It was 4:12 pm on August 30, 2010, when the phone rang. “Hello, this is Melissa.” I stated.
“Oh, Melissa, this is Dr. D--. I thought you were out of town.”
“Yes, I’m in Georgia, but I had my home phone forwarded to my cell.”
“What a bright idea! I should do that when I leave town," he exclaimed then paused in his customary way. "Well, I have the results here from your biopsy. It was positive.”
“Positive for cancer?” My mind was begging absolute clarity for the words I was hearing.
“Yes, I was really surprised,” he went on. " And I'd really like you to come back this week so you can meet with a surgeon and get the process started."
And he wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Of course when I was told I’d need a biopsy on the lump I had found two days previous, I was a bit unsettled. But my OB had tried to assure me, “First let me tell you, it’s probably benign. But I’d like you to get it checked out.”
Since we were leaving in two days for a two-week trip to Georgia, he insisted that I get in the next day for a mammogram. Little did I realize that the quick office visit was going to turn into a four and a half hour visit that included ultrasounds, mammograms, a biopsy, and more mammograms.
The biopsy itself raised a number of questions in my mind, but I did my best to think positively and not focus on what could be. However, the nagging pain from the biopsy now concerned me, and it wasn’t something I could ignore.
We left for Georgia the next evening, anticipating a pleasant time in the South while Dan and his crew finished up the contract with the National Park Service. That was Saturday, and little did I know how God was going to prepare us for the trial ahead.
Blessings on the Lord's Day
All of us have had times where we've had to exercise patience. Whether it's waiting as children for our turn at the drinking fountain after recess, or waiting as adults for people's habits to change, none of us escape the multitude of opportunites to learn patience.
Waiting for the results of medical tests was something many of you have been through, but it was a whole new experience for me. I was hoping for the best, and in the process, the Lord seemed to impress on my mind that He had a special message for me to hear that Lord’s Day.
I didn’t know what church we would end up in. For all I knew, it might have been a little church in the middle of nowhere (which would have been absolutely fine).
As it turned out, we awoke at the hotel Sunday morning, realizing the things I needed for Sunday had been left in one of the trucks driven by a worker, and they were too far down the highway for us to reach them quickly. So we continued driving, planning to check into our hotel in Georgia in order to attend the evening service at Shiloh Hills Baptist Church.
We weren’t ready for the surprise that awaited us at the hotel where we had planned to stay. Although the front desk staff was helpful, the rooms and “company” at the hotel didn’t meet up to our expectations, and we knew this place simply wouldn’t work. Despite our disheveled appearance, we all decided we needed to be in church so off we went!
Upon entering Shiloh Hills, Pastor Bledsoe was taking prayer requests from the people. The requests that seemed to jump out at me were cancer, chemotherapy, cancer, surgery, cancer. Then the message: “Retaining Joy in the Midst of our Trials.” I knew we were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to hear the exact message that God wanted us (me!) to hear (although I still kept telling myself the biopsy was going to be normal).
I’ll never forget that message from First Peter. At one point, Dan nudged me to ensure I was taking notes (I was!). Numerous times throughout the message, Pastor Bledsoe referred back to the prayer requests of the congregation, personalizing the meaning of the “manifold temptations” discussed by Peter. As soon as the service was over, Dan met up with our friends Pastor Ron and Barbara Allen.
Upon discovering our hotel fail, they quickly snatched up the opportunity to invite us to their beautiful home not only for pizza but also to spend the night. God knew how that time of fellowship would minister to our hearts and prepare us for the news the next 24 hours would bring. We had only told our parents about the biopsy. Why tell the world when you have no reason to worry?
That night, however, I was able to share with Mrs. Allen that we were awaiting the results from this test. (There's some sort of kinship when you know others have been through the storms of life; they had lost their son-in-law to cancer.) I knew she would understand and pray. She did understand, and she also shared with me the comforting commands from Psalm 37: Fret not, Trust Him, Delight in Him, Commit to Him and Rest in Him.
That night I rested in those amazing truths.
Resting in God's Care
There I sat on the couch in the lobby of our hotel, my head in my hands. After getting the news from the doctor, I wanted a few minutes with the One Who wasn't surprised by the news I had just heard.
"Lord, You know all about this. Help me to trust You in this trial."
Immediately the words of Solomon flooded my mind, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8)
So now I understood a little better why these verses were favorites of my brothers and sisters in Christ who were diagnosed with cancer. When the dreaded disease becomes your own (or the diagnosis of one you dearly love), you realize that all you can do is trust the Lord. What else could I do? God made my body and also understands everything going on inside it (and outside of it, for that matter!).
Now He asks me to trust Him in this. There is no better place to be than resting in God's care.
God Sees the Big Picture
Hearing the news that I had cancer impacted me in ways I never anticipated. The strong emotions that flooded my soul came in waves, with moments of calm in between.
