Suffering, Sanctification, and Joy
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faithg produces perseverance. Let perseverance
finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
This is a difficult post to write, but at the same time it has been so central to Karina's journey with cancer that I feel it's important to share it. First, my disclaimer. I'm not a theologian - I'm just a parent who is trying her best to follow what I've learned from my Bible and prayer. I also don't presume to know other people's stories or situations and can only relate what's happened from my perspective. If I had to use a single word that think of when I think of Karina, it would be Joy...and that might surprise a lot of people who only knew about the external events of Karina's life - diagnosis of metastatic cancer at age 10, multiple surgeries (including two open heart surgeries for metastases), radiation, chemotherapy, progressive disability, and the end of her life before the age of 18. But then you wouldn't know Karina. When she was a young child, she was gifted with a natural happiness, exuberance, and optimism. The first weeks to months after her cancer with all the needle pokes, scans, were awful for Karina as well as us - I won't sugar-coat that. As a child, she had no idea how much pain was possible, how her future could be totally out of family's control, how her parents didn't have all the answers. As doctors, we were at least familiar with how children and adults could suffer, It was our choice to be as transparent as possible about her health situation as possible - so she knew that she had a life threatening illness that could kill her or it might not. We gave her specific information if it was helpful or she asked questions, but also tried to respect how much she wanted to know at any given time.
We were supported a great deal by prayer in the early period and also we experienced a great shift after those first few months. At first, all of the world's conventional authorities - papers, experts at leading hospitals, etc. etc. seem to quash our hopes. With the size of her primary tumor, the presence of distant metastases, she was given a dismal prognosis - death within 6 months in a nursing home. No one survived beyond 2 years with the size of her tumor. But we lived day-to-day by faith, were buoyed by others' prayers, and realized other old ways of doing things were falling by the wayside. Both Brock and I came from families that valued self-sufficiency - but as Brock pointed out, the Bible never said God helps those who help themselves - that was Ben Franklin! So another major change was opening ourselves up about Karina's challenges, and asking for prayer.
Karina's life and ours was so beyond our control, out of necessity, we had to lift up our decisions up to prayer, get down on our knees pray for God's mercy, and be grateful for the every day. At first, we sent email updates to only a few friends and family members, but people asked to share Karina's situation with their prayer groups, chains, and congregations, and of course we agreed and began receiving emails, notes, and cards from people we didn't know. Whenever we faced a crisis, we let these groups know, and we felt a whole body of believers and prayer warriors entering the furnace with us.
The prayers of psalmists, the lyrics of hymns, and devotionals took on new meaning for us, and as we read the Chronicles of Narnia and George MacDonald Princess and Curdie stories, they took on much deeper levels of meaning, and as we learned, we also learned how to look for helping fostering God's kingdom independent of ourselves.
It wasn't long in the first few months, that we suddenly knew a lot more people than we had ever known with cancer. They had been their all along of course - but out-of-view. It is a double burden of a severe crisis - not only do you have have to deal with the crisis yourself, but you become isolated from whose life seem untroubled. So that was an early unforeseen gift from our affliction. We now knew of many fellow hurters and sufferers. With crisis - comes opportunity - as a doctor (albeit not a cancer one), I quickly found that I could point fellow cancer fighters in the direction of helpful resources and help interpret medicalese - but experiencing first hand what Karina was going through was invaluable in what I could do to help other members of the Kingdom. So if Sanctification meant losing the direction of my life that I had thought was important to myself to gaining what God was putting in front of me to do, then this process was affecting as well.
Karina soon could see how having cancer herself could help others. When Karina was just 11 years old and having surgery to her lung in Germany, we heard about another American family (a mother of 3 young children) who had just arrived, but became afraid of havin the surgery that she just had. Karina immediately volunteered to talk to this mom (Christine). She was only a few days post-op herself, but she showed her her scars, she told her what hurt and what didn't, and even let her know that it wasn't as bad as she had expected.
It was experiences such as these that would repeat themselves over and over again as Karina and we recognized the purpose behind the suffering and opportunity to help others - like Christ had done for all of us.
Some of the proudest moments I have as Karina's mother have been when I hear about how she loved to help people. By the time she was a young teen, she had a maturity beyond her years in seeing beyond appearances into the hearts of people - true empathy and love, which in my mind was part of her sanctification journey.
After she had passed away, I was organizing some of her schoolwork and found the
following drawing and writing on the back of what seemed to be a routine assignment
for the book To Kill a Mockingbird (see right). What I found surprised me.
