I leaned over to pick something up and felt a sharp tingling pain. The first week of January launched a difficult 2011. For some reason, I did not turn to Google to determine possible causes for the pain, and by the time I arrived at the doctor later that week, little pain remained.
During the exam, the doctor noticed a little something, so arranged a mammogram, and if necessary, a diagnostic ultrasound. Strangely, the mammogram results were clear, but the radiologist suggested that “just in case,” I should have a follow-up ultrasound.
Five biopsies later, I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast and pre-cancer in my right one. In addition to the throbbing pain from the invasive procedures, my bruised body turned blue, purple, black, and pink.
Waiting until surgery in March proved difficult. My mind and heart wrestled with many questions. How could something that did not belong in my body get there? Where did the cancer come from? Why me? Why now? Would my body respond to the prescribed treatments?
What questions do you wrestle with when confronted with the unexpected?
During that time, I was studying the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah reminded us that God comforts His people. He also stated that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. I leaned into God’s comfort and strength, yet the questions lingered.
While many verses encouraged me, I discovered great dissonance with Isaiah 45:7 which says God “forms light and creates darkness, brings prosperity and creates disaster. I, the Lord do all these things.” A God who forms light and brings prosperity sounded good and comforting to me, but my heart wrestled to reconcile the reality that God also creates darkness and disaster. My inner struggle persisted. I eagerly anticipated the removal of the “darkness” from within my body.
Throughout chapter 45 Isaiah reiterated that God created the heavens, the earth and our very lives, so that we would know that He alone is God; there is no other (see Isaiah 45: 3, 5, 6, 14, 18, 21, 22, 24). The Holy Spirit gently showed me that even though answers to my questions remained unresolved; I could be certain about one thing, namely, “Who” could be known.
God desired for me to know Him more deeply through my cancer journey. He longs for each of us to know Him confidently and courageously through the ups and downs of life.
God poured comfort upon me through my study of the Scriptures. I especially liked Isaiah 45:3; “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you will know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.”
My mind and heart cherished the reality that God truly knows my name. God knows each of us! This truth strengthens our spiritual journey. I also realized God intentionally puts truths for us to discover in hidden or secret places. I began to look for the “treasures” God designed for me in this darkness called cancer.
Do you look for God’s treasures during both the light and dark seasons of life?
My body didn’t bounce back like I anticipated from the biopsies. Yet, I hoped that would change after the surgery. During the surgery, surgeons removed the “darkness,” wrapped me up like a mummy and sent me home to recover. The next month was grueling. Nevertheless, God’s real and vibrant presence and peace flooded my soul. I experienced peace that passes understanding; God was my consolation.
God is our great Comforter through the ups and downs of life!
Next, I faced radiation. Rather than go daily for six weeks, by God’s grace, I qualified for a new intensive radiation plan which happened twice a day for five days in one week. I described my drive to the clinic as my “death march.” Then, the “death star” would hover over my body and zap the cells the doctors hoped to eradicate. In God’s timing it was Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.
The week felt long, but I received my last treatment on Good Friday and felt that victory was at hand. Jesus rose from the grave and I too, would rise victorious from killing the dark cancer within my body, or so I thought. I had no idea what a challenging journey lay yet ahead of me.
As the weeks progressed, my recovery did not. I began to lose weight, became discouraged, exhausted, and lived with great pain. My body was shutting down. My oncologist actually said she could “no longer help me” and referred me to a naturopath doctor. He prescribed several supplements, which eventually made a life-saving difference. I continue to take them today.
The path to recovery and restored health took a long time. It was nearly two years before I really felt like “Jenni” again. Over that timeframe I felt as though ten-pound weights clung to each of my limbs. I lacked energy; life felt dark. Additionally, with the prescribed medication, my mind felt blurred. It was difficult to read, work on my bible study, or even enter into a deep conversation. My heart and soul needed to surrender to God’s ways.
Whether it is a health issue, a job change, family dynamics, or ministry adjustments, God’s timing rarely matches ours. How can you rely on God when His ways vary so much from your own?
Literally, all I could do was lie in bed. This is where God showed me a “treasure” within the darkness. I could just be with God. God did not require anything of me; my very existence flowed from His grace. He loved me. I was His beloved.
In a new and mysterious way, in my weakness, my spirit communed with the God of the universe. He held me tight and tenderly comforted me. God was with me.
I remember lying in bed, feeling as though a big puffy cloud engulfed me, squishing me on every side. The pain temporarily lifted. God wrapped me with His cloud of softness, safety and security. He just wanted me to be with Him. I savored space with Jesus, my Savior, in refreshing, indescribable ways. God’s presence, peace and power sustained me in the midst of the darkness.
How will you let God’s presence, peace and power carry you through both the good and the bad?
As we anticipate Christmas, we look to Jesus. Prophesies of Jesus’ birth flowed through Isaiah’s words: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (see Isaiah 7:14). In Matthew, it tells us that “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, who will be called Immanuel, which means God with us” (see Matthew 1:28).
God was with me in the darkness. That was His treasure to me, “the riches stored in secret places,” that I could discover on my cancer journey.
Today, I am not in the same dark place, but thankful that God remains with me.
Whether your life is filled with sorrow, victory, chaos, uncertainty, joy, hope, grief, or peace, know that God is with you too. Especially if you find yourself in “darkness,” remember that God is with you. Others might be experiencing lighter times. Again, God is with you.
We do not journey through the light and darkness of this life alone; God is with us!
Savor space with Jesus this Advent. Reflect on how God has been with you in the past and is with you today.
For each day of Advent notice God’s presence with you.
He is Faithful. In conversations, share stories of the “with-ness” of God. Look for the treasures of God. He has riches stored in secret places awaiting discovery.
Drips from the Word: Muse about these Bible verses. Let these truths impact your living.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Splashes from the Spigot: Drink from deep wells. Check out these suggested readings.
Paul David Tripp. Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional. Wheaton, IL. 2017.
Walter Brueggemann. Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent. Louisville, KY. 2017.
Puddles for Prayer: Thank you for praying for upcoming travel and speaking engagements.
December 8-10 – New York City, NY
Preaching with Gary, Bethel International Church
December 17 – Littleton, CO
Staff Meeting Speaker, Front Range Christian School