We called my parents and Dan's parents that evening, once we'd had a few hours to partially digest the diagnosis ourselves. Those were hard moments. Tears were shed. Words were few. Love was shown.
We pillowed our heads and poured out our hearts to the Lord. He understood our thoughts, and He heard our prayers.
Surprisingly enough, sleep came easily for me that night. I was exhausted. But I awoke around 3 a.m., and the tears wouldn't stop. I talked to the Lord then picked up my phone. For some odd reason, I checked my email and saw my mother-in-law had forwarded a devotional to me that she had found hours before. God used this email to remind me that He sees the big picture.
I don't remember much about what I read except that John 9:1-3 nearly jumped off the page.
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be displayed in him."
Reading those words helped me understand a few things:
1) People often think there has to be some sin related to or causing an illness
2) God sees the big picture
3) God has a purpose: He wants to use this illness to bring glory and honor to Himself by displaying His works through me.
My desire is that He will be honored and glorified in this trial that He has chosen for me.
Although I tried to get back to sleep in those wee hours of the morning, many thoughts crowded my mind. The reality of cancer was hitting me. My life and the lives of our children were flashing before me. Wow! I had no idea what people who have gone through cancer were really facing.
When the phone call from the doctor came, we were in Georgia, and he advised that I head back to Illinois to see the surgeon that very week. His urgency, I'm sure, was related to the fact that the biopsy revealed a high grade tumor.
As hard as it was for Dan and me to be apart for the next few days, it was necessary, and the Lord provided grace as only He can. I drove back to Illinois with the children Tuesday. I had planned to stop for the evening at a hotel, but when the children finally got to sleep, I didn't want to lose the momentum you attain when all is quiet in the car. We drove straight through to my in-laws, and I stayed awake thanks to some late-night phone calls and the anticipation that I could sleep in the next morning.
When I awoke, I spotted an updated copy of Streams in the Desert on the nearby shelf. I had read this devotional in the past, and the content always seemed fitting when going through difficult times. With an eager heart, I picked up the book and read the devotional from a few days previous (August 29). These words ministered to me:
God knows best what cross we need to bear, and we never know how heavy someone else's cross may be...Yet if we could actually test all the crosses we think are lighter than ours, we would never find one better suited for us than our own.
God knew I needed to be reminded that this cancer was the cross HE chose for me. No need to look at others and wonder, Why me? This was God's choice, and His ways are always best.
Overwhelmed but not Overcome
Tonight Pastor Estep informed the church of my diagnosis and requested prayer for decisions yet to be made. God knew the message I would need that evening. Evangelist Brent Sivnksty was preaching from Psalm 61. The title of his message: "Overwhelmed but not Overcome." Just the title speaks volumes, doesn't it?
The basic outline of the message:
1. His Cry "Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer" (v. 1)
a. Pleading: A plea of desperation
b. Persistent: A statement of resolution
Defeat comes when we quit praying, when we allow our fear to overcome our faith.
2. His Condition
"When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (v. 2)
Only in God's presence will I find what I need.
3. His Confidence: God his Rock (v. 3)
a. A Shelter
b. A Strong Tower
c. Tabernacle: the presence of God; unbroken fellowship
d. The cover of God's wings signify intimacy, care, and protection.
The Lord has been sending me special blessings in my mailbox. Today I was astounded by people’s kindness and generosity. A dear relative sent a gracious gift. Friends from church sent cards. Old friends sent a card for me and Dan along with coloring books and stickers for the children. And a class of eighth graders (whom I didn’t even know) sent 13 creatively designed cards to brighten my day.
I knew the teacher’s parents (Ron and Barbara Allen) but had only met Kimberly once. Indeed the trial she endured when her husband was taken home to glory after his battle with cancer gave her an increased understanding of how to encourage those facing this dreaded disease. As I read through the mail today, the tears came again. They seem to do that more frequently these days, but that’s all right. I guess it’s all part of the process. And the Lord gives strength and comfort as I face the array of emotions.
More encouraging words as I opened up the song book to play the piano...not the easiest task these days. (Some peripheral nerves were damaged during surgery, and movement in the upper arm is extremely limited.) The pages fell to “How Can I Fear?” by Ron Hamilton. This song that once seemed so childish on the early “Patch” recordings now seemed very fitting to my trial, especially verse 2.
When I’m alone and I face the unknown,
And I fear what the future may be,
I can depend on the strength of my Friend
He walks along with me.
How can I fear? Jesus in near;
He ever watches over me.
Worries all cease; He gives me peace.
How can I fear with Jesus?
Sure, there are lots of unknowns in the days ahead. (Who hasn’t heard their share of horrifying chemo experiences?) But, there is no need to fear. In His hands, God holds my breath and all my ways (Daniel 5:23). That is a calming and comforting thought.