Marissa’s Story: On August 22, 2018, our daughter Alice was diagnosed with cancer. She was four years old. We had known for a couple of weeks something was wrong, but when we took her in for tests that day we were not expecting to find a tumor. And we were definitely not expecting to hear “Your daughter has cancer.”
Even though those words were a surprise to us, they were not a surprise to the Lord. In fact, God had been graciously preparing us for that day and for the challenges He knew we would face in the many months ahead.
Alice first started showing symptoms in early August while we were at family camp in Colorado. That week the speakers kept referring to the book of Ephesians. I felt God nudging me to read Ephesians for myself, but I was busy with camp activities and distracted by Alice’s symptoms, so I planned to read it later.
On the last day of camp, Alice’s symptoms became severe enough to drive her down the mountain to a small urgent care facility. The doctor ran tests and prescribed antibiotics. After consulting with our pediatrician at home, everyone agreed we should finish out our vacation, wait for the medication to help and follow up with tests after returning home.
After camp finished, we visited family in Colorado Springs and attended church with my aunt and uncle. The pastor preached from Ephesians. Once again, I felt that nudge to pursue personal reading in Ephesians. But once again, I allowed the distractions around me to suppress the Spirit’s nudge.
The next day I checked my email for the first time in a couple weeks and received an invitation to join our church’s fall women’s Bible study. The book for study? Ephesians!
“Okay, God, I hear you!” I said. That afternoon I snuck away to a small coffee shop in Colorado Springs with my journal and Bible and opened to Ephesians.
I worked my way slowly through the six chapters, seeking to digest the rich passages filled with promises and descriptions of God’s character. Along with my coffee, I drank in the reminders of who I am in Christ and because of Christ.
A few days later we returned home. On the morning of August 22, I woke up early and started reading Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge … Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
A few hours later, Alice’s pediatrician recommended we take her to the hospital to check her kidneys. The phone call followed with words no parent ever wants to hear: “Your daughter has cancer.”
That night as I lay awake in the hospital room, listening to the beeping of machines, my mind racing with every imaginable fear, God reminded me what he had promised me in His word. His love was deeper and wider and bigger than Alice’s cancer.
As days, weeks and months passed, God showed up over and over to deliver on the promises from Ephesians. When doctors came in on days off, or the tumor miraculously was removed intact making the cancer less likely to spread, I recalled God’s promise to do far more abundantly than we asked or imagined. He served us through his body, our local church, when believers prayed in the waiting room, brought meals for months, and raised money for research funds.
After Alice finished treatment, I went to a retreat where everyone was invited to spend time alone asking God to show us one lie about Him each of us had believed. Within seconds of my time alone, God said, “You believe I’m powerful and sovereign and hold all authority. You believe in my holiness and my glory. But you don’t believe how much I love you and delight in you as my daughter.”
He was right. I knew God could do anything, but did He want to? Was He rolling His eyes when I kept struggling with the same things – or was He lovingly, even eagerly awaiting my prayers?
Slowly, God began to reframe my suffering. Instead of focusing on how hard it was to deal with Alice’s cancer, I began to see all the ways God had already revealed His love toward me. And God reminded me how the whole cancer experience began with His focusing my attention on His promises in Ephesians. He made sure I was “rooted and grounded in love” because He knew my weak ability to grasp His love.
The book of Romans tells us Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. I believe the words from Ephesians were some of what He prayed for me during the past few years. God knew the weak spots in my armor, where I was most prone to doubt. In His love, he made sure I had these words on the day our lives turned upside down.
Today I’m thankful to report Alice is cancer-free. But God’s love isn’t dependent on our health outcomes. The children’s song is simple yet profound: Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. When I doubt or question God’s love, I go back to Ephesians 3 and remember all the ways He has shown me the breadth and length and height and depth of His lavish love for me.