Is Tried: Meditations for Those Who Are Ill and the People Who Love Them

Overview

A journey of grace for those who are ill . . .

I spend my nights asking hundreds of questions: What will my husband do when I’m dead? How many people will show up for my funeral? What if I can’t get out of bed, shower, and get myself dressed tomorrow? And who’ll then shop for groceries, do the laundry, and put the garden to sleep for the winter? God, you promised you’d be with me. Where are you?

Dealing with illness is never easy, but it can be...

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Overview

A journey of grace for those who are ill . . .

I spend my nights asking hundreds of questions: What will my husband do when I’m dead? How many people will show up for my funeral? What if I can’t get out of bed, shower, and get myself dressed tomorrow? And who’ll then shop for groceries, do the laundry, and put the garden to sleep for the winter? God, you promised you’d be with me. Where are you?

Dealing with illness is never easy, but it can be especially difficult when that illness is terminal, such as cancer. Over a period of six years living with cancer, author Carol Winters kept a journal. When Hope Is Tried brings together thirty-one of these daily meditations, which, taken together, depict a movement from outright anger to trusting God.
In offering these meditations, Winters hoped to encourage others dealing with illness—and the people who care for them—to discover that God's grace is enough. This honest, faith-filled, and deeply personal devotional book includes Scripture passages, meditations, short prayers, and suggested Bible readings.

When Hope Is Tried is not for those seeking sentimental and easy answers. Winters dares to express anger, doubt, hesitation, pain, and confusion—in other words, she stands before God as a witness that we are in a broken world and declares that sometimes God’s plan seems mightily confusing. But as a witness, Winters points out in ringing and impassioned tones that even with pain and doubt, God is there; and even with confusion, God is there; and even with anger, God is there. And because God is always there, we can dare to live, and to live well.”
—Dr. Gary Schmidt, author, Anson’s Way

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What People Are Saying

John H. Timmerman
"Winters writes from the heart of her own journey through suffering and provides hope for others. Serious illness scatters our sensibilities. Winters reorders our lives in the certain knowledge of God's love."
—John H. Timmerman, author, A Season of Suffering
Patricia Clark
"This book is both amazing and searing: I learned something about the journey of a cancer patient from the inner, meditative person. And I learned about the difficulties and the elations of a Christian struggling with both illness and faith."
—Patricia Clark, associate professor of English, Grand Valley State University
Patty McGinnis
"This inspirational book reflects an honest journey in spiritual maturity. It is about discovering God's greater love, power, goodness, and hope. It helps make sense out of suffering and reaches deep into the soul."
—Patty McGinnis, director of Women's Ministry, Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829416862
  • Publisher: Loyola Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Author Carol Winters lost a six-year battle with cancer in January 2002. Winters lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, Tom, and was a literature professor at Grand Valley State University. Winters taught English for fifteen years and was active in her church.

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Read an Excerpt

These meditations reflect a six-year period of my living with cancer. As you know from living with your own illness or from standing by someone who is ill, lessons learned have to be relearned and disappointments have to be dealt with anew each time they occur.
All the meditations are based on my personal experiences. Taken together, they depict a movement from anger to trusting God, not the circumstances. We Christians sometimes refuse to acknowledge our anger, not realizing that God can not only deal with our anger but isn’t afraid of our clenched fists. He rewards honesty, and if we can turn toward him, he will transform our anger and allow us to experience glimpses of grace. We can then begin to move outside ourselves and see others as individuals who are equally important to God. We can see our situations not as roadblocks to accomplishing our real desires but as opportunities  to find our real desires in glorifying God. And we can learn to trust that God loves us more than we can fathom, that he has good plans for us, and that he will see us through our lives here. The entire journey becomes one of grace—an awareness that everything is ruled by God.
I was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer in January of 1995. I chose to undergo tram-flap surgery, a mastectomy that uses tissue from the stomach to make a new breast. The doctors also ordered chemotherapy.
In 1997, the cancer metastasized to a rib that was then radiated. However, that didn’t stop the spread of the cancer; it moved through my ribs, spine, and leg. We tried several rounds of radiation and different chemotherapies, which didn’t eradicate the disease but slowed its progress.
In 1999, the cancer moved to my other breast, which was then surgically removed. But the cancer moved again in 2000, this time to my chest wall and my brain. Now, radiation has reduced the brain lesions, and various drugs have stabilized the bone and chest wall sites.

