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Colleen Chao: In The Hands of a Fiercely Tender God

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
October 19, 2022 3:00 am

Colleen Chao: In The Hands of a Fiercely Tender God

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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October 19, 2022 3:00 am

How do we suffer long and well? What do we do when we feel cheated? Author Colleen Chao draws from the deep well of her experience with God through pain.

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So I got a question for you. If you had to answer—this is a deep one. You ready? Okay. Let's go deep.

Okay. If you had to answer what causes people to lose their faith, like if you only had to pick one thing, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? I think pain. How could a good God allow this kind of pain in my life or someone else's life?

I don't think you'd pick that. I thought it would be doubts or questions or skepticism. I think that's one of the things I've struggled with and a lot of people have.

I just had a girl yesterday call me and say, my 29-year-old best friend just passed away and I don't know how God could allow this. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson. And I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. I think how a person handles or navigates pain, evil in the world determines the depth and future of all of our faith.

I think it's that critical, and we're going to talk about that today. We've got Colleen Chow with us. And she's a writer, an editor, a mom, a wife, and Colleen, welcome to Family Life. But you're a woman that has experienced a lot of pain. But first of all, let me say, glad to have you with us. It's such an honor and joy to be with you two today.

Thanks for having me. And I didn't know your story till just recently. I know a lot of people have heard your story. You've written a 31-day devotional, which is really about how to walk through pain.

It's called In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God, 31 Days of Hope, Honesty, and Encouragement for the Sufferer. So obviously, the first question is, OK, you must know a little bit about pain. Why don't you walk us through your story a little bit? Well, I love to say up front, I'm not an authority on suffering.

Far from it. But God has allowed a story that I never would have chosen. And I was a big dreamer when I was little. A pastor's kid, firstborn, ambitious, big dreams.

I was going to change the world. And at 18, I was ready to do that. And there were some hard things growing up, but I felt like I had the world on a string at 18. And then was blindsided by depression when I was 19.

I mean blindsided. It was deep, dark depression. Did something happen that spurred that on?

Yes. And yet, for the gravity that it was, it didn't make sense. But I think it was my first taste of real life where I was going to go off to my dream school and decided, because I wanted to serve in missions, I thought, I don't want to take any loans, zero loans. So I worked at a seminary that you all know about.

The International School of Theology. Yeah, yeah. So I worked there the first year out of high school. I think that just was my first taste of, oh, life doesn't go exactly how I'm planning it to go, even though it was a great goal and I was ambitious to get overseas. And so my 20s were kind of a cyclical depression.

It wasn't constant and sustained, but there were cycles of depression and anxiety that I had never even known existed in that form. That was my first taste of, okay, this is going to go down a little differently than I thought. But by the time I reached 25, almost all my friends were married and starting to pop out kids. And I was single.

And at 25, I felt old because I was running in circles where everyone got married young. And I just didn't know where I fit. I didn't know how this would look on a daily basis.

How do I do singleness? This isn't what I prepared for. I started to wrestle with God some and also started to experience the fact that I was finding Him to be who He said He was in the Word.

You're actually fleshing this out in my disappointment. 30 rolled around, still single. And then around the time I met my husband, some little irritating physical symptoms I'd had for years started to explode into chronic illness and pain. So I got married even as we kind of beat a path to the altar.

We were going to specialists and trying to figure out what is going on with my body. And then we were so blessed to get pregnant right away. That was such a miracle. And we would never be able to have more kids after that. Which was a different heartache at a different time. But we got pregnant and I just got so sick.

It's almost like that was the last straw for my body. And then gave birth to a son who had multiple health issues. And it was just a time of struggling with the fact that here are these things I've prayed for and waited for for years and now they're surrounded by all this pain and grief and just trying to hold on for dear life. We weren't sleeping.

Just, you know, all the things. And then my son was six. We had like six weeks of health. He and I were doing so well health-wise for six weeks. And my husband and I just thought, oh my goodness, maybe we've kind of served our time. It's funny how we think, right? Like we've put in our time now. So now here it comes.

