The All Knowing and Ever Present God
Recently I went to the hospital for a first time colonoscopy to have the health of my colon checked and to screen for any cancer. Almost five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have written something of my journey with Jesus through breast cancer in another of my accounts in this Blog/Website: “The Good Shepherd.”
There is something more that dear Jesus desires for me to share with you about our journey together through cancer and sufferings. This morning as I was laying in the hospital bed being prepped by the good nurse for the colonoscopy procedure He reminded me of the time in January 2007 when I was in another hospital bed being prepared for surgery on my left breast to remove a cancerous lump and some lymph nodes to determine if the cancer had yet spread. At that time I was full of the joy of the Holy Spirit because I understood that this cancer was an invitation from Our Lord to me to share in His Passion for the salvation of souls.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body…(Colossians 1:14)
During the trial of cancer, the Holy Spirit taught me to pray, “Passion of Christ strengthen me!” As Jesus and I were united together on His Cross in this experience and mission, in His grace, I suffered no anxiety or fear whatsoever when I was told the diagnosis: invasive cancer. Nor was I worried or afraid through the surgery or during the many months of chemotherapy or radiation treatment as I knew the Lord was with me. On the contrary, I was filled with an incredible joy. In that state I entered the hospital on the 23rdof January, 2007 and shared the love of Jesus with the doctors, nurses and staff in the various departments through which I passed on my way to the operating room. Before being taken for a pre-operative mammogram and ultrasound and to have the ink injected to mark the tumor for surgery, I was sent to meet with the nurse in the Cancer Care department of St. Luke’s Hospital. As I shared with her my testimony she wept tears of joy as I witnessed how the Lord upheld me in His joy and peace through the hard diagnosis of breast cancer right until the day of the surgery. Jesus continued to fill me with His joy through the full course of my seven months of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation so that I would witness His powerful Presence in me to all who crossed my path so they could know that in their sicknesses and sufferings the Lord Jesus is near to them too. He is walking with us through it all, at times carrying us just as the famous “Footprints” story relates. If we open our self to His Presence Jesus will fill us with His peace and strength, no matter how hard our trial or tribulation may be.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 4-7)
The day before my surgery I attended Mass. I made my Confession and received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in order to prepare my soul to meet the Lord Jesus in the event that I might die during the surgery or not wake up from the anesthesia. The priest gave me as my penance the instruction to meditate on Psalm 139. That night I opened my Bible and prayerfully read the magnificent psalm:
LORD, you have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest You mark;
with all my ways You are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all.
Behind and before You encircle me
And rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me,
far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I go from Your spirit?
From Your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, You are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, You are there too..
If I fly with the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light” –
Darkness is not dark for You,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are Your works!
My very self You knew.
My bones were not hidden from You,
When I was being made in secret,
Fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
In Your book all are written down;
My days were shaped, before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are Your designs, O God;
How vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands;
To finish, I would need eternity…
(Psalm 139: 1-18)
When I read this beautiful psalm inspired in David by the Holy Spirit, I felt a profound peace in knowing that my Lord is always with me and that He promises He will never leave me and that He knows me through and through. The Lord knows my past, present and future. He already knows the days when I will walk with Him in joy and the days when we will walk together in sorrows, sufferings and trials. Christ desires to give His peace and strength to us all the days of our lives which are already known to Him before one of them ever comes to pass.
I laid down in peace and sleep came at once for in faith I knew, “You alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety”.
The anesthesiologist had arrived and began the process to sedate me for surgery. I was rolled into the operating room and the operating nurse stood by me. Looking into her kind face as I was drifting into unconsciousness I knew she was lifting up a silent prayer for me as she had promised she would do. We had shared our faith earlier in the pre-op and she had delighted in my witness of Christ’s joyful presence with me during the trial of breast cancer together.
I could imagine her praying something like this: “O Lord, keep her safe through the darkness and helplessness of this chemically induced unconsciousness, that she may awake again filled with joy for your service.”
I drifted away into the darkness. The surgery began. It lasted about an hour and a half. As I was waking I was filled with an indescribable joy. In my joy I blurted out to the doctors and nurses present, “ I had the most sublime dream. I was on a strange beach. I was all alone but I was not alone!”
Surely, they did not understand what I was saying. In the depths of unconsciousness I had an extraordinary dream. I was standing on a particular beach with a distinctive shoreline that I had never seen before. I had never been to that place before. I could see the sand in front of me spreading out to the distance and on my left hand side a high craggy cliff with unusual plants and vegetation spouting out from the crevices. The sun was high and brilliant in the clear blue sky and I was standing on this unique and unfamiliar beach. There standing on the sand looking down the beach in front of me I could see no one else anywhere. I seemed to be all alone there. Yet, I could feel, I could sense, that I was not alone. Then, I knew that my Lord was there with me, standing beside me and His Spirit was all around me supporting me.
No-one responded to my outburst. I was taken away to a recovery room where my husband and the priest who had administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and taken my Confession came to see how I was doing. Then the doctor came to examine me, at which time he said, “You’re doing better than we are! You should go home!” He was correct. I was doing very well. I had no pain or grogginess from the effects of the anesthesia. In fact, I felt fantastic and I agreed that I should not spend the night in the hospital as had been previously scheduled but I would go home to my own bed. Just then the Holy Spirit gave me a wonderful light. He showed me that in this dream the Lord was revealing to me His truth as written in Psalm 139 which the priest (“en persona Christi”) had instructed me to ponder the night before my surgery for my penance. The Lord was showing me in the extraordinary vision of the mysterious seashore during my surgery that He is with me everywhere – even in the dark depths of anesthesia. There is nowhere we can go where He is not there with us, caring for us, protecting us, upholding us in His Love. While I already knew this by pure faith because of this mysterious experience I now understood this truth even more deeply. But what I did not yet know was that this dream-vision would later be revealed to be prophetic! In a time yet to come the all- knowing Lord would test my faith and trust in Him with a trial more difficult than cancer and would show me that He was still with me and would never leave me “even if I settle on the far side of the sea”!
