“Would you spell that for me?” I asked the nurse over the phone. My head was already spinning. Heart pounding. I scribbled a word I had never heard of onto the only scrap piece of paper I could find in our car. A word that turned our world upside down.
“You have a type of blood cancer,” she said, “and we are referring you to a specialist.” “Cancer” That word rattled around my brain, like a pinball, bouncing back and forth, looking for a place to land. A place to register. And then it dropped. Sinking into my heart and mind.
The diagnosis I received on January 17th, 2018 transformed our lives. But it was also a turning point. We wrestled with how God wanted us to walk through this. How do we faithfully and humbly trust God in the midst of this? And with four kids, 15, 13, 11, and 9, how do we model an honest faith, one marked by trust, hope, and obedience? We realized this might be our “finest hour” in terms of showing our kids what faith really looks like.
Without saying too much, but saying enough, we sat down with our kids a few nights after my diagnosis and shared the following four truths. While I am sure much of that night is a blur, we do our best to keep coming back to these convictions, among others, as we continue to walk this road together as a family.
- God is still good and faithful – no matter what
From an early age, we’ve taught our kids that God is good. God loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us. Cancer has not changed God’s character. Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, God has a plan and purpose. God can take something like cancer and use it for good. No matter what the outcome is, this doesn’t change the truth that God loves us and has promised to never leave us. Just as He has been faithful to us in the past, He will be faithful to us in the future.
- God is going to grow us through this
We encouraged them that we were going to go through this together as a family. And that God was going to use it to grow our trust in Him. God doesn’t waste suffering – including our own. As much as we’d like to get out of our suffering, God is going to grow us in this suffering. As He often does, God uses what is painful to purify us, teaching what is really most important in life.
- Watch the Church – God is good and so are His people
Jesus is our greatest hope. But He has blessed us with an amazing family to belong to. We are going to need the church. We are going to need one another for strength, hope, and healing. I told our kids there is nothing better than the church. I encouraged our kids to pay attention to how the church, both our local church, and the larger body of Christ, responds in love, prayer, and support. Our hope and confidence is in Jesus, but there is nothing better than being a part of the church.
- I love you
And lastly, I told our kids I love them. Before we prayed together that night, I walked around and hugged each of our kids. I told them I love them. I was proud of them. And that Jesus loves them even more. Of course, there were lots of tears! But I wanted them to hear and know and feel the love I have for each of them. I wanted God’s love and my love to be a source of security for them as we walk through a scary season.
What are you walking through right now? Perhaps this has been your story. Or maybe your loss, or tragedy, has been something far different. A job loss. Miscarriage. Death of a friend or relative. Each person’s suffering is unique – painful and scary in its own way.
Be encouraged, that even in our heartache, our tears, our honest petitions and questions, God is at work. Our kids are watching. Our kids are listening. This too might be your “finest hour” to show your kids what it looks like to love and trust Jesus, even when you don’t understand what He is up to. He really is good. Faithful no matter what. He is growing you. Because of Jesus, we have a living hope, a glorious future. And He really does love you.
Patrick Schwenk is a husband, father, pastor, and author. Along with his, wife, Patrick is the creator of For the Family and the author of For Better or For Kids: A Vow to Love Your Spouse with Kids in the House.