The exam took a few minutes. The doctor checked my neck, and when she noticed some inflammation, she ordered an ultrasound. “I want to find out what’s going on in there,” she said. She never said the “C” word, but we both knew it was possible.
When I got home, I felt like Dumbo after he lost his feather. It was hard not to worry. Instead of considering the many harmless causes for the pain, my mind went right to immediate death.
“Daddy, will you be goalie?” Joy asked.
“Of course!” I said, putting on a smile. I needed to get my mind off the pain in my neck and why it was there. She took her shots, kicking hard at the goal, and each shot hit the back of the net. The goalie was a little preoccupied. “Nice shot!” I shouted, and my phone buzzed. It was the doctor’s office.
“Am I speaking to Erin Ahnfeldt?”
“This is Erin.”
“Erin, this is Dr. Johnson. I want you to get a blood test and make an appointment to see me next week.” Her voice sounded urgent, but then maybe I was reading too much into it.
“Do you still want me to get the ultrasound?” I asked.
She said yes, and we hung up. If I was Dumbo, my feather was long gone now.
That night, I sat on the couch watching TV. One of my favorite artists, Michael W. Smith, was doing a special concert to encourage people during the pandemic. Scott Hamilton, the man who won the figure skating gold medal in 1984, was talking about his battle with cancer. “Cancer? Are you kidding me?” I was done thinking about Cancer and considered surfing away to ESPN, but something was telling me to keep watching.
The peace on Scott’s face struck me as he told his story of God’s faithfulness. Then, he stopped to remember a verse. Cocking his bald head and looking up into the sky, he thought for a minute. “Let’s see if I can remember it,” he said, smiling: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” It was a verse God used to comfort me in the past, and it couldn’t have been timed better.
After we went to bed, I woke up, hot and restless. The clock said 3:12 am. The open windows weren’t offering much of a breeze, so I walked downstairs to turn on the AC, and the pain in my neck brought more thoughts to mind. What if this is Cancer? Why did the doctor call me right after I saw her? She must think this is serious. I pictured myself seated across from my kids saying goodbye.
“Jesus, please help me,” I prayed. “Help me leave all this in your hands.”
I laid there in the dark next to me wife, trying not to wake her. Thoughts in my head swirled around like a raging storm, and no matter what position I tried, I couldn’t sleep.
The tossing and turning continued, but then like that cool breeze I wanted so desperately, the Spirit of God brought Romans 15:13 back to mind. I could hear Scott’s voice reciting it and see his smile. The same God who silenced the wind and calmed the waves was there in the dark with me, and because He was there, I had hope.
As I thought about that verse, the song “Do It Again” came to mind, and the chorus played over and over in my head: “Your promise still stands. Great is your faithfulness. . . I’m safe in your hands; this is my confidence.” The truth of Romans 15:13 silenced the late-night anxious thoughts, and like a father singing over His child, God sang that song over me until I fell asleep.
The next morning, I sat in the shade of a tree in our backyard and opened to Jeremiah. In chapter 15, he tells God and reminds himself, “LORD, you understand” (Jeremiah 15:15). It was true. God knew the battle I would face at 3 am. He gave me Scott’s story, and then Romans 15:13 so that I would be ready. He heard my prayer before the night ever came, before the thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone, and before I uttered a word for help. He understood.
The same night I was struggling to fall asleep, there was a crowd of people at the courthouse holding up their signs and raising their fists. The murder in Minneapolis has the country screaming to be heard. There was pain in that crowd. Anxious thoughts and fear haunt them like I was haunted at 3 am. I can’t pretend to understand what they’re going through, but I know a God who does.
He sees the messages printed on the signs and the broken hearts of the people holding them. He sees the police officer’s wife crying alone wondering if her husband will come home, and the doctor who’s afraid he’ll bring home a virus to his family. He sees it all just like He saw me lying awake in bed, and all of it matters to Him. When Jesus saw the tears in Mary’s eyes, there were tears in His eyes too (John 11). He’s the One who sees past our circumstances, past the tough masks we wear, right to our hearts. When we’re troubled, it moves Him, but He doesn’t stop there; He listens to our cries for help and calms the storm.
The results of the ultrasound haven’t come back yet, but the haunting thoughts are gone. My voice is heard and I’m seen, not by the President or some news station, but by a God who weeps with us. As I sat under the shade of my tree, I played the song God sang over me the night before: “I’m safe in your hands; this is my confidence.” As the song played, the tears came easy, but not from a heart that was troubled. They came from joy, the joy a child feels being held by a father who understands, and the joy a broken heart feels when the storm is finally over.