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your Presence?
If I go up to the Heavens You are there.
If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your Hand will guide me,
Your right Hand will hold me fast.
(Psalm 139 NIV)
Following the surgery in January I began my chemotherapy program which was followed by radiation treatment and then I set out on along course of cancer medications. I offered all this suffering for the salvation of souls, especially that of my own husband who did not have faith in the Lord Jesus nor trust in His saving power and love. Towards the end of 2007 when all the cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation were complete and I thought I would enter into a period of rest, Jesus began to prepare me to embrace His Cross yet another time and to share more deeply in His passion. This time, however, it would be a profound suffering of the heart, not the body. At this point of my writings for Jesus I am not at liberty to share more specifically with you what this suffering entailed. However, as a result of it, the Lord moved me and my family to Israel in mid- year 2008. The move developed suddenly and the Lord, arranging all circumstances lifted us “on the wings of the dawn” and settled us on “the far side of the sea.” We began our new life in my husband’s Arab –Muslim village in Israel. After seven challenging months, with our two daughters suffering from anxiety and depression from the sudden culture shock, and after the forth break-in by armed robbers to our second floor flat, we moved to the Israeli town where our daughters’ American International school was located. This Jewish town was located in close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea which could be seen from the school grounds.
I was suffering very much in those days, with a broken heart, children full of anxiety and depression, and a sense of profound alienation from the life I once knew in America: no longer having the Sacraments available to me as before, lacking fellowship with other Christians, having to leave the ministry works I had been doing, separation from my parents and close friends. It was an immense change of life – full of hard challenges and harsh trials. We lived very far from a Catholic Church and faith community. I could no longer go to daily Mass. To attend church on Sundays was a veritable pilgrimage.
There on the roof top of the flat in the Arab village and in the little back garden of the twin house in the Israeli town, I clung to the Lord in the Scriptures reading His word throughout the long lonely days, talking long walks alone with Him in the farm fields, olive groves and wooded areas nearby. I spent hours in prayer calling on Him and holding onto His Word. I served Him with all my heart in my vocation as a wife and mother towards my family. I tried to be a good neighbor, first, in the Arab village to my Muslim neighbors and then, in the Israeli town to the Jews who lived nearby, struggling to speak the little Arabic and Hebrew I was learning and share Christ with them in a few words and many, many smiles.
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. (Mark 10:29-30)
As time passed, I made my way to Jerusalem to meet with a holy priest to whom I had been referred by someone I had met by the Lord’s Providence while visiting the historical site of Masada. I had gone there with my family to sight-see when we first moved to Israel in the summer of 2008. There, I met a young man who was struggling with his faith. I tried to encourage him right then and there and through an exchange of emails for a period of time after he returned to Minnesota. In one of Ken’s correspondences he suggested I go up to Jerusalem to meet a very wise priest who had left a strong impression on him. I followed his recommendation and met with the good father who became my spiritual director for the three years I lived in Israel. In one of our first meetings hearing of my feelings of loneliness and isolation and knowing that my house was a long way from a Church, he told me, “go to the beach and walk with the Lord there.” Because of the difficulties we experienced in the Arab village we had just moved into the Israeli town where the girls’ school was located only a few miles from a beautiful stretch of sandy white beaches in the area of Natanya – referred to as the Golden Coast. I told Father Michael that our new home was very close to a beach and I would do as he instructed: meet my Best Friend and Companion in “Nature’s Cathedral” where we would walk and talk and pass intimate time together, keeping each other company and sharing our hearts.
I drove west towards the Sea and along the coastal road I looked for the entrance to the beach area where I could park my car. There were many entrances to different beaches along the shoreline so I randomly chose one entrance. It was about noontime and the sun was high and shining brightly in the clear blue sky and I began walking in the southern direction towards Tel Aviv. I lifted my heart in prayer to my dear Love, Jesus and began to tell Him all my feelings of loneliness and isolation, in words somewhat like this: “ Lord, I feel so lonely here in this place, far from my homeland and family and friends, with no Church near to me where I can receive You in sweet Holy Communion like I used to do daily back in America ….everything is so different here and I feel so alone like I am in a desert wilderness…” As I lifted my head up, which had been drooping down forlornly as I was looking at the sand at my feet while speaking to the Lord of my sadness, I gazed out at the long stretch of beach before me. In that instant, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see! I then recognized the beach and the high cliff to the left of me with the unusual vegetation sprouting out from crags as the one that I had seen under anesthesia more than two years before. The Spirit had taken me there and revealed the future which He already knew! In 2007, I could never have imagined what trials and sufferings would come to me in the couple years to follow and that as a result I would move to Israel and walk with Jesus on this same beach seeking His comfort in my sorrows and loneliness and that He would reveal Himself ever Present to me in faithful love and care there where He had brought me,
… (to) settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your Hand will guide me,
Your right Hand will hold me fast.