Finding Strength in the Middle of the Storm

The diagnosis

The dark cloud of cancer rolled in quickly and without warning. Dad’s appetite had shifted from grazing at a buffet to nibbling on some pretzels and a few drops of potato soup.

Comments like, “I think I just have a stomach bug. Or maybe I am constipated. I might be anemic. Maybe that is why I feel weak” slipped off his tongue regularly.

“Dad, I am concerned about your loss of appetite and lingering weakness. I want to take you to the ER. Are you willing to go?”

“Sis, if you think so, sure.”

Dad was always a strong man, hardworking, determined, filled with faith, suspicious of doctors, but protective of my heart. So, his willingness to go to the hospital revealed that more was going on in that head of his than he was disclosing.

An eerie air of silence accompanied us on our thirty-minute trip. I don’t know what thoughts were walking around in dad’s mind, but mine raced with questions. Could this be just a stomach bug or blockage? Yes, that’s it. He probably has a blockage. Could his heart be acting up again? Maybe that is the fatigue. I’m sure with his history; the doctor will do an EKG.

We pulled into the parking lot, and rather than dropping him off at the door, dad insisted on walking to the entrance. “Dad, please at least hold on to my arm.” He whispered a simple “OK” and slipped his frail hand under my arm and clutched my elbow.

It did not take long for the medical team to hear his symptoms, formulate a game plan, and begin a gamut of tests. While they flew into action, we muddled through nervous chatter, both feeling the heaviness that comes in the wait.

“Mr. Steffes, the CT scan shows you have a large kidney stone we will need to remove surgically, and…’ the doctor’s voice softened, his eyes compassionate, “you have pancreatic cancer.”

There was no easy way to give this news, no tiptoeing around the diagnosis, and no doubt we were embarking on a journey filled with hard places, uncertainty, and heartbreak.

The word cancer hung in the room like a flashing neon light. Oh, how I wanted to flip a switch and shut it off. God, why this? Why now? Wasn’t it enough to watch mom suffer through stomach cancer?

My outward silence did not go unnoticed by my father. As if he had been given a VIP pass to my private rant with God, he asked, “Sis, does this remind you of anything? Does it remind you of mom?” I tried to appear strong for him, but his line of questioning crushed the dam that held back my tears. “Yes, dad. It does.”

The Journey of Sacred Moments

Life’s storms can move in swiftly, knock us to the ground, take our breath away, then leave us standing in the rubble of unknowns and what-ifs. It is easy to react in fear of the storm rather than respond in faith to the God who promised to walk us through the storm. And I felt the tide of fear rising.

But God-

He remembers our frames are dust (Psalm 103:4)

He remembers we get weary (Galatians 6:9)

He remembers His promises to be near us (Isaiah 41:10, Duet. 31:6)

In my doubt, God came alongside me and poured strength into me through the least likely source, the one with cancer, my daddy.

“Sis, I am focused on living, not dying. Whether it be here, or I step into eternity, I live! After all, this world is a pilgrimage, and I am just passing through, walking hand in hand with my Jesus.”

Much like Jesus calming the crashing waves with a simple, “Peace, be still,” the tender yet confident words from my earthly father were the lifeline of grace from my Heavenly Father.

I stood by his hospital bed, his weathered hand grabbed mine, and he began to pray, “God, my life is in your hands…”. A holy hush fills the room as he talks with his Jesus friend. I look up and study his time-worn face bent low to the Savior. And though his body grows weak, I hear strength and peace in his voice. “…and I trust you.”

That sterile room became a sanctuary as God’s glory flooded our hearts with peace and strength. We were on a sacred journey, not one we would have chosen, but one we both needed. A path marked with glimpses into the heart of God, His goodness, His trustworthiness as He faithfully led, and we humbly followed.

In seasons of suffering, I see my limitations more clearly. This insight forces me to sift out the unnecessary chatter until all that remains is God’s gentle whisper, guiding me slowly along.

Dear friend, whatever your journey looks like, hold tight to the God who has you. Walk your path with a heart bent toward His whispers. Then follow. He will faithfully guide you no matter what storms may come.

My father lived one month after his diagnosis. On June 19, we gathered to celebrate a life well-lived, loving Jesus and serving others. A man who taught me how to find strength for life’s storms by walking hand in hand with my Jesus friend, remembering His promises, and trusting in His faithfulness. 

Evelyn Sherwood is a trusted soul-care guide, speaker, and blogger who has served in pastoral ministry for thirty-five years. Sherwood serves an active and growing audience through her blog, evelynsherwood.com, and her bi-weekly subscription devotional Hope for the Journey, encouraging her readers to grab hold of hope in the trials by helping them recall God’s work in their past. Nothing puts a smile on her face more than sharing about the faithfulness of God with a friend over a steaming cup of cappuccino or iced peach tea. On a summer evening, you can spot Evelyn and her husband driving through Indiana farmlands in a canary yellow ’47 Ford pickup or enjoying an outdoor movie night in their backyard with their eight grandkids. You can also connect on Instagram.

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