In those predawn hours, I asked God, “If the news is bad, how am I supposed to deal with it?” My answer came in the form of a gently whispered question. I both felt it and heard it. “Are you willing to carry this for Me?”
A number signifying perfect vision. Perfect vision is something I lost decades ago, however. Now I am blind. Still, I clung to the hopefulness that 2020 suggested. I prayed that the new year would bring greater clarity, optimism and opportunities—not just for me and my loved ones, but for everyone.
Instead, the new year brought COVID-19. Now I not only had to wear a mask and limit my contact with others, I also must learn to navigate while trying not to touch other objects or people. But touch is a blind person’s way of seeing. How would I be able to manage without touching? Little by little, by trial and error, I somehow adapted and survived that difficult year.
Again, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief as another new year approached. “Certainly 2021 will be better,” I assured myself. As travel restrictions began to ease, my husband and I booked a trip to Florida. We began counting down the days to our flight and our long-overdue date with sunshine, rest and rejuvenation.
A week before our scheduled departure, I was sitting in my doctor’s office for one of my regular medical appointments. As it drew to a close, my doctor paused. He then posed two questions that he had never asked before: “Is there anything else you want to talk about? Do you have something on your mind?”
I hadn’t planned on bringing up any new concerns, but just then it occurred to me that maybe I should. I explained to my doctor that the night before, while getting ready for bed, I had found a lump in my breast. I wasn’t alarmed, though, because two years earlier I had made a similar discovery. Subsequent tests had revealed nothing more than dense tissue. I felt confident that this new lump was just more of the same.
My doctor immediately scheduled a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. In the days following, I dutifully met all of these appointments. While initially I hadn’t been worried about another small lump, as we waited for the results, I began to acknowledge that this time the report could be different.
I became increasingly fearful, anxious and confused. I found myself lying awake in the dark after one particularly taxing day. In those predawn hours, I asked God, “If the news is bad, how am I supposed to deal with it?” My answer came in the form of a gently whispered question. I both felt it and heard it. “Are you willing to carry this for Me?”
“I am willing, Lord,” I whispered back.
Within the week, my worst fears were confirmed. I had cancer. My doctor urged my husband and me to take our planned Florida vacation. We needed something positive to focus on, he explained. Change would do us good. Treatment could begin when we returned.
The trip to Florida proved to be a gift. The change of weather and location, and the reprieve from the ordeals awaiting us at home were therapeutic. My husband and I made new memories while cherishing our time together.
Upon our return home, however, we learned that the road ahead would be even rockier than either of us had imagined. My cancer had the highest level of aggressiveness. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy all would be necessary.
As I tried to comprehend all the new details, I replayed my earlier nighttime conversation with God. “Are you sure you have the right girl?” I asked Him. I began to question my ability to carry this burden. I knew it wasn’t God’s will that any of us suffer, but I also knew that none of us escapes suffering in this world.
Yet how could I possibly carry this burden? My daughter was about to be married. I wanted to share with her all the happiness that comes with a wedding. My adult son was adjusting to life on his own. He still looked to me for cleaning tips and cooking lessons. And my husband was just forty-eight years old. The possibly of him being widowed so early seemed more than either of us could bear. Once again, I turned to God. This time I heard, “I asked you to carry this burden for Me, not to die from it for Me.”
Day by day, the meaning of those words is becoming clearer. No matter what I am facing, I am still called to follow Jesus, to live for Him with whatever days, months or years I may be given. I find myself now on a journey I call my Cancer Excavation. In addition to treatment and the steep learning curve it brings, I am unearthing so much about myself, my priorities, my God. I am learning to listen to God’s promptings. He spoke to me through my physician’s unexpected questions, leading me to share vital information that I had been tempted to dismiss. Undoubtedly, my condition would be even worse now, had I not listened to Divine promptings that day.
I am learning, too, that grieving is essential and unavoidable. One day, while showering, I leaned my head against the wet tile and let my tears flow with the shower stream. I could not ignore the possibility that I may not survive this cancer. Eventually, after many more tears, God helped me to see that, even in the darkness, there are glimmers of light. At our lowest, it is easy to forget that there are still opportunities to do good, to serve and be a witness.
As I continued to work through my grief, I felt impressed to begin a new ministry. I would make tied fleece prayer blankets. I resolved to turn my hands to this task and give a blanket to a fellow patient each time I went in for therapy. A friend and I prayed over this plan. Together, we came up with the name “Out of the Blue Blessings.” We liked how the name evoked both surprise and Heaven. At first, I was apprehensive about approaching strangers with a handmade gift and the offer of prayer. My fretting proved unfounded. My gesture elicited overwhelmingly positive responses. I discovered, too, that the blessings aren’t confined to the recipients of the blankets. As a giver, I also am blessed.
As my Cancer Excavation continues, so does God’s leading. He has shown me that whatever our circumstances, we can still be of service to Him. My struggles introduce me to people I never would have met otherwise. I have gained levels of empathy and understanding far beyond any that I have experienced before. I see now that if we truly want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we need not wait for a new day, a new season, or a new year. We can serve wherever we are, with whatever measure of strength we have, with whatever days we have, with whatever trials we may be enduring.
Yes, cancer and all illnesses are thieves and destroyers which certainly do not come from God. With my spiritual vision, I vividly see that God is a Redeemer and Restorer of all things. He can help us deal with even the worst challenges. Through it all, He can lead us to opportunities for blessings and even joy. His promise still holds true: “And lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
None of us can ever fully understand all that happens to us on our earthly journey. But even in our most trying times, we have a Savior who will stay with us—and even surprise us with Out of the Blue Blessings.
Cyndi Woods lives in Flint, Michigan. Since submitting this piece, she has received the excellent news that her cancer is in remission.