Darkest Days and Highest Praise

By Emily Gibbs -  January 1, 2024


Darkest Days and Highest Praise

Some of the deepest blessings could come only when I was broken enough to receive them. 

I recently overheard a friend sharing about the “worst day of his life”—a day of tragic loss—and it led me to ponder what mine might be.

Would it be the day in late December 2022 when I tried to walk across my doctor’s office heel-to-toe and cried because I nearly fell trying to do so? Would it be the day I received an MRI report saying that I had a brain tumor? What about the day of my brain surgery on January 16—learning when I woke up that my tumor was not benign, as had been supposed, that I most likely had some form of lymphoma, and that my surgeon had severed two of my cranial nerves to more fully remove the growth and “buy time” for our unborn child? Would it be the day when another MRI revealed that I had a new, second tumor elsewhere in my brain? Or perhaps my first day of chemotherapy as I drove away from my week-old baby with plans to accept poison into my body? Or the night during my autologous stem cell transplant when I wondered if God had allowed me to experience more than I could handle?

Even as I briefly pulled each of these painful experiences out of my memory, I decided to tuck them away again and simply admit that 2023 has been the worst year of my life.

It’s in our nature: our “worst” experiences are the days (or months or years) that we dread most, relive most, and muse on most. We hope they will never come. We insulate ourselves against them. We long for them to be over when they do, inevitably, overtake us. We yearn for no lasting inconveniences. We measure our lives after them by how long ago they occurred, or by the ways in which they have changed us. We think of them as dark days that must be overcome by the light of healing, the light of joy, the light of freedom.

When I consider the events of the past months, I sometimes find myself humming the tune of a less-familiar hymn, “As Water to the Thirsty,” and remembering several snatches of lyrics: “As strength that follows weakness. . . like peace that follows pain. . . as sleep that follows fever. . .as freedom after bondage.” Weakness, pain, fever, and bondage have become familiar to me, and it is certainly easy to get stuck there—in mourning for all that I have lost. But these lyrics are calling me beyond my suffering. They are pleading with me to acknowledge that strength, peace, sleep, and freedom are far sweeter to me now because I have wallowed in their opposites, and that my experiences, dark as they have been, have given me a deeper appreciation for what God has done.

I am no longer comfortable staying here, when I know that God has something much, much better in mind for me.

Because of Primary CNS Lymphoma (PCNSL), our internationally-spread family has been drawn in closer and tighter—both physically and emotionally. My husband and I—our daughters, too! —have collectively had months surrounded by loved ones from far away. Because of PCNSL, my quiet, stay-at-home-mom life has been upended and turned into a public testimony of God’s goodness—reaching corners that my previous twelve-year teacher voice could never have touched. Because of PCNSL, my habits of scripture memory have been revitalized and have provided me with an arsenal of verses—most notably, 2 Timothy 4:17-18—with which to defend me against the enemy’s attacks. Because of PCNSL, a craniotomy, and my resulting handicaps, I have been reminded that God looks at my heart, not at my half-paralyzed face, when He’s searching for beauty, and that He can extend this same grace, through me, to others.

It is thus that I can begin to see how the most difficult days in my life have actually made my life better, because they have taught me to depend more completely on God for my sustenance and empowerment, and because some of the deepest blessings could come only when I was broken enough to receive them.

I also know for certain that the positive impact of my scrape with PCNSL will not stop here. I long to fully realize what this means when I meet my Savior, hear His perspective on my story, and experience what it is like to be released from a body that continues to decay and perish.

Because of the silence in my left ear due to a severed vestibular nerve, I know I will rejoice to once again experience surround sound at the second coming of Christ. Because of the discomfort and balance issues caused by my impaired left eye, I joyfully anticipate the day when I know I will blink normally again. Because my face is half-paralyzed, I know I will delight in the restoration of my smile and see it reflected in the waters of the river of life.

Because of the worst year of my life, because of PCNSL, I long for heaven more. I long to touch the leaves that provide for the healing of the nations. I long for the hurts of this world to cease. I am no longer comfortable staying here, when I know that God has something much, much better in mind for me.

Although I wouldn’t feel honest in saying that I now consider 2023 to have been the best year of my life, I can bravely, and by God’s grace, say that 2023 has been the most meaningful year of my life—because the darkest days have been, and will continue to be, the cause of my highest praise.