Some more freedom to do ministry and things we dreamed about. And then at the end of those six weeks, I found a little lump on my breast. And I was like, there's no way. There's no way, Lord.

Because you've already been through so much. Right. And you know, as humans, we think, oh, only this much. And then God's going to, you know, then something else is going to happen here. More of a time of blessing or coasting, even, if you want to say that.

But sure enough, it was cancer. But God started to all of these things all along the way, each of these disappointments and pain and sufferings. God was showing Himself to me in ways that once we kind of moved past one season, I would say, oh my goodness, I wouldn't have missed that for the world because what I was finding about God. And He was showing like, I am who I say I am. And let me show you more and more of me.

It's kind of C.S. Lewis in the last battle, he says, further up and further in. And that's when I felt like what was going on, even in the midst of the heartache and the wrestling and the anger and the fear and all of that. It was coming with an experience of God that I didn't want to miss that. So even as we entered cancer, I said, God, I don't know how I can do this after a decade of chronic illness and with a son who struggled with health issues, but I don't want to miss out on you. So a few years after I was kind of cancer, I mean, they said, cancer's gone, can't say cancer free yet, but a year ago we found the cancer's back and it's terminal. So that's a whole new level of walking with God. I know your book is about this as you walk through this valley, but even as you tell the story, you're smiling.

There's some laughter and joy in your voice, and yet you've gone through such pain. And all the way back to, I was thinking when you were talking about anxiety and depression, this was at a time when, am I right? This is a time when the church wasn't talking about this.

Absolutely not. You sort of walked through it alone. If you mention something like that in the Christian community, you were a person with no faith and you had sin problems.

Yep. And so it sounds like you walked through a lot of that all by yourself. Yeah, and I look back and that's one of my regrets is that, and God redeems, when I say regret, it's in the context of His redemption and His kindness and faithfulness, but there was still a stigma for getting help. You didn't go to see a counselor unless you were a total train wreck. So yeah, there were a lot of things I wish I could have had help earlier and had people to talk to earlier.

And those were dark years, and I think it was extra dark because it was isolating because it was hard to share that. But God gave me some courage along the way to just start speaking up to people and finding people who were, yeah, me too. And in those moments, there's such a strengthening and, okay, I'm not weird. I'm not irreversibly screwed up. There are other precious people that this is their common experience too, so it was just a kindness of God to allow us to have some conversations along the way. But I was slow to get help because of that.

I bet. Well, Colleen, like I'm imagining, like you've lived through and you're living through, a lot of us, it's our greatest fear. Especially what you just had is to hear a terminal diagnosis. Like when you were delivered that news, walk us through, like, what did you feel?

Where did you go? What did you do in those moments and days and even months after that? Well, I'm sure you've been through times where it seems time stands still, you know, those first moments. It's just an otherworldly experience.

But this is the crazy thing. Because of COVID and crazy weird things, I was by myself when I got the news, so I walked out to my car alone. As I was walking, I felt the presence of God so keenly. And He said, I want you to write.

This is one of the reasons I've entrusted this diagnosis to you. It was so clear and it's, you know, you can say the Spirit pressed on my heart, however you want to say it. It was so clear. And the kindness of Him in that moment, because I'd said I would never put anything in permanent print until I was 80 and wise. But the kindness of Him in that moment to say, I still have work for you to do.

This isn't the end. This is part of your story is I want you to care for others. Even as you hear this crazy news that's going to make life really, really hard. He was giving me good works to do that He'd prepared for me beforehand.

And He was speaking that to my heart. But after that, you know, there was a lot of grace. I think we all experienced that in those moments of shock and trauma. There's a lot of immediate grace.

And God just carries us along for those first moments. And I met up with my husband before we went home. My parents were watching my son. We got home and it's almost indescribable to have to tell. He was nine.

Jeremy's nine and to walk in and tell him the news. And we'd resolved to be honest with him all along the way since the first time I had cancer. We were so honest because we want him to see God in the suffering.

