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Follow Your Heart

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Tiny lights glittered on the fresh pine tree as the sound of joyful Christmas carols drifted throughout the house. Gifts, wrapped in a dazzling array of color, waited beneath the tree. The aroma of freshly baked gingerbread filled the air. Anticipation was building. Christmas was rapidly approaching.

The mood of the celebration changed radically that evening as my husband and I sat in my doctor’s office, anxiously awaiting the results of my recent biopsy. When Dr. Williams finally entered the room and said, “You have cancer,” those three words destroyed the joy of the holiday season for me.

A week later, a lumpectomy was performed. Darkness and despair surrounded me in the weeks following surgery. There was a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that would not relent. My family supported me but couldn’t relate to what I was going through. When tears would overwhelm me, I discovered that writing in a journal was the best way to release my concerns and ease my sorrow. On Jan. 23, 1997, I wrote:

“One month since the diagnosis; one month since my world was torn apart. The sadness that surrounds me is powerful and consuming; one of many emotions I’ve been dealing with since this ordeal began. I have learned the meaning of the word ‘trust’ this past month. I have always had faith, but now I know I must also trust God to see me through this and to help me with the future. I’m also learning what the word ‘surrender’ means and how to release my fears and doubts. I think I would have lost my sanity if it weren’t for my faith. My faith sustains and provides me with peace for each day. I’ve read that people who go through serious illnesses gain strength and courage from turning inward. The outer world cannot give me what I need during this time; only God can do that.

“I notice how other people relate and react to my illness. The word ‘cancer’ scares a lot of people, and they keep their distance. A kind word, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on would comfort me during this difficult time. A phone call, a card of cheer, or a word of encouragement would mean so much. I am grateful for the prayers being said daily in my behalf. I know there is power in prayer.

“Writing in this journal calms me and brings a sense of peace to my soul, as does daily meditation. It lifts the clouds of despair and depression that can easily drown me if I allow them to.”

When the lumpectomy was performed, no lymph nodes were removed. My doctor thought I had a rare form of cancer that does not metastasize, but the biopsy following surgery showed I had the more common type that can spread to the lymph nodes. I had to make the decision whether to have lymph node surgery. There was only a five percent chance that the cancer had spread, but I didn’t know if I could live year after year worrying about whether it had metastasized. I opted for more surgery to provide me with peace of mind.

I was hospitalized overnight following that surgery. The next morning, I glanced through some magazines I had brought with me to the hospital. My attention was drawn to the back cover of a Christian publication. I was gazing at a beautiful color photograph of a forest in the winter. The naked trees provided a stark contrast to the snow lying on the ground. The sun was sparkling on the ice-coated branches of the trees and printed across the bottom was the following Scripture; “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing.” (Isaiah 43: 18-19)

When I returned home the following day, a voice within me encouraged me to take another look at that picture and to reread the Scripture passage. I proceeded to cut out the photo and later that week, framed it and hung it on the bedroom wall.

My lymph nodes tested negative. Since my cancer was stage one, I did not have to have chemo therapy, and I began radiation treatment. Life slowly returned to normal, but my illness had changed me. Outwardly, I appeared to be the same person, but inwardly I would never be the same. Changes began occurring in my approach to life and to my career. Life is never the same when cancer takes up residence inside you.

I was on a spiritual quest, and like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, I was being “born” to a new life. I hungered and thirsted for more direction from God, and as my spiritual journey progressed, my priorities began to change.

Letting go of the old is never simple. It can cause us fear and pain. I felt as if I was standing on a bridge caught between my old life and my new life. When I looked back, I saw familiarity and security. When I looked across to the other side, the unknown beckoned me. Each time I took a step closer to the other side of the bridge of life, it became more difficult to retreat to the old side.

Suffering and sorrow awaken us to God’s presence in our lives. He has always been there, but so often we don’t recognize him. Prior to having cancer, I thought I was in control of my life. Now I realize that I was off-course, and I needed redirection in order to find and fulfill my life’s purpose.

We want life to be a “mountaintop” experience, but if we consciously reflect on our problems, a shocking truth emerges. Our greatest discoveries and our most significant progress toward maturity occur when we are living in the depths of the valley. Wrestling with my problems led me to the realization that it is because God cares that we encounter problems. He uses life’s problems to get our attention and to make us realize that we can’t do it on our own. Because of my experience with cancer, I was able to watch my life unfold according to God’s plan. I surrendered control. I asked him to lead, and I would follow. To this day, he continues to lead me. My journey with God never ceases to amaze me.

I was an interior designer for twenty years before God rearranged my priorities and called me into the ministry. My interior design work lacked meaning and purpose. There was a conflict raging in my heart. Cancer taught me to listen and to follow my heart, and I never regretted the decision to change careers. Life’s setbacks can become gifts if we allow God to help us with them.

Fifteen years later, I am still captivated by the message God sent to me after the lymph node surgery; the framed message that sits on the shelf in my office today. Transformation takes place when we surrender to God; the separation from the ego and the transformation of the Spirit. Something in me died, and something new was born. Now I look forward to each step of my journey. God is doing a new thing. He has given me a new heart; a heart that yearns to love and accept others, a heart that desires to comfort and offer support to those who are suffering.

We don’t always get a second chance to appreciate life and all it has to offer. We must live life to its fullest each day and listen to our hearts speak to us in the midst of our busy lives. That still small voice dwelling inside us seeks to chart our journey through life. Follow your heart. You’ll never regret it.

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