 

 

Shock

Me?

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:28*

This used to be my least favorite verse in the Bible. Somebody always seemed to be cramming it down my throat not only when I was younger but also when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. We call such statements platitudes, and while I know that they stem from truths—ones so overused, in fact, that they have become commonplace—hearing them doesn’t help. They are most annoying when they come from people whose worst trials are a husband ruining dinner by coming home late from work, or a child biting the birthday boy at his own party, or a Bible-school worker deciding to back out at the last minute. All of these things have happened to me, and frankly, I don’t remember quoting Romans 8:28 to myself then either.
When someone untouched by illness dared to quote that verse at me, it was all I could do to keep from shouting, “What do you know about anything? Wait until the doctors sit you down for ‘a little talk.’”
But my mother would have been proud—I managed to restrain myself. Mostly I ignored the verse and just smiled wanly at the speaker. I didn’t say, “Oh, I know, good comes in many forms” or “I don’t know what the Lord’s up to, but I’ll trust him.” I grimly clenched my teeth and said nothing as I took the cure the doctors had planned. I think I was numb after the first cancer surgery and treatment because people often quoted that verse to me.
I led a full life before I was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer. In one week’s time, I went from being a university professor who loved doling out advice to my pre-service English teachers to a patient in line for tram-flap surgery.
Before I was diagnosed, I believed that illness was just a random happening, much like being on the wrong side of town and missing that desperately needed train. I took comfort in the fact that God hadn’t planned cancer for me, that he loved me too much to cause such a thing to happen. Of course, once I learned of my illness, my theory didn’t seem to hold. I was left with questions of where illness came from, but I wasn’t ready to deal with them yet. When the cancer reasserted itself, I had to resign myself to seemingly never-ending cycles of radiation and chemo. If I thought about that verse at all, I stood befuddled at God’s definition of good.
Mainly, I refused to think about it at all. If I did, I would be forced to admit that I was angry with God. Why did this have to happen to me? I tithed, worked in the nursery, taught Sunday school, ran daily vacation Bible schools, and took notes during my pastor’s sermons. Weren’t there other, less religious people who needed the lessons of illness?

Lord, what’s going on? How am I supposed to believe this will work out for the good? Why me? Doesn’t all my work for you earn me some sort of preferential treatment?
For personal study: Genesis 37:2–10, 16–28; 45:4–5
Joseph discovers the wisdom of God’s plan.

Facing Temptation

Oh, that my steps might be steady,
 keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
 in comparing my life with your counsel.
I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;
 I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.
I’m going to do what you tell me to do;
 don’t ever walk off and leave me.
Psalm 119:5–8

Chemo was worse than I could have imagined, although I had certainly heard enough about it from my predecessors. The first time I entered the falsely cheerful room where the treatment was administered and sat in one of its baby-blue Barcoloungers, I balked. Like deployed oxygen masks in an airplane cabin, IV bags filled the room, hooked up to people in various stages and kinds of treatment. Some people slept covered with white flannel sheets so that only their bald heads were showing, some talked to their neighbors or to the people who had brought them, some scowled, some smiled, some had simply vacated their bodies for the time.
The treatment itself was scary. First, I needed an IV. The nurse who came over was kind and gentle, but having her search with a needle for a juicy vein was not my idea of a good way to spend an afternoon. Once the IV was started, the first drip was for nausea; yes, I would probably get sick. Then, ugly neon-colored drugs were mainlined into my veins. The nurses, still smiling, did their best to act as if this were just another shot. However, when I read the list of side effects, I knew better. This stuff would make me retch. It would make my hair fall out, my throat bleed, and my intestines do unspeakable things. And on top of everything else, it would throw me into menopause.
My husband and I sat across from each other, quietly crying and trying to keep our tears hidden. We would steal glances at each other, wondering when we could trust ourselves to speak. I was tempted to simply stand up, rip out the IV needle, and run. But, of course, I didn’t.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us that the psalms were Christ’s prayers. In Psalm 119:4–6, Jesus asks the Father to keep him steadfast in obedience, able to learn the laws of God, and not forsaken. I always thought Jesus was perfect, sinless, and he was, but I never considered how he got that way or maintained it. How did he feel when the devil tempted him? His body had to have been screaming for food after going without it for forty days. He had to have felt compelled by the promise of power when the devil offered him dominion over the world. And he had to have deliberated for a while once he realized that he could accept the spiritual power by deceiving himself that he would use it to glorify God.
The Scriptures make obedience look so easy—temptation in one verse, Christ’s perfect response in the next. The fact that he used Scripture to deny the temptations tells me that he spent time studying it and turning little things over to God so that he would be ready to turn his whole life over to his heavenly Father. I used to think that his perfection was a gift from God. Now I see that he had to walk each day with God. He had to give over his uncertainties about life to his Father—oh, yes, he was fully human when he walked here. Jesus’ sufferings came out of his humanity. Although he didn’t have full knowledge when he was here, he faithfully followed God’s commands.

