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When the Unexpected Interrupts

When the Unexpected Interrupts

Living Expectantly

True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed. ~ Tom Robbins

“Chris, you have cancer.”

Not quite the words I was expecting to hear as I was unpacking, having arrived in Sydney just two hours earlier.

Nick and I, along with our girls, Catherine and Sophia, were in town to attend the annual weeklong worship conference at Hillsong Church — always the highlight of our year, where we came to be refreshed and receive direction from God. It was my twenty-fifth year to attend, and I felt such a sense of expectancy. I knew God had something significant for me.

We had flown fourteen hours from LA where we had moved five years before in order to expand the work of A21, our global anti-trafficking organization. We loved living in the US, and we loved coming home.

As I listened to my doctor calling from the US, time seemed to stand still, as though it was giving my mind a chance to catch up to what I was hearing. I looked out the window past the boats sailing in Darling Harbour and focused on the Anzac Bridge. So much had happened in a week’s time.

Just the Wednesday before, I had been in Dallas filming a live TV special about overcoming the pain of the past and moving into one’s future. I love seeing people set free from the bondage and strongholds that keep them enslaved to the pain of their past. I’ve never lost touch with how Jesus set me free, and I have spent three decades helping others find that same freedom. God had always been faithful to use his Word to heal before, and He had been faithful again. I was blessed to hear about the number of people who responded to the teaching, calling in for prayer and support that night after the show.

Saying goodbye to the crew and thanking them for their part in so many lives being touched, I noticed that my throat was sore and that I sounded hoarse — but I didn’t think too much about it as I headed to my hotel. After all, I had talked all day. And most of the evening. I talk for a living. I talk for pleasure. I talk to sort things out in my head. I’m Greek — and a woman. Talking is part of my DNA. In short, I never stop talking. So I logically chalked up my sore throat to that day’s enthusiasm and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

But when I woke up Thursday morning, I could barely lift my head off the pillow. My head hurt so badly and I was so sick — something I rarely experience. As I became more awake, I knew that this wasn’t normal. I could feel something hanging down the back of my throat on the left side. I could feel a tiny lump on the right. And I had this uneasy feeling that something was wrong, very wrong.

I called Nick, who was on the other side of the world in Madagascar on a mission trip, to tell him my concerns. After listening to me describe my symptoms, he prayed for me and reassured me that it would all be okay and that he’d be home in just a few days. Then, I headed back to LA to speak at a church’s women’s conference and their weekend services.

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God Was With Me

I know the grace of God carried me through Saturday and Sunday as I’d never felt that ill in all my years of ministry. When Nick got home on Sunday afternoon, I was so relieved. I knew I needed to see a doctor, but because I’d never needed one in the five years that I’d lived in the States, we didn’t know who to call. As evening approached, we discussed our options: waiting to see my physician in Australia, since we were heading there the next week, or going to an urgent care center that night. We decided first to go for a walk to talk further and pray. We needed clear direction.

Despite my uneasiness and how I felt, I could sense that God was with me. Walking in the park, we crossed paths with a dear friend. As we stopped to say hello, we began talking, and I shared what I was experiencing. He highly recommended his doctor whose office was close by, and since Nick and I had been asking God for direction, we believed this was his answer. We contacted the doctor, and surprisingly, she agreed to see me the next morning — even though she wasn’t taking new clients and had a packed schedule. God was taking care of me, and I knew it.

As soon as the doctor examined me, she ordered blood work, referred me to an ENT, and scheduled a series of tests — all fast-tracked within the next three days since I had to leave for Sydney Wednesday night. When I met with the ENT, he was greatly concerned about the nodules that had formed on my vocal cords. He felt they were so serious that he explicitly told me to speak very little in the coming weeks. “Minimally,” he had said, and then he added, “and whatever you do, don’t sing.”

He had no idea that I was headed to the annual Hillsong Worship Conference. I nodded my head, because I knew he was giving me sound medical counsel, but deep inside, I found it all so humorous and surreal. Imagine the most talkative woman you know being told not to talk or sing while attending a worship conference. Are you kidding me?
So yes, I had been expecting the call from my doctor, but I wasn’t expecting her to say cancer — a word that had the power to trigger so many painful memories.

The Same News, the Same City

The C Word.

We’ve all known someone.

I knew someone. He was the first man I had ever loved.

I was just eighteen when my mum told me, “Christina, your father has cancer.” She had said it just as honestly and bluntly then as my doctor was saying it now. I didn’t want to believe it about him then, just like I didn’t want to believe it about me now. The emotions of my past were compounding those of my present, and though I didn’t want to relive what I had been through thirty years before, I couldn’t stop the flashbacks.

I had witnessed firsthand how cancer — not to mention chemo and radiation therapy — consumes a healthy body. I watched my dad go from a strong, independent man to a weak, frail one. I watched his beautiful, thick black hair fall out of his head. I watched his strong frame slowly diminish to skin and bones. When he could no longer drive, I drove him to his appointments. I sat in waiting rooms while he was in surgery.

