(Photo courtesy of Maureen Schaffer)
Keep Singing: The Maureen Schaffer Story
How Worshiping in Affliction Changed Everything
By Sarah Komisky
Maureen Schaffer is a woman who wears many hats – pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher, speaker, worship leader/musician, Zumba instructor, but above it all, worshiper of God.
Diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma (otherwise known as ACC) in September of 2012 and also undergoing a neck dissection in October 2012, Schaffer walked through a process that began with praise and continues with praise. Releasing her first album entitled, Keep Singing, a project several years in the making and the marker of her cancer journey, Schaffer has chosen to make these words her mantra in life. A mantra she desires to share with others.
Asked by a couple (Joe and Layla) who were musicians to help her record an album, Schaffer accepted. Beginning at the time when she was in good health Schaffer kept working through it as she started experiencing health problems all the way through her diagnosis, treatment, and time when she was on a feeding tube. Through it all, she kept singing, completing the recording.
“While I was recording, I was in a lot of pain from a lump on my neck and it actually really hurt to sing or to speak from the movement of my jaw but I just said, ‘I am going to do it,’” Schaffer shares. “Joe thought he was just finishing a task but the Spirit of God was really saying, ‘You need to finish it.’ The week I finished my final recording of it I ended up having the surgery and finding out that I had adenoid cystic carcinoma. Plus I was not promised if I would ever sing again.”
Stepping into the process and being diagnosed with a rare form of salivary gland cancer, that was completely unknown to her; Schaffer was also hit head on with the hopeless news from her doctors that her cancer was traveling, relentless, disfiguring, and had the ability to take life. Feeling like this wasn’t on her agenda, Schaffer said she was not braced for the turn on the roller coaster and it was devastating.
“I really had to get to the acceptance phase and let the Lord get me through the shock, the numbness. I mean it felt like somebody had taken one of those air horns and had blown it into my ear and I couldn’t hear because it was so loud and I didn’t like the sound of it. I didn’t like the word cancer,” says Schaffer. “I was praising God but I wasn’t leaping, meaning I kept saying, ‘Lord I know your good and this is ugly.’ ‘I know you love me but I don’t like this.’ ‘I know you knew this was coming but I don’t like this’ – this is dialogue that everyone needs to have with the Lord with a cancer diagnosis.”
Upon the realization that she didn’t have to have the answers but could cling to the One who did, Schaffer believed she could walk through the journey as she got used to it little by little. Going through what Schaffer called, the “Gethsemane experience” with Jesus, she was able to surrender commenting, “Jesus first says, ‘Take this cup’ then He says, ‘If you won’t take this cup,’ then He says ‘I’m going to drink it.’ That process is very normal for something very painful and devastating in our lives and He wants us to go through it with Him and there’s no rush. He’s not offended by our human response to human things. Human responses are expected and He’ll meet us there.”
Learning to discover new tools, new wisdom, and new insight, Schaffer encourages readers that it’s okay to feel lost and disoriented but to remember that God is not. It was in this season of affliction that she felt no sense of God’s presence or perception of it that worship became crucial reflecting, “Everything was so loud, I couldn’t hear God, I knew He was great so I worshiped Him with my mind at that point. So I said, ‘God you are good. You love me. You don’t even have to make your presence known to me.’ I felt cold and isolated and I felt like a zombie when I was sick while everyone around me was living and I was not. But I said, ‘It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change who you are God. I don’t need to feel you’re wonderful because I know it. You’ve done enough in my life.’”
In a time where she couldn’t read the Bible during treatment because she was on such high narcotics from pain side effects, Schaffer would listen to worship confessing, “I felt the greatness of His name overshadow the plight of my affliction. I remember just falling into His greatness in the midst of my weakness. I was okay because He’s great.”
It was while she was worshiping that Schaffer asked the Lord to let the cancer bless Him because it could be used to glorify God in the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through it all, she encourages readers to never blame God but to lean into Him, the sources of comfort we need to endure the journey saying, “The Bible says, ‘Weeping may in endure for a night but joy comes in the morning;’ ‘Better to be in the house of sorrow than the house of laughter.’ Even the book of Nehemiah ends with, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ but it begins with Nehemiah weeping. It says, ‘Those that sow in tears shall reap in joy.’”
Schaffer notes, “I don’t think real lasting joy comes except through a season of great mourning and despair. I don’t think we’re suppose to conjure up joy, I think we are suppose to allow it to be cultivated through a seasons of pain and affliction and sorrow. Even Jesus wept as it were drops of blood in the garden and yet it says, ‘For the joy that was set before Him despised shame and went to the cross.’ So I think that a lot of Christians get confused and think joy and happiness are the same thing and they’re not.”
Through her spirit and zest for life, Schaffer challenges others going through a season of affliction to keep singing sharing, “The Bible says, ‘Your praise will always be on my lips;’ ‘Let everything that has breathe praise the Lord.’ His goodness is never negated by our affliction. His glory is not superseded by our darkness.”
Listen to Maureen’s radio show, The Bible in Real Life on KKLA (99.5 FM) and grab a copy of Keep Singing on iTunes.