Lord, help me through my anger so that I, with Christ,
can meet temptations in a way that would please you.
I know that the process will take as long as I choose.
Help me to see the urgency of the situation.
For personal study: Matthew 4:1–11
Jesus successfully meets Satan’s temptations.

Help Me Understand

Get me out of here—your love is so great!—
 I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.
I’m fading away to nothing, passing away,
 my youth gone, old before my time.
Psalm 109:21–24

The woman’s daughter pushed her in a wheelchair to the chair next to mine. The patient was dressed in a baby-pink warm-up suit topped off with a perfect, short blond curly wig. But her careful attention to appearance belied the vacant expression on her face. She talked little and sat slumped in her chair, just waiting for chemo to start and then be over. Her sister, daughter, grandson, and granddaughter had come with her.
Her sister pulled up a chair beside her and chatted to me. Her daughter, with a disgruntled expression on her face, sat down in a wheelchair across the room from her mother. Her grandson and granddaughter, after helping their grandmother get settled in her lounge, sat down in another corner of the room. Throughout all this activity, the woman sat grim faced, staring into space, willing herself not to be there. At one point, she made it clear that she wanted to leave because the nurses weren’t doing anything for her. The family quieted her down and then sat stonily waiting for the blood counts to come back. The counts didn’t come while I was there that day, and my impression of the entire family is that, yes, they would endure because they were tough people, but they wouldn’t smile doing it. They were angry at having to be there.
During my first round of chemo, I didn’t do much better. Of course, I didn’t have the entourage, because I didn’t want my loved ones or friends to see me in such straits. Nor did I have the vacant look. But like the woman that day, I was silent, and I was plenty angry to be on chemo. I remember being incensed at a patient one day, an old woman. She pointed at me and asked the nurse why I still had hair while she had none. I didn’t have hair; I had a wig, and I nastily guessed at what the old woman would say if I whipped off my wig and said, “Satisfied? Now I’m just as pathetic as you are.”
I was also impatient if I had to wait for a nurse to get my IV started. After all, didn’t appointment times mean anything to these people? And I was just plain furious if the first nurse couldn’t get the needle in my arm after two tries and had to call for another nurse. Didn’t they have enough empathy to know that IVs hurt? In the verse from Psalm 109, David alternately rails at God for not rescuing him and pleads with God to rescue him. When I read these verses, it’s easy to see why David needs to ask for God’s help; the wicked are after him. But I have trouble understanding why the wicked are after me. Somehow it’s easier to read about someone else’s crises than to live my own.

Lord, help me out of this. I know you don’t want bad things for your children, but I don’t understand what you do want.
For personal study: 2 Kings 5:1–15
Naaman learns obedience.

 

God, Where Are You?

Human life is a struggle, isn’t it?
 It’s a life sentence to hard labor.
Like field hands longing for quitting time
 and working stiffs with nothing to hope for but payday,
I’m given a life that meanders and goes nowhere—
 months of aimlessness, nights of misery!
I go to bed and think, “How long till I can get up?”
 I toss and turn as the night drags on—and I’m fed up!
Job 7:1–4

