Kelley is a real-life friend. It is a special gift for this lovely woman to open up and share her inner thoughts with us today. This post moves me to tears, it is such a fragrant offering poured out in worship at Jesus’ feet.
Kelley lives in Michigan with her husband Martin, daughter, and 2
dogs. During the school year, she is found teaching Psychology at Mid
Michigan Community College. In the summer months she is found
volunteering at HopeWell Ranch leading therapeutic
horsemanship programs for children with special needs. Kelley is
passionate for helping others find their passion and potential…and for
the Detroit Tigers!
“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” Psalm 116:7 (NIV).
Read Psalm 116
In December of 2005, I lay in a hospital bed recovering from surgery. Mixed in with physical pain were many emotions – confusion, anger, grief, and disappointment. A few months earlier, I had been experiencing fatigue and physical discomfort. I had surgery earlier in the year which had thrown my hormones out of whack, so I chalked it up to more of the same and worked on a healthier diet and lifestyle. However, my doctor discovered that I was anemic and was concerned because there seemed to be no explanation for that result. Other symptoms led him to recommending a colonoscopy, which I had that November. The surgeon who performed that was surprised to discover a growth. This was unusual as I was only 36 years old, “too young” even for polyps according to medical statistics, and no history of colon cancer in my family of which I was aware.
It was strongly recommended that I get surgery very soon. I had already had cancer at the age of 21, and years later a woman claiming a word from the Lord told me that the Lord told her that the “door to cancer was shut” for me.
My husband and I had recently attended a conference on adoption and were beginning the long process of paperwork and family studies in the hopes of adopting a baby. We had felt such strong conviction that not only was this our only option for being parents (my early adulthood cancer left me unable to have biological children), but that God was in fact calling us to give a home to the fatherless. So my logic was: “God clearly wants me to adopt, we can’t adopt if I have cancer, therefore I cannot have cancer”.
However, I did have cancer. My doctor convinced me I could not wait too long for surgery, I tried to see it as a short-term inconvenience, but it was more than that.
The evening after surgery, as I slipped in and out of that strange sleep after being under general anesthesia, I had a vague awareness of my Pastor standing near the foot of my bed with a look of concern on his face. That was my first inkling of what the results would be. I loved this Pastor, so please don’t take this as a criticism, but I just knew that he wasn’t one for hospital visits. The church in fact had hired a part-time staff member to deal with these kinds of visitations. So in the back of my mind, I knew the news would not be good.
The next morning, my husband held my hand and told me that the surgeon was quite sure the biopsy would confirm what he could see with his own expert eyes – the growth was cancerous. Not only that, it had not stayed contained within the walls of my colon. It did not seem to have spread from the colon, but this would put me at least in stage 2, if not stage 3, of colon cancer.
I wept with my husband. I felt betrayed by God. How could He have led us to that conference that so clearly gave us a purpose for adoption? How could we have had such conviction of that call only to receive this news within a few months? Had we actually not been listening to God, and only our own desires? Were we not close enough to God to accurately discern His voice? And what of the “word of the Lord” spoken to me years before by that woman? Was she a liar? Or had God changed His mind?
During that time in the hospital, I thought back to my 21st year, the year I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. I was like most young college students, quite sure that my plans for my life would turn out exactly as I wanted. A cancer diagnosis was not in the plan. I was much angrier and much more afraid then. I was living with my parents, I didn’t have close friends, I didn’t have my solid rock of a husband. But most of all, I didn’t know God.
One evening, as I was driving along the highway in my silver Nissan pickup, I became overwhelmed with despair and fear for the first time. I was a very independent person, I prided myself on being strong and self-sufficient. Until then, I had just been responding in anger to mask my fear and vulnerability, but I could not keep up that facade any longer. I began to accept that the cancer diagnosis was devastating. It led to a hysterectomy, forever altering my future dreams. The chemotherapy and radiation were permanently changing my body. I was so ill from the treatment that I had to drop out of college. My identity as a high achieving college student meant nothing anymore. I was learning that young children quite often die from this same diagnosis – Ewing’s Sarcoma.
