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A Wilderness of Waiting Filled With Life

April 15, 2020

Leslie Bustard


On Sunday, March 1, I stood in church for the first time in weeks. Our pastor encouraged us to lift our hands to receive life—to receive the benediction. In that moment, it was as if my two raised hands held in equal tension a deep gratefulness for the life God had given me and a desperate desire for even more. With tears in my eyes, I heard my pastor say, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Enveloped in this blessing, I begged God for more strength and more hope, as well as more days and more years.

On December 27th a doctor told my husband and me that I had breast cancer.  A week later, a biopsy confirmed it was Stage 1, triple-positive invasive carcinoma. I had started the new year trusting in the Lord’s sovereignty and goodness.  I could rest in Him—even as I looked ahead toward an unknown battle against cancer. In early January, the days got scarier when the doctors discovered I also had metastatic melanoma. The next two months were filled with tests and scans to learn if there was any spreading to other organs. My oncologist would, as he said, “throw every test in the book” at me. On February 27—after one final CT scan—my doctors were convinced that melanoma had spread to the top of my intestine, moving me to Stage 4 cancer.  Treatment plans were finally set in place, including immunotherapy in the spring, breast surgery in the summer, then later, more immunotherapy. My first infusion of Nivolumab and Ipilimumab would happen March 4, 2020.


What does it look like to receive life from Jesus when He has called me to walk through this valley?

I know, as the Apostle John stresses through his gospel, that if I look to Jesus as the Son of God and believe in Him, I will have eternal life, and that He will raise me up on the last day. What a great hope and comfort we have been given in this—one I have held onto even as the veil of heaven seems a little thinner now. But what does it look like to receive life from Jesus when He has called me to walk through this valley of the shadow of death? What does it look like to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of living, now, while I wait on Him, still desiring to make a life with my husband, family, and community?

What does it look like to have open hands to receive Jesus’ life, but the me in my skin and spirit is struggling to keep from drowning in a whirlwind of weariness and weakness?

Friends have shared that my heart and my words have been an encouragement to them as they read my Caring Bridge updates, looked at my Instagram posts, or spent time talking and praying with me on my sofa. They even said I look more radiant than ever. How can that be? If it is true, that radiance can only be because of Jesus in me…

…it is Jesus in me, made real as He abundantly gives me courage to get through one more doctor’s appointment, scan, test, or day of waiting for results.

…it is Jesus in me, His overflowing care made real to me through all the gifts and cards which arrive in doubles or triples each day, for weeks.

…it is Jesus in me, made real through the Bible verses that are sent to me from friends through texts, messages, and emails.

…it is Jesus saying to me in a myriad of ways I cannot miss, “I go before you.”


Malcolm Guite’s sonnets in After Prayer have been lifting me these many weeks. The first poem in this collection, “The Church’s Banquet”, arrested my attention, and for days I could not let it go; each time I re-read it, a deep desire to experience these truths pounded in my heart.


Not some strict modicum, exact allowance,

Precise prescription, rigid regimen,

But beauty and gratuitous abundance,

Capacious grace, beyond comparison.

Not just something hasty, always snatched alone;

Junkets of junk food, fuelling our dis-ease,

Not little snacklets eaten on the run,

But peace and plenty, taken at our ease.

Not to be worked for, not another task,

But love that’s lavished on us, full and free,

Course after course of hospitality,

And rich wine flowing from an unstopped flask.

He paid the price before we reached the inn,

And all he asks of us is to begin.


And as the days continued in this valley of the shadow of death, the Lord offered me a course-after-course banquet, in the presence of my enemies, with a cup of rich wine that flowed from an unstopped flask. Sometimes during those many weeks of waiting, His generosity to me through family and friends was so much that I could only weep at it all. Through these days, in a tangible way, Jesus showed me He truly is the Bread of Life.


My wilderness of waiting was not barren; it was full of His care.

Following the surgery to insert my port, I lost most of my appetite. The only food I cared about was white bread toast with butter and raspberry jam. I usually ate this combination for most meals, despite church members giving us dinners. One day, after seeing a friend’s Facebook post of homemade blueberry scones, I found myself wandering the aisles of Wegman’s looking for something similar to those dreamy baked goods. As a way to care for me, friends made a “Happy Snacks for Leslie” sign up list. When they learned that I really wanted bread or scones, I started receiving bread in many different, yummy forms. One morning—looking at all the bread on my kitchen table and trying to decide what would go into the freezer—I thought,  “Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life.” When I ate bread, whether it was a homemade wheat roll, a slice of artisan bread, a scone, or a sticky bun, I could taste and see that Jesus was good and was being good to me.

