Learning to trust God’s timing.
by Kathryn Heckenbach
What threw me most about my cancer diagnosis was the timing.
I know — there are many reasons to go into a tailspin when you’re faced with a life-threatening illness, and timing is not usually one of them.
There’s never a good time or bad time to find out you have cancer. But in my case, because of where I was in my life, being diagnosed felt as if I’d been backhanded by God.
I was raised in a Christian home, attended church every week, and accepted Christ at age twelve. A very smooth path to salvation, one would believe.
But my church never felt like a real home to me. When my parents divorced and could no longer make me go there, I quit — no looking back. I still considered myself a Christian, but the combination of circumstances during my teenage years interfered with my newly formed relationship with Christ. The divorce, my non-believer boyfriend, and the easy accessibility to drinking and drugs in my high school pulled me farther and farther from the Lord.
I spent years struggling with the emotional turmoil of my situation. Even after dumping the boyfriend, giving up drugs, and patching up my relationship with my parents, I still felt lost. Somehow my connection with Christ had disintegrated. I knew He was there, but I didn’t know what to do to reconnect with Him.
At age twenty, I met my husband. After six years of marriage, I gave birth to my first child, followed by another two years later. I suddenly had a new motivation to find my way back to Jesus. I wanted my kids to know Him, and I wanted us all in a church that felt like home in a way my childhood church never had.
The search for a church took only a few months, and in the process I felt my relationship with Jesus begin to reform. I voiced my recommitment to Him in prayer.
Then, wham! Adenocarcenoma of the cervix, stage 1B.
Struggle of faith
“It’s not fair!” I cried when I heard my diagnosis. “I’ve come back to You, and this is how You repay me?”
Of course, I knew I’d done many things to deserve retribution. The lifestyle I had chosen during my teens and twenties was surely an abomination to God. But I couldn’t understand why I had not suffered the consequences back then. Why didn’t God strike me down while I was living such a sinful life? Why did He wait until I returned to Him? God was supposed to be loving and forgiving, not vindictive.
I thought about this daily as I underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Being ill from my treatments gave me a lot of isolated quiet time. And during that time, the little miracles made themselves known one by one, leading me to understanding.
One was when my kind of cancer was discovered. It normally isn’t found in early stages. The urgent symptoms that had sent me to the doctor generally don’t appear until the last stage. The tissue around the tumor had stretched, and the cancer did not spread even though the tumor had grown quite large.
There were other miracles as well, including my one and only break from chemo falling during the holidays (exactly as I’d prayed for). Support came from every direction. Friends and family provided more food than we could ever hope to eat. My husband’s schedule allowed him to visit me during every chemo treatment, and I had help with the kids available at all times.
I soon realized God had not given me cancer; He wasn’t punishing me. A God who provided that much care for me even after all my rebellion was a God of love and mercy. He wasn’t showing vindictiveness; He was proving Himself to me through timing.
My cancer had started years before, as a minor genetic change in a cell, the result of poor choices I had made. It had started during the years in which my back was toward God.
God could have revealed my cancer during my rebellious years. But I believe He knew I would have only turned farther away from Him. And just as surely, He knew someday I would return to Him. So He waited.
He could also have chosen to heal me instantly upon my return, instead of letting me suffer through symptoms and treatment. But had He done that, I would never have known the cancer existed in the first place and wouldn’t have witnessed His power through my healing.
When I think of this, I am reminded of Lazarus. Jesus could have healed Lazarus when he was merely sick. But to demonstrate His full power, Jesus raised the dead man from the tomb. The timing had thrown everyone, until they saw Lazarus walk (John 11:1-44).
Now I walk, hand in hand with Christ, knowing He leads me through everything at the perfect time.