Recently, I’ve been recounting the goodness of God through what was one of the darkest seasons of my life. His goodness set me on this journey of discovering His love in a way like I had never known. And I think it’s time I share the story.
On October 4th, 2007, just before my 20th birthday, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. At the point of his diagnosis, the cancer had already progressed to stage 4. For my entire life, I had known my dad to be healthy, rarely sick even with common illnesses. He had gotten sick sometime in mid-August with was we thought was the flu, then when symptoms worsened and continued for several weeks, He went to the Veteran’s hospital to get checked out. We spent the better part of September in the hospital, as the doctor’s tried to determine the cause of his sudden illness. The doctor’s prognosis was grim: his organs were shutting down, surgery was not an option, and chemotherapy was the only recourse available to us. However, the doctor warned us that the first treatment could possibly do more harm than good in his weakened state. They did not expect him to survive the weekend.
It felt like my entire world had imploded on me, and I was left suffocating in the ruins. Dramatic metaphor, I know, but that is the best way I can describe the emotional state I was in. In my mind, my dad was this invincible hero, and if he could suddenly be at the point of death, then anything and everything (and everyone) in my life was at risk.
At that point in my life, I already felt like I was barely hanging on to my faith by a thread. Although I did not completely realize this at the time, I was driven by a mindset of perfectionism and performance. I was constantly striving for something that I could never attain. I was burned out, tired of constantly striving to be the “Christian leader” that I thought everyone expected me to be, and tired of feeling like I couldn’t measure up to everyone’s expectations. I was a youth leader at my church, and had served in church ministry in some capacity since I was young, but I no longer knew why I did it. Whenever someone complimented me, telling me I was a role model for young girls, or something of the sort, I cringed inside, thinking, “They wouldn’t say that if they really knew me”. I felt crushed under the weight of shame and condemnation over areas of sin in my life.
During that season of my life, I struggled with the question of God’s love and his goodness more than I ever had before. I hid away in the hospital waiting room, watching tv or reading, anything to distract myself from the realities that faced my family or the thoughts that swirled in my mind. Satan relentlessly attacked my mind with lies about God’s nature and his heart toward me, to the point that I wondered if God was punishing my dad and my family for my sin.
I finally got to a point where I cried out to God, “Where are you?!”, while a voice in the back of my mind said, “if You’re even real…” As I asked the question, wavering between faith and unbelief, I feel that I had a moment where God was asking, just like Jesus did of Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 15:15-16, Mark 8:29). That was a turning point for me. Who do I say that He is? Not who my dad says He is, or my pastor. Not who I should say that He is, but who do I say that He is?
I began to seek out the answers to the question, “Who do I really believe He is?” What I didn’t realize at the time is that there was a whole host of lies that I had consciously and subconsciously believed about the nature of God. As I began to ask God to show me His true nature, He began to dismantle the lies and reveal Himself to me in a whole new way. And this started my journey of knowing Him, and finding myself in the process. He opened up truth to me again in His Word; where I had previously perceived accusations, I found Love. And as I began to receive His love for me, I began to love myself like I never had before. As 1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us”.
The more I received Papa’s love, the more I could love Him in return, and extend that love to myself, and others.
I also found myself able to open myself up to people that God had place in my life, and be vulnerable about my shortcomings and imperfections, my sin struggles, and my insecurities. Instead of the shame, accusation, and abandonment that Satan had promised I would receive should my mess ever be uncovered, I receive grace, love, and support from my friends, mentors, and family. I cannot stress enough that we are not meant to live this life outside of true community and family. It is no accident that God refers to believers as His family. Don’t fight your battles alone—we were meant to fight alongside one another.
I pray that my story sparks something in you: a reminder of the love and goodness of God in your own life, a courage to allow God to dismantle lies in your own heart about who He is, a desire to start your own journey of knowing Him . . . He’s a good Father, and He is inviting you to join Him in the journey.
*For those who may not know the rest of my dad’s cancer story, I won’t leave you hanging. (I hate not knowing the end of the story!) He did live through the weekend, continued treatments, and went into remission the following spring. My family saw God’s grace with us in a powerful way during that season, as I was rediscovering God’s love and goodness. The next year was a gift from God to spend with Dad, cherishing every moment, knowing we could have lost him. In 2009, the cancer came back, and in April of 2010, he passed away, leaving his earthly home for his heavenly one. I won’t pretend that season was easy, but God was with me and my family every step of the way.