It is rare to find a friend who steps through the barriers of social pleasantries and enters a deep place where only soul sisters can be found; my dear friend Kay is one such person in my life. While distance separates us; our hearts are united in our Father’s heart — this woman is a mentor, a prayer warrior, and one of the best heart listeners I’ve ever known. Kay is a deep well of wisdom and understands how happiness comes easily when life is going well. An unexpected visit from a friend, words of encouragement and kindness, long-awaited questions find their answers; these all can fill our buckets and give us momentary comfort. But what happens when the unexpected visit is from a vicious diagnosis? How do we respond when the words spoken over us are harsh and critical? When our pleas to God seem to fall on deaf ears, what is our reaction? Kay Warren is all-too-familiar with the deep pain and suffering that life can bring. She has learned not to rely on the fleeting rush of happiness, but rather, she has learned to develop convictions and certainties about God that have become her source of strength when happiness isn’t enough. It’s a grace to welcome Kay to the farm’s front porch today…
Do you remember doing scavenger hunts as a kid? It’s a great, low-tech game that I played many times growing up.
In case you’ve never experienced the thrill of a scavenger hunt, let me explain it to you.
The point of the game is for you and your friends to make a list of weird, random items that your neighbors might have—bubble-gum–flavored dental floss, a wooden clothespin, a red plastic Checkers piece—and then run feverishly from house to house ahead of your friends to see if your neighbors will part with their “treasures.”
Whoever collects the most items on the list wins the game.
It was so much fun to bring back those little pieces of flotsam and jetsam—you never knew your neighbors were so strange until you knocked on their door and found they actually had a pair of Christmas socks with light-up toes that you could borrow!
But the things you collect on a scavenger hunt are, let’s admit it, basically trash.
Nobody really thinks the bits of odds and ends are treasures.
We sometimes think that God plays a cruel game with us; He wants us to go on a spiritual scavenger hunt for “treasures” that are really trash.
But God makes it clear that He wants to give us real treasure, real joy, real contentment.
Something incredibly valuable.
Something that will make us spiritually rich; definitely not trash disguised as treasure.
The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:7, “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (NLT).
For me, the process of turning trash into treasure is ongoing and will continue until God takes me to heaven.
But in the meantime, let me share with you how some of that ugly trash has turned into treasure.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer. A year and a half later, I was diagnosed with stage-one melanoma.
Through the fiery trial of cancer, God produced gold in my life, something that has lasted and something that brings joy.
One trash-to-treasure gift God gave me is a new ability to relate to people who have a life-threatening illness.
I was already an advocate for people with HIV and AIDS before my cancer diagnosis, but after I’d experienced cancer, I could look into the eyes of people around the world and say to them, “I don’t know what it’s like to be HIV positive, but I do know what it’s like to be given a life-threatening diagnosis.”
I experienced new levels of empathy and compassion I never could have attained without going through cancer.
I’ve also learned that I can stare death in the face.
I used to be very, very afraid to die.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of what would happen to me after death because I was certain of my salvation through Jesus Christ, but I was afraid of the process of dying.
God has shown me that I don’t need to be afraid. That “treasure”—freedom from fear—has brought great joy in my life.
I’ve gained an appreciation for how precious and fragile life is.
I don’t assume anymore that I’m going to grow old and sit on the porch in a rocking chair with my husband and watch the sun set.
I understand now that in a brief moment life can change forever. But realizing that brings me joy in the current moment, not fear for the future.
Every day when I get up, I live more passionately and purposely than I ever did before because I don’t know about tomorrow—God still owns tomorrow—all I know about is today.
I gained a more intimate walk with Jesus as I had to trust Him in ways I had never trusted Him before.
I had to trust Him with the fact that I might leave my husband and children and not see my grandchildren grow up.
I had to trust Him with the fact that my diagnosis came just six months after I began to visit Africa. I found myself praying, You called me to be an advocate, and now I might die?
I learned to trust God in those places.
I have also grown in my appreciation for and anticipation of heaven. Heaven looks so much more beautiful to me because I know that in heaven broken bodies and broken minds are finally healed and restored.
What a joy to be able to relate to others who suffer, to say that I know what it’s like.
What a joy to live knowing that life is brief and every day counts.
What a joy to look at my family and my friends and tell them that they matter and I want to spend time with them.
What a joy to live every day knowing that heaven is a place of healing!
This is a joy that comes not in spite of suffering but because of suffering.
I am in awe of the treasures, the hidden riches of joy, I have found in the secret places of the darkness.
Kay Warren cofounded Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick Warren, in Lake Forest, California, in 1980. After the death of her son, Matthew, who lived with serious mental illness for most of his life, she founded Saddleback’s Hope for Mental Health Initiative as a way to support individuals and family members of loved ones with mental illness and suicidal ideation. The Initiative also trains others in the faith community how to launch or expand existing mental health ministries.
Kay is a board member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and is active in mental health/suicide prevention efforts in Orange County, California. She is the author of Sacred Privilege, Choose Joy, and Say Yes to God, and coauthor of Foundations, a popular systematic theology course used by churches worldwide.
In Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, Kay shares the path to experiencing soul-satisfying joy no matter what you’re going through. She helps you send your spiritual roots deep into the soil of God’s love so that you can develop convictions and certainties about him that will become the source of your strength when happiness isn’t enough.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker/Revell for their partnership in today’s devotion ]