We want to be able to pass along things to him like this is how you can walk through suffering. And so we were transparent about it all. And that was another otherworldly moment that just, you know, those moments. And then telling other people sent me into my closet in the fetal position and just wailing. And I cried and cried and cried and cried.

And I tried not to lose it in front of my son just because he was bearing so much grief. And we snuggled at night and he asked the hard questions. And I said, you can ask anything. You can say anything. You can feel anything. You let us know where you're at.

And he did. And so we did a lot of hard talking and grieving. And then I also had kind of this compelling, like, okay, let's go. I was on my Word doc, like, putting together a plan for the end.

You know, okay, this is what's got to get done. So it was a mix of all those things. But I don't know if I could ever put into words the grief and the darkness, especially of the first months. I don't think we're made to know our own death. I don't want to think our brains are really wired to handle that necessarily. But God was meeting us and he was doing extraordinary things, still is, in the midst of this. Was it the same thing for your husband? I can imagine, you know, if Anne came back after we both thought it was gone, maybe completely gone, and then she comes back from an appointment and tells me it's back and it's terminal, I'm not sure how I would respond. How did that go and how does a married couple navigate that kind of valley? Man.

Well, we're not examples. We're just slugging through it by grace. But, you know, God, again, I think he put some buffers on some things for my husband at first because we had to line up chemo.

There's so much to do right away with that kind of diagnosis. I think there was some grace that held him together. And then as time went on, I think the reality sinking in. It's so much on a husband. It's so much. And I think women naturally are drawn to each other to nurture and enter in and men are typically not.

These are stereotypes, but just in general, this is what we've seen in cancer. And I think that loneliness factor even, just not having guys know how to come alongside was really hard for a while too. Just him trying to process grief, it was hard for him. So hard.

And he would tell me, he wouldn't cry in front of me, but he would tell me, I cried on my way to work. You know, and just honestly, it puts a lot of pressure on a marriage. And in one sense, you value each other and you're like, I don't want to argue ever again.

That thing that bothers me, I'm not going to let it bother me anymore. And then on the other hand, everything surfaces. All the yucky tendencies in our hearts and our heads and all that, our weaknesses, all those things are exacerbated. They're surfaced because of this intense suffering.

So it's a mix. There's some beautiful moments where you just appreciate each other more. And then there are some moments where you think, how are we going to make it through this? And then God keeps holding it together. And you get on the other side of those desperate moments and you think, wow, God's holding this together.

He's got us. But there are moments in time where I just say, oh, Lord, help. And so for us finding people to talk to and finding people outside this circle of grief so that we can be healthy separately. And be strong as a couple has been really significant. It's amazing that you both are allowing God to continue to shape you. You know, instead of pulling away from him, you're drawing closer to him where you could be angry or resentful. And I'm sure you've gone through days of that.

Oh, yeah, definitely. And that's what I appreciate your honesty and realness. And even when I was reading your blog about getting chemo and I'll just read the first few sentences. You said, why would I ask to be delivered from this awful diagnosis if it means bringing Jesus hope and light and love to the darkest corners of this chemo ward and beyond? Why leave the suffering to those who are alone and without the love of Jesus?

We who know and love Jesus are here for just this purpose, to lay down our lives, to love others for him. When I read that, I'm like, oh my goodness. Like you're in chemo, getting chemo yourself, but you have your eyes on everyone else around you thinking, how can I bring Jesus to the others around me? That is being so other focused. Where does that come from? It is such a work of God because I am so selfish naturally, so selfish, so prone to figure out how to make things comfortable for myself.

And how can I preserve my comfort and my wellbeing? We all do that. Right? Oh my goodness. It's hardwired into us. But I think the grace gift of years of plowing through pain and suffering with the presence of Jesus, with his nearness, is that he changes us one day at a time and makes our hearts a little bit more like his. And then you see these glimpses of, it's miraculous what he's doing in my heart.

It's not me. And that's what, it's stunning to me that he has not given up on me. He's never said, you know, you're not getting it.

