Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eucatastrophes and Thank You

This post might not be as clear and concise as I’d like, I’m trying to articulate a bunch of ideas that have been coming into my head since last Thursday.

Last Thursday morning, I met with a friend of mine. Some of the things he said reminded me of the beginning of this cancer process in December of 2008, the process before living with cancer, the process with cancer, where I am in that process with cancer right now, and where the process is going.

So for almost a week, I’ve been ruminating.

And I’m not having a nice, happy day today; there’s something in me that wants to express gratefulness for the hideousness and beauty in this process and the people who have been alongside me through both.

Many times there is an overwhelming sense of isolation that goes along with my diagnosis. In one sense, this is an incredibly accurate description of what it’s like:

“There are seas of suffering that the sufferer must navigate alone. No other sail is in sight. Scan the horizon and nothing is seen but wave after wave... He knows your poor body, and He permits it to be frail. He permits your heart to tremble…” Charles Spurgeon

That is true because really, who else do I know who, at age thirty-three, has a terminal cancer? Even the people who listen reflectively and thoughtfully and who do their best to support me and who love me so well aren’t actually in my position.

And in another sense, there is a sense of great community in this process. As one of my brothers said, it’s like I’m running a race by myself, and he and all of my other supporters are cheering me on from the sidelines.

So while all of that isolation issue is there and very real, and sometimes overwhelming, it is also true that I have often been overwhelmed by the love of people around me.

In some ways, this cancer process has been a healing process for me. Like everyone else, I have my own set of weaknesses, and one that has been strong for almost all of my life is a strong misanthropic tendency. Something about this cancer process and how people have shown love to me has had a very healing effect on me. I will continue to struggle until Jesus comes and transforms me 100%, but all of you people who have helped, have helped on a much deeper level than you’ll ever know.

This process has also been very healing for me in the area of fear. I lived the first two thirds of my life nearly paralyzed by fear. Through a gradual process of healing over the last ten years or so, God has proven Himself to me in real, tangible, I-can-trust-Him sorts of ways that prepared me for the fears the cancer diagnosis triggered. Throughout this process, He has spoken to me twice, and let me tell you, when God speaks there is no questioning it. I’d never heard Him like that before, and hearing Him has given me so much freedom from fear that it still surprises me.

If you want proof, here is something I wrote while recovering from my first surgery and anticipating my first chemotherapy treatment:


body battered
spirit shaken
mind in tumult
emotions shredded

skin and bones

hoping for an easy death
or life clearly defined
and healthy
and worthwhile
and together

terrified of an
long drawn out
before freedom from this poison
this bondage

trying to hope

at peace with God
grateful for family
grateful for support

praying constantly
for my spirit
my soul
to be released
from this “life”
this prison

Compare that with Easter Sunday if you want. That should give you a sense of the contrast and the healing.

Another thought that I’ve been reminded of in the last week is the concept of a eucatastrophe. One of the pastors at my church talked about eucastastrophes in July 2009, several days after I had discovered the enlarged lymph node under my right arm, which I was absolutely certain was cancer, and which proved to be a recurrence.

Eucatastrophe is a neologism coined by Tolkien from Greek ευ- "good" and καταστροφή "destruction".
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled…." J.R.R. Tolkien
(From )

Good: Having desirable or positive qualities especially those suitable for a thing specified, most suitable or right for a particular purpose, that which is pleasing or valuable or useful.

Catastrophe: Any large and disastrous event of great significance; A disaster beyond expectations; The dramatic event that initiates the resolution of the plot in a tragedy; A type of bifurcation, where a system shifts between two stable states.

Eucatastrophe has been the most accurate term I can use to describe my cancer process, and when I learned it, it made something previously confusing and ephemeral make a lot of sense.

My cancer has been a disaster beyond anything I could comprehend AND it has had desirable qualities—it has brought inexpressible joy and delight and it has also brought unfathomable sorrow and horror. Like the Resurrection however, when Jesus comes for me, the joy and delight will win, and He will transform the sorrow and the horror into something glorious.

And, while I was reading Hebrews 11 this week, for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that each of those people of faith experienced some level of eucatastrophe. Somehow knowing that was deeply encouraging to me.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d say that I’ve never experienced anything so horrifying and grotesque as having cancer. I can’t possibly describe how shocking and disgusting some of its effects on my body have been. I can’t describe how painful cancer is on an emotional and psychological level.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d say that this time while I’ve had cancer has been the time in my life where I’ve most tangibly felt the presence of God, where I’ve heard His voice speak to me for the first time in my life, where He has met me over and over in so many specific ways through people, conversations, scripture, and reading, and where I’ve experienced so much of life so much more fully than ever before. And all of this—this is the part of this process that has been breathtaking in its beauty.

If I were going to be really honest, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

So thank you. Thank you for your part in the eucatastrophe of Martha-with-terminal-cancer. Thank you for your support, love, encouragement, prayers, time, listening, help, and so much more. Thank you for being available. Thank you for caring. Thank you for cheering me on from the sidelines.

When my race is done, I hope people see the glorious parts of it—where God intervened; both the parts where He intervened Himself, and the parts where He used people like you to intervene on my behalf.

In His Grip, Martha


  1. I love you, Martha, and am honored to be your friend! We need another Panera date! You, my dear, have been and continue to be so important and influential in so many lives!

  2. Very well expressed and for His glory, thank you for sharing yourself so transparently. Love you lots!

  3. Martha,
    When you write, it's hard NOT to respond. I was listening to this album today and the lyrics are so fitting for how your journey compels me to question God, seek Him out, and constantly struggle to trust Him. Thank you.

    Lyrics from "I Saw What I Saw"
    by Sara Groves

    your pain has changed me
    your dream inspires
    your face a memory
    your hope a fire
    your courage asks me what I'm afraid of
    and what I know of love
    and what I know of God

  4. Beautifully articulated! I can't wait to spend time with you today. God has truly blessed me with your presence :) Love, Annie

  5. hahaha, you said umpteenth : )

    but seriously: it's a pleasure and a privilege--every minute.

    -your immature little brother

  6. Hi Martha,

    I have a friend who has Lou Gehrig's and has probably gone though much of what you are facing all though she is older. I have shared portions of your blog with her and she has been so appreciative. Thank you. You bless all of us even those of us who don't know if there may be some foreign disease growing in our bodies at this very minute, just undiagnosed. We are all just a breathe away from death. You are a blessing to all of us. Carol

  7. I admit this blog made me a little teary eyed. I am cheering you on from the sidelines. Cheering really loud and I think I've lost my voice. Love you! xxoo

  8. hey, marvelous, what's with the vocab words I have to look up!? :-)

  9. Martha, I have a 24 year old niece that has lived with almost constant undiagnosed pain for 2 1/2 years now. The family has done everything we could think of and have "almost" come to the conclusion that Megan is an angel sent from God to teach us Christ-followers how to suffer gracefully.

    You are doing the same, my dear...not glossing over the horror but seeing Him through the shadows as Lucy did in CS Lewis...somehow you know that few of us understand that He is both great and good at the same time...amazing!

    Karen, from "Faun Hall"

  10. These blogs have been so awesome to read! I plan to pass on the link to others...Thank you, Martha, for the blessing of your life! Enjoy heaven, and we'll see you soon (Lord willing) :]