Relapse Into Fear


Sandra’s Story: The night before surgery, I lay in bed with two preschoolers snuggled on either side. Tiny heads rested on my shoulders. Thumbs plugged in their mouths, they clutched their favorite blankies—pink bunny and blue bear. I savored the sweet smell of babies fresh from the bath. I opened Dr. Seuss and read aloud, mimicking voices for The Cat in the Hat Comes Back to make them laugh. As I performed, my husband slipped into the bedroom, taking video. My heart chilled.

I continued reading while a part of my brain wandered. How far had the cancer spread? Would the unthinkable happen during surgery? Fears piled on as my children lay close, unaware of the dread choking me. How vulnerable they seemed at two and four years old. The possibility of leaving them—perhaps forever—made me feel sick.

We had chosen “Faith” as the middle name for our first-born daughter—an expression of gratitude for answered prayer. After receiving God’s blessing of motherhood, would he now take me from my children? My fear intensified against the backdrop of losing my own mother. She died from her cancer shortly before I married. It had crushed me. Would that awful legacy pass to my own children so soon? After her death, I thought I had settled my struggle to reconcile God’s love and sovereignty. My crisis of faith came roaring back—stronger than ever.

C.S. Lewis shared his own crisis of faith in A Grief Observed. When my mother died, I wailed along with Lewis as he said, “So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” Pressing through the deceptive night of mourning towards the light of God’s truth took every bit of my faith. At the battle’s end, I re-committed to God “for better or for worse.” I renewed my vow with Job’s words: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:5). I thought my test of faith settled and the grade book closed. Until now.

After Seuss’s Cat in the Hat had cleaned up his mess in our bedtime story, my children scurried off with Daddy for tucking-in. Worry baited me to grieve imaginary losses. My husband returned and knelt beside me, taking my hand. Anxiety and sadness flooded my pitiful expression. I felt him gather confidence as if to stand guard in front of the door of dark unknowns. He held my gaze and said, “I want you to know, I’ll take care of them. I’ll make sure they get to heaven one day. I’ll see to it.”

Sleepless that night, I got up around 2:00 a.m. and went into the den to pray. I cradled my Bible and read aloud Psalms of lament and worship. I embraced Mary’s surrender: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). I affirmed God’s right to sovereignty in my life without reserve. Tears fell as I knelt praying, confessing my fears and humbly asking God to let me raise my children. Tonight’s prayers were surrenders instead of desperate pleadings. My petitions rested only upon His grace. I got up and returned to bed at peace.

I endured a long surgery and difficult recovery. A photograph of two smiling babies watched over my hospital bed, infusing me with perseverance. God graciously chose to cure my colon cancer. I carry scars, but with faith stitched deeper. I learned sometimes God says “yes” to our most desperate prayers—as we lay down our wills to the possibility of “no.”

A year later, I sat in the car waiting to pick up my daughter from kindergarten. I smiled as I watched her walk down the sidewalk. Her red curls bounced in unison with her prancing steps. She tossed smiles to those around her, like mardi gras beads thrown during a parade. Suddenly, my heart constricted, old fears choking out my breath. Will I live to see her toss those same smiles as she walks down the aisle at her wedding?

As God often does, when his children flounder, he swooped in—cutting through the pounding of my heart. I sensed Him telling me, “Do not fear. Live in freedom, embracing all the days I give you. When I want you to come home, I’ll call you. Until then, trust me.”

As in the night of anguish before my surgery, peace swept in and fear washed out. Every relapse of fear has given me an opportunity for another marker of faith in God’s deep love.

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