I learned what a financial burden endless treatments can be.

And I experienced the suffocating effect of fear. I saw my mother feel helpless, hopeless, afraid, and lost. I prayed desperate, fervent prayers that seemed to change nothing. I felt fear like never before as it gradually took up residence in our home and in our hearts. I had faith and hope that my dad would be healed. But I heard him being sick, ever so sick, always sick. And I saw what stalled hope could do to a family as our hearts sank low.

When we finally heard his doctor use the word remission, we thought we were in the clear. We were elated. It had been such a long time since we had any expectation of normal.

But then, just two weeks later, the unexpected happened. Again.

I raced home from work when Mum sent for me. The ambulance was parked outside our house, and a crowd of neighbors had gathered on our lawn. I walked in the front door to see my mum holding my dad’s head in her lap. She had been helping him put on his shirt.

I’ve never been able to un-see that moment.

I’ve never been able to un-feel that shock and heartbreak. I loved my dad dearly.

The grief that unfolded in the following months was devastating. I saw my distraught brothers try to process life without their hero. I saw my mum, who was normally a pillar of strength, become almost nonfunctional. She and my dad deeply loved each other, and I don’t think she ever imagined life without him.

Everything changed when my dad died — including me. His death triggered a downward spiral in my life that I didn’t know how to stop, because when you don’t know how to process grief, you try to numb it. You will do anything, absolutely anything, to not feel — the loss, the pain, the heartache.

Life without my father has never stopped aching me.

He wasn’t there to watch me walk across the stage and receive my college degree.

He didn’t get to meet Nick.

He couldn’t walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. My daughters won’t ever meet their grandfather.

I’ve never been able to call him and tell him that we rescued another girl through the work of A21.

I’ve never been able to hand him one of my books.

He’s never heard me teach.

All because of cancer.

So, yes, I was very familiar with the word cancer — and with the fear and pain that it injects into the life of a family.

And now the doctor was speaking that word, not about an acquaintance, a friend, or someone on television, but about me. Me. A healthy, fit wife and mother of two beautiful girls. I was hearing the same news in the same city where I’d lived through it decades before, and buried my dad because of it.

Still staring at the bridge, I stopped recalling long enough to hear my doctor explain: “You actually have four separate conditions in that area: a growth on the left side of your throat, nodules on your vocal cords, a throat infection, and thyroid cancer.”

So Unexpected

As I stood there trying to comprehend all that the doctor was saying, my heart wrenched as I thought of Nick and the girls. What would this mean for our lives? Was the cancer isolated? Had it spread?

I knew I wouldn’t live forever — not here on earth — but this was so… unexpected.

And yet, if we stop to think about it, every day is filled with the unexpected, with the unanticipated. We make our to-do lists. We set out thinking our day will go according to plan. But it doesn’t, because interruptions that we never saw coming invade our lives and usher in the unexpected. Some of those interruptions are small and harmless, like running into an old friend at lunch. And some are big and inconvenient, like having a flight canceled or rerouted. Some of them are happy, like receiving a surprise marriage proposal or a promotion. And some of them are heartbreaking, like getting a call that a dear friend has died or learning our spouse is having an affair. And some of them, some of them are just plain shocking, like when your doctor says, “Chris, you have cancer.”

But as surprising as the unexpected is, we need to remember that our unexpected is never unexpected to God. God knew this day would come in my life, and He was already in this day waiting for me. Fear was trying to grip me like it naturally does when we receive any bad news, but I knew I couldn’t let it overwhelm me.

And yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about Nick and the girls. I didn’t want my daughters to go through what I had gone through with my dad, and I didn’t want them to grow up without a mother. What about all the dreams Nick and I had for the future? What about the ministry and our team?

I knew I had to stop my mind from going too far. I knew enough to recognize this train of thought could speed quickly down its track and derail me into a dark place. I knew that I needed to be in faith — for all our sakes. Like many situations I’d been through before, I knew there was a choice that was still mine to make: Would I walk in fear or faith?

It was faith that had always propelled me forward through my circumstances in the past, so I chose faith in my present situation. That didn’t mean, however, that the fear went away. It still tempted me, but I knew that being tempted with fear wasn’t the same as giving into it — and not giving into it was the only way I could overcome its grip. So, even while I was processing so many thoughts in my head — about my dad, about Nick and the girls, about cancer, about the ministry and my future — in my heart I was falling into the arms of my heavenly Father. Deep down, I knew that I trusted God.

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1. Romans 8:28.

Excerpted with permission from Unexpected by Christine Caine, copyright Christine Caine.

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Your Turn

Sometimes, the unexpected comes crashing into our lives taking our breath away. “The C Word” surprised Christine. Maybe you know just how that feels. How did you trust God in the meantime? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you. And, be sure to sign up for the OBS today! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full