Peace out. He just keeps pursuing me and saying, I'm going to finish this beautiful work I've started in you. And if it takes pain and takes suffering to get there, it's amazing for me to experience his Spirit's power in me in the midst of things that 20 years ago would have made me never get out of bed. You know, pull the covers over my head and say, no way. And now to be compelled to get out of bed because there's still beautiful work to do and people to love.

That's a work of God. That's his Spirit that is so powerful in those of us who believe because that is not me. Have you met anyone even on the chemo floor as you're getting chemo that has asked you, like, how can you have this attitude?

There was one chemo patient. We're still really good friends and have had amazing, amazing conversations about Jesus over the last four or five years. But typically I'm not sitting by the same person ever again.

It's always someone new. But my nurses, that's typically where I've seen the most incredible conversations happen because they're stuck with me for hours and we're talking about hope. And I've been able to say things that I just marvel. Oh, my goodness, I got to share the hope of Jesus. And they know that I'm in the process of dying. And what a powerful moment to say, Jesus is so worth this. This is worth it because there's something better because this life is not all there is. So, yeah, there have been really sweet moments in conversations and with doctors.

I would say doctors and nurses especially. Yeah, that's cool. I mean, I think I know what you're going to say, but again, I'm struck by your joy. You have joy in the middle of a terminal diagnosis with a husband and a son knowing you you're going to miss things, you know, in their future.

Yeah. Where does that joy come from? I mean, is it beyond saying Jesus? Because I know you're going to say Jesus. I think every person wants that and they know the name Jesus, but how does a person access what you're talking about in terms of a relationship? How does that joy permeate your soul from Jesus?

I feel like that answer could be like ours because there's so many layers to that that I've seen over the years. But one thing that stands out the first time around, I was waiting for test results. I went a couple hours away to San Diego for a specialist and a specialized imaging. And I saw the image and I knew that was the time I knew it was cancer. And I walked out trembling. I mean, I was shaking uncontrollably and I called my husband. I said, it's cancer.

Like, I know it. And I had two hours to drive home by myself. And it was such a gift that I was alone that day because I poured out my soul to God.

And his spirit filled up that car. And one thing that I asked, I said, okay, if this is where we're going, and I don't want to go here, this is not where I want to go. But if this is where you're leading, I need you to give me more joy and more peace than I've ever experienced in my life. And it wasn't like a soft request. It was, God, I see a little bit of what you're doing here and I'm not ready for this suffering, but this is what I need from you. And he has answered that request for joy and peace in abundant measure, like multiplied crazy amounts of both. That again, I think sometimes we ask too little or we ask demanding because we have certain wants instead of expecting God to do more than we could ask or imagine because His glory is at stake or because there is a story being written that goes beyond us and our little lives.

He's doing something eternally significant. And so to lean into that and say, I need you, like, please show up because I can't do this without you. And not demanding, oh, I want to be healed. I want, you know, demanding things, saying, I see where you're going.

This is what I need if we're going to go there. And he has answered that time and again. I cannot believe the joy I'm living in and that the flip side is it's not always, there's some ugly moments. But it is extraordinary to be experiencing joy and the answer to that prayer five years ago.

That's really beautiful. I mean, as you think of, I mean, we're all terminal. We know that. And yet you're feeling it in a way that somebody doesn't have an immediate diagnosis. We don't live in that reality, even though we know it.

Totally. So even as you think about your husband and your son after you're gone, what do you hope for them? Oh, man, I have prayed so much. I think we all know, you know, one of the great callings of marriage and motherhood is to be a prayer warrior.

But this diagnosis highlights that even more. And I've prayed that they would love Jesus more and more and more. That the grief wouldn't swamp them or harden their hearts. Especially my son in his developmental years.

