Cancer may have stolen my smile, but it can’t rob my joy.
I debated whether or not to blog about my recent surgery. I asked the Lord for His timing. I guess today’s the day because this morning while reading through Psalm 39, I came across this phrase, “…that I may smile again…”
I have learned so much since my dental hygienist asked me about the spot on my lip. I’d noticed this translucent, perfectly round blemish this summer and dismissed it. The Lord has delivered me from health anxiety and although I wondered what it was, my mind never raced with anxiety over the possibility of cancer. Those who know me well, can testify to this miracle of deliverance. I bless the name of Jesus for His work in my heart. He has much more to do and is using cancer and suffering to do it.
There was definitely a time in my life when the mere thought of cancer would have dragged me into the endless abyss of despair and depression. Anxious thoughts would have swirled around my mind robbing me of sleep, altering my appetite, and hijacking my joy. Fear would have pushed its way into my thoughts while I pulled away from family and friends. I would have fallen into the pit of “What ifs?” But praise God, not this time. This time, “Even if” I have cancer God will walk with me entered my mind instead.
I expected the dentist who came to look at the spot to dismiss it as I had. Instead, she indicated we should watch it for two weeks and check back with my regular dentist who had been out of town.
I rarely thought about it during the two weeks and was surprised when my regular dentist recommended I go see a plastic surgeon for the spot located in the lip line of “cupid’s bow”. I was even more surprised when the plastic surgeon at KU said it is most likely carcinoma and we needed to schedule a biopsy. In the two month wait for the biopsy the lesion grew and became rough. But by God’s grace, still no anxiety.
The experienced surgeon was correct in his visual diagnosis. His phone call confirmed squamous cell carcinoma. He referred me to a dermatologist who specialized in plastic surgery and assured me they would call to set an appointment. I waited all day for the call. I waited all the next day and when I hadn’t heard from their office after three days, I asked friends and family to pray that I would get a call to schedule an appointment sooner than later.
My sister responded to my text for the “sooner than later” prayer request with, “I will. Regardless, I trust God for His best good for you whether it’s next week or two months. We will request His perfect timing.”
Reading her words convicted me of trying to control the timing of everything. So while I wasn’t experiencing any of my typical anxiety responses, I had moved into control mode, which is really just a sister sin to anxiety. If I can be in control, then there is less reason to be anxious. Lord, I prayed, I surrender to Your timing for the phone call to schedule surgery. Oh, such sweet peace comes in surrender.
A week later, I went back to the plastic surgeon to have the biopsy stitches removed. He again assured me the dermatologist’s office would call but expect it to be at least a month out. Since I’d surrendered my will for the timing of the surgery, I was free to receive this disappointing news.
However, on the hour drive home from KU Medical Plaza, I received a call from the dermatologist’s office. They’d had a cancellation and would I be available in two days to have surgery? I was elated. The Lord immediately brought my sister’s prayer to mind. If God would have answered my initial prayer for the office to call and schedule surgery on my timetable, I would probably be preparing for surgery next week. Instead, by God’s amazing grace, He used my sister’s not so subtle reminder to “trust His timing” prayer, to lead me in surrendering my will to His. Then, in His tender mercy, He gave me the desires of my heart for a sooner than later surgery. I am in awe of God.
I have much to be grateful for.
- The recent MOHS surgery leaves me 98% sure there is no more cancer in my lip.
- I no longer have to puree my food! Insert crazy happy dance here!
- My Frankenstein stitches have been removed, erasing the concerned and confused stares from precious students who passed me in the hallway at school. I was blessed by their concern but upset by their confused looks when I couldn’t return their smile. I feel like Buddy the Elf in that “Smiling is my favorite!” We now use sign language to communicate our mutual affection for one another.
- I am one month post op and my my lip continues to heal.
And here’s what I learned through this process:
God is more than able to see me through excruciating pain. The MOHS procedure is done while patients are awake. I could smell my flesh burn when they cauterized my lip between biopsies. As my lip swelled to the point I thought it might burst, all I could pray was “Jesus over pain” repeatedly until the procedure was finally over. I know that Jesus really is enough and His grace is sufficient for me.
In the middle of a sterile operating room, surrounded by strangers and at my weakest point, an image appeared in my mind. Jesus. Beaten, battered, and bruised. Lips swollen with no relief in sight. Hanging on the cross, for my sin.
I will never think about Calvary the same again. No wonder Jesus sweat like drops of blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. My lip swelled beyond natural boundaries, pushing through the spaces in my teeth and under them until all I could feel with my tongue was lip and tiny chicklet sized teeth.
I had no choice but to have surgery, enduring pain and recovery as a necessary evil to be rid of cancer. Jesus, however, entered into our salvation voluntarily and joyfully, enduring the pain to rid our hearts of the cancer of sin.
Selfishness, addiction, anxiety, depression, fear, lying, gossip, bitterness, envy, sexual sin, cheating, pornography, and pride. For the joy of setting us free from every sin that keeps us in bondage, He endured the cross.
I am undone.
Wrecked by the deep love of my Savior, I will forever look at the cross in a whole new light. I will never again speak about His sacrifice without picturing Isaiah 52:14, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-“
Last week was Missions Week at our Christian school. Our theme came from Philippians 3: 8 “…What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord..”
Each day had a different focus.
- Jesus is Worth It!
- Missions is Worth It!
- Evangelism is Worth It!
- Persecution is Worth It!
Preparing packets for teacher resources gave me a new perspective on persecution. The Voice of the Martyrs organization has amazing testimonies of those who’ve endured persecution, lived to tell about it, and praise God for counting them worthy to suffer for His great name. Oh, how much I have to learn from them. I am now faced with the knowledge of what it might feel like to be beaten in my face.
Could I, would I, be willing to endure physical persecution for the cause of Christ? Would I consider it joy to be counted worthy to suffer for the gospel? I pray so. And I pray so for you.
Our culture is getting increasingly crazy. Yet, there are moves of Holy Spirit among believers. Repentance and worship is reviving our souls bringing courage to be bold in witnessing and evangelism.
Last week our gymnasium became hallowed ground during chapel.
I witnessed groups of students huddled together in prayer. I listened as 5th grade girls eagerly confessed their sins against family and friends in order to get right with God. I had the joy of praying for 6th grade boys making a commitment to follow Jesus, no matter the cost. Holding students as they wept in my arms over the struggles in their lives was a great privilege. Praying over them was an even greater honor. Students young and old, kneeling with teachers and parents in surrender on the gym floor was a holy moment I won’t soon forget.
If I could smile fully, I would. In the meantime I am grinning as wide as I can. And I’m hanging onto the possible ending that in God’s perfect timing, I might one day smile again. But even if that day never comes, I can smile in my heart and be part of the great move of God across this nation by praying and seeking His face. The eyes of the Lord are searching throughout the world, looking for hearts fully committed to Him. Will He find us faithful? Will He find us hanging onto hope? Will He find us smiling at the thought of considering everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?
Let it be true of us, Lord.