Define “Good”

IMG_1690Today’s appointment with my surgeon appears to have brought my journey with breast cancer to a quick and relatively painless end.  He gave us good news, and doesn’t want to see me for three months.  Having had about a dozen medical appointments in the six weeks since I found the lump in my left breast, I’m looking forward to three months without setting foot in a waiting room!

As you can see from the picture above (taken the day of my return to church after the surgery), my cancer experience did not leave me unscathed or unscarred.  I had a mastectomy two weeks ago, an experience which for obvious reasons is less emotionally traumatic for a guy than it is for a woman.  Reconstruction surgery is rare with male breast cancer, so I will go through life a tad lopsided.  I can live with that.

The oncologist gave us good news last week.  The chance of a relapse is so small that there is no need for any further treatment – no chemo, no radiation, not even any medication.  I will be monitored closely in coming years, but this cancer experience has come to a close with little long-term consequences.

I posted that news on my Facebook page the day we received it, and was glad to see the response of so many of our friends and loved ones from around the world.  It’s wonderful to see people celebrate with us, and their reaction has been one of the most profoundly moving parts of this experience.  We are loved.  I like that.

Many mentioned the goodness of God in their comments, and I have to admit that I’m not sure how to respond to that.  They are right, God is good.  I have absolutely no doubt about that.  But if we see my prognosis as crucial evidence of His goodness, it raises a troubling question – what if the news were different?  A few months ago, I wrote about the funeral of my friend Don, who died of cancer.  Was God not good to him?  Twenty minutes ago, I wrote an e-mail to a lady whose cancer news was dire, and whose sister has been given 2-3 years to live.  Is God not good to her?

I went through this experience under the conviction that the goodness of God was not at stake.  He has proven that goodness in so many ways, through His faithfulness to so many promises, that He has nothing left to prove.  I was determined to rest in His goodness no matter what.

He never promises to spare us from these kinds of challenges.  On the contrary, He promises that they will come.  Psalm 23 does NOT tell us that we will avoid the valley of the shadow of death, or that our life will be free of enemies.  In fact, their existence is taken for granted.  The promise is that He will walk with us through that valley, and that His presence there gives us reason to fear no evil.  The promise is that, in the very presence of those enemies (cancer being one of them), He will prepare a refreshing table for us.

That is goodness.  And that has been my experience over these last 6 weeks.

The day we learned that I needed surgery, I called home to share the news.  My wife and daughter were listening to worship music when I called, and my daughter vividly remembers the first song to be played after they hung up.  Matt Redman didn’t write it for that moment, but the song “Never Once” certainly fit.  It includes these powerful words:

Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Yes, there are scars (I won’t show you mine).  Yes, there are struggles.  But never once, NEVER ONCE, does He leave us on our own.  He is faithful.

That has been my experience.  That is goodness.

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About Sabbath Thoughts

My name is Mike Gaston. I am a former missionary, a Shepherding Pastor at Heights Church in Prescott, AZ, a happy husband, a spoiled father of two daughters, a proud grandfather, and a recently-convinced pursuer of the benefits of intentional, regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. This blog will allow me to share thoughts about Sabbath, as well as thoughts about God and the Christian life that come out of my restful Sabbath moments.
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14 Responses to Define “Good”

  1. Becky Ashlock says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart and wisdom. As you well know, I had two friends diagnosed with cancer in October of 2010. Missy is with us today and is cancer free and for that I thank God. Mary went home to be with the Lord 32 days after her diagnosis and for that I thank God. He allowed for Missy’s healing which I consider a gift and He comforted me through the excruciatingly painful loss of Mary. God was good in both situations and I never doubted that. I loved the way you worded it ” He has proven that goodness in so many ways, through His faithfulness to so many promises, that He has nothing left to prove”.
    Thank you again for allowing God to use all of your experiences, even the painful ones, to reveal the HIs character and truths.

    • Thanks for sharing your powerful experience, Becky. Was Mary’s battle that short? Wow, it seems longer as I look back on it. You have been on the front lines in many of these struggles, and I like what you have learned. Thanks for passing it on.

  2. Sherry says:

    Yes, as we have been known to say at Grace of late, “God is good, ALL the time!” A few simple words that contain a world of truth.

  3. Steve Rowe says:

    Mike, Debra and I rejoiced to see your facebook post of your update. Since that day I have often thanked God for that news. I appreciate the wisdom, truth and sensitivity expressed in your reflection.

  4. Lindakilker@aol.com says:

    Mike, your words have moved me to tears. Hearing your words of praise to our Father in the midst of uncertainty and struggle resonated with my own experiences of His faithfulness in my darkest hours. This is the bond all believers share. God is good all the time. His faithfulness is the solid ground we stand upon. Thank you again, Steve

  5. Barbara Thompson says:

    Amen! ‘Nuff said.

  6. Linda Olson says:

    Mike, thank you for your words of encouragement! We are walking through several valleys in our household, so your words are a great reminder that God is good all the time, even when the news is not good. I am particularly grateful for your transparency.

  7. Deb W says:

    Reading your post, Pastor Mike, I can’t help but think about the cancer journey of another pastor, Pastor Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa). His circumstances were never the basis for his belief that God was good. Just as God was good prior to his diagnoses of lung cancer, God was good after the news. Shortly after learning of his medical condition Pastor Chuck was asked if he was afraid of anything; he paused for a brief moment and with a grin he said “Not really . . . God is good and God loves me and God is working on His perfect plan in my life. So, I’m just content with that.”

    Throughout his final journey Pastor Chuck never wavered in his faith and in the fact that God is good. During the last weeks of his life, Pastor Chuck’s son recounted a story of how he was sitting in his father’s hospital room while his dad was sleeping, and during that time his dad began to talk, praising Jesus in his sleep! Throughout his life and until the day he went to be with the Lord, Pastor Chuck Smith never stopped talking about how God was good.

  8. Carol says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Mike. Indeed God is faithful and he is good. Just the fact that he never leaves us or abandons us when we are losing a loved one or whatever the situation shows His goodness to us.

  9. Penny Burch says:

    Pastor Mike, thank you for letting us share your experience , it is a vivid example of the challenges everyone faces by virtue of being alive. What you demonstrated through this experience is your faith in action.
    Grace to you.

  10. Faith O says:

    It is with hearts full of gratitude, to hear the wonderful outcome of your situation…God is indeed gracious and good…He is God over all our circumstances, no matter what that might be…what a wonderful gift it is to be able to step into His presence at a moment’s notice, and let our petitions be made known…today we will praise Him for allowing you to see yet another “good” day here with your family. Praise the Lord with thanksgiving, for He is good, now and forever. Blessings Mike!

  11. Ken Royer says:

    3/17/14

    Wow, thanks so much Mike for these words. Powerful, especially the reminder that God’s goodness doesn’t depend upon how He chooses to deal with us. He’s good all the time, whatever!

    You guys are very dear to us. Thank you for sharing the journey with us.

    Loving greetings,

    Ken Royer for Mary too

  12. Elaine Atterbury says:

    Such a beautiful declaration of faith, Mike. Thanks for blessing and inspiring me with it!

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