It was a midsummer morning in 2017 when I discovered a little lump in my right breast. Funny how something the size of a pea can make your heart beat fast and your mind race to worst-case scenarios.
The discovery came on the heels of two unexpected months of health—a rare occurrence for our family. For the past decade, my son and I have been riddled daily with chronic illness and pain. And while our family has appeared somewhat “normal” to the untrained eye, life has been complicated, expensive, and often lonely.
So, I stood there fingering that dratted little lump, thinking, Surely God wouldn’t allow us to face cancer too, right? Not after all the physical suffering we’ve already endured, Lord. Not when health is finally on the horizon!
I shed a few fearful tears with my husband that Sunday morning, knowing well that sometimes our Abba takes us by the hand and leads us where we do not want to go—because He knows it is the only way to true happiness, the only way to more of Him.
Walking Through the Valley
We began a long and arduous testing process.
Due to multiple administrative errors and medical oversights, it would take fourteen weeks to receive my diagnosis. In the course of those three months, the pea-sized tumor grew bigger than a golf ball and began changing the shape of my breast. But God was also changing the shape of my heart. He drew so near to me, spoke so sweetly to me, that I didn’t want to miss out on what He was doing. I wanted to go where He was going, even if that was straight into the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
And then days before Thanksgiving, we heard those indescribable words, “It’s cancer. It’s aggressive. You need surgery and chemotherapy.”
Learning to Kiss the Wave
I’ve lost a few dear ones to cancer in recent years. I watched them suffer the cruelty of chemo. I celebrated when they announced, “Cancer free!” and then grieved when they said, “It’s back again.”
I wept when they passed, and I miss them to this day.
So, I embarked upon my own cancer journey with eyes wide open. Even though chronic illness had taught me a keen sense of my own weakness and mortality, cancer was now letting me feel the sting of death itself. I wept for two weeks following my diagnosis. I sobbed with the psalmist, “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me” (Ps. 42:7).
But even while I wept, I sensed these raging waves carrying me to Jesus. I recalled C.H. Spurgeon’s words, “I have learned to kiss the wave that dashes me against the Rock of Ages.”
Truly I was being swept and dashed—but it was straight into the arms of my True Love. And He was holding me tight and whispering, “This is a gift, Colleen. Trust Me.”
I staked everything on those words. Cancer, in the hands of a good God, would be a gift. He was promising to take this dreaded disease and the suffering ahead and turn it for my good—and the good of many others.
And sure enough, the past eighteen months have held more joy and blessing and goodness than I could ever have imagined. God’s promise to me has proven true a million times over. No, He has not spared me from cancer’s cruelty; He has not kept me from days so dark and miserable I didn’t want to live through them. But He has tenderly, skillfully taken the scalpel of suffering and skillfully worked miracles in my heart.
As Jeremiah Burroughs once wrote, “The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present . . . And how do I know that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.”
Cancer is not the worst thing I have experienced in my forty-two years. It doesn’t have the corner on the market of suffering. It is just one of the many afflictions God has gifted me with in order that I might not waste my life or settle for lesser loves. Oh, how I love the One who afflicts us in order to bring us more joy and peace and purpose!
You too have been entrusted with weighty gifts, dear one. Sufferings are uniquely designed to enlarge your heart for Jesus and prove His love to those around you. Today, may you be reminded that He does not waste one tear nor trial, but He always turns them for our everlasting good.
PS: For another story of True Hope in the midst of trials, check out this recent radio series on Elizabeth. Nancy’s teaching on Luke 1 will show you how God remains faithful and sovereign, even while you’re waiting for Him to redeem your seemingly hopeless situation.