I was walking through this wilderness of waiting, and He was tangibly showing me that He was giving me his life. My wilderness was not barren; it was full of his care.  

This life from the Lord was not given to me just because I prayed the right prayers or prayed enough. Most of the time, I simply recited the Lord’s Prayer or confessed “I am weak, please help me.” Although I know these short prayers are enough for God to move, I cannot shake the feeling that I was given this abundance because my family and friends have been interceding for me, day in and day out. Their prayers have been more than I could ask or imagine. Truly, I am the paralytic needing to be healed, and my friends have broken a hole in the roof to get me to Jesus.


Held together by the grace of Jesus Christ, I see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

On the morning of March 5, I stand at the stove, holding in both hands farm-fresh eggs. I feel their weight, and I enjoy their muted hues. After a few minutes of staring at them, I crack them open over the pan, and their bright yellow yokes form perfect circles. I lightly scramble them with freshly ground pepper, goat cheese, and cherry tomatoes; it tastes just right. I haven’t made a breakfast like this in weeks.  In this moment—with medication coursing through me and still not knowing what lies ahead of me—I gratefully receive new life, sweet and ordinary. Held together by the grace of Jesus Christ, I see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 


I am one who has been given God’s love—lavished on me, full and free.

The featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden via Unsplash. We are grateful for Aaron’s good company as a team member of The Cultivating Project.


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  1. Diana bauer says:

    God breathed His words through you to help others. Your suffering purposefully blessed me and helped me see Jesus more completely. I wish this wasn’t so because it comes at a huge price to you. I will pray back what you have given out.

  2. betty damore says:

    Beautiifiully written. My prayers are with you and your family.

  3. Fagel says:

    Precious Leslie, every time I read something that you have written during this time I think, “Miraculous.” Who but the Lord can make us fruitful in the land of our affliction? It is a thing of beauty and wonder. We are praying daily and we love you.

  4. Luci Shaw says:

    Our prayers break on god like waves
    and he an endless shore,
    and when the seas evaporate
    and oceans are no more
    and cries are carried in the wind
    God hears and answers every sound
    As he has done before.

    Our troubles eat at God like nails.
    he feels the gnawing pain
    on souls and bodies. He never fails
    but reassures he’ll heal again,
    again, again, again, again, and yet again.

  5. Leslie Bustard says:

    Dear Luci,
    Thank you for this poem. Each image, each metaphor, each piece of truth speaks to my heart and is added to my cairn of hope. I am always grateful for your poems and share them freely with my friends. This is a gift. Warmly, Leslie

  6. Leslie Bustard says:

    Dear Diana, Thank you, friend. Your prayers for me are always a gift…and your encouragement to me to give out beauty also a gift from God to me. Leslie

  7. Leslie Bustard says:

    Dear Betty, I am grateful for your kind words and so very grateful for your prayers. I am learning that I really am being sustained in such mysterious, yet real ways through people’s prayers. Warmly, Leslie

  8. Leslie Bustard says:

    Dear Fagel, I am so glad you came over to Cultivating Project and read my essay. Your words have always been used by God in my life, and I am grateful that you see the miracles of God in my writing… because they truly are. Thank you for your prayers and your love. Warmly, Leslie

  9. Sophia Bachmann says:

    This is my second reading of this passage in a week, and i am glad to have revisted. Jesus absolutely has been your greatest comfort, but I am glad to hear you have been blessed by the presence of many, many friends. If only I could help you out with the project of cleaning up the basement, or even weeding the driveway! I would be happy to take a trip to Lancaster. 🙂

  10. Leslie Bustard says:

    Thank you, dear Sophia, you know how much my heart is always for you and my home is always yours. Warmly, Leslie

  11. Amy Lee says:

    Leslie, I could hear these words tonight as if you were reading them aloud. That image of you standing in front of the stove with the fresh eggs in your hands is one that I’ve come back to again and again since you mentioned it somewhere else, and somehow it sums up all the poignancy and the beauty of this post to me — all the grace with which He holds you in the palm of His hand today. Thank you for sharing these words with us. Praying for you.

  12. Darlene K. Yellak says:

    As I find myself in my own wilderness of loss and lament, it is so strengthening to read of God’s faithfulness to you. I can say “yes and amen” to many of the things you shared, but can’t express the richness of it. You are a true wordsmith, and it helps me so much. Thank you, Leslie. I continue to pray for all the ways God will show Himself to you in the wilderness. And for your healing.

  13. Leslie Bustard says:

    Dear Amy, Thank you for these kind words. How you see the ending, with me holding the eggs, is such an encouragement (and even a new way for me see it!). You and I have talked about the real things and those things we can touch, so I’m grateful you see this in my piece. Warmly, Leslie

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