The guy was a glutton for punishment. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he was knocked down—he just kept coming back for more, each time with a big, silly grin on his face. But it was the way he was designed—his name was BoBo and he was the inflatable bop-bag clown that my son loved to trounce.
As I struggled through the maze of breast cancer, I could relate to BoBo for it felt like every time I’d manage to get up I’d be knocked off my feet again—first it was the diagnosis; then two surgeries instead of one; then a full, thirty-five day course of radiation instead of the one-week short version; then chemotherapy that nobody initially thought was necessary; then not just one but two rounds of chemo; then my mother’s strokes in the midst of everything else; then my husband’s open heart surgery sandwiched in between chemo and radiation—would it ever end? Unlike BoBo, while I may have kept getting back up, there certainly wasn’t always a smile on my face.
But BoBo had a lesson to teach me about how to keep on keeping on. He was unstoppable as long as he was full of air—it didn’t matter how hard you hit him, he’d pop right back up. However, if his air was leaking he would become progressively weaker, unable to bounce back; even developing wrinkles in his cheerful demeanor. Worse, if he popped his plug and all of his air escaped he would end up in a shriveled heap on the floor, totally unable to do what he was made to do. And I realized that the Spirit of God, the very Breath of Life, is the air I need to keep me pumped up and living out the purpose for which he created me.
Long ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and that even when we’re so distraught that we don’t even know what to pray he is there, interceding for us with yearnings or groanings that are inexpressible in human language. I wonder if he thought of Stephen as he penned those words—Stephen who, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices; they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60) This man of God, in the fullness of the Spirit, was not only able to endure persecution, ridicule and a painful death, but was also able to pray for the forgiveness of his tormentors. I’ll bet he even had a smile on his face—how could he not, given the vision set before him? Surely if the Spirit of God could empower Stephen like that, he could provide the strength I needed too.
So there I was, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (you’ve got to admit, breast cancer can cast a pretty big shadow!), and I continued to think about BoBo. I figured there were times that he would have liked to have just popped his plug so he could lay down and hide and not have anyone hitting him anymore. If so, I could identify—comfort and rest sounded very attractive. But, to be honest, the threat of death was not all that frightening because I so totally related to the words of the Apostle Paul, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Philippians 1:20-26)
“Fruitful labor,” he said. How could my life be fruitful during this season? And then one day Psalms 119:50 jumped out at me as never before, my comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Always before, my concept of this verse had been one of God throwing out a life preserver when I was sinking down, but this time memories from my childhood of my mother in the kitchen making blackberry preserves flooded into my mind. How wonderful it smelled! How great it tasted on a peanut butter sandwich! And I realized that the LORD wasn’t just rescuing me, he was making me into fruit preserves. According to his word, his law, his promises and his love; he was preserving me in his righteousness. What kind of fruit would be evident in me? The fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
It would be nice to be able to say that I walked through the year of cancer treatment in total victory with a smile on my face, but there were a lot of times when I focused on the problems instead of LORD, and then I’d feel as if I’d been beaten up and thrown down to the floor, and I’d begin to slouch, just like BoBo with a leak. But God was always there with me—his word as true today as when it was written, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9) So, like Jesus’ disciples as described in Acts 13:52, I have been filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.