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The Answer Is No (and Thats' Okay)

The Answer Is No (and Thats' Okay)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)
~ Walt Whitman

I experienced a miracle of healing. God did a work of healing in my life that was both outward and inward. Obviously, God spared my life because He has a special purpose for me, right? I can relax now because my life has been restored, and I’ve got a good shot at celebrating my eightieth birthday, right?


A year after my miraculously successful surgery and my clean bill of health, I had a seizure. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I had been here before and was shocked to be back again. I went in for an MRI. I prayed, prayed, and prayed some more before the procedure, pleading with God to hear my doctor say, “Your scan looks clean. No sign of a tumor.” I prayed that this recent seizure resulted from the surgery, not because of a new tumor. I knew that a new tumor would only equal one thing — cancer.

I went to my appointment full of anxiety. My doctor came in and pulled up the scan. “Your tumor has recurred.” What he was really saying in those words was simple.

You have terminal brain cancer.

It had been an unintentional setup. Initially my medical team had thought that because they removed my original tumor completely and in time, I was in the clear, with a clean bill of health. But now a new tumor had formed. It was clear from this fact that my brain was filled with cancer cells that weren’t detectable by the human eye during surgery or by an MRI scan after surgery. As they explained to me, the cancer cells scattered throughout my brain are in a sense turned off — until they aren’t. When they eventually turn on, which they will, they come together to form a new tumor. And within a few years, the chances were good that the cancer cells would overtake my brain and end my life.

I was going to need a second brain surgery — a procedure that would be followed by radiation and chemotherapy. They explained very clearly that the radiation and chemotherapy would not destroy the cancer cells but would only stun them, hopefully keeping them at bay and slowing down the rate at which they would form new tumors.

Natalie and I sat in the small office of my new neuro-oncologist, Dr. Nancy Bush. With no-holds-barred honesty and kindness in her voice, she told us, “This kind of cancer has no cure. It’s terminal.” I heard Natalie’s quiet tears and turned to her, placing my hand on her knee, trying to offer comfort I knew couldn’t be enough.

Together we were about to face something we desperately wanted to avoid.

Dr. Bush offered reassurance and said, “There is no cure for this kind of cancer — yet. My job is to keep you alive long enough for the medical community to find a cure.” Unfortunately, cancer researchers haven’t made any significant progress in this area for more than two decades.

The clock was ticking.

What! It made no sense to me.

  • Why would God deliver me from a nearly inoperable tumor through a high-risk surgery with miraculous results, only to have the tumor recur and for me to receive an unfavorable prognosis that essentially amounted to a death sentence?

At this point I began to realize I was a brain tumor survivor who was now battling a terminal brain cancer. I was in a fight I could not win.

What would you do if you heard the words “you have cancer” along with the words “no cure” and “terminal”? I’ll tell you what I did. I went to Dunkin’. I wanted to drown my sorrows with a maple bar. I used the drive-through, parked in the parking lot, and then got down to business with God.

I prayed, God, what are You doing? It wasn’t an angry prayer, like when my dad died. It was a confused prayer. It was very straightforward. I asked God, What are you doing? and then He answered.

It was not a booming voice from Heaven. Instead it was just as Jesus promised. The Holy Spirit unmistakably communicated to me by reminding me of what Jesus had said before. My mind went to 2 Corinthians 12:6–10 (a passage I hadn’t yet memorized), and I felt a bond with the apostle Paul. In this passage, Paul was dealing with what he described as “a thorn in my flesh” — a mysterious statement that some scholars believe referred to a medical condition with no treatment.1 Paul had a thorn in his flesh, while I had a tumor in my brain.

Paul had asked repeatedly for healing, as had I. The answer Paul received from Jesus was the same one I had received: No. But with compassion, Jesus essentially explained to Paul,

My grace is sufficient, and My power is best displayed in weakness.

After hearing this, Paul concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The Holy Spirit ministered to my spirit, and I concluded the same thing:

When I am weak, then I am strong.

