Jeannie Ewing
Freelance Writer
December 20, 2016 // Local

Family experiences the redemptive gift of suffering

Jeannie Ewing
Freelance Writer

The faith of the Roy family — parents Jim and Cheryl, and children Michelle and Mark — has been tested recently. In 2014 Jim and Cheryl developed cancer, and Michelle began to struggle with diminished lung capacity. As of this Christmas, however, all three have been healed or have seen their affliction diminish.

By Jeannie Ewing

FORT WAYNE — For Jim and Cheryl Roy, the past two, almost three years have been an incredible journey of living the cross in such a way that redemption is present in the midst of mystery.

The family’s trying time began in 2014, with several incidents that Cheryl believes prepared her for what was to come. “I visited the St. Jude Adoration Chapel weekly and prayed the Rosary of Seven Sorrows often. But one day, as I was praying the second mystery about suffering, I suddenly realized that I had to answer a very important question: Can I really suffer? It was as if God wanted me to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It was hard at the time, but I paused and finally responded to Him, ‘Ok.’”

This occurred years before cancer struck both Jim and Cheryl and a mysterious pulmonary disease afflicted their daughter, Michelle. The Roys described the first half of 2014 as challenging, mostly because they were worried about Michelle, whose lungs were only operating at 50 percent capacity.

Jim remembered, “I’ve always felt very blessed in my life. We’ve encountered other life-threatening events, but God has always been with us. He’s in total control. I accept whatever He gives us to handle. I saw going through my own cancer treatment as an opportunity to offer up my suffering for Michelle.”

Shortly after Michelle’s illness struck, Jim discovered through a routine colonoscopy that he had Stage 3 colon cancer. He started chemotherapy four weeks later. During that time, Cheryl knew she needed to schedule her annual mammogram, but was tempted to postpone it because of her concern for Michelle and Jim. “I wasn’t planning to go until later, but I felt compelled to call and schedule an appointment. I can’t explain it.” Her mammogram revealed breast cancer.

“Cancer gave me an opportunity to apply the small points of our faith to everyday life. I felt that God wanted me to take one aspect of faith and truly live it. For me, it was gratitude,” she said.

Cheryl Roy painted “stones of gratitude” as part of her rehabilitation during treatment for breast cancer.

Cheryl recalled another poignant moment, back in 2004, that she believes prepared her for the suffering that would come to their family. “One of my favorite verses is from Philippians 4:4-6. The part about giving thanks made me wonder, could I really give thanks for everything, including the hardships?”

She decided to implement the aspect of gratitude in her daily life. She thanked God for every circumstance, whether a celebration or misfortune. When Michelle became ill, she knew it was time for her faith to really be tested. “This was about whatever God wanted. Even though I asked why it was happening to our daughter, and we didn’t get an immediate answer, still, I knew God wanted me to be faithful.”

“People always ask, ‘Why me?’ when something bad happens to them. I always thought of the question, ‘Why not me?’” Jim added. “It made me realize that I could find the good in our cancer experience. Since Cheryl and I both work in health care, we knew the importance of exercise — so we forced ourselves to get outside and walk. We called these our ‘chemo walks.’

Cheryl agreed. “We know to stop and see the beautiful gifts that God has given us. I started a gratitude list during our cancer treatments: for meals, people who offered prayers or watched our kids, for God’s creation. It has made me pause to value what people have done for us. I see people differently now,” she reflected. “I see their dignity and the value of who they are more deeply than I did before.”

“Our chemo walks really fostered gratitude in me, as well,” Jim said. “Suffering gets your attention. It makes you focus on what’s really important in life. Because of those walks with Cheryl, I appreciate what I didn’t notice before – birds singing, the beautiful sky, every good thing God has given us.”

During her one year of chemo, Cheryl participated in Parkview Hospital’s Healing Arts Program, which allows patients to use different media for art therapy. She chose painting on stones, which she chuckled and said “was never done before.” Each stone she painted represents a specific gift or blessing she, Jim and their daughter have received. She calls them her “stones of gratitude” and plans to make them into a large rosary for display in their home.

Today Jim and Cheryl are cancer free, and Michelle is experiencing improvement in her lung function. The Roys admit that, though they wouldn’t have sought what 2014 brought them, they know their confidence in God’s goodness, their gratitude and surrender to His will brought them to a place of grace.

Suffering often leads to joy, which essentially brings one to a place of appreciation in good times and bad, according to Jim.

“People ask, ‘Why suffering?’ But this experience made us understand suffering and study it. I learned that suffering has a purpose and is necessary. Christ learned obedience through suffering.”

“I want people to know that it’s okay to say ‘yes’ to suffering, because God will be with you on the journey,” Cheryl added.

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