A Special Story from Colleen Kelly

For this week’s blog post, let me introduce to you Colleen Kelly. She is one of our beloved staff members with our Veritas ministry, which is The Crossing’s ministry to college students. About a year ago Colleen was diagnosed with cancer. We all can relate to the shock when first receiving such news. And I personally was amazed, encouraged, and challenged when listening to and reading emails from Colleen over this past year as she shared her own fears, but also a very real trust in God’s sovereignty and the goodness of his will for her life. This is a battle you and I face everyday to one scale or another. All sin is really about this very issue. Do we believe in the goodness of God’s will for us? And do we believe that he is in control of—sovereign over—everything in our lives?

On these issues, I’ve come to realize that Colleen is the real deal. I write this very sentence with tears welling up in me as I remember this past year for Colleen. And so I’d like to share with you here what she shared with our Tuesday morning women’s ministry this week regarding what God has taught her and is teaching her in all that’s happened.

Hi, my name is Colleen Kelly and I’m on staff here at The Crossing, working with Veritas, our college ministry. Jeannette asked me to come and share with you all today a little about the past year of my life.

Flash back to last October. I was having terrible chest and shoulder pain and a lingering cough and couldn’t figure out what the cause could be. The pain was so sharp it cut into my sleep for a week, so after finally being convinced to go to the doctor, I begrudgingly made an emergency appointment – I hate going to the doctor. I hate the way you feel so vulnerable. I hate the way you have to admit weakness and essentially give in to it. But mostly I hate the way I’m not really in control of anything that goes on – or is said to you – inside that tiny, sterile office.

Thinking I just had pneumonia (I was coughing for like, a month), my doctor ordered a chest x-ray and told me he would call later that night to confirm the pneumonia so I could fill my prescription for antibiotics. But the phone call I got instead changed what the rest of my life will look like.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first words out of his mouth: “Uhh, Hi Colleen, I just got your x-ray results. Do you have a few minutes?” And then he told me he was pretty sure I had lymphoma, a type of cancer. You see, he had seen on the x-ray a big, dark mass right by my lung. He had actually seen this before in a patient, about 6 months before, so he knew exactly what he was looking at.

This was NOT what I was expecting – maybe pneumonia, maybe bronchitis, heck, maybe I was just making too big a deal out of the common cold, but cancer? It never crossed my mind. I was actually here at the church that evening, setting up for a Paul Tripp conference when I got the phone call, and was obviously really overwhelmed and emotional. What are you supposed to think when you just find out you probably have cancer? I called my dad and had to tell him what the doctor told me, and he, I think, was probably more in shock than I was. He didn’t really think that the doctor could be right, so I explained to him everything the doctor had explained to me. He got really quiet, obviously trying to comfort me in some way but having a hard time doing so. I went home that night in a state of numbness. All of my roommates and closest friends stayed in that night to just sit with me. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life – how do we talk about this? What should I be thinking or feeling, especially when there were so many unknowns?

After meetings with specialists, countless tests, and a few surgeries later, I found out that I had a tumor the size of a baseball between my heart and clavicle. My lung was at half of its capacity and it was pushing against my trachea, thus causing the cough. This kind of tumor accounted for about 2% of all non-Hodgkins lymphomas. But, as the doctors and my dad told me over and over, if you’re going to have cancer, this is the best kind to have. I just kept thinking how weird it was that I had cancer, that I was even talking about this.

Cancer is a hard teacher. No matter how much you scour the internet, how many fellow cancer patients you talk to, how many questions you ask nurses and doctors, how much you read about suffering for the Christian, there are some lessons – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – that you can only learn firsthand. In so many ways, this wasn’t near the best case scenario. But in a lot of other ways, I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I want to share just a few of the ways that I’ve been able to see past the dark waltz that is cancer, the ways in which my imaginary veil of immortality has been lifted.

I want to share with you this morning how this cancer was an opportunity for me to see the gifts that God was blessing me with. Before having cancer, I would say I had a pretty good theology and background of suffering – I knew that suffering is a gift, I knew that it helps me to grow as a believer and that a Christian should expect to suffer. I know what the Bible has to say about suffering. But now I was being asked to experience this suffering and knowledge of it in a new way. I was being asked to really believe and trust that God is sovereign, and that he is good – even in the midst of a terrible diagnosis.

What if I only had 6 weeks to live? That first week, not knowing anything except that I had cancer, this was a very real possibility. One day, my roommate asked me if I wanted to go shopping. I remember thinking to myself, “What’s the point? Why spend money if I won’t be here, might not even be alive?” That’s obviously a very petty example, but I had to think about death in a very real way.

God was asking me if I really believed him when he said that he is real, and sovereign, and merciful. Do I believe what it says in Romans, that God is working everything together for my good? Do I believe God? Was I ready to face that question? I had to think about it and be very real with myself and with God. Do I believe Him? It was one of those moments where the answer to that question would change how I viewed this cancer. God was very faithful in my prayers and tears in helping me to answer with an overwhelming yes. I do believe that God is good. I believe his Word and his promises to me.

Psalm 84:11 says, “For the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” After that conclusion, knowing that in a deeper sense than I had before, I realized that the fight was not foremost against cancer, but against the struggle of unbelief in what God promised me.

So the first gift I would say I was given was a reality check. I was forced into having a perspective of eternity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In a way I miss that, because I was given a sweet taste of the face-to-face reality of eternal life in the presence of our God. That is a very scary, yet very comforting thing.

Another gift I was given was a chance to love him more simply, to love him as he demands, and as he yearns for. In the testing grounds of evils, your faith becomes deep and real. A great, life-threatening weakness can prove amazingly freeing. Nothing is left for you to do except to be loved by God and others, and to love God and others.

1 Peter 1 talks about rejoicing in your trials:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

The goal to suffering – both yours and mine – is not to get through it. It is not to reach the end and once again be in a place of comfort and rest. The goal is to be refined. The goal is to reach our inheritance that Christ promises us, to know and love him more fully than we did before. That is the gift of refinement. The blessing comes in what God does for us, with us, and through us. He brings his great and merciful redemption onto the stage of our trial, so that he will be exalted amidst our weakness. This cancer is one of many shadows that come upon each of us: all the losses, pain, disappointments, and evils. Sometimes he heals and restores, but he is always sustaining and teaching us.

So I’m happy to report that after six months of chemo and radiation, after losing my hair and feeling physically weak and sick all the time, I’m now in complete remission. But I want to stress to you that even if this had been terminal cancer, even if I had been given 6 weeks to live, I would hope that I could talk about it in the same way. His promises would still be true. The cancer would have still been ordained by God, still for my benefit and my good, and His glory.

I’ll end with this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
“Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good.”

Thank you.

If you would like to read Colleen’s online journal that she updated during this past year, you can do so here.

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