I got a strong sense that God was going to use my weakness to teach me the true meaning of strength. And also that this next season of my life would allow me to become vulnerable with my wife and daughter and form a deep connection with them. In that moment, God granted me insight: cancer was not the undoing of the miracle, but rather the continuation of the work He had begun.

After I came out of surgery, God miraculously granted me a desire in my heart to connect deeply with my family. But what I didn’t know at the time was that I would need more than just a desire to connect. For deep relational connection to occur, I’d need to unlearn the patterns I had developed due to childhood trauma. In order to connect with Natalie and Hero as deeply as my heart now desired, I’d need to learn to be vulnerable and let my weakness show. It would be a long, hard road. I would never have chosen cancer as the pathway to connection, but as I sat with my maple bar and my God, I felt clarity descend on the confusion. God was not negating the earlier miracle and ignoring my prayers. To say yes to one of my prayers, He would need to say no to another prayer. Sometimes God often says no to a prayer in order to say yes to the true desires of our hearts.

Deep connection is the desire of my heart that I had been praying for. I truly believe my diagnosis is a key part of my continuing emotional healing that is allowing me to forge deep connection.

Let me be very clear. I do not want to have cancer. I desperately want to be healed from this vicious disease — both emotionally and physically. I am reminded of Jesus’ interaction with a man who was paralyzed (Matthew 9:1–8). Hoping for a miracle of physical healing, his friends had taken him to see Jesus teach but weren’t able to get into the building. So they climbed onto the roof, lifted their buddy up, and started tearing off the clay roof! Ignoring the complaints of the crowd below, they kept destroying the roof until they made a hole big enough for their friend to fit through. Then they lowered him down and dropped him right in front of Jesus. That’s one way to get God’s attention!

Jesus stopped teaching, having recognized that the guy was paralyzed, and said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What! Jesus’ words must have made no sense to the disabled man. He had gone through so much to get to Jesus — the One who had healed so many others whom doctors couldn’t help. But instead of attending to his immediate and intense problem, Jesus addressed the man’s deeper, more consequential spiritual problem.

After forgiving his sins, Jesus then healed the man’s legs and he was able to walk for the first time!

  • Jesus is compassionate enough to heal completely — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Perhaps Jesus is currently continuing to heal my emotions and attending to the deepest desire of my heart as I fight terminal cancer. Perhaps once the emotional healing is complete He will attend to my physical healing. I can’t pretend to know His will or the details of how He works. But I do know I have His attention. I know He cares about me and His will is good. Despite having a hard road to walk, God has given me enough understanding to have peace as I walk. After all, Jesus had to walk a hard road, but He was able to understand the glory awaiting Him on the other side of the cross.

Same with Paul, who followed in His footsteps. I signed up to follow Jesus. So as I follow in His footsteps I am not surprised that my path is difficult. I’m not surprised and I’m secure knowing He is with me. Same for you.

  • Life is hard, but following Jesus and allowing His Spirit to guide you will allow you to avoid being surprised by suffering and instead stand firm in the security of His presence.

When you are able to acknowledge the nearness of Christ in difficulty, you will experience the hope that good things lie ahead. The apostle Peter says it best,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. — 1 Peter 4:12–13

  1. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul didn’t explicitly say that the “thorn in my flesh” was a medical issue. Some scholars believe he was referring to an illness, while others believe he was referring to persecution. Either way, he was facing an unsolvable problem that was threatening to bring his ministry to a halt. The undisputed truth of the Scripture is that God is a deliverer and that we can count on him when there seems to be no way forward. I take comfort in this truth.

Excerpted with permission from I Am Weak, I Am Strong by Jay Hewitt, copyright Jay Hewitt.

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Your Turn

What hard thing are you going through today? Has God gotten you through something big only for you to find yourself in a bigger mess as Jay did? What do you know about the character of God even through this? Come share with us. ~ Devotionals Daily