Our youngest daughter turned one this week, and it was a joyful time of playing, celebrating, and eating cake. After all, who doesn’t love watching a baby smash a cake for the first time! For me, however, her birthday celebration was extra special. It was extra special because if you were to look past her frosting covered face (and hands and shirt and…well, everything was covered in frosting!) you would see a tiny scar on the back of her neck. It is so small that most people would never notice it. But to me, that tiny scar is a powerful testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my own life and the life of my family in our baby girl’s first year of life, and a reminder of the importance and power of prayer.
The Whirlwind Begins
Seven months ago our baby girl woke up from a nap with what looked like a swollen lymph node on her neck. Living in a house with toddlers, colds and snotty noses are a frequent occurrence so we kept an eye on it but weren’t too concerned. The days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months and, while the lump wasn’t getting much bigger, it wasn’t getting smaller either. A visit to the pediatrician confirmed that it was not going away, and that there was another lump growing in her ear as well. Before we knew it, we were in a whirlwind of doctors appointments, medical tests, and meeting all kinds of pediatricians in hard-to-pronounce specialties while grasping with the reality of an uncertain future for our baby.
We were referred to a doctor at one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation, and during our visit she performed an in-office punch biopsy on the lump, which left that tiny scar on the back of her neck. The results came back inconclusive and she was concerned. Our baby’s lump shared many of the same characteristics as a rare form of soft tissue cancer. You can probably imagine what it feels like to have a doctor at one of the best children’s cancer hospitals in the world suspect your baby has cancer. We scheduled a MRI for the doctors to get a better look, and then we waited.
The few weeks we waited for that MRI felt like an eternity. But it was in that brief season of waiting that I grew in faith and intimacy with the Lord, having to trust Him in ways I had never had to before. In life we will all endure trials. Some trials will feel bigger than others, but each season of suffering and trial offers a very sweet opportunity to trust in God and to grow in truly believing He is good and is who He says He is in His Word.
Whether you are in a season of trial or of peace, we can always be strengthening our faith to help us walk with God through challenges in our lives. Here are just a few things I learned in that season of waiting:
A Foundation Built on the Word
Do not wait until a time of need and trial to begin digging into God’s Word.
Being diligent to read and study the Bible daily not only draws us closer to God, but helps our minds learn and know the Word. Storing God’s Word in our hearts during times of calm and peace will have our hearts and minds ready to speak God’s truth to ourselves and others when trials happen (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Oh how many nights I had to fight off the anxious thoughts and “what-if” scenarios surrounding our baby girl! Whenever the frightening thoughts began creeping into my mind, I had to remind myself to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). If God commands us to not be anxious, then I had to fight every anxious thought. Even in uncertainty, I needed to thank God for the sweet time he had given me with our baby and not dwell on the fear of not having more time with her. I had to believe the accounts I was reading in the New Testament of Jesus healing men, women, and children by His word alone, and ask Him to do the same for our girl. I had to remind myself of Romans 8:28 that says “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Even when I didn’t understand how a baby possibly having cancer could be good, I had to believe God’s Word that says He does work all things for good for those who love Him.
Having truths like these already stored in my heart (Psalm 119) helped me in the unexpected moments when the anxious thoughts would come. How are you storing up the Word in your heart now so that you will be prepared and ready when trial comes?
Peace is a Fruit of the Spirit, Not Our Situation
Galatians 5 tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This fruit of the Spirit comes from…the Spirit. It’s an obvious statement, but how easy is it to actually believe that joy, peace, and patience come solely from our circumstances or situations.
Throughout our time of waiting, I learned that true peace is not just a feeling of being happy and calm. True peace does not come from the outcome of a punch biopsy, test result, MRI scan, or diagnosis. True peace comes from knowing God and knowing that nothing can separate us from Him and His love (Romans 8:35-39). True peace comes from knowing that God has known and loved our baby girl from the foundation of the world (Psalm 139). Late at night when the fear, anxiety, and what-ifs would begin creeping into my mind, I had to remember the truth of God and His Word. I had to fight for peace and had to plead with God to help me trust Him. It is a peace that surpasses understanding (Phillippians 4:6) when we take our anxieties and burdens to God and trust Him. And what sweet peace it is!
The Power of Prayer and A Church Body
From the moment we realized the lump was not just a lymph node, it was amazing how much more specific, perseverant, and consistent my prayer life became. While before that moment I did pray regularly for my children, I realized that I often take prayer for granted. With the reality of a possible cancer diagnosis in our near future, my prayers became more frequent and intimate. I began praying for my children’s spiritual lives with the same intensity and boldness as I prayed for my baby’s physical life. With the uncertainty of what the future could hold for her, I realized what I desired most was actually not a clean and clear MRI (although I certainly prayed for that too!), but for God to save the souls of my children. I realized what I wanted most desperately was not actually a good diagnosis (but obviously I did ask Him for that as well!), but for my little girl and her siblings to know, love, and follow God for a lifetime no matter how long or short that may be. It is good to pray for the physical things we need now, but may we not forget that there is also eternity after this life and God is able to meet every physical and spiritual need we have!
Having our local church body that I knew was praying for our family was an immense encouragement and support as we waited. God gave us the church to encourage and lift up our brothers and sisters like Hebrews says in 10:24-25, “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” I had no doubt that when people said they were praying for us, they actually were. We had many brothers and sisters encouraging us in the Word, reminding us of God’s truth, and praying for our family.
Are you enduring a time of trial? The body of Christ in your local church provides more community, love, and support than any Facebook group can. Are you quick to share your struggles and woes in a Facebook post but slow to bring them to your church family? While the quick and easy sympathies and adorations from Facebook followers may bring temporary comfort, this type of comfort is short-lived and cannot be a substitute for the church body. The church is the bride of Christ, and what a treasure it is to be a part of a family of believers who love, challenge, and encourage one another.
I was standing doing the dishes when I received the MRI results:
The lump in the ear was gone.
The lump in the neck was not cancer.
There were no lumps anywhere else in her little body.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.
I will be glad and exult in You.
I will sing praise to Your name,
O Most High.”
God had answered our prayers, how incredible and humbling!
And I know that even if He had not answered them in the way we had asked Him to, He would still be good and faithful. In the season of uncertainty, what a blessing it was to have to fight to apply God’s Word to my life, to seek and embrace peace and joy that go far deeper than my circumstances, and to grow closer to our church family. And what a blessing it was to be able to rejoice with those who were praying for our baby girl when we together were able to see God answer such a prayer!
So whether you are in a season of peace or trial, I encourage you to spend time daily in God’s Word storing it in your heart. Seek joy and peace that is rooted in Him and not your ever-changing situation. And invest in real-life relationships within the church body He has surrounded you with.