I was probably 6-years-old when I received a jogging suit in a Christmas gift exchange between my mom’s friends and their kids. To say I was disappointed in receiving something to wear versus something to play with is an understatement. Much to my mom’s embarrassment, I couldn’t (or chose not to) hide my disappointment. My mom pulled me aside immediately and addressed my ungratefulness, reminding me of her friend’s sacrifice (she was a single parent like my mom) and thoughtfulness in picking out something cute and warm for me to wear in the cold Ohio winter. My mom made me thank her and apologize for my response.
I’ve thought about that unwanted gift more than ever during this Christmas season.
Because exactly a week before Christmas, since finding a lump in my breast over Thanksgiving and enduring 3 weeks of initial tests, I found myself sitting in a cancer center donning a pink wrap around robe, waiting for a diagnostic mammogram. The woman escorting me into the waiting room said there were some clean, warm blankets in the warmer if I wanted to use one while I waited. I resisted that offer because it seemed too comfortable; like I was there to settle in, when actually my plan was to get this all over with quickly and be on my way.
But 2-hours later, after the first round of mammograms and the follow-up ultra sound, when I was back in the waiting room awaiting even more mammograms and a definite biopsy, I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders.
I knew in my heart what I’d be getting for Christmas this year, and it wasn’t just something I didn’t want, it was something that terrified me. But that blanket marked a submission of sorts. Not in trying to make the best of my time in an uncomfortable place, but of what it looks like to rest in the perfect care of my competent Father. He was holding me as I was shaking under the weight of my likely reality, and I could find rest even in that cold place full of needles and knives and machines that deliver bad news.
Years earlier, my mom had prepared me for the unwanted gift I would get from the Physicians’s Assistant a few days later, “Your biopsy results are in and, unfortunately, you do have cancer.”1
I wrote down all she said and asked the questions I had researched. Before we hung up, I thanked her and told her I was sorry she had to deliver hard news so close to the holidays. I could be gracious to her because I knew this was really my heavenly Father’s gift to me, not hers.
Because I know my Father.
He isn’t an aggressive bully preying on his people for a glory trip of his own. Neither is he a passive-aggressive wimp in his providence, scared his sovereignty will make him look harsh. He doesn’t owe me an explanation for why he does what he does, nor does he need me to try and justify his actions toward me.
But because I know him, I want to tell you about him. His hard providences have soft edges and his sovereign choices are seeping with cures for my deepest ailments, none of which involve cancer.
And this isn’t something I’m trying to convince myself of to get me through this desperate time. These aren’t the words of a sentimental woman crossing her fingers and blindly wishing on her lucky stars.
These truths are ones I have experienced firsthand every single day of my 44-years on earth. I’m not a stranger to suffering and, because of that, my heavenly Father isn’t a stranger to me.
He is sure and steady, purposeful, intentional, precise, and only good.
In fact, he is too good to withhold from me the greatest goodness I could have – knowing him better and finding out more of the depth of his love for me.
He is wise in his timing. He knows I’m a mom of a just turned 4-year-old and three pre-teen/teen kids whose world centers on my help and support. He knows I’m the wife of a pastor in his ministry prime with whom every step of the past 18-years of our marriage has been teamwork and interdependence.
My Father sees eternity past and future and says now is the perfect time for me to have cancer.
Now, when I have a month left to wrap up another gift he gave me, hard won acceptance into The Book Proposal Bootcamp with Lysa Terkeurst. Now, when I’m officially putting my fingers to my keyboard, humbling myself under pain to articulate it in a way that helps my reader find purpose.
Now, because of the book proposal I’m writing, when I’m immersed more that ever in the truth of his fatherly care for those of us who have experienced father loss, and for his own blood-bought daughters who don’t make much of the thought of being his child and having him as their father.2
Now, is when he wants me to learn even more of his fatherly care for me. Yes, hopefully, so I can put it in words with covers to help you, too. But really, I know that’s not the biggest thing he is doing here. The pinnacle of his work in my life isn’t getting a book published. The pinnacle of his work in my life is getting to know him better and reflect who he is and what he’s like to my husband, my children, my church, and the world around me. With reconstructed breasts or not. In a wig or not. Living to old age or not. Seeing my kids graduate high school or kindergarten or not.
Because I don’t tell God what to do with my life. I follow his gracious and all-knowing lead, humbling depending on him with each harrowing step, receiving his gifts and his hand, securely wrapping mine in his tender but impenetrable grip.
I’m safe with cancer because my Father is with me.
1 Although I am so grateful for your care and prayers, I prefer not to discuss the details of my diagnosis here. I will say, thankfully, I have a good prognosis with the cancer appearing to be Stage 1.
2 This thought originates with the late author and theologian, JI Packer, who says in his book Knowing God: “You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”
Hi Erica! You have no idea how much I needed this. Thank you for reminding me that this life, these circumstances are all part of our Great Father’s plan for us! I hope you are doing well, all things considered! You are a blessing to so many! Give your family my love!
It’s wonderful to hear from you, Angel. I’m so thankful this post was encouraging to you. I want my weakness and fear to put God’s grace and goodness on blast! We are thankful for the blessing you were to our family when you had Stella in Sunday School. Much love to you and your family too!
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Hi Erica, Rachel told me the other day of this bitter providence. I’m sorry. I’m both disheartened by the ravages of the fall whose tentacles have reached you in this way for now. But I’m even more heartened by your Godward perspective. I’m encouraged to keep fighting for joy and contentment in Christ in my own life. You’re a precious sister, Erica. You lead those who read your words with grace and triumph. Thank you, and you can be sure that we will be praying for you as a family. Love from Chicago, Will, Rachel and kids
Thank you for these kind and encouraging words, Will, and for the promise of prayer. Our families have shared some bitter providences together. Thankful for the blessed tie of grace through grief that still binds our hearts together across the miles. We miss and send love to you all!
Hi Erica, I saw Matt’s Facebook post today and decided to click the link and read some of your blog posts. You are a great writer but what comes through your words so clearly is the even greater God we Serve!
Some of your thoughts were very similar thoughts I had when I battled cancer some 40 years ago now. I, like you did not know my future at that point, but I grew in faith and became confident like you are that no matter the outcome I was safe in Christ.
Thank you for sharing your heart with others like me. You and your family are special, and we pray God will continue to work in your lives for His honor and Glory.
I am praying God will heal you and give you many more days to serve Him here on earth.
Lord bless Mike and Benita Garner
Thank you so much, Mike. I remember being encouraged years ago at CBC when I heard your testimony through cancer. We are grateful for you and Benita and your perseverance serving God through these years. Blessings and love to you both!