The Bible doesn’t speculate on what keeps Job awake, but every person with a long-lasting illness knows. In an effort to get comfortable, Job changes positions and inevitably knocks open a sore that has just formed a scab, or rolls onto a side that can’t support all that body pressure anymore, or lies on an arm that falls asleep, and screams to be waken up.
That’s what his body is doing, but what about his mind? The Bible is silent on the subject. I spend my nights asking hundreds of questions: What will my husband do when I’m dead? Who should be given that ruby-and-diamond ring? How many people will show up for my funeral? What if I can’t get out of bed, shower, and get myself dressed tomorrow? And who’ll then shop for groceries, do the laundry, and put the garden to sleep for the winter? God, you promised you’d be with me. Where are you?
When Job looks back on his life, he uses some telling metaphors to illuminate his feelings. He sees himself pressed into hard labor. It is the relentlessness of the illness that becomes hard to bear. Like the body that endures hard physical labor, the body that endures extended illness becomes exhausted, making every effort difficult. Even something as simple as bending down to retrieve a mitten that has fallen under a restaurant table becomes a daunting task. Lifting my twenty-month-old grandson into his car seat, not only hefting his weight but also twisting my back to position him properly, is nearly impossible.
Just as my body is strained by all this physical labor, my mind becomes dulled and skitters from one shallow topic to the next. Sustained thought becomes impossible because the body’s clamor is all consuming. The disease orders you around: it decides when you’ll rest and when you won’t; it looks down on you as a subhuman who doesn’t deserve a rich, full, and free life; it can surprise you with downturns whenever it pleases and delights in threatening to do so.

Lord, give my mind and my body some rest.
All the day-to-day details of life are overwhelming me.
Will I ever be able to return to my life?
For personal study: 1 Kings 18:19–39
Elijah shows the power of God.

Good Intentions

 

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. . . . Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word.
Job 2:11, 13

Job’s friends came and sat beside him, horrified at his condition. They kept silent for seven whole days and just wept with him. Our friends send cards and flowers, make “cheer-up” phone calls, and drop off casseroles—anything to assure themselves that you’re still alive.
Job’s friends could have stopped with their quiet support; our friends could too. But they just can’t. I remember the friend who met me in the center aisle of church the first Sunday I was back after surgery and asked, “Carol, did they get it all?” in tones loud enough for those sitting on either side of the aisle to hear. I stared at her for a moment, dumbfounded at her lack of sensitivity, and whispered, “I sure hope so.”
I also remember the friend who stopped me downstairs at church and recounted her uncle’s “long and valiant battle with cancer.” Of course, he had lost that battle just last winter. I numbly murmured an “I’m sorry,” backed by a quick retreat. There was the friend who asked, “Carol, just how many lymph nodes were involved?” and another one who said, “Are you going to lose your hair?” When I answered, “Yes,” she replied, “Oh, isn’t that a pity. And you have such thick, beautiful hair.” One friend analyzed, “I think you may be in denial.” I didn’t have a reply for her outrageous comment, but I thought to myself, Follow me around for a week and you’ll see I’m not in denial. In a phone call, a friend said, “Buy my vitamins, and then the cancer won’t return.” And finally, one friend dared to ask, “What’s the prognosis?” I responded with a bleak “I’d rather not talk about it.”
One woman had been diagnosed with breast cancer five months before me, and every time she saw me she would tell me what terror was just ahead in my treatment. She gave me firsthand reports on the nausea, body aches, fatigue, and terror of being constantly stuck with needles.
Unlike Job, who argued with his friends, I just avoided as many of mine as I could. It was difficult for me to talk about my condition, let alone speculate on what might be ahead. Friends would have done better to simply ask, “How are you?” If I wanted to talk, I could answer at length; if I didn’t, I could answer with a polite “fine” and have a graceful way out.
Job’s friends came right out and accused him of unrighteous acts; mine only hinted at such lapses. Or they noted what a blessing I could be to others. Didn’t they get it? I didn’t want to be a blessing. I didn’t want to have cancer.

Lord, let me understand that people don’t really know what to say, and so they sometimes stumble and say something hurtful. Help me to remember that their intentions are good even if they are not thought out.
For personal study: Job 11:1–6
Zophar reprimands Job.