That evening as I drove, I began to weep, and for the first time since my diagnosis, I cried out to God.
In Psalm 116:3 the psalmist writes “the cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow”. I didn’t know this Psalm at the time, but when I read this now, it is a vivid description of what I was feeling that night. Then, like the Psalmist (v. 4), I called out to the Lord “save me”. I wish my words could convey clearly what happened next. I felt all around me, filling the cab of my pick up, Peace. Not the inner peace we feel when all is right with the world. It was a Presence, a Person whose being is Peace.
I still cried, but now they were tears of relief and of hope. I began to see that just as the Psalmist proclaims, the Lord is gracious and righteous and full of compassion (v. 5). I was getting a glimpse of where real Hope comes from.
About two years later, after
finishing my treatments and returning to college, I became
reconnected with some old friends who were Christ followers. Through them I
met a woman who shared the Gospel with me. As she shared scripture,
that same presence I experienced in the cab of my truck touched me
again, and my heart was full of joy and understanding. I had read many
parts of the Bible, but now these Truths were clearly
revealed. About a month later, I was baptized in the Snake River. The
church I was attending asked those who wished to be baptized to give their
testimony. My testimony was, and remains to be, a story of God saving my
life physically so that He could save my life eternally. “For you O Lord have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (vs. 8-9)
That night in 2005, as my husband and I talked and prayed, I resolved to cling to several promises. God had saved me for a purpose, for His Glory. He had been Good to me, He WAS good to me. I resolved to once more let my soul be at rest and trust in Him. My husband, knowing what would be foremost on my mind, had come armed with information and stories he had researched on the internet about couples who had adopted after a cancer diagnosis.
Later, a friend came to visit. She has a direct, penetrating way of asking questions. One of the things we discussed was God’s goodness, and believing He is Good despite present trials. That same week of my surgery, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia movies was released. We recalled a favorite scene from the book by C.S. Lewis. Mr. Beaver tells Lucy of Aslan “He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion”*, and we talked about how despite God’s wildness, he is Good. She kept my emotions grounded by gently massaging lotion into my hands, brushing my hair, and spreading a luscious lip gloss on my mouth, not allowing me to sink into the role of patient and victim. I determined to keep on believing that despite this news, God is GOOD.
In May, I had yet another follow up colonoscopy, and I am still cancer free. My husband and I did adopt. Through several other experiences, we decided to adopt an older child from our state’s foster system. Parenting a teen with a difficult past has been extremely challenging, and we have clung to the belief that God has a plan, and that God is good. One of the ways I have been able to hang on to joy through some very difficult times is to stay focused on His gifts. I took the One Thousand Gifts challenge and recently started my second journal of listing God’s gifts, beginning with my 1001st gift (“warm greetings from the women at First Baptist Church). Psalm 116:17 declares “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD” (NIV). Even on some of my most difficult days as a parent, I make my offering and call on His name once again.
God’s people face the same difficulties as others who don’t know Him. Becoming a Christ follower didn’t guarantee a cancer free life, it didn’t mean I would have a perfect family. But, being His means, that instead of trying to frantically control things that are uncontrollable, my soul can rest in knowing that He is Good.
With Thanksgiving for His Goodness,
*Lewis C.S. (1950). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Collier Books: New York, New York. p. 180.
1. Reread Psalm 116 and camp out on a particular verse or section that offers you HOPE.
2. Take a moment and reflect on this post. Did something trigger a question or illuminate a struggle that you have brewing beneath the surface? Take your unedited thoughts to God and talk to Him about how you are feeling. Then listen for His response.
3. Take a moment to recount the ways that He loves you. Look around, look outside, look within- ask Him to help you see the depths of His affection for you, then sacrifice by offering thanks to God, even in the midst of difficult times.