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Mind Games

What my journey through a cancer diagnosis taught me about trusting God

"We have the results of your mammogram. Please call our office to schedule a follow-up appointment."

The woman's voice on my answering machine startled me.

Follow up?

What's wrong with the image taken yesterday?

My heart hammered in my chest, and my mind raced. What horrible thing did the radiologist find?

The appointment the day before was just a routine annual visit—the kind I scribbled on the calendar and didn't give much thought. Now many thoughts tumbled—all of them negative, but one in particular the strongest: This won't be something harmless, like a benign cyst. I must have breast cancer!

Hands trembling, I forced myself to call the doctor's office about the report. A nurse casually explained that a spot on my right breast appeared larger compared to last year's image. The radiologist just wanted to see if the change was due to the center's new imaging equipment.

Knowing I hadn't felt anything in my regular self-exams the past few months, I calmed down. Maybe it's no big deal.

Or was it? A few days before the second mammogram, news stories related to breast cancer seemed to be everywhere. A celebrity had been diagnosed with it. An Internet site reported on the "buddy system" in which two women agree to remind each other to do self-breast exams. The morning paper featured a picture of local women walking to raise awareness of breast cancer. I saw pink ribbons and women with bald heads from chemo—all symbols of the horrible disease. This is silly, I told myself and pushed the matter aside.

Then I felt it—a small, hard mass in the right breast I hadn't detected before. My breathing became rapid and my skin clammy. This is it! The follow-up mammogram, all the stories in the news, and my own detection were surely God's way of preparing me for a battle with breast cancer.

As tears welled in my eyes, I realized I had celebrated my last Christmas with family and hadn't even known it. Fear began to script the future. I would break the news to my boss and co-workers and soldier through job duties as long as I could. Chemo would claim my hair, and other changes in my body would wreck emotional havoc in me. The elders of the church would anoint me and pray, and friends would lay their hands on me, pleading for God's healing.

Refocus, I coached myself while reciting Scripture. Philippians 4:6 played like a broken record in my head: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." But no matter how many times I prayed and petitioned God, my mind failed to find the peace he promised (v. 7).

As it turned out, none of the horrible things I imagined came to pass. Another exam in the doctor's office revealed nothing more than hard tissue in the breast. The second mammogram proved that the original image had been flawed.

For the first time in many days, I exhaled and babbled thanks to God every time I closed my eyes. Relief washed over me, but with it came regret. How much time had I wasted imagining the worst? The words of Solomon I'd memorized long ago had been painfully absent in my days of dread. Now they zipped back to me: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). A pang of conviction also stabbed me. I let my understanding run away with the future instead of trusting that future to the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5 often crosses my path—on plaques, signs outside church buildings, bookmarks, and keepsakes—as though God is trying to get my attention. But trusting him is hard to do. At the first hint of bad news or an overwhelming challenge, my mind automatically starts its "what will happen" game, moving players around the board and calculating the most likely result. And it usually isn't positive.

But that's not the worst part. I allow an unknown future to eclipse what I know about God: that he controls circumstances; that he knows my past, present, and future and hasn't changed; that he will never leave me or forsake me. If I trust God, my mind will remain fixed on his faithfulness. If I trust God, I will know that in allowing me to experience fearful situations, he isn't trying to harm me, but is working a plan for my good.

In trusting God, I commit myself completely to his understanding of what is best for me—not what is convenient or painless, but what will develop in me the character of Christ. If God allows cancer, if the stock market sucks the juice out of my retirement account, if I lose my job and condo and declare bankruptcy one day, God will provide in me the resources for endurance and ultimate victory.

These convictions were challenged anew a few months ago when I discovered a growth in my throat, near the thyroid. After tests and scans and nearly losing my voice, I scheduled surgery to remove the growth. When the doctor explained the procedure and the risks involved, the old familiar fears rose quickly.

Within two hours after that appointment, I was at the motor vehicle department, and these words crossed my path once again: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart." This time, I worked quickly to silence the fears. One day at a time, I told myself. Don't let this news run away with your emotions. Trust God, not your thoughts.

Unfortunately, a biopsy of the growth after surgery revealed lymphoma—not even remotely on the radar of fear. But it is treatable with chemo. God has led me to an excellent doctor and medical team, evident by his peace. Now in the midst of a foreign land of treatments, I'm learning more than ever to trust the future to the One who holds me firmly in his hands.

Inspiring Solomon to write Proverbs 3:5 long ago, God didn't think that human beings could stop a knee-jerk reaction to calamity. We seem to be hardwired to expect the worst. He is saying not to play mind games with the future, not to settle in a negative imagination and give so much life to fears that they end up more real than he is. God is asking that we remember the wise words of Octavius Winslow: "In the case of every child of God, calamity never comes alone; it invariably brings Jesus with it."

If Jesus accompanies calamity, trust will see him there. And that's where the mind should play.

Sherri Langton is associate editor of Bible Advocate magazine.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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