He's in such a crucial developmental age and stage. And that he would experience the reality and nearness of God because of seeing the joy and the goodness and the suffering that he'd forever be shaped by that. And I think as I pray, I'm sensing that God is giving gifts to my husband and son. And this idea that my son's world is going to have even more suffering, I think, for those who follow Jesus, to be able to walk with him through suffering and show him God's goodness and show him we can have joy and still laugh in the midst of so much pain. That God shows up, that he's kind, that he's faithful and good is a true gift to be equipping my son for his world that's going to be harder than my world was at his age. All that to say, as I'm praying into these realities, I'm also sensing the gifts in them. So I'm praying for my husband that he would experience more of Jesus, that he would have more grace to face the grief and to be a single dad for as long as that lasts. That God would just expand his capacity to handle so many things when I'm gone that are just extraordinary stresses and burdens on his own. So those are some of the ways for Jeremy that God would reveal himself to him, that he would see God and see that God loves him even more than I do. That he is working a beautiful thing in Jeremy's story, that Jeremy could sense that. There would be hope for Jeremy instead of darkness and grief because it has been a year of incredibly deep grief for him. So those are some of the ways I pray, but even as I'm praying into those, I'm sensing God giving gifts to my husband and son, even though sometimes I don't feel that because it's just overwhelming grief thinking of what they're going to face.

It just wrecks me. But I think of your prayer for peace and for joy. And I think about your prayers that you're praying over your husband and your son, and it reminded me of Psalm 145 verse 4 that says, Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts. And there's one thing to talk about God's mighty acts when things are going well, but to be able to tell of God's mighty acts and his goodness and his love and care for us when we're walking through the valley. That's a testimony that your son, he's watching you praise Jesus with a terminal illness, knowing and wondering, like, how does she have the capacity to have that joy and peace?

And you continually point him, your husband and others to the source of that is this good, great God. You're inspiring. Thank you for touching us so many, even writing the book, taking the time to help us journey through suffering. It's been a gift. Thank you, Anne. Such a gift to chat about this. It just reinforces what God's doing, you know, in my heart to be able to share it.

So thank you. I would love to pray for you. Can I pray for you?

Oh, I'd love that. You're listening to Family Life Today, and you can join Anne in prayer for Colleen Chow in just a minute. But I want you to know that Colleen's book is called In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God. It's a 31-day devotional for people who are suffering.

You can pick up a copy at, or you could just give us a call at 800-358-6329. That's 800 F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You know, we really believe here at Family Life, a relationship with God is the ultimate desire that sits at the center of every human being. That's true whether we're going through suffering currently or we're not suffering at all. What we always need is connection with God. And when you partner with us to make every home a godly home, you're literally advancing the work of taking the gospel that makes that connection possible to homes across the world. So would you consider partnering with us at Family Life to see that gospel work come to fruition?

When you do, we'd love to send you a copy of Jackie Hill Perry's book Holier Than Thou. It's our way to say thank you to you when you partner financially with us today. You can give online again at Okay, now back to Anne with a prayer for our guest today, Colleen Chow. Father, thank you for Colleen. Thank you that it's so evident that she's walking with you, that your spirit abides in her and she's abiding in you. And the gospel's being lived out in her life. And Lord, I pray God that you would just heal her.

It'd be so great if you would just heal her on this side and you could do that. But Lord, thank you for the way that she's used her life to point us to you, that you are a good, good God, no matter our circumstances. And Father, I do pray for her that you continue to feel your presence, your power, your joy, your peace. And I pray for her husband and her son, God, that they would bow before you. They would call upon your name and they would follow you and walk with you all the days of their lives.

And they would be honest in what they feel, what they've gone through. And I pray that you would be their hope and you would be their life. And thank you, even I pray blessing upon this book that we'll touch and we'll continue to touch so many, because so many of us are suffering, Lord, and need the hope of the gospel in our lives. So I pray blessing upon Colleen, Lord, thank you for her and how she's even touched our lives today. In Jesus' name, amen.

Amen. Thank you so much, Anne. Tomorrow on Family Life Today, David Anne Wilson will be joined by Jeremiah Johnston. He's going to talk about something people need a little bit more of in their lives. God's peace.

Isn't that true? Oh my goodness, yes. On behalf of David Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 09:51:00 / 2022-11-21 10:02:41 / 12

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