In the spirit of our Healthy Church sermon series, our household – Grant, Nicole, Dietrich (6), Samuel (5) and Junia (4) – greets you as healthy churches have greeted each other since the day of Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
If by chance you haven’t been following along with our story, you can catch up here, or by listening to Hope’s April 7 or April 14 sermons.
It’s no coincidence that the first two weeks of our Healthy Church series are “Healthy Faith” and “Healthy Families.”
It’s been almost two full months now since we received the phone call from the radiologist confirming that, indeed, Nicole has breast cancer. Life changed for all of us very quickly in that moment.
Without a doubt, the health of both our faith and our family has been tested – and continues to be – throughout this process.
It seems that with each step of this journey that passes, the tests get harder and harder:
First, Nicole found a lump (well more like an egg). She was told it could be cancer, but mostly likely it was just a cyst.
Then, we were told it’s not a cyst. It could be cancer, but, it’s more likely just calcifications. Nothing to worry about.
Then, we were told it was cancer for sure. But, good news, the cancer seems to be all contained in the breast, nothing invasive. Three different tests were taken to know for sure and all three confirmed no invasive cancer (meaning surgery was all that was required to treat the cancer). Almost all the way out of the woods! The final pathology report following surgery would confirm for sure…
In the meantime, when we prayed with our kids throughout those six weeks from the time of Nicole’s diagnosis, we prayed thanksgiving for all the amazing ways God was taking care of Mommy and all of us, and we prayed for positive test results and that Mommy wouldn’t need any chemotherapy.
It was quite a beautiful sight hearing the kids pray with loud enthusiasm, “…and dear God, please NO CHEMO for Mommy.”
And, as the husband and father, I was sure God would honor such pure prayer coming from the innocent and bold faith of such sweet children.
Then, the pathology report was delayed a day. Then another. And another. Finally, it came. Invasive cancer was indeed present outside of the breast in the lymph nodes.
Now, to keep this in perspective, the oncologist said the remaining cancer, even though it’s invasive in the lymph node, is so small it’s barely measurable. Yet, a full and aggressive chemo treatment was necessary to give Nicole the very best chance to avoid recurrence for the many many years of full and happy life yet to come.
But, here’s the hard part. At nightly bedtime prayers, the kids pray like we have been, “no chemo,” but then we have to explain, “well, kids, actually mommy is going to need chemo so we can make sure she gets all the way better.” Then it comes – the question. Sam asks, “But, mommy, we prayed no chemo, why didn’t God listen to us?”
As a pastor, I’ve answered this kind of question thousands of times, whether in theological debate or for other people and families suffering hard issues. Thousands of times, I’ve offered true, biblical, compassionate and reassuring answers.
But, my ten years of training to be a pastor, and the thousands of chances to practice before, didn’t give me what I needed to answer my five-year old son, tears in his eyes, heartbroken, feeling the free-fall of being let down by God.
I still don’t have an answer.
And, perhaps the years of training and practice did provide me the wisdom not to try to push on Sam some cheap and worn out cliché.
I do know, and I’m filled with the most confident hope, that God is good and faithful. And, at the same time, I also know for sure that cancer sucks. Plain and simple. I hate that this is happening. Not that any of us should be surprised: Jesus himself said this is how it would be.
And, this is exactly why, as a church, we’re doing this Healthy Church series. Only a living, vibrant, Jesus-at-the-center type of faith can see us through the reality of this life.
And, although this journey of ours is hard, we experience (every day) God’s answer to prayer through this “Healthy Family” called Lutheran Church of Hope.
From the depths of our hearts, we know it’s no small thing. And, it changes the world. Thank you all for your prayers, your encouragement, and a hope that will not quit, because of a child-like faith, that Jesus is risen from the dead, and lives as King of all that there is.
Thank you for being our healthy and faithful family.
Pastor Grant and the Woodley family
Please feel free to continue to follow along on Pastor Nicole’s journey through her CaringBridge site.