Listening with a Loving Heart

The fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn’t relax because we didn’t know how it would turn out. Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and our hearts with the arrival of Titus.
2 Corinthians 7:5–6

The cancer came back again. The notice was a gnawing pain in my upper left leg. I tried to think it was arthritis. After all, I was certainly at the age for that problem. I spent two weeks ignoring the facts that the limp was getting worse and Tylenol hardly touched the pain. When I finally called the doctor, I thought I knew what I was in for. I did the bone scan just before we went out of town for the weekend. When we got home and heard the doctor’s voice on the answering machine urging me to call his office as soon as possible, I knew for certain that I was in for trouble. Why, then, when we went in and I heard him say the words, was I surprised? Why did I cry? Fear is the only answer I can come up with. Fear of the unknown but also fear of the known. Radiation and chemo for sure, I thought. But no, radiation only this time.
When the radiation oncologist talked to me, he allayed my major fear—that my leg bone would simply snap. I had just read in the Sunday paper about that happening to a woman. But the cancer had not yet eaten through the bone, so he was hopeful that he could completely mend my limp and heal my pain. Casually, he added that sometimes the doctor would just pin the bone in order to stop a break before it happened. Immediately, images of pins in all the places I had bone cancer crowded into my head—spine, several ribs, leg. I would never get through an airport scanner again!
My mind raced in a thousand directions as I sped home, called my sister, and spilled my poison on her day. As always, she didn’t cry, she didn’t melt into hysterics, she didn’t question, she didn’t offer platitudes. She simply listened, took it all in, and played it back to me. Her calm, loving reception of my news made it bearable for me.

Lord, thank you for the understanding of my sister,
which helps alleviate my fear. Her sensitivity reminds me that there are many things we can do for the sick—mainly, that we can listen with a loving heart.
For personal study: Psalm 61:1–8
God listens to David with love.

Hollow Words

 Old friends avoid me like the plague.
My cousins never visit,
 my neighbors stab me in the back.
My competitors blacken my name,
 devoutly they pray for my ruin.
Psalm 38:11–12

Every ill person has had the experience of friends dropping away. I don’t know if they’re afraid they’ll have to listen to our tales of woe or if they’re simply afraid to be around us.
One friend used to meet me often for lunch or dinner but was suddenly too busy. I started to wonder about it the day she passed on my invitation to lunch, claiming that she was turning her lunch hour into a business meeting. I watched her table during lunch, but I didn’t see the other party appear.
Another friend would sweetly bend toward me to say, “Hi! How are you doing?” and then she would airily bounce across the room before I could reply. Two other friends never acknowledged my abrupt departure from work. Another friend wondered aloud in a departmental meeting if I would ever be well enough to teach again. Meanwhile, she knew someone who could do my job. These “friends” didn’t phone, drop a note, stop by the house—they simply disappeared from my life.
So the hugs dried up, the invitations to lunch thinned out, but the words remained the same: “I’m so sorry this has happened to you; if you ever need anything just call.” “I hope things go well for you. Just call if . . .” “I will pray for you. Remember to call if . . . ” These were fine words that sounded reassuring to the speakers’ ears, but when it came down to it, they were hollow words.
“Could you take me to radiation next week?”
“Where?”
“Downtown.”
“How long are the appointments?”
“Anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the machine’s mood that day and the number of emergency patients who are taken first.”
“How often do you have to go for treatments?”
“Every day, but I’m just asking for one week. Actually, I have six weeks of these treatments.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have that kind of time. I wish I could help, but call me if . . .”
Actually, I didn’t have that kind of time either.

Lord, I need help dealing with insincere people who don’t even know they’re insincere. I’d like to just tell them how phony they are. Maybe that would get rid of some of my anger, but that’s probably not what you have in mind.
For personal study: Job 19:21–26
Job pleads with his friends for pity, but then understands that he must stand on his own integrity.

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Table of Contents

Contents

 

Acknowledgments xi Introduction xiii

 

Shock Me? 3
Facing Temptation 7
Help Me Understand 11
God, Where Are You?  15
Good Intentions 19
Listening with a Loving Heart 23
Hollow Words 27

Glimpses of Grace 
Faithful Friends 33
The Ugly Truth 37
Meeting Mortality 41
Finding Patience 45
Unanswered Prayers 49
Stifled by Attitude 53
Easing the Burdens of Others 57
God Listens 61
The Loving Support of Family 65
When Hope Is Tried 69
The Mystery of Eternity 73
A Time to Laugh 75
Points of Terror 77

Trust  
A Whole and Lasting Life 85
Angel Duties 89
Walking with God 93
Tests of Faith 97
Close to God’s Heart 101
Accepting God’s Will 105
Living with Illness 109
Everything Bright and Beautiful 113
Focusing on God 117
Clay Jars 121
A Well-Watered Place 123

 

Resources 127

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