I don’t know whether she ever truly said it, but Mother Teresa is credited with saying,
“I know God won’t give me anything I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”
I’ve shared that quotation on my Facebook wall in times when life is handing me lemons so fast that I can’t make the lemonade quickly enough to use them all up.
Yesterday, one of my many beloved Invisible Friends (people I have met online and have never had the pleasure to meet in real life) posted words to the effect that she doesn’t believe the old adage that “God won’t give us more than we can handle” is appropriate to say to someone in their time of trouble. God doesn’t give us the pain, but he helps us through it. She later posted a link to a powerful blog by another writer who expanded on the thought. Having had a day to think about it, and facing my own obstacles this morning, I must say that I am in agreement.
Life is not fair.
Cancer and other terminal illness has been a constant in my close family since 2006 when my wonderful father-in-law succumbed to cancer after successfully fighting it off multiple times. No more than a month after we laid him to rest, my own father was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It seemed that he had no more than gone into remission than he was struck with severe congestive heart failure as the result of damage to his heart muscle from the chemotherapy that had saved his life. We fell back into a rhythm for a short time, and Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery to remove her right breast and 23 lymph nodes, which all tested positive for cancer. She consented to radiation, but refused the chemotherapy which might have killed off the cancer cells that remained. We lost Dad a short time later. Mom was struggling to recover herself and caring for him. They finally consented to come to my home so that I could help, and we lost Dad within 2 weeks. I struggled. I thought that surely now things must get easier.
Mom’s PET scans have been negative for cancer in her soft tissue since that time. However, a tumor marker protein in her blood work has been creeping up – slowly at first, and now rapidly. She went for a repeat PET scan last week and yesterday her oncologist said that there is no sign of tumor in her soft tissue, so we must look to the bone. The tumor marker is elevated to the point that there is no question – there is an active disease process raging in her body that will require aggressive treatment.
My dear mother looked defeated – not at the thought that the cancer was in her bones, but more at the thought that she must, again, endure another long test in a lonely room with no television, no music, and not even a picture on the wall to look at. My heart wanted to break.
We went from the doctor’s office to get lunch, visit family, and go shopping. Mom seems to be handling it all very well. I, on the other hand, am ready to pitch a hissy fit. My friend’s post was timely. God isn’t testing me. God isn’t giving this to me. Life happens. It isn’t all about me. God didn’t select me out of all of the people on this planet to shoulder the load I am toting right now because he has some belief that I am tough and I can handle a little bit more. I am not Job.
We are intricate creations, but our design allows flaws (cancer and other disease) to develop. Our environment and our choices influence the likelihood that disease process will start, stop, slow or speed up. We don’t have an infinite life here on earth. Our bodies eventually wear out, whether or not cancer strikes. Eighty-six years is a long life by any standard. Many women don’t get to keep their mothers for 47+ years. I’m not giving up hope, by any means, but I know that whether it is cancer or heart disease or simply old age, I am going to lose my mother – I just don’t know when. This latest crisis has removed my ability to pretend it won’t happen. It’s not an “if” – it is a “when”. Death happens to us all.
I will survive this challenge. I will not survive it because I am strong, though. I will survive it because I have no choice in the matter. I will pray for strength and for grace and peace. God didn’t give this particular challenge to me because I have some ability to be resilient. God didn’t plan for me to find my husband after his suicide in 1998. He didn’t plan for me to tell the doctors to remove life support for Dad in 2013. God didn’t plan this – he gave us free will. He’s not the superhero in the sky whose purpose is to go around putting out fires for those who are too weak to handle it. Instead, he promises us his grace.
I will be there for my Mom through whatever treatment she chooses to take. She will turn to God for comfort, as will I. God doesn’t give me challenges because I am strong. I am presented with challenges because I am human – I am alive. Mom is alive, too. I will treasure our remaining days together whether I have to say goodbye to her, or whether I am the first to leave this earthly plane.
I will experience more pain, suffering and grief than I can handle. God’s not dishing it out to test me. People around me aren’t developing cancer because I am strong. I don’t have to be strong. I can admit that I am powerless. I can allow myself to cry. It isn’t all about me – and I’m so glad it isn’t. It’s not about God trusting me – it’s about me trusting Him for strength to weather the storms.