The cancer diagnosis came first. Then the treatment. With the treatment, a shape-shift in my appearance happened. It was totally expected. The weight loss was welcomed and a bit intentional, as I am following a particular diet. For the first time in many years, I shed the unwanted midlife bulges and felt much more “me” again. The hair loss, on the other hand, was not so happily welcomed. I tried to prepare myself and my family for this outward change. Some friends and family who had to deal with this previously gave wise advice about when and how to shave my hair, what beanies to get and what wigs would work best. I was even gifted a wig from one of my cancer-surviving friends. Many other friends wanted to jump in and take me to get a personalised wig made.
Despite all this, the time for the hair to be shaven came all too quickly. Although the hair did not fall out in chunks, I was shedding hair at an alarming pace. It became embarrassing to go anywhere because I would leave a trail of hair wherever I went. I was out-shedding our german-shepherd cross – that was a scary achievement in itself. So, I bought a shaving set and summoned Paul for the “sheep -shearing”. We decided we would endeavour as a family in this experience, and it turned out to be a reasonably fun-filled event, with the kids taking video footage of the whole ordeal. Trust my fun-loving husband to turn even losing one’s hair into an event filled with laughter and joy.
Even so, it was something to get used to. Paul was boosting my self-image with a royal overdose of compliments. But I knew I looked different now. This caught me a bit off-guard. Should it be such a big deal? It’s, after all, just something on the outside. But strangely enough, it filters through to how others experience me. I have come to realise that people have a mix of admiration and pity when they look at my altered appearance (some saw my bald head, some saw me with a wig, and most of the time, though, I wear my beloved beanies). This bald head reflects what I am going through and whom I am becoming. People might see someone who is not healthy, suffering or has lost some dignity. I have realised that, by looking at me, people around me are taking in more than just what I physically look like. They are also digesting how I deal with my loss of hair, loss of health, and other losses accompanying this journey. What they genuinely see I can never be 100% certain of, but what I hope they will notice is that God is making this journey easy for me. I hope to reflect how He is carrying me and answering all the prayers prayed on my behalf. I hope people see not only my courage and strength but also where it comes from, from Him who gives every good and perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17).
The more I pondered its impact on people when they witnessed my outward shape-shift, the more I started yearning to make others see what an excellent good Father we serve. The more I wanted to reflect that to others, the more I became convinced that I needed to know more about Him, in order to become a better witness of Him. The yearning to spend more time with God, to be engulfed in His Word and His Love, is ever increasing. The words “Look at Me” started repeatedly playing in my head. With that, the realisation dawned that, although I know my God, I need to spend more time “looking at Him”. I need to dig deeper than I have ever dug before to see His face, understand His character and experience His love. Not just for myself, but to make my “face shine” with His love. I can only reflect His glory if I have seen it myself.
It is not just sheering on the outside.
So began the journey where I decided to be more intentional with prayer time, Bible reading and time of solitude, reflecting on Who is and what He is doing. I started a 40-day stint of purposeful “Looking at God”. But boy, this proved a much more formidable challenge than one would think. Creating more time and space to spend with God means I have to rethink what I spend my time and energy on. It’s crazy how difficult it is to set enough time aside in a day to connect with God in a manner that does more than just scratch the surface.
At the moment, I don’t have a full-time job; I don’t have babies or toddlers in the house; I have cut back on church ministry involvement; I don’t have parents or family members who need care; all of these demanded my attention in previous seasons in my life. Yet, in this crazy, upside-down life, there are more than enough other areas that STILL compete for my time and attention. If it is not a sick kid, it’s helping with a school assignment that is pressing, new clothes for a rapid growing teenage son, braces for one of the children, a car that needs fixing, a sick dog, or household chores, or the house renovations we are busy with, or my extra exercise routine, or medical aid issues, or just managing all the food supplements I need to take every day. Although I don’t work full time, I still have some managerial tasks, and I try and be there for my dear social worker warriors who keep the practice afloat.
Then there are all the friends who are faithfully praying and supporting me. They are checking in, and I need to give feedback. All of this takes time. And, of course, there are the dreaded emails and the loved Pinterest app that could eat up time like you can’t believe. I have quickly realised that despite not being in an office most of the day, my days could easily fill up with activities and distractions that will keep me busy for months on end. I have to strip away activities that are unnecessary or steal time. Even more than that, I have to prioritise where I cut time to have enough time to be with God. This is really hard for me. The more I cut down on one area, the more I tend to add in another. It feels like I have a time-munching worm in my life, a hungry caterpillar chewing through all the time available in a day.
