When I was getting chemotherapy, my friends at church usually were excited that I was being treated by a physician who had strong spiritual faith and they often asked me, “How did this little town manage to get a Jewish oncologist who believes in Jesus and is so well-trained and respected in his field?” I used to reply jokingly that God sent him here just for me.
Now I know there was much more truth to that statement than I could have fathomed at the time.
A diagnosis of cancer, or any difficult trial normally brings with it many emotions. Thankfulness is not usually on the list. When I found out my cells had gone awry and allowed cancer to grow inside me, gratefulness was the last thing I felt.
But I kept thinking about the admonition in the Bible to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). I knew enough to understand that did not mean I had to be some sort of masochist and praise God for every awful thing that happened to me. Instead, I believed it meant I could have a thankful heart no matter how depressing my circumstances were.
So a few weeks after my diagnosis in 1990, I began to look for something for which to be thankful. It was one of those conversations between my head and my heart.
Let’s see . . . I have cancer at the age of 36 after taking good care of myself physically. No, can’t think of anything worthy of thanks there.
My three little girls may have to grow up without a mother. Nope, that doesn’t work either.
My husband already has buried one wife and now has a 60-percent chance he’ll outlive another. Naw, that isn’t inspiring any words of praise.
I’m going to have to take toxic chemotherapy, when I don’t even like to take an aspirin. Not much there to feel grateful about.
Finally, it came to me.
Dr. Marc Hirsh! I have a Messianic Jewish oncologist—who knows, maybe the world’s only Messianic Jewish oncologist—practicing medicine just seven miles from my home. I humbly bowed my head and heart and for the first time since hearing the dreaded news “you have cancer” and I thanked God in the midst of my circumstance.
“Father, you know I don’t feel any thankfulness about my situation, but I want to thank You for leading Dr. Marc Hirsh here to be my doctor.”
I can only imagine God smiling and saying, “Now you’re getting it. Just wait to see how really thankful you’re going to be for him when you see how I am going to use this doctor to change your life.”
After that prayer, the rest is history, as they say. (If you want to read the incredible story of Marc’s spiritual journey to faith in Jesus as his Messiah, you’ll have to read my first book, When God & Cancer Meet.) But the short story of our “doctor-patient relationship” is that my family became close friends with Marc’s family and in 1996 he and his wife Elizabeth offered me a position in his office as a patient advocate providing emotional and spiritual care to cancer patients and their caregivers.
“Having a patient advocate makes so much sense that I wonder why we didn’t do it sooner,” he told me shortly after I started working with him, adding that he “can’t imagine” practicing medicine without having someone in a position like mine.
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without being a patient advocate for nearly 20 years. It’s incredible to me what one small prayer of thankfulness produced.
If you or your loved one have a cancer diagnosis or are facing some other unwanted difficulty, I’m wondering if you have found anything for which to be thankful in the midst of your circumstances. You probably don’t have a Messianic Jewish oncologist (if you do, I’d love to know!), but I believe there is something or someone for which you can say a prayer of thanks today. It may be just the prayer God wants to use to begin to bless your life.
I think the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk penned a wonderful example of thankfulness even when everything around him was going wrong:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
And though there are no grapes on the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
And the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
And the cattle barns are empty,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17,18
Go ahead, be thankful in all things—even when the hair follicles have no “blossoms,” even though your strength “fails”” and even though your dreams “lie empty and barren.” Go ahead and rejoice in the Lord because a prayer of thanksgiving can unleash the power of God in our lives in truly amazing ways.
Lord, give me the strength to do as it says in Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be faithful in prayer.” Amen.
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