BROKEN – AND BETTER
I managed to live a mercifully long number of years before experiencing the type of suffering that changes everything. Somehow I avoided the kind of heartbreak that forever divides life’s timeline into a before and after. But in this broken and sinful world, the pain will eventually find us and that evening, as I sat in a dark and deceivingly peaceful hospital room, my heart was shattered. In a matter of only weeks, our ten-year old daughter had gone from knee pain to our worst fear coming true.
“Normal” was gone forever and life afterward would never be the same. The terror was suffocating. I knew truth. God is good. He loves me. All things work together for His glory. But in those moments, I couldn’t feel it. My little girl was sick and in tremendous pain. Her life was in danger. And I couldn’t fix it. Over the next year, I lost count of how many sleepless nights I spent at the hospital watching her suffer. It began a period of wrestling with God like I had never experienced. How could anything but despair come from a valley so dark and tragic?
Here we are five years later, and miraculously, our cancer warrior is still with us. Her road involved almost a year of chemotherapy, endless violent and terrifying side effects, and an amputation. It was the most challenging year of our lives as a family. In the middle of that storm, it was virtually impossible to see the bigger picture. But after some time and distance, God has tenderly provided a few brief glimpses behind the curtain. It has been just enough to encourage my heart and sustain my faith, even when it still feels shaky. Let me be clear to say that this does not always happen. Sometimes the tragedy is so grand and long-lasting that we’ll never understand one bit of the pain on this side of heaven. But in the years following our daughter’s diagnosis, I have actually discovered a number of tiny lights shining out from our darkness. The valley has changed not only me, but our entire family. We are not who we were before. We are broken – but better.
Our perspective has been drastically altered. Things that used to be major sources of stress and turmoil now feel like nothing more than small stuff. Our priorities have been redefined to include only what matters most and our main goal is to live with eternal purpose. Family time and making memories have become our most precious commodity. We are learning to live in the day and to trust God for the grace that He will provide at exactly the correct time. His mercies are truly new every morning.
My own heart is tender and far more empathetic to the pain of others than it was prior to cancer. I have learned how to better love and serve someone who is hurting. People who know our story are very willing to openly share their own struggles with us. We are a safe place for others to bring their brokenness. That authenticity has been an incredibly special gift birthed from our sorrow. We have seen how precious and fleeting this life can be, and we don’t want to waste a single moment. Our experiences have reminded us that we are not in control, and when God reveals a need to us, we must make every effort to act. Without the pain, I am not sure we would have ever had the courage to seek the bold, purpose-filled life for which we now strive. And because we have walked through so much sorrow, any joy that comes feels that much greater.
In the past I had been able to push through hard things quickly and get back to being happy. The nature of those struggles was small, so that strategy worked for a while. It was either joy or pain, but these emotions could not exist in me simultaneously. Then time brought valleys and challenges with no definitive end. Now what? I gradually and painfully learned that most of life cannot be spent in the either/or, but instead must be lived in the both/and. It is about learning to find joy in spite of the pain, gratitude in the midst of sorrow, and laughter in between tears. It is about walking through the refining fire and trusting His plan. It is knowing God’s heart when your feelings say otherwise. I think Jerry Sittser says it best in his book, A Grace Disguised. “What I once considered mutually exclusive – sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life – have become parts of a greater whole. My soul has been stretched. Above all, I have become aware of the power of God’s grace and my need for it.”
God has been faithful to our family. He has provided, and I should be fearless. Instead, I am like the Israelites – my heart is weak and forgetful. The process of letting go and relying solely on Jesus is what leads to spiritual growth. This generally happens only when we are stripped of distractions and our hands are painfully pried open, forcing us to let go of cherished plans. It is an individual journey and we shouldn’t compare our road to that of another. Sometimes the valley will persist endlessly, with no resolution in sight. I would never attempt to speak or draw conclusions from another’s grief or their walk with God. But as it relates specifically to my story, it has been the suffering that forced me to lean into Jesus. Weeping with Him as He has carried me has caused my heart to grow in ways it could not have otherwise.
Now comes the part where I have the urge to wrap this suffering in a tidy package. Mountaintop, valley, back to mountaintop – life is good, lesson-learned, and we are ready for the church testimonial video. Except that’s not our reality. I desperately wanted to close the chapter of our story entitled, “Cancer.” But anyone who has survived cancer knows that learning to live in the unknown of “after” is sometimes more difficult than the fight itself. We have spent five years enduring perpetual scans, watching for and grieving long-term side effects, attending children’s funerals, and beating back fear.
Even apart from cancer, recent years have been physically and emotionally grueling for all seven of our little clan. In addition to the “normal crazy” of five children, we have faced medical challenges, PTSD, financial pressures, a job change, emotional and learning difficulties, endless therapies and appointments, my own cancer scare, and a second international, special needs adoption. Weary doesn’t feel large and complex enough to describe our current state. Learning to parent kids facing so many different obstacles is overwhelming.
I have scars that will leave me forever sad. I battle fear and anxiety almost daily. We all do. Life remains messy and hard, and I long for the day when there is no more suffering. Yet, the difference is that through the struggle, I am now learning to carry multiple conflicting emotions in the same space. Joy and sorrow, fear and gratitude, tears and laughter can exist together because His grace is enough. There will never be enough of me. But as I draw from all that He is, there is grace for each day.
Most importantly, my faith is stronger because it has been tested. Our family is stronger because things haven’t been easy. And our kids are stronger because they already know that life is fragile and hard. The doubt, the questions, the fear will never fully disappear, yet my peace and purpose are greater than ever. Our entire family is fighting for joy and laughter every day because we know time is a gift to be stewarded well. The fiery ashes may always remain, but there are a few blooms peaking through and I am trusting that one day, God will cover the smoldering dust and make everything bright and beautiful.
Ed. Note: Kintsugi–golden repair–is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer dusted with powdered gold, emphasizing its fractures and breaks rather than hiding or disguising them. Pieces repaired in this manner are often considered more beautiful than the original.
Tiffany Moody and her husband, Patrick, live in Johns Creek, GA and are parents to five children (three biological, two adopted internationally, all planned by God). She champions adoption, loathes childhood cancer, and allocates much of her day toward researching, advocating for, and treating the numerous special medical needs of her kids. Her imaginary free time is spent exercising, writing, coaching young athletes, reading, and taking naps.