Not too long ago I had the privilege of talking to “Faith.” Faith is a forty-something single mom and former addict. When I arrived in the room where Faith was, she was sitting in the corner and remained quiet. I actually walked past her, not noticing her. I’ve known Faith now for about 4 years. Her life before that time was not the most desirable. She struggled and scrapped by day by day, while she resisted the pleas and harassment of her grown children who have their own set of serious problems and issues – seeking the pleasures and material things of life while struggling with habitual sins that bring only frustration, discouragement, jail time and lack of peace.
When I originally met Faith, years of abuse and hard living had been indelibly etched into her countenance. Yet it was around this time that she had recognized her bad decisions and wanted to leave her past behind her. I didn’t know Faith very well, but she said the right words – that she was trusting in Jesus as her Savior and asked our pastor to baptize her. Our pastor, encouraged to see the light of the Gospel and a glimmer of faith, gladly performed the baptism. In fact, he asked Faith if she would share her story, which she nervously did in front of the congregation one Sunday.
I couldn’t help but question in the back of my mind about the sincerity of Faith’s situation. Having volunteered and worked in the prison environment for years, I have been hardened to numerous jailhouse confessions, lies and recommitments of addicts and habitual offenders. I pitied Faith because her situation was so bad, and I had little hope for her. She was like many addicts – desperately trying to get out of a desperate situation. And who could help her? Although I was happy for her, her words seemed a bit artificial to me.
About a year after being baptized I ran into Faith again. I asked her how she was doing and she mentioned that she had been experiencing some pain in her abdominal area. She was hurting. She was afraid of going to the doctor, but ultimately had to surrender. I found out later, after a few visits she was given the bad news – cancer. Years of hard living had taken its toll on her body. I remember leaving that conversation sobered by the reality of what it must be like to have a doctor give you that news. Thoughts like this had troubled me for years when working at Hospice.
Faith was told her situation and her treatment options. She said she thought God wanted her to fight the cancer. After years of working in Hospice, my outlook on Faith’s future was not good. I am too ashamed to write about the specific words that crossed my mind that day – a confusing dark and jumbled portrait filled with monochrome grays of pity, despair, doubt, and grief. Yet somewhere behind all that Faith was communicating that there was a sprinkled hue of hope. I failed miserably at seeing it.
Faith started her treatment plan. She even continued working and volunteering during this time. It was not pretty. When I saw her, the look on her face would not hide the pain. When she stood talking, she would hold her arm over her stomach area and occasionally a small grimace would cross her face. Yet she rarely complained. I am sure she loathed the nausea, the vomiting and the humiliation of losing her hair. Like most cancer patients she wore a scarf, and persisted with the treatments.
Over the next months Faith fell from my radar. I would get occasional updates through others that she needed prayer. Requests for help during the nausea and pain were the most frequent petitions.
Fast forward to my most recent encounter with Faith. It was the first one in quite some time. I was immediately struck by Faith’s countenance. She looks so much better. Her face is fuller and her hair has started to return. When I walked over to her, a weak smile crossed her face and she arose to give me a hug. Her weakness was evident as she had to immediately sit back down. As she chatted about her situation, she told me she was in the third and final round of chemo. She’s hopeful this will do it.
This week will be the fourth of about 12 chemo treatments in this third and final round. Faith said Mondays are her best days. Tuesdays are chemo days so Tuesdays and Wednesdays are her worst. She usually feels a bit better by Thursday. Through all this Faith still insists on working. The person she works for is fine with her continuing to work. Faith says she works because she cannot afford to be without a job. In her words, she’s used and abused people for so long she has no one else to turn to and has to work to provide her simple, daily needs. She also quickly praises her brother, whom she says has filled her refrigerator with food, although he denies doing it, and helps her with traveling and other needs at times.
A few minutes into the conversation Faith’s comments struck me. Not only was she looking better, but something miraculous has happened to her in the last two years. Her conversations about God now have so much depth to them. I was further shocked and surprised to hear that during this entire health crisis, Faith has refused pain medication. I think because of her previous addictions. I was astounded. After working for 15 years in Hospice, we always offered drugs for comfort. Faith would not touch them. “The Lord helps me through the pain. When it gets bad, I talk to Him and He helps me through it,” her words sure, steady and convincing.
I asked Faith what she has learned about God through this process and ordeal. She responded, He just wants me to take things one day at a time. Don’t rush things.
Hmmmm, I thought. Patience. I verbalized the thought, “it sounds to me like patience. You’ve learned God is patient.”
“Yes,” Faith responded. “One day at a time.” The question occurred to me, wasn’t it Jesus who said not to worry about tomorrow?
“What else have you learned?” I asked.
“I can give Him everything,” she quickly responded. “I try to hold on to so much, but He has told me I need to give Him everything.”
Hmmmm, I thought. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” His disciple, Peter writes, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”
Faith is getting to know Jesus intimately. The apostle Paul wrote that he wanted to know the fellowship of His sufferings. Faith’s conversation, her demeanor, her words only praised the One who had helped her through this suffering and affliction. She confidently and sincerely spoke of the peace she has through it all. Then she said something that really pierced to my soul. “When I read the Bible, I can connect with Mary Magdalene.”
Mary Magdalene. My thoughts rushed through the characters of the Bible to remind myself of Mary’s situation. Mary Magdalene, the lady from whom Jesus cast seven demons. Drug and alcohol addiction are definitely spiritually dark demons. Wasn’t it Mary who was at Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection? Yes. In fact she remained closer to Jesus through all His suffering, while the disciples were in hiding. It was Mary to whom Jesus first revealed Himself after the resurrection. She knew the voice of Jesus, when He called her name.
As Faith spoke, I couldn’t help but review some of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I was hearing them clearly – patience, love, peace, gentleness, self control, meekness, joy and others.
Faith sincerely desires to help other people now. She has a love for them, when in the past she only wanted to use and abuse them. Jesus is ministering directly to Faith and Faith ministered to me that day. It was the highlight of my day and my week, and maybe my month and year. It was that encouraging.
I encountered an outcast whom Jesus sought out, and has led her through extreme pain and suffering. Yet this lady’s faith, though starting out so weak is coming through this trial as fine as gold tried in the fire. And she will tell you clearly, it’s only due to Jesus.
Faith is not out of the trial yet. She still has a long way to go, and she is still facing the reality of the limit of her life. But I experienced a person who has a love for Jesus that only few know and can testify to. Can you imagine seeing the embrace and look on the face of Faith and on the face of Jesus when she finally gets home. Until then her Master is there by Faith.
I think Faith’s advice to take one day at a time is wise. I only hope I can heed it. Doesn’t her advice describe Faith? Her best Friend said it best, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”