This post continues Beth’s series on her journey through cancer. For previous posts, see “Blessings through Burdens,” parts one and two, and “One Seed.” The blog continues in “The Work of Your Hands,” part two.
Isaiah 64:8 But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay and Thou our Potter; and we all are the work of Thy hand.
So here’s what unfolded.
While we were in northern Wisconsin, my 89-year-old grandmother came to live with us for three years. During that time, God continued teaching and reinforcing in me smaller life-lessons about sharing the Gospel with her caregivers and their families – previously unknown-to-us individuals who frequented our home and became wonderfully-woven into the fabric of our lives.
God had been graciously and simultaneously at work in my husband Sam and me as a couple about trusting His heart and yielding to His plan for us through ten years of medically-unexplained infertility issues, the birth of our long-awaited son, and subsequently open doors to adopt a child internationally when our son was five years old. Sam and I were so excited and greatly anticipating what God was unfolding, when, as unexpectedly as He had opened the adoption door, He shut it and did not re-open it.
We grieved but chose to trust Him implicitly and cheerfully, without knowing all His reasons why. In His time and way, He chose instead to miraculously send a sweet daughter into our lives in 2004 when our medical team had given up on additional infertility solutions.
God then introduced us to a new crash course of faith in April of 2007. It was not one we would have chosen on our own, but one in which we have sought to glorify Him. One for which we genuinely give thanks.
Our precious daughter was just three and her brother was ten when the “C” word – cancer – invaded our family. An itch under my left arm revealed a grape-size lump. A flurry of doctor visits culminated in the diagnosis of two types of aggressive breast cancer. I was given an initial 35% survival prognosis by my medical doctors, who feared that the initial breast cancer uncovered was possibly a subsequent form – they were worried that my body would be full of metastasized cancer.
The doctors were extremely concerned as their tests discovered that the cancer had not remained contained, but was poorly differentiated outside the duct walls. They likened its spread within my chest to a grenade explosion.
In the early days of May 2007, the medical team feared that just making me comfortable throughout the summer might be all that could be done. That blow fell hard.
Sam and I were absolutely stunned. How could I, the seemingly healthy one in the family, have life-threatening cancer at age 40?
You may agree with me upon reading this blog now that’s it’s rather ironic that the first thing I articulated to my informing doctor was that I felt as if I had a “C” upon my forehead. By that I meant that I didn’t want to talk to everyone about “cancer.” I was “just Beth” before all this and wanted to go right on being “just Beth” – I didn’t want to accept being “Beth with a life-threatening illness”!
My gracious surgeon, who goes by the name Chip, kindly responded and suggested that I consider changing the topic of discussion whenever cancer came up, if I didn’t actually feel like talking about it! He was used in a wonderful way, helping me to accept this startling reality and providing me some navigation alternatives, even though I felt I wasn’t prepared to take the wheel.
Chip was in a unique position to see and respond to my processing of the unexpected and unwanted diagnosis dawning on me. He helped me understand that it wasn’t just a really bad dream from which one earnestly prays to awaken.
God did a wonderful work within my heart in the days ahead, however, to change my perspective about having cancer.
I began to discover how many other people I was already acquainted with (but didn’t know) who in some way or another had been hurtfully singed by cancer’s onset. New windows of insight into their burdens and trials were flung open to me.
Then there was the need for telling our nearly 800-member church at Brookside Baptist in Wisconsin about the health crisis that their preaching pastor’s family was undergoing (for a blog form of that sermon, see this previous post).
I’d rather have avoided sharing such news and kept it to myself, but somehow that approach was not realistic.
In preparation for my husband sharing our health trial with the church body during the Sunday evening service, the Lord had a very meaningful blessing planned for me during the morning service. An area college student sang as a special – a hymn I didn’t even know existed: “In All Things God Works for Our Good.”
I received it as a personalized and comforting reminder of truth from the Lord. The current diagnosis was simply helping us cling to such truth much sooner than we had imagined we would need to, but with steadfast confidence of the win-win situation of which every believer is partaker.
Years prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had accepted God’s gift of deliverance from my sins and the eternal life He offered to me in the record of His true and steadfast Word. So the certainty of knowing I’m going to live with God when I die was mine through every step of the crisis which had so rudely interrupted our on-mission life-journey.
The certainty of eternal life was soothingly mine throughout April and early May of 2007, as we awaited each major test result regarding the further spread of the cancer and then prepared for surgery and chemotherapy. The assurance of living in God’s presence became even dearer as I experienced the suffering that accompanies treatments racking the body and brain for the next two years – treatments that increased my humanly determined survival statistics to just 65%.
The surgeon’s ability for obtaining adequate margin when he removed the cancerous tumor was hindered by the fact that he ran into the chest wall. Despite all of these obstacles, to date I have remained cancer-free.
The certainty of living with God remains constant as I embark on demonstrating survivorship, which has now crossed the ten year mark – a major marker for which we are extremely grateful. But like every other cancer patient, we live with human unknowns about re-occurrence.
Whatever my momentary health status, however, as a believer I embrace one glorious constant: Jesus Christ purchased my salvation with His death on the cross, and so I do not have to try to earn my way to Heaven or be uncertain about getting there.
God’s promise is unchanging: Heaven is my next home, whether I experience healing here on earth and live a long life like several of my grandparents did, or am healed in Heaven instead.
With either option, as a believer I do not lose. Cancer does not win.
None of the twists and turns in the journey take our good God by surprise.
I am so grateful that the option of abiding with God in Heaven is available to every individual who believes God’s Word and trusts in Him. Whether we live for many more years here on earth or our lives here are suddenly up-ended or snuffed out, you and I can know for certain that we will live with God by accepting what He has declared about our sinful condition and His absolute cure.
To receive God’s gift of everlasting life with Him in Heaven is to accept that gift on His terms. Just like my oncologist informed me that as a middle-aged woman I was infected with a high-grade, ductal carcinoma and that I was in need of radical surgery, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin treatments, you and I share the infection of sin. And our diagnosis is a deadly one.
Just like I had to avail myself of the medical treatments prescribed without delay, every individual is in need of God’s thorough cleansing of their personal sin. They have to accept their need of forgiveness and the gift of new life in Jesus Christ. His remedy is 100% guaranteed to restore and reconcile us with a Holy God and to ensure us of eternal life with Him.
As sinners, every individual is under God’s just and righteous condemnation – a far worse crisis than dreaded, dastardly, non-curable cancer. And no individual can rid himself of the sickness of his own sin.
Although in the spring of 2007, I did not particularly like my doctors’ less-than-positive assessment of my physical condition, I accepted the reality that the medical team was right. Full treatment was available for me, but I had to be willing to receive it as prescribed.
It wasn’t negotiable and it didn’t come on my terms.
Neither does forgiveness of our sins. Sin is a malady not remedied on our terms or means. Each individual must come to God on His simple and straightforward terms, and acceptance of those terms guarantees 100% forgiveness and a marvelous relationship of peace with God.
Whether in crisis or calm, each individual who believes God’s Word and trusts Him alone for salvation is able to personally claim His promise of eternal life in Heaven.
The forever Home where God’s very presence will be enjoyed and where all illness, suffering, and sin are absolutely and completely abolished!
The blog continues in “The Work of Your Hands,” part two.