Yesterday, I received news from a friend, sharing that someone he knows and treasures deeply has a cancer relapse.
It was a painful news since his friend has been fighting it for so long, and at one time, seemed to have overcome it. They have also been praying for her, and though his friend was delivered then, it now seems like the affliction has returned.
My friend thus questioned his faith. He asked me, “where is God in all this? Is he there?”
This morning, I thought about him and the noted apologist CS Lewis. He too fought for his dearest wife, Joy, for five years. She had bone cancer. She succumbed to it after a long battle.
Considered a giant of the Christian faith, one who wrote scores of books about it, even inspiring many who have become great apologist of the faith, CS Lewis was himself tormented to the core.
He once said that "death of a beloved is an amputation." He did not say "like an amputation". It's neither a metaphor or analogy - its viscerally real to him. He was not mincing his words here. It is not armchair philosophizing. It’s real. It’s pain. It’s amputation.
Ever the effervescent author, CS Lewis wrote a book about it entitled A Grief Observed. He had to disguise the authorship for fear that people might be shaken by the unravelling and brutal honesty in the book.
CS Lewis felt deeply that the book challenged all his preconceived and idealistic pronouncements about the faith. And for a moment, in the eye of the storm, CS Lewis lost his apologetic mantle, resilience and persuasiveness (at least it seems that way), which he had excelled so well in with the books he had written about defending the faith.
Here is what made it so painful: CS Lewis loved Joy. He wrote that she completed him. Notwithstanding her previous marriage and 2 sons, he found in her a love that stands closest to the love he has found and experienced in God. They were in fact inseparable. Two peas in a love pod. She encouraged him, inspired him and transformed him. Joy was joy indispensable to CS Lewis.
After her passing, CS Lewis took her two sons in. He treated them as his very own. He also kept his faith, yet at one point of the book, he blamed God for misleading him up the garden path of hope and then, squashing it with one cancer diagnosis after another. Can you blame him?
However, coming to grip, he wrote this, "We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, "Blessed are they that mourn," and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination."
I myself saw the same mortal reality in the eyes of my loved ones when they stood beside the bed of another before he breathed his last breath. When my brother-in-law finally let go after more than 7-year battle with cancer in October 2016, the collective souls in the room collapsed. For that moment, our collective faith was silenced, as we witnessed the passing of a life. Indeed, for those years before, we all trekked up the garden path of hope, but it was not meant to be a long tenure in a place of healing.
However, after all the pain CS wrote that “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to know it down.”
Alas, CS Lewis grew stronger in the faith and understanding after Joy's departure. You can say that he lived out the dark, cold bowels of his writings, every vowel of it. And he passed away soon after his beloved's demise, but his belief stood firm (and inspired many, till today).
He was better for it (so to speak) because he confronted (unavoidable) pain, consorted with it for a while due to the fragility of humanity, but broke away from it for the unsurpassed eternity that lies before him. It is one eternal desire he wished never to extinguish.
This was the endearing apologist’s own words: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trust it?”
Indeed, CS Lewis tested his rope. And it stood the test of time, pain, grief, trials and even death.
So I return to my friend’s plea for a miracle in the life of another. It is a young life full of promises, full of hope. I too join him in prayer, pinning for a turnaround, that is, a much longer tenure in the garden of hope and overcoming.
In a life, there is always hope. And we cling on to it, resting on the knowledge that the hand, upon which a life emerges, is also the same hand that offers life both in abundance and for eternity.
She is one of the bravest and strongest person I know. Though her body may be broken, her spirit and soul bears no cracks. Standing with you guys Seets & Ian , love you both so very much.
I first met this beautiful soul a few years back. I recall how she stood tall and spoke to a group of strangers. Do not remember content - what left an imprint was her courage to be vulnerable, and embracing all parts of her self, the good, bad & ugly.
As she bear her soul, her past, to a group of strangers, I witnessed her holding space for others’ in their good, bad & ugly without judgement. She listened with her steady gaze, and heart open to contain others’ pain & inner demons.
Seets deserves all the love & prayers from the world she loved - and more. Whatever your religion, faith, please send positive vibes, energy, love & light her way. Much love to you always Seets Chan ❤️🌞❤️
Life has an interesting way of introducing heroes into your life whenever you need it. Some times these heroes come in the most unassuming of forms that if you blink, you might just miss them. Many moons ago when I was much younger (and slimmer), I was coming off a pretty tough leadership stint that left me feeling pretty exhausted. During that period, I was asked to teach a photography workshop to some young dancers in my church.
It's then when I met Seets. I didn't know it then but over the years this kid would play a big role in my life and keeping me grounded and on the straight and narrow. There really wasn't really anything outstanding about her that day except for the fact that she didn't have a camera on her and she took incredible photos for someone with not much experience in photography. That was enough to get me interested in somehow encouraging her talents.
That didn't really happen much because an already talented person given the right tools in the right place in time will grow regardless. It was me who ended up being encouraged and humbled by her over and over again.
Whenever I needed something to encourage me in life when I was feeling down, discourage, or unsure of myself, she would somehow magically pop up to encourage me personally or through something she posted on social media. When she was serving alongside me in the photography ministry in church, I would always end up ministered by her and her photos. Every little interaction we had gave me that strength to push on whenever I needed it.
I owe a lot in life to this kid and I thank God for bringing her into my life.
Seets, you've been through so much in life and it pains me to think about your recent diagnosis. I'd be lying if I said didn't care. Your recent medical diagnosis has left me in tears whenever I think about it. I've always had this policy of not getting to close to my heroes (which explains why I've been such a touch and go friend) but boy am I starting to regret that.
You've always had a magical way of announcing yourself in the lives of those around you and I am forever grateful for your presence in mine.
I'm praying for you mate. I'm praying for a miracle and many many many more years ahead for you. I'm praying that I'll have a chance to shoot you again because all I have is this pic we took eons ago when I knew next to nothing about taking decent portraits. And I'm also praying for peace and strength to be with you throughout this period.
The world is not yet ready for a time without you. Hang in there mate. We're all rooting for you..
Much love to you.
(apologies for the ramble. Too emotional)
People say many things about the strawberry generation - that they are easily bruised, not resilient, give up easily etc... pffffft.
None of those descriptions fit Seets Chan. First she overcomes alopecia, and then aggressive cancer, proceeds to recover from a stroke in record quick time, bounces back from brain tumour surgery, and I’m guessing the odds are on Seets to beat leptomeningeal disease.
Maybe come 2021, you’ll be on a stage somewhere, likely leading worship and praise, or sharing about all the trials and tribulations you went through, enough for several lifetimes(!!!) and have everyone listening be laughing and crying, marvelling at God’s goodness and your faithfulness, because it’s that kind of an epic journey.
Get well soon Seets! You are going to slay leptomeningeal disease, like everything else thrown your way. Also God, after this, can stop? This trilogy already very blockbuster, no need more episodes liao. Can Seets just get married to Ian, move into a BTO and perhaps, could finding an undiscovered hipster cafe be the most excitement they have on a Saturday afternoon for a while? An extra large serving of regular days to her and her loved ones please.