Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. — C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. The pinnacle of every year.
Until the year cancer joined my family at the table.
I tried to stay festive, buy the turkey, whip up pies and side dishes, all while smiling and laughing as expected. But behind the charade of activity, I felt myself crumbling.
That first day proved the most difficult. I hung up the phone with Dr. Francis as Troy rushed out the door to work. An empty house. I tried to do the dishes but couldn’t stand still. I pulled out my Bible but couldn’t read. Fear made me inconsolable. The silence screamed.
From the time I sat in a kindergarten Sunday school class, I’ve been told to talk to God about these things first. Call Him up on the heavenly 911 and “pour out my lament” like David or Isaiah. Certainly my heart called out to him while I paced from room to room trying to find a distraction. But I couldn’t form any coherent prayer other than “Help me.” Even then, more silence in reply.
So I called Kate, the friend with whom I’d shared countless cups of tea. She always seemed to know the right thing to say to a friend in crisis. But she didn’t answer. I thought about leaving a message, but what to say?
Call me. I have cancer.
Not voicemail material. Besides, speaking would’ve breached the dam holding back a torrent of emotion. I was afraid I’d start crying and never stop.
I tried another friend, Robbie, the one who always knows how to make me laugh. I needed to laugh. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been strong, feisty, and optimistic. She wouldn’t break down at my news, wouldn’t fall apart in a panic. I didn’t need any more of that. Knowing her, she’d talk a little smack, shake me by the shoulders, and dole out a plateful of faith and perspective.
I couldn’t dial fast enough. But again, no answer.
For the third time that morning, I hung up the phone to an empty house. Fear spread like a flood, drowning me. I wanted to run but had nowhere to go.
Why? Of all days, why can’t I find someone to help me?
My terror finally pushed me to my bedroom closet. To pray.
I don’t remember what I said, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t anything worthy of the pages of the Psalms. It was more groans than words, more tears than testimony. I fell facedown on the carpet, the closet door shut and darkness enveloping me, and uttered a prayer of panic.
Father God, help me. Please, help. I want to live!
Somewhere at the tail end of that prayer I made a request. Desperate for human company, for some kind of physical presence to ease my fear, I asked God to bring someone — anyone — to sit with me. Didn’t matter if it was a phone call or a visitor on my front step.
Please don’t make me endure today alone.
I listened for the doorbell. Waited. Strained to hear. Nothing. Only silence. Defeated, convinced of my aloneness, I pulled myself off the floor and headed downstairs to work on the breakfast dishes.
Only a few minutes passed.
Then my cell phone rang.
I felt a surge of hope, anticipating Kate’s or Robbie’s name on the caller ID.
Neither. Instead, Christine.
Christine and I weren’t really friends. At least, not anymore. At one time we’d been part of the same circles and spent regular time together. But for reasons I didn’t understand, she’d fallen out of love with our friendship. With me. It’d been nearly a year since we’d last spoken or seen each other. I couldn’t imagine why she’d be calling.
“Hello, this is Michele.”
“Michele? Michele Cushatt?”
“Yes, it’s me. Good to hear from you, Christine. How are you?” I tried not to sound disappointed.
“Oh.” She hesitated. Sounding disappointed. “Actually, I was trying to call my friend Melissa. You’re right next to her on my contact list. I must’ve hit your name by mistake.”
Really, God? I need a friend, and this is all you can come up with?
“No problem.” I moved to hang up.
She didn’t. Instead, she threw a lifeline: “While I have you on the phone, do you mind if I pray for you?”
Silence hung thick between us. Pray? I fell to my knees.
“Yes. Yes, please. I’d love that.”
I wish I had a transcript of that prayer, wish I could go back and savor each unsuspecting offering. Without knowing any of the events of the morning, Christine prayed for peace, for my heart and mind to be covered and secured by the presence of God, and that I would know, in no uncertain terms, God’s overwhelming, incomparable love.
Within a minute, maybe less, we said our goodbyes so Christine could call the friend she’d meant to call all along. Again I hung up the phone to an empty house. But this time, instead of hearing taunts of fear, I heard the whisper of God:
If I had sent anyone else, you would have called it a coincidence. I sent her, the one person you’d never expect, so you’d know it was Me. I’m with you, Michele. I’m with you!
That’s all it took. I didn’t start skipping through the house or planting daisies. Didn’t sing hymns or quote long passages of memorized Scripture. But I did close wet eyes and say, “Thank you.”
The day cancer showed up in my life, God showed up bigger.
He served up a portion of His presence, enough for one day. Enough to reassure me I’m not alone.
He did the same a hundred times over in the days that followed.
Excerpted with permission from Undone: A Story Of Making Peace With An Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt, copyright Zondervan, 2015.
* * *
Have you ever experienced God speaking to you through a completely unexpected source just to prove it was Him? God is bigger than cancer! He’s bigger than whatever crisis you’re facing and He is with you! Come share your story or comments on our blog. We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily