By J.D. Booth
Right off the top, I need to tell you that I have never … or at least not seriously … doubted my relationship with God during the last few years or even now.
For those of you who may not know, and even if you do, I'll remind you, our family (and that's Lynne, my wife and I) have been through what we would colloquially call "challenges" in the last few years.
There were and are financial challenges, with my income dramatically falling off with the U.S. recession and the fact that most of my financial eggs were in the auto industry basket—my major source of writing work. It wasn't pretty.
Then, in 2009, Lynne fell and broke her arm—badly. She was bringing in some income. Not a lot, but it was a definite help. That was gone.
Later that summer, things began getting very ugly from the income standpoint, to the point where I was ready to grab almost anything that could or would come along.
In September that "something" was a job in Yellowknife … yes, Yellowknife, which was difficult in the sense of being away from home but at least there was money coming into the account.
But just a few months later, early in February 2010, I parted with the firm I had joined, and we were financially back to square one.
Lynne had surgery for the broken arm that had never healed completely after being in a cast for several months.
And I began looking (again) for work.
My Dad was not well at this point and Lynne was in physiotherapy and, perhaps not surprisingly, my blood pressure (which had never been high) was through the roof. It was so high that I decided (or heard, as I believe in hindsight it was God speaking) that I should probably get a physical just to make sure all was in order.
I scheduled the doctor's visit (this was in late June, early July) and I actually went and got the blood work done (which to be honest, I have sometimes let slide in the past).
While we were taking a short break to see friends in North Bay, my Dad passed away and our trip was cut short. But I had also got a call two days before from the doctor's office that "he would like to see you."
First lesson: doctors don't call you to tell you everything's looking good.
In the office, our family doctor told me he was sending me to a specialist because my prostate levels were high. Thinking that he was maybe giving me good news, he said he'd seen higher.
When I asked how that person did, he said he didn't make it, which wasn't entirely what I wanted to hear.
So, moving forward in the process, I had another examination, a round of antibiotics to rule out infection and a biopsy revealing stage 3 prostate cancer.
On November 5, which coincidentally is our wedding anniversary, I was at the London Regional Cancer Centre getting my first injection—which at this point I couldn't pay for—it was twelve hundred dollars—but thankfully was "donated" by the drug company.
And starting early in February and for 35 days, Monday to Friday, I was driven to London for focused radiation treatments.
In the meantime, we're burning through RSPs and gifts from family and friends (including a very very nice benefit concert held right in this room).
Also in the meantime, Lynne is starting to have issues, not just with the arm, but her lungs—several bouts of what the doctors thought might have been pneumonia but which turned out to be blood clots caused by breast cancer. She was formally diagnosed in February 2012 and had surgery in April.
And so here we are.
Thankfully, my cancer appears to be gone (the survival rate is 85% after five years) and I'm just now beginning to be able to see some money coming in from writing. I was also able to pick up some contract work for which I'm extraordinarily grateful to God for providing.
This, of course, is a chat about faith and what happens when your world is rocked.
For starters, the picture for me is a lot clearer now than it was when we were going through this somewhat tumultuous series of events. Indeed, when I was preparing this talk, it was a little overwhelming to see how one thing lead to another to the point where we are today.
Yet it happened, of course.
Was my faith impacted? I believe it was, but only from a positive standpoint.
I've been a believer for a long time, longer than at least some of you in this room have been alive.
But in the four decades since I made that first step towards God, this has to be the most challenging.
And I think it's drawn me closer, knowing that the only "net" if you can picture it, is God Himself.
Central to what God tells us—was and is telling me—is that His promise, that He will never leave me nor forsake me—can be trusted.
It is such a central message that appears in several places: in Deuteronomy 31 verse 1-6 where Moses is speaking to the Israelites:
“I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The idea that we can trust God, having faith—believing something that we can't see and can't prove it exists yet we know it does—that appears several times as well in scripture:
One example is in Matthew 17 where we read about someone whose son is afflicted with seizures coming to Jesus to complain the disciples weren't able to heal the boy.
Jesus is pretty blunt with the man and those around him:
“You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”
Jesus then rebukes the demon and the boy is healed.
When his disciples take Jesus aside and ask Him why they couldn't drive out the demon, Jesus pinpoints the problem as well as the lesson he has for them.
"Because you have so little faith. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
So faith would appear to be something that isn't something as quantifiable as we might think. At least not according to what I read.
In other words, I think it's more like a "yes/no" question.
Do you believe or don't you?
What I'm hearing God say is that if the answer is yes, then we ought to hold Him to His word and lean into that promise.
If we have the faith that God will keep His word, if we believe He is someone who can be trusted to keep His word, we can rest in that assuredness.
I'm no theologian. But I think when you talk about faith you could easily substitute the word TRUST for that.
What God wants us to know is that He can be TRUSTED. That what he says is TRUTHFUL.
Is that why these things have happened? I don't think so. What I do believe is that I've experienced the hand of God throughout these last few years in ways I never thought would be possible.
In essence, while we don't always see the hand of God during the experience, He does make Himself known "in the rearview mirror" so to speak.
Let me give you an example.
When I left Yellowknife, it was not a particularly happy time (although I was very happy to be back home). But later that summer, when I was diagnosed and started treatment, I also realized that if I had stayed there, I would most probably be dead by now, given that the cancer that was in my body is sometimes referred to as a "silent killer, there being no symptoms.
Remember Jack Layton, who looked absolutely terrible and then less than a month after that was dead?
Prostate cancer had spread into vital organs. In my case, I was probably weeks away from that happening.
So God's protection was over my family and me.
We've also experienced God's grace in a number of other ways, some minor but many significant enough that we saw the hand of God and in the process our faith was further strengthened.
I want to emphasize that this is not a story about our family or me.
This is a story of how God is ALWAYS present, how He does not promise that we will have challenges. In fact, He more to the point promises that there will be challenges.
But the difference is that there is a promise, an unshakable, unalterable promise, that He will not only be there beside each one of us but as we exercise the faith, even as small as a mustard seed, we can breathe in the assurance that no outcome on this physical world we call our temporary home will alter in any way His love for us.
He will never leave us. He will never forsake us.