It’s the Christmas season and we banter words like hope, joy, love, and peace around. They’re written on Christmas greeting cards, on wall hangings, on ornaments and decorations. We sing Christmas carols about peace on earth, good will towards men.
Last weekend, those of us who call ourselves Christians celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season. Our pastor delivered a message on peace, one of the Advent themes, after the candle representing that theme was lit.
As I absorbed Pastor’s message that we can encounter peace amidst the most difficult life circumstances, my own experience with the peace that passes all understanding came rushing back to my mind. Thinking maybe my readers would be interested in my story of peace, I share it here in hopes of providing a glimmer of encouragement this holiday season.
“Because of the favor of God, we can have peace in the midst of chaos.” ~Crystal McDowell
Fifteen years ago, I apprehensively sat in a physician’s office while he delivered news I didn’t want to hear: “I’m sorry to tell you that the biopsy results came back, you have cancer.”
I think most people have thought about how they would feel or respond to that diagnosis and, especially if you’ve had loved ones who have experienced the “C word,” you imagine you know how they feel. But you don’t. Not until you actually experience it yourself.
First comes shock. Then comes denial. Then comes what I can only name as fear. Will I recover from this disease or will I face my own mortality way sooner than I ever imagined?
For me, many thoughts raced through my mind because just seven years prior to my diagnosis, my family and I watched my mother endure cancer treatments for less than a year only to succumb to that horrible, aggressive disease.
Fear wrapped itself like a boa constrictor around my mind. Had the cancer spread? Would I survive long enough to watch my youngest child, my son, graduate from high school, or see my daughters find their own true loves and marry, or ever become a Nana to grandchildren? How would my husband handle all of those aspects of our household that I managed while he traveled with his job?
Those thoughts and more caused me sleepless nights. My doctor scheduled scans, tests, and surgery and assured me that the prognosis was good because he believed it was caught early enough. But still, my mind tortured me with “What if…?”
Somehow though, months before I heard those dreaded words from my physician, I had sensed this ordeal had been on my horizon.
Backtrack six months earlier to Christmas time 2004. I worked for a non-profit organization, a Christian ministry. Every December, staff and volunteers gathered for an annual Christmas party, usually at our executive director’s home. And every year, she prayed ahead of time for the Lord to give her specific words, which she would print on slips of paper, place in a basket, and pass around to us.
When we took our turns randomly picking out one of those slips, we’d see our “word” for the upcoming year and as the new year progressed, we noted how God used that word in our lives. Prior to receiving our new word, we shared how last year’s word had manifested itself. Heartwarming stories often brought tears to our eyes but also provoked laughter and always lifted our spirits.
I watched as my co-workers and volunteer friends opened their words, smiling and laughing as they read sparkle or joy. In the past, I never had received words like those; I usually ended up with challenging ones like growth or transition. And that year wasn’t any different.
I took a breath, hoped for a comfortable, pleasant word, opened my slip of paper, and read aloud the word – peace. “Aww,” everyone oohed and ahhed, exclaiming what a nice word to receive. I smiled and yet…my heart did a major flip flop and seemed to sink to the pit of my stomach while my mind warned me, “Look out, something major is coming your way and you are going to need God’s peace more than ever.” Really?!?
My heart and my mind were correct. Six months later, I faced uterine cancer and I trembled with fear. My other tests and scans came back normal but I still needed major surgery and depending on further testing, probably to undergo some kind of treatment after six weeks of recovery.
Prior to my scheduled operation, I met with my co-workers one morning for prayer before our workday commenced. During that prayer time, those dear ladies encircled me, laid hands on me, anointed me with oil, and stormed the gates of Heaven in prayer on my behalf.
As they prayed, I began to feel something…something like an intense, overpowering sensation…something welling up inside of me….something I couldn’t name filling my chest, almost squeezing the breath out of me. It seemed to erupt from deep within me, from the depth of my inner being, and with each prayer my friends spoke, something was being forced upwards in my body. I actually felt an intense urge to open my mouth and let whatever it was escape with my breath.
And as I did exactly that, I felt that ominous, weighty something depart from me and an entirely different sensation filled me – completely filled me – with comfort, with tranquility, with assurance.
It was simply peace. That word that chose me six months earlier.
Looking back, I believe what vacated me that day was fear, sheer terror at what I faced ahead. What filled its place was peace – that indescribable feeling that God’s Word says passes understanding.
Through surgery, hospitalization, recovery, and radiation treatments, I felt utterly at peace, confidently assured that I was being held in the palm of God’s mighty hand, no matter what happened. That sense of peace never abandoned me, even when usually claustrophobic me was locked alone in a radiation treatment room, having to lie perfectly still while cancer cell killing radiation entered my body. No anxiety, just serenity.
Peace. The kind of peace our pastor, who has battled cancer himself and was recently declared cancer-free, understands so well. The kind of peace, he reminded us, that enters in the midst of our storms, when we place our faith in the One called the Prince of Peace by the prophet Isaiah.
“A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is to enter into it.” ~ Dwight L. Moody
Right now in this 2020 Christmas season, it’s safe to say millions of people across this world are caught in the middle of chaotic storms of life. I tell my story to offer encouragement, not because I boast about surviving cancer, but because I understand how we may rest assuredly in peace despite a raging storm. And I wish that peace for others.
As grateful as I was for the positive results of surgery, radiation treatments, and normal results from continued cancer checks afterward, I am even more thankful for the lesson I learned about peace in the throes of intimidating, overwhelming circumstances.
Peace was my word for the year 2005, but I think it’s my word for every year. I find peace where it always was, is, and will be – in my Savior Jesus Christ. My hope is someone reading this may experience that same peace through God’s grace.
“The Bible is full of God’s promises to provide for us spiritually and materially, to never forsake us, to give us peace in times of difficult circumstances, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good, and finally to bring us safely home to glory. Not one of those promises is dependent upon our performance. They are all dependent on the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.” ~ Jerry Bridges