“I’ll back up a little bit for you. For those who don’t know, the photo on this post is of my late husband and me. It was our last trip to Africa together. He looks a bit tired and haggard in the photo because, well, unknown to us when we set out on the trip, his cancer was back with a vengeance. By the time of this photo we knew there was problem. He was in some serious pain, but he was praying it was just a weird chemo-induced nerve pain.
It had been a few months since he had completed chemo and the word ‘remission’ had been mentioned. We felt safe…enough. Because, to stay in the space of honesty, once cancer hits you never really feel completely safe again. We had a feeling this may be our last trip together, we prayed it wasn’t so; oh, how we prayed. The majority of our kiddos tagged along with the team we led, outside of our one daughter who stayed back to grow our little grandson in her belly.
This trip was precious to us for so many reasons, but mainly because we were once again doing what we loved to do together. And we were doing it with our African friends who had long ago become family. It was a time which held reflection, encouragement, and dreams. As our trip moved through the days his pain increased, and by the time we arrived home it was unbearable for him. No sleep, no ability to lay down for longer than 5-10 minutes at any hour of day or night. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING, brought relief of any kind.
It took over a week to get in for more tests only to find that yes, the cancer was back and growing rapidly. Our only option: bone marrow transplant. I am not going to walk you through the whole gruesome journey because it would be a novel. I will say we did everything we knew to do. It just wasn’t meant to be. Seven months after we returned from Africa, he passed away in our home. That same afternoon I would find myself setting up for our daughter’s formal wedding the next day, where I would now be walking the aisle to stand alone in front to give her away to her new husband. Surreal. Numb. PAIN.
So, wow…it is a lot, and it is heavy. But it’s my story. A pain which doesn’t easily subside. A pain which visits me every day in unexpected ways, and in unforeseen moments. A pain which includes a lot of trauma. But I want you to hear me…all along I have known, with the most assuredness, there was a very real purpose to come out of my pain. After all, pain brings intense awareness and compassion. It softens our hearts to a point of understanding we had no idea existed. The very thing hurting us the most also has the ability to be the very thing driving us to bring change and hope to others.
For instance, in the thick of my husband’s treatments, we pressed on to start a nonprofit. In his last hospital stay (where we were trying to buy time to remain together for our daughter’s wedding) we held our first board meeting. And three months after he passed away, I took a dream team with me to serve and to gather materials to spread awareness. All of this pressing-on in the thick of pain happened because of the very solid belief there is indeed a purpose in all pain…and when you find it, when you use it, healing will come your way.
Little did we know in our early trips to Africa, over 10 years ago, God would be weaving our stories together so tightly with those we were going with the intention to serve. Oh, over the years we have learned so much: how they love so deeply, they serve right back, they give more than they receive. And in the wake of my grief, remembering the kind of LOVE they so genuinely expressed to us, gave so freely of despite their circumstance—remembering this LOVE drove me to keep going, to keep my eyes focused out whenever I had the ability. I always had a passion for serving the vulnerable, but until this moment in time I did not have a good understanding of just how vulnerable they must have felt. Now, I had more in common with them than I EVER wanted to. Sorrow and Lament: the treasure we hold but never asked to carry.
Many of the projects through our nonprofit, Pamoja Love, involve helping widows and young mamas: home building projects, micro-loans, food programs, medical care—even child-sponsorship, as it reduces the burden of school fees. These are meeting the needs of heavy life circumstances which often leave women feeling crippled or desperate. Contributing towards these projects provides a shining example of LOVE on the MOVE, with people joining hands to work TOGETHER for the good of these women: local leaders, church, and community—all locking arms to love on a precious woman who most likely has felt alone, unseen, and very possibly, unworthy. I know this to be very true because I have been there.
Reaching out and meeting widows and the vulnerable in this space is a HUGE act of LOVE which is recognized by all. It is a B E A U T I F U L thing which radiates light into the dismal, dark spaces. This is where my PAIN brings me tremendous PURPOSE, it is the very thing which drives me to continue bringing awareness and actively reaching out in LOVE. To seek out and find the hurting where they are and bring hope for their future. Showing them they are seen, LOVED, and cared for.
I truly believe there is a PURPOSE IN THE PAIN. The question is, will you allow the pain to completely take you out and paralyze you, or will you use it as the fuel which drives you to LOVE others well? And, to keep it honest…sometimes it is both at the same time, and that’s okay. But HOPE and LOVE will always remain. TOGETHER we can help make a difference. Let’s be HOPE bringers.”
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