Faith, Cancer & The Evolving Issues Of A Separation
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
I have never known a life where I didn’t believe that God was real. Yet in these last three years I have been crawling through a tornado of loss that has caused me to feel like I landed face first into the mud. I was left feeling not much else but grief and pain and deep unexplainable loss. And it’s there my story of unfolding begins.
To be honest I'm still unfolding. I’m seeing new angles of God I never knew existed or needed. I have doubted, questioned, challenged and deconstructed so many things I thought I knew. And right there in it all, God never left my side. I just didn’t always feel it.
May 2017 I made a choice that would change my life as I knew it. It had been 8 years of sporadic physical and verbal abuse from my husband, the father of my three young children, and finally I reached my breaking point. I left. I jumped into the Unknown with no plan and my children at my side.
While in one way it freed me into safety and the ability to finally admit what was happening, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Although I was free physically, I didn’t feel free. I felt bound by expectations from myself and others. Christian wives don’t leave their husbands, right? We stay. We work it out.
I stood in overwhelming fear of losing my ministry, the dreams of my heart and worse than all of that my community and friends. Would I be disqualified? Would I lose everything? Not to mention, would I be ruining my three young children in this decision?
I was drowning quickly in the shadows of what my world was going to become. And all I wanted to do was run home to England to be with my family. Little did I know that the place I wanted to run to was filled with its own growing darkness.
Three weeks after I left my husband, the phone rings. It’s my Dad and he looks scared. He asks me not to panic, tells me everything will be ok.
He says he has a tumour in his bowels.
I had never been this close to cancer before and it took everything inside me not to show my breaking heart. We hoped it was an easier fix than it turned out to be. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of watching my father slowly die.
Six weeks after leaving my husband, three weeks after my Dad being diagnosed with bowel cancer, I booked a one way flight to England. I left everything I knew. I was now a single mother with three little ones leaving their normal lives. Trusting we would start our healing on the other side of this flight. To get to family and feel safe.
We arrived into an 8 month whirlwind as I watched my Fathers body fade away to chemotherapy and unexplainable pain with a progressively worsening diagnosis.
The day came when he was told it was terminal and I will never forget it. I sat at my piano, and even with death trying to put its sting into our family, all I could hear was a song of hope. That God was going to be ever present and meet me in the “rainy days” ahead.
Cancer and the evolving issues of a marriage separation felt like a fight to not fall into the deepest pit of anxiety and depression. Some days I did but I would cling to one verse. The eyes of the Lord are on even the weakest of worshipers who wait in hope. What a promise. A wildflower breaking through the dirt.
I wanted to be the hopeful Christian but this time I was hurt in a way that dismantled me to my very core. My friends had to be my eyes when I couldn’t see. Reminding me of who I am. All the while a tirade of lies from others and my own insecurities were swarming over me. Attacking my character in ways that hurt so deeply. I felt completely lost.
That’s exactly when I felt God come close again and with the loudest whisper I heard Him say, “You were never really lost. I always knew just where you were”.
God used people to love me when I felt empty. To sing over me. To speak life into me. To cry with me. And laugh at my inappropriately dark humour. They were remnants of a God I used to know and feel. Thank God for these people. Thank God for songs that blew over me when I had no words. Thank God for even the glances at Instagram posts that gave me some hope. Thank God for these wildflowers He grew out of this dirt.
I had known God my whole life as the potter who moulded me into beauty, but now all I saw were broken pieces scattered on the floor and I was sitting among it all, succumbing to the darkness. But there God was. Breathing for me. Even when it felt like all the air was being punched out of my lungs.
June of 2019, after my father fought for two years, he suffered a catastrophic stroke and was given just days to live. The doctors told us in those 6 days that stroke rehabilitation will NOT be happening and we would be moved into end of life care. This was it, we were at the end.
In the face of all that was becoming my worst nightmare I felt what seems like a ridiculous, holy hope like never before. My greatest attempt to stand in hope in that moment was to take my dad’s paralyzed left hand and move his fingers back and forth like he would survive. To rehabilitate him when no one else was.
It felt like a pretty feeble attempt to believe for a miracle. I just wanted it so badly. Anything that God would blow our way to keep my hope up.
I moved my fathers arm up and down.
I twisted his fingers and moved his legs.
I would keep moving him until there was nothing left.
Then, I see a flinch. And it’s the greatest miracle I’ve ever seen. Another wildflower in the dirt.
A flinch of a muscle. Frozen in a moment. The rawest of hope that maybe he wouldn’t die. And God reminds me again, my hope is in nothing less that Him. No matter the outcome. Outcomes can change and sway with the breeze, but God, He is unchanging. Never shaken. Always good.
As I stood there with my dad’s hand in my own my mother says “Danielle, you heard the doctors. He can’t feel it and he won’t be getting better. You don’t need to do that”. Without a moment to think, I say “even if he can’t feel me, I still get to feel him and move him.”
Isn’t that exactly who God is with us? It was in that moment, while my Father laid paralyzed, that God made a move in the room and whispered to me “even when you don’t feel a thing I will still be moving. I will still be close. I will still be touching you just because I love you”.
Amidst the smell of cancer lingering in the air, all while still feeling the sting of a broken marriage, I knew God was with me. I know it all seems a bit dark and depressing. I Do Apologize. I wish I could say everything turned around. That by that same flinch my Dad got better and my marriage was incredibly restored but that’s just not the case.
I am learning to take my time to heal, grieve, be in friendships that cultivate health and hope, but also times to mourn and release tears. I’m in a season of laying on my friends lap as she cries with me while we play a worship song. I’m sitting with my mum on FaceTime and we are vulnerable in ways we haven’t been before. I’m seeing that God is for my children as they flourish in places I was scared they would be destroyed. I‘m in a place where I know Christian women can leave their husbands when wrong things are happening. I am walking in a community that holds me up even on the days I still struggle to get out of bed.
I’m still unfolding.
I’m still Letting God find those places of pain and bind them up.
I know we can sometimes feel so stuck and like there is no way out.
We can feel overwhelmed and we feel the acknowledgment of that means we are lacking in faith. Don’t give in to that lie.
Let God take you up in his arms.
Don’t resist his perfect love that casts out ALL fear.
Dance on the heaviness and watch it dissipate.
He will never downplay your pain.
If anyone knows your pain- it’s God.
When my Dad couldn’t feel me, it never stopped me from drawing closer. And God is so much more than even that. He never stops drawing near to you and me. I promise you, I know like I’ve never known before. In the face of divorce and death, He is closer than I ever knew. He’s never distanced himself from me, even on the day that I couldn’t escape the covers of my bed.
And He’s not scared of your pain or your feelings or your doubt. He isn’t scared when you don’t feel a thing. He just wants to be in it all. With you. He will come into all your dust to make something glorious. Oh I am so sure of this one thing. He is a God with dirt under his fingertips and He will use this mud, this pain, to grow a garden of wildflowers that you can dwell in.
While I know I am still unfolding, forever growing closer to a God that keeps showing up in ways I can never thank him enough for. It has been a journey , one that reminds me that God is in the in-between.
Dani is from North Yorkshire, UK currently living in Edmonton, AB. She is a mother of three amazing kids, runs her own business as a social media manager/photographer and is an overall creative in many different ways. Her heart is for the voiceless and marginalized, having spent time volunteering in refugee camps abroad and speaking up for women locally. Dani has a message of hope burning inside of her and I hope you get the pleasure of meeting her someday!