by Michele Mann
“Mr. and Mrs. Mann, I’m so sorry to tell you, but your son has a golf-ball size mass in his brain.” My husband and I listened carefully to the young neurosurgeon explain the results of the CT scan. “We’ll have to do an MRI to confirm, but it’s likely lymphoma.”
My heart began to race as the reality of the word “cancer” permeated the air like a thickening cloud. As I fought to keep my emotions at bay, my mind was clear and my words steady and sure, “But you aren’t sure. Am I correct? I mean, you don’t know conclusively.”
“That’s correct,” the doctor cautiously responded. “But it looks cancerous.”
I looked at the doctor, then looked at my husband, Jeff, and with the confident childlike faith only God can give I said matter-of-factly, “We don’t know what we don’t know. And we can’t be afraid of what we do not know. We rest on what we do know.”
We followed the doctors out of the back room of bad news and returned to Nate’s room in the ER. I gazed at my 11-year-old son, who just a week ago was putting together the Lego sets he had gotten for Christmas. On New Year’s Day he woke up with a slight headache we thought was the onset of the flu. When the headache persisted, but no other symptoms appeared, we thought it might be sinus related. As the headache worsened and couldn’t be relieved with the usual pain meds, we visited the ER, and got a migraine diagnosis. After migraine medications didn’t touch the pain, we knew we were dealing with something more sinister. We returned to the ER early on a Tuesday morning, and by midmorning got the CT results—a mass was sitting in the center of Nate’s brain.
As they wheeled Nate down the hall to the MRI room, Jeff and I followed closely, holding Nate’s hand and shielding his eyes from the bright lights that had become unbearable for him. The anesthesiologist and the radiologist met us. They whisked Nate away as the nurse pointed us to a small waiting room.
As we took our seats in that little room, I kept repeating to Jeff, “We don’t know what we don’t know. We rest on what we do know.” And what did we know? There is a God. He is real. He is faithful. He is personal. He is good. He is full of grace. He is healer. He gives eternal life. He rescues from the penalty of death. He gives life here in this temporary place. He promises He will prepare a permanent dwelling for His kids. He knows every day ordained for us. He knows the end from the beginning. I know Him. Jeff knows Him. My son, Nate, knows Him. And He knows us.
After we brought our list of “knowns” before our Abba, we both heard the same gentle whisper “Now rest. It is well.” We went to our phones. Jeff found the old hymn, and I found a newer rendition of the song. We listened to the words over and over and over again. As I listened to the words, I recalled the story I’d recently read about the author of the hymn.
Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer. He and his wife Anna had five children, a son and four daughters. The Spafford’s lost their young son tragically and suffered financial loss in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1873, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead on a vacation to Europe. He was kept behind by business, but promised to join his family soon. He found out a few days later that the ship had collided with another vessel. His four daughters perished. As Mr. Spafford was traveling to be reunited with his grieving wife, his ship sailed over the very place his daughters perished. It was at that place, out of a grieving heart, the words to “It is Well” were birthed.
As I prayed and pondered in those dark moments, I heard my Abba whisper, “Do you trust me? Are you willing to walk out what you say you believe? Will you surrender Nate to me? Can you say ‘It is well’ even if he has to walk a road of suffering? Even if the road he walks ends in death? Do you believe my words? Do you trust me?”
It was at that moment, I let the grief and shock and pain well up and overflow. In agony, I cried out to God from the depth of my soul. I did not like what my God was asking of me. But, like Peter, all I could say was, “To whom else shall I go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:38) I have staked my life on the truth of Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life. I believe He died so those who accept the forgiveness offered through Him might live. If I believe it, then I must trust what He says is true. So I laid my son, my beautiful boy, on the altar and surrendered him to the One who loves Him more than I could ever imagine. My flesh cried out for God to spare my son, but the Spirit in me knew the answer to the question of surrender must be “Yes, Lord.” There was no other choice.
After that heart wrenching hour of surrender, the Lord began to whisper His Word. As Nate was wheeled out the MRI back to his room, all I could think was “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” I kept thinking, “Am I crazy? Here I am waiting for potentially devastating news and all I can do is give praise to God. This isn’t natural.” Indeed it wasn’t. Looking back now I realize it was supernatural. Supernatural grace. Supernatural peace. Supernatural love. At those moments, as we waited in the dark, God poured out His Spirit. He met us moment by moment.
When the neurosurgeon told us the MRI did seem to indicate lymphoma, but there was a slight chance it could be a brain abscess—he just needed the attending neurosurgeon to look at the results to confirm—we blessed the Lord. And we prayed. We asked all our friends and family to bombard the heavenlies on Nate’s behalf. Just as a child is free to ask her father for anything, I knew I could boldly go before the throne of grace with my request. But now my request was in full submission to my Father’s will. I had to trust He knew what was best. Even if I didn’t like the answer.
Two hours after we got the initial diagnosis, the attending neurosurgeon whisked in Nate’s room. Dr. Rocque (pronounced “rock,” so not kidding, only God) sat by the bed, and briskly announced, “Well, it looks like it’s a brain abscess. The only way we can tell is if we do surgery and puncture the mass. If we get pus, we know it’s an abscess. But we need to do surgery now. The risk is great if there is an infection.”
Jeff and I sat by Nate’s bed and stared at the doctor. We weren’t sure we heard him correctly. We asked questions. Dr. Rocque patiently answered. Then we prayed over Nate and sent him off to surgery. After he left we just looked at each other and wondered aloud, “What is God doing?” Eventually, we wandered to the hospital lobby where so many precious friends were waiting for us, standing with us during the darkest hours. God’s presence was so tangible, so real. His grace so abundant. It’s hard even now to describe the peace in the midst of what should have been our most anxious moments. After two hours, we got the call from Dr. Rocque. As he came off the elevator to meet us he was smiling as he announced, “We have pus!” We rejoiced and we laughed at God’s goodness and mercy. We wept over His grace. We blessed the Lord at all times. His praise was indeed on our lips.
After an exhausting two weeks of tests to determine the cause of Nate’s abscess, and lots of trial and error in finding the right antibiotics to treat the bacteria that had invaded Nate’s brain, we were able to head home. As we loaded the car, the Spirit whispered, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” The verse played like a recording over and over and over in my mind. I knew it was a Psalm, but had no idea which one. After we were settled in at home, I looked up the verse and as I read the words I allowed myself once again to take a deep breath and lay everything bare before the Lord. I wept tears of joy and relief and gratefulness and wonder at God’s undeserved mercies. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103: 2-4
For years before Nate’s illness, I talked with friends about my awe of God’s forgiveness. I couldn’t believe that He would forgive my sin, that He would make me clean. It struck me often that the greater healing was not physical, but spiritual. I said the words, but now I walked them out. And I knew His goodness was no longer an ideology, but truth. Even if Nate’s illness ended in death. Even if God asked me to walk through unbearable agony. Even if my earthbound heart was shattered. He was still good. Because He had already brought me and Jeff and Nate from death to life. Even if Nate died, because of Christ, the ultimate healing had already been given. Before Nate’s illness those were words—afterward, it was reality. He is a good, good Father. And because of Jesus, it is well.