Article Dec 29, 2017

What if cancer is a gift?

Four months ago I found a lump in my breast. And the Spirit clearly prompted, “This lump is a gift.”

This summer was the first time in a decade that I felt well. I was sleeping, I had energy, my usual symptoms of chronic illness were minimal. On top of that, my son’s health had improved enough for us to experience the edges of “normalcy.” My husband and I would look at each other with relief and whisper in awe, “We’re not in crisis mode anymore.”

A scary find

So on that mid-summer morning when I felt that lump, I wondered through frightened tears, What if this is cancer? After all we have been through, what if we’re about to face our biggest health crisis yet? God wouldn’t do that, would he?

We began a long and complicated testing process. Some days I had all the peace in the world—miraculous calm and confidence in God’s goodness. Other days, it was difficult to loosen fear’s vise-grip on my heart. Don’t make me walk this, Lord, I begged him. And then just as quickly: But if this is where you are going, I want to go with you. I don’t want to miss out on what you’re doing.

Even in the scariest moments, holding my breath for that decisive phone call, I knew he was with me. And as I hid myself in him during those waiting weeks, he confirmed, “This lump is a gift.” What kind of gift, I didn’t yet know. I hoped for the best, but readied my heart for the worst. Because what if the worst was the gift?

I’ve lost several dear ones to cancer in recent years. Two to breast cancer. I’ve watched the slow dying process and know that the worst can be cruel. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to lose my breasts and my hair, prematurely age and suffer more aches and pains. What comes naturally to me is the Art of Preservation. I want to save my life, not lose it. But looking back at 41 years of life, filled with various trials that have preceded this one, I can say with confidence: It’s always been in the losing—the surrendering—that I have found Life.

A peace prepared

It would be easy to say, “Nothing prepares you for a cancer diagnosis”—but it wouldn’t be true. God has been preparing me for the past year-and-a-half. In April 2015, I resolved to address some areas of emotional immaturity in my life (namely fear and anxiety), and I began working tirelessly through some amazing resources. I saw grace and growth like never before. Then at the beginning of this year, I had a renewed appetite to read books about people who have suffered with joy and courage. I devoured one biography after another—I couldn’t get enough.

It is in our human nature to be constantly surprised by life’s hardships. But Christ himself modeled a life of joyful suffering—and then called us to follow in his footsteps.

On top of that, God had me praying through the Psalms, which allowed me to tread every square inch of my life in truth. My Abba and I, we covered so much territory together between March and July. So when I sat in my doctor’s office on a Tuesday afternoon in early November, I was ready for the diagnosis: Cancer.

It is in our human nature to be constantly surprised by life’s hardships. To ask “Why me?” But Christ himself modeled a life of joyful suffering—and then called us to follow in his footsteps. Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. But!—for the joy set before him, Christ endured the worst suffering the world has ever known.

My diagnosis is not the worst suffering I can imagine (I could quickly recite for you a list of far worse scenarios)—but still it feels like too much in some moments. On the darker days, my heart has echoed the Psalmist’s: “All His waves and breakers have crashed over me.” A decade of numerous intense trials has not let up into a season of ease and coasting. Instead, the storm rages on. But it was C.H. Spurgeon who said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that dashes me against the Rock of Ages.” These waves carry me to the one who says, “Peace. Be still.”

A childlike faith

Many of our friends have asked us how our six-year-old son is doing with all of this. To state the obvious, it’s hard. We decided early during the testing process (when a cancer diagnosis seemed likely) that we’d share frankly with him—but we’d do it in such a way that hopefully modeled joy and trust in Jesus. We want him to learn how to navigate suffering with an enormous view of God.

The night we received my official diagnosis, my son had tears and hugged me tight. I locked eyes with him and said, “This is hard, isn’t it, bud? It’s not good news. But God is with us, and he turns everything for our good. Everything.” My son paused, then asked us to read the story of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). My husband read the account, which includes Nebuchadnezzar gasping, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” My husband closed the Bible, and after another pause, my son said, “There are four of us in this family.”

God doesn’t waste suffering, even on a six-year-old. He’s growing a tender heart strong through the uncertainty. He’s teaching courage and resilience to a little man who may need it in his generation more than I’ve needed it in mine.

God is with us. In the fiery furnace. In cancer. In your dark troubles too. He is a good God who gives gifts that are, ultimately, weighty with glory beyond all comparison.

This article originally appeared here.

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