To understand what Karina wrote, first look through this summary of the character
from the school site Shmoop:
"Mrs. Dubose is the dragon. Scout introduces her as "plain hell" (1.14):
Jem and I hated her. If she was on the porch when we passed, we would be
raked by her wrathful gaze, subjected to ruthless interrogation
regarding our behavior, and given a melancholy prediction
on what we would amount to when we grew up, which was always nothing.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair most of the time, Mrs. Dubose inspires
rage and fear just through the power of her words. Closer up, her appearance
alone is enough to gross Scout out:
Cords of saliva would collect on her lips; she would draw them in, then open her mouth again. Her mouth seemed to have a private existence of its own. It worked separate and apart from the rest of her, out and in, like a clam hole at low tide. Occasionally it would say, "Pt," like some viscous substance coming to a boil.
For Scout, Mrs. Dubose is a distressing, barely human force that takes over their afternoons after Jem goes crazy on her camellias. It's not until after she dies that Scout and Jem get a sense of what's going on behind the drool and venom: Mrs. Dubose is a morphine addict who had vowed to go clean before she died, and enlisted Jem and Scout (without their knowledge) to keep her off the stuff for longer and longer periods of time. Atticus tells the kids the lesson he hopes they've learned from her.
'I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.' "
What Karina had written was inside the shape of a foot:
"People always say 'Oh, I'm sorry' or 'Good luck' when I tell them about m y cancer. Little do they know that when they say those things it only makes me feel worse. It is a constant reminder of my cancer and it brings about a melancholy feeling. I much prefer their silent prayers no matter how well meant their feelings are. I also have to wonder about why people try to pretend they know what I am experiencing. They act like cancer and trials can be read just like a book which can be quite irking. When I was in class discussion I felt my blood boil when we were on the topic of Miss Duboce. Their suggestion of her being a shut-in was infuriating. They simply had no clue what it was like to be locked into a bed as I had experienced the helplessness of being bedridden. I stated my view, however, I do not believe many understood. This I found difficult to believe what people were missing. If they walked in me for a day, I am sure their minds would lastingly changed."
The fact that Karina had empathized with what seemed to be the horrible character of Mrs. Duboce seemed to me an indicator of how far she had come. She did have anger (her blood did boil), but it wasn't at her classmates, it was a frustration that they couldn't really project themselves inside the person of Mrs. Duboce what her level of personal suffering might have been. And I am certain if she hadn't experienced some of the physical burdens herself, she wouldn't have felt the same way.
Galatians 5:22 says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and Karina had all of that. I could probably write a whole book about Karina's joy, but that should be a topic for another time. What I will say is this - another surprising written conversation that I stumbled upon after Karina's death is one where she was talking about Frodo from Lord of the Rings and how she didn't admire him:
Karina Eide Can you describe why you like him so much?
Well you realize he IS in pain all the time right? That he's carrying the ring and the presence of Sauron is constantly gazing upon him? That the weight of the fate of the world is literally on his shoulders?...
Karina Eide I guess I like my heroes to put on a bit more of a brave face.
Friend But in real life that brave face would be a lie.
Karina Eide To me, having Frodo show his weaknesses all the time doesn't show vulnerability. It shows that he isn't strong enough to keep his friends from worrying so much. It would be a lie, but Frodo always makes his friends worry for him. Of course he's in a difficult position, but his friends suffer by watching him suffer. It feels a little self-centered to me that he's always thinking about how he suffers without considering the pain of his friends.
I know that his friends don't physically suffer as must as he does, but I'm just sort of surprised the thought didn't cross his mind at all. When I was ten and post-surgery, I cared a lot about not letting my family worry about how I was feeling even though I felt terrible. If I was able to think like that when I was ten, I think it's sort of lame Frodo can't think about that when he's 100 (or something around there.) Maybe it's just my perspective, but I have a hard time respecting a hero like that. :'D
By the time Karina's time on Earth came to an end, I have to testify to my experience that several of the people who were closest to her said if they could, they would have given up years of their lives (or even the rest of their lives) so that hers might be longer. This so reminded me of Romans 5:7 (Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.). Karina absolutely inspired me with her courage, kindness, love, and faithfulness, and she continues to inspire me to be a better person than I am.
When I think about Karina's legacy, I am warmed by what friends, family, and even some people who knew her only from her story or our prayer updates have said about her and how they have been influenced.
One wonderful testimony of a classmate (Cole Butaud):
"The one phrase I would use to describe Karina is this: "unconditional joy." She had the most unbelievably joyful attitude. I know that she has the James award, and that is exactly who she, the girl who counted it all joy. I knew 2 things: that she had "whyGod" after "why God" moment, and that she never asked that question. I knew her testimony reached many hearts and she bears witness to living joyfully. God bless you, Karina."