Facebook is a terrible way to learn a friend has died.
A heavy feeling settled in my chest as my newsfeed swarmed with strangers writing messages to Julie about shared memories.
When I saw the first “RIP,” I crumpled into a mess of tears.
Julie and I met in the radiation waiting room at MD Anderson Cancer Center. In May 2011, I reported to Waiting Room J each weekday at my assigned time. It didn’t take long to recognize the familiar faces of those with similar appointment times.
Julie struck up a conversation with me during my second week of radiation. She was about my age and recognized me from the 9th floor Sarcoma Center waiting room. (Cancer demands a lot of time in waiting rooms.) Although she was clearly in pain from the growing tumor in her leg, her smile was brilliant, shining from a face adorned with a spunky, color-streaked wig.
We bonded quickly over the chemotherapy regimen we’d both endured and the experience of being moms with cancer. We shared our life stories and cancer stories, and I learned that while chemo caused my tumor to shrink like a snowball in a frying pan, Julie’s tumor grew steadily and ominously.
We celebrated the end of Julie’s radiation, and she stood proudly beside me as I rang the bell at the end of mine. We planned to see each other when I returned to Houston six weeks later for surgery. But by then, Julie was gone.
I never found out exactly how she died. When you make friends in a radiation waiting room you don’t know each other’s people. I never met her friends or family. I had no one to grieve with, no one to share common memories with, no one to answer my questions about her final days. Did she suffer? Did she die in the hospital? Did she have enough warning to say good-bye to her son? I’ll never know.
I’d been battling cancer for nine months when Julie died, and I hadn’t yet asked God why. It’s not because I’m a spiritual giant with unshakeable faith; it just never occurred to me to ask. I knew the brokenness of this fallen world. And I trusted God to use my suffering to accomplish His loving purposes for me. From the beginning of my cancer journey, I could see Him chipping away at my self-sufficiency and drawing me further into dependence on Him.
But when Julie died, suddenly “Why?” was the only question in my mind. Why would God allow a single mom with a young child to die? Why was He allowing me to survive? Again, I didn’t have the answers, and I never will.
I do know one thing: I’ll never regret Julie reaching out to me in Waiting Room J. I’m better for having known her. She inspired me with her courage through pain. She taught me to trust the Lord more deeply, even without the answers I crave.
It’s easy to believe God’s promises when life provides answers to all your questions. But that isn’t trust. Trust is belief that perseveres through adversity. Trust struggles through the answer-less places and strengthens in spite of the questions.
Because of Julie, I wrestled in that in-between place where I’ve been ripped from a problem-free life but still lack answers. In that difficult place, God grows my faltering faith into tested trust.
Are you in that place today, friend? You’re not alone.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
I return to that wrestling place often, and each time, the Lord pours out His presence, peace, and rest. I can’t say I like it there. I’d rather have an easy life or a clear understanding of the silver lining to my suffering. But by the Lord’s power at work in me, I’ll keep walking with Him through the in-between, trust-growing place until He takes me Home and all my questions fade away.