Thoughts from the valley by James Sorell 2010
No one remains unscathed by trouble or hardship. We live in the pursuit of happiness; and even though trouble lurks around the corner we are surprised when our pursuit is interrupted by tragedy.
Nine years ago, I was living a life of happiness, completely content. I was pursuing the life I believed God wanted me to live. I was happily married, content in my career, and sleeping soundly every night. When shortly before Easter, I was having what I believed to be a minor outpatient procedure, however when I awoke from the anesthesia, my wife informed me that the doctor had discovered a rare form of cancer involving my salivary gland, as well as the nerve controlling my tongue.
Since that fateful day, we have been on a never ending pursuit to eliminate this cancer from my body. Initially, our best bet to eliminate the cancer was to surgically remove the entire tumor and rebuild my jaw. After that life altering procedure we hoped that the cancer was completely eradicated. However, two years later we discovered the cancer had reoccurred in my head and spread to my lower spine. Due to its rare qualities, traditional chemotherapy was not a viable option, therefore it became clear that our best hope now was to control the cancer using radiation therapy. For several years when problems would arise from the disease we would treat the area with radiation. This method worked for five years but after 7 separate treatments of radiation, I have maxed out radiation in certain areas of my body; and the last 2 years I have used newer, but so far ineffective, forms of chemotherapy drugs, and now I have depleted any reasonable attempt to control the disease. Presently, the disease has again reoccurred in my head, lungs, and lower spine, resulting in a large fracture in my sacrum which is placing pressure on many of the nerve roots branching off of the spinal cord.
This year has been by far the worse year in my journey with cancer. We spent the first half of the year traveling to Houston once a week to participate in a clinical trial which gave me terrible side effects with little results. The second half of this year has been increasingly horrendous, spending sometimes on a daily basis in indescribable neuropathic pain. The pain has been so severe that all I could to in response was moan and weep in agony, crying out to God for relief. Because of the pain in my sacrum I have been unable to sit for 5 months, even for a moment, forced to stand using crutches for more than twelve hours a day.
With the help of a pain pump, I am not in level 10 pain every day, but my pain is still barely under control and so I continue to stand with crutches. I am losing hope that my current condition will improve. As my disease slowly progresses I fear the pain I will have to endure. Throughout this journey¸ Psalm 23 has continually been on my heart as a reminder that the Lord has been leading us through our perpetual valley, to places of provision and restoration. Lately, my thoughts have been filled with my life nearing its end. And when the nerve pain is at its worst I feel that death would be better by far. Yet in that moment, I am torn and I want to continue to live life with my wife and two children despite the valley we are in.
Lately, when all of life feels out of control and the valley has been so dark, so deep, reeking of death and when my pursuit of happiness is far beyond my reach; it’s ironically the one who personifies happiness who has been pursing me. I formally believed that our dark valleys would eventually end and be followed by a time of refreshment and blessing, but this has not been the case. The valley of the shadow of death in verse 4 is followed by, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. If I am the recipient of the Lord's overflowing blessing or the guest of honor at his feast, how then can I continue in a time of darkness? But the Lord’s hospitality invites us in for moments of refreshment and even now in our present circumstances we are blessed. The darker the valley, the brighter is the Lord’s overflowing provision! By means of our church family, I am continually reminded of His goodness and lovingkindness pursuing my family all the days of my life. When all hope is gone, my Great Shepherd reaches out and leads us. Right now the valley remains dark, but we feel like guests in the seats of honor with our church family. As I reflect on the past nine years, life has been hard but we thank God for all he continues to do for us and through us.