Paul (not the apostle, but my husband) looked at this spectacle unfolding before his eyes. He could see this was going nowhere slowly. He suggested I start tackling the issue of distraction and hurry by reading “The ruthless elimination of Hurry: How to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world”, written by John Marc Comer. This, together with a very timeous church ladies retreat with the topic “Disconnecting from distraction and connecting with God”, nudged me to consider radical changes. I am still reading the book and unsure if I will be able to successfully implement effective habits, but I am busy learning and rethinking this thing called hurry.
So what’s up with “hurry”?
I realise now that God has taken me into a sort of Canaan, a season where I can feast on Him.
But in this Canaan live many giants. One of these giants is called Hurry. He is not an easy one to slaughter—neither one to befriend and live alongside. If hurry is not eliminated, it will continue to infest every good intention to love others. As John Mark Comer puts it:
Hurry and love are incompatible. All my worst moments as a father, a husband, and a pastor, even as a human being, are when I’m in a hurry-late for an appointment, behind on my unrealistic to-do list, trying to cram too much into my day. I ooze anger, tension, a critical nagging–the antitheses of love.
– John Mark Comer The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world
This giant called hurry can only be slaughtered with God’s help and direction. And it’s going to be a battle. But it’s a crucial battle. The alternative is a loss of the true joy, peace and love that comes from an in-depth relationship with God.
Not only does hurry keep us from the love, joy, and peace of the kingdom of God-the very core of what all human beings crave but it also keeps us from God himself simply by stealing our attention. And with hurry, we always lose more than we gain.
– John Mark Comer
So, what’s up with hurry? Or, in my case, what’s up with that nagging feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time? It robs me of being able to look at who God is and what He does. It gives me a superficial experience of God’s presence and robs me of a fulfilled spiritual life. It robs me from thoroughly looking at God and knowing Him more and more.
Looking at God
I am not far into this current journey, yet I am enjoying this fresh investigation about just who God is. I grew up in a house where we were taught from small childhood about God’s character. But looking anew at these well-known facts fills me with awe. One example, for instance, is that I am currently reading through the gospel of John, and I am just amazed by how many different names and metaphors there are for Christ. One can contemplate each of them at length. Here I am merely listing them:
- God is the Word (John 1:1)
- The Word became flesh (John 1:14)
- The Lamb (John 1: 29, 36)
- The Son of God (John1:49)
- Rabbi, or Teacher (John 1:49)
- Son of Man (John 3:13)
- Living water (John 7:38)
- The bread of life (John 6:22)
- The true vine (John 15:1)
- The Christ/ the Messiah (John 1:41)
The above spurred me on to look deeper into these names. I bought a book called “The Names of Jesus” by Warren W. Wiersbe. Warren unpacked, amongst others, the phrase “The Lamb”. This name is mentioned at least 28 times in revelation. Warren goes on to exposit four quotes referring to The Lamb:
”Where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22:7)
This refers to Isaac asking his father where is the lamb that they must go and sacrifice. Abraham’s answer to Isaac was that God would provide. And God did. He provided a ram that could be offered in Isaac’s place. But the true Lamb was waiting in heaven until “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) when Jesus would be sacrificed for our sins.
”Behold! The Lamb” (John 1:29)
Here, John pointed to a person in the flesh. The time has come for the Lamb to be slain. The most significant promise in the history of time was being fulfilled. The Lamb would once and for all be sacrificed for the sin of all who believe. Yet, this was not recognised by the people on the receiving end.
”Worthy is the Lamb” (Revelation 5:12).
This refers to one day when we will assemble with all God’s children in the courts of heaven, rejoicing and worshipping the Lamb for who He is and what He has done. This Lamb who humbly went to slaughter is also King of Kings who rules forever!
”Hide us from…the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:15-17)
Here, we see that those who reject the Lamb’s sacrifice will be judged accordingly. What we all deserve will fall on those who do not accept His gracious sacrifice.
So now, I might have to live with a sheared head for a while, but He took upon Him and freed me forever from the sin that I could not shear off myself. It feels appropriate to conclude with the verse from Philip P. Bliss’ hymn, quoted by Warren W Wiersbe after he explained the above:
”Guilty, vile and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”