“The hand of the Lord may be felt in strengthening the soul and lifting the spirit up toward eternal things. Oh, that I may in this sense feel the Lord dealing with me! A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul toward heaven as on the wings of eagles. At such times, we are full to the brim with spiritual joy, and we forget the cares and sorrows of earth. The invisible is near, and the visible loses its power over us.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
Such an ugly word. Such a powerful word. Full of fear and terrifying unknowns.
And when used in a sentence to diagnose the person sitting next to you— the person whose heart has beat with yours for almost half a century; the person without whom you are sure that your very life would cease; the person who knows you better than you know yourself — then it comes to life as an all-powerful monster robbing you of everything.
The air is sucked from your lungs. The light leaves your world. Beauty vanishes. Hope evaporates. Dreams die.
My husband has cancer. My fingers stumble over the keys as I try to type those words; try to make myself accept the reality of them.
We have been pretty sure of this for weeks, and we thought we had prepared ourselves to hear this roll off of the doctor’s tongue.
But maybe it’s not really possible to prepare yourself for this. Maybe you can’t fully experience the horrifying personification of this word until you are actually staring it in the face.
The Oxford dictionary defines cancer as, “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.”
“An uncontrolled division of abnormal cells…..” To know without a doubt that cells are dividing uncontrollably in the body of the man whose arm you lean on when you can’t stand alone….
But… wait… That’s not true. Stop. Breathe. Look up. You have promises that assure you that this is not true.
Not one atom in this world is outside of the control of the Creator of the Universe. Not even cancer is outside of His loving control. No cell can divide at all without His permission. And even then, these cells can’t divide any further than He will allow. That division is not uncontrolled. It is most definitely carefully, lovingly, powerfully controlled by One who has nothing but good in mind for you. By One who loves you more than anything you can possibly even imagine. Designed and controlled for your good. For the good of your family. For the good of each person dear to you.
It doesn’t matter that you can’t see that good right now. That you can’t even find anything about this that could be good. It’s true. You know this. You have taught this to your children.
Scott and I tried to breathe after this dramatic introduction to what will now become our new normal. As we left the medical building, I said to him, “Our whole world just changed.” I’ve heard that said before, but I totally get it now. In that instant, our life as we have known it ended. It will never be exactly the same again now. And we need time to grieve this fact.
But God remains steadfastly at the center of this new normal — this changed world. He hasn’t changed at all. Nothing is spinning out of control.
And immediately, He began sending us reminders of these truths. In fact, He had already been carrying us into this new life. Through a friend, He sent us a book weeks before that prepared us for just this moment in ways we weren’t even aware of while reading it. I can’t even describe how much more ready we were to absorb what the doctor had to say to us and to begin making informed decisions about treatment, even as our hearts were screaming, “No! This can’t be real!” It was a gift that He brought this book to us when He did.
We immediately contacted our adult children and were enveloped in their love; their support; their assurances that they are there for us. The palpable sense that we are not alone in this washed over us, filling us with a sense of relief and gratitude.
Once in our van, we realized that, before we went home to our other children and shared this news with them, we needed some time to process what had just been thrown at us and to try to bring our emotions back in line with what we knew to be true.
We felt the need to go a place where we wouldn’t meet anyone we knew. A place where we could be alone and try to talk through all that we were feeling. We weren’t ready to be with anyone else just then.
We chose a little out-of-the-way coffee shop close to our house that Scott had just happened to notice while in Home Depot recently, buying materials to repair a broken faucet. We had never been there, so it was unlikely we would know anyone.
As we slipped through the door and out of the 10º weather, we spotted a welcoming fire glowing in the fireplace. The atmosphere in this little shop oozed comfort and quiet and peace. We almost instantly felt our heart rates slow and our shallow breathing deepen into a calming and rhythmic pace. The walls were decorated with scripture. And then I heard Matt Mahr’s voice over the PA singing, “Lord, I Need You.”
Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My eyes filled with tears of gratitude that He had led us to this place to rest for just a little while. I listened to the words and confessed my desperate need of Him in that moment.
The owner came over to greet us, and before I could hide my face, she noticed the tears. She kindly asked if we were okay. It was awkward, and I didn’t want to talk. So I was surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth, “We’re okay. We just need a quiet place for a few minutes because we just got a diagnosis of cancer.”
She immediately sensed our need for privacy, but told us that she would slip away and pray for us right then.
When she brought our coffee to the table, I apologized for the whole uncomfortable encounter, and she softly explained that she and her husband believed that God had led them to open this shop for moments just like this. That they had felt from the beginning that it was supposed to be a haven — a place where people could come for quiet and rest.
Isn’t that amazing? It was just a little thing. A few minutes with a cappuccino and a warm fire and lyrics of truth floating through the air and spilling into our hearts.
But God is in the little things. And sometimes the little things are big things.
In those moments God brought us back to a place of peace and assurance that He will guide us through the decisions we are facing, and through the days, weeks, months that are ahead of us now. He steadied our hearts so that we were able to go home and sit in our family room, surrounded by our amazing children and tell them the news that would make them cry. And shake the security of their world. And remind all of us that until our security rests wholly in Him, it will be shaken.
He guided us through the difficult and painful conversation that followed as our children expressed their fears and sadness and anger. And their thankfulness that God made them part of this family.
We think we know the treatment path we’re going to take, and we will share more about that when we are certain. But it will require scaling mountains that seem impossibly huge. We will need miracles and much help from others.
And as we discussed these things and how impossible it all looks right now, one son tearfully reminded all of us that every one of the children in that room, including himself, represented miracles just like the ones we will need for this next chapter in our lives. That each one is home and part of this family because of just such miracles. He urged us to remember those miracles and all of the people God brought alongside us to carry us through when we needed that. And he said that he was even able to almost feel excited about seeing what God will do now.
We all agreed to link arms and move forward together, one tentative step at a time, placing our feet into the footprints our God has already left for us to follow.
“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
“The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand.'”
“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”