In the summer of 2016, our two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. From that day until now, we have experienced like never before what it means to be cared for by our church family in the midst of trial.
We can say of our local church what the apostle Paul said of the church in Thessalonica: when it comes to brotherly love, they have no need for further instruction, because they have been taught by God to love others (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
God promises that he will supply grace to us and be with us when the floodwaters of suffering rise (Isaiah 43:2). But we sometimes forget that he often delights to extend his presence, his comfort, and his help through his people.
Our daughter’s name is Agatha. We call her Aggie. As she battles cancer, we sometimes call her Aggie the Brave. We drove her to the hospital that summer because her breathing was labored, and she had several swollen lymph nodes on her neck and one on the side of her chest.
When the head of the oncology department sat across from us and told us that our daughter had cancer, the darkness seemed unbearable. Within 48 hours doctors were able to give us the diagnosis of a type of cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We spent the next three weeks in the hospital with Aggie, as doctors and nurses worked to save her life and we learned more about her cancer.
Moments like that are when we feel the blessings of church membership. James 5:14 says that when we are sick, we should “call for the elders of the church” to come and pray. Too many Christians don’t have any elders to call at a time like that, because they are not joined to a local church.
In our case, elders and close friends in our church family were there. The same people who rejoiced with us in moments of joy were now present to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Their care was extended not simply in dispensing truth, but in being present, in grieving with us, in hugging us, in praying for us and for our girl, and in being a tangible reminder that we were not alone.
A Wall of Comfort
The entire church was informed of the sad news that Sunday, and hundreds of brothers and sisters began to pray. Many people have told us they prayed for Aggie every day.
In addition to praying for us, our church family reminded us of the truth of God’s word. In the midst of our tears and fears and sleepless nights, God’s word grounded us in his sovereign purposes and his steadfast love.
As verses were texted or emailed to us, we wrote them down on notecards and taped them to our hospital wall, along with the name of the friend who shared that verse.
- Jace shared Psalm 121:1–2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
- When Bethany visited, she wrote down Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
- David texted Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
These notecards stood as reminders of God’s truth and his character, but also as reminders of the community that was all around us, who loved us deeply and grieved with us. That was a balm to our hurting hearts.
Dearest Place on Earth
In the days following Aggie’s cancer diagnosis, the practical needs of our family were many. How could we possibly care for our older five children and keep up with all the responsibilities of home and work while also spending so much time caring for Aggie? And how could we do any of this when we were overwhelmed with grief at the suffering our precious daughter would go through?
Here too the love of the local church shined brightly. No church is perfect, but the familiar Charles Spurgeon quote regarding the church has proved true in our experience: “Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”
Offers for childcare and meals started pouring in, so our friend Paula took on the role of coordinating our care. For nearly nine months, church members did our grocery shopping, cleaned our house, brought meals, helped with homeschooling, took care of yard work, and provided transportation and childcare for our kids. Other pastors took on increased responsibilities to ensure I (Jared) was able to care for my family. For many months, members in the church stayed at our house with Aggie on Sunday mornings so both of us could benefit from gathering with the saints and sitting under the preached word.
We have the indescribable blessing of belonging to a church family that lives the call of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Messengers of Grace
Our testimony throughout this journey has been that while we have been weak and often fearful, Christ has held us fast. And he has done so through the loving community of believers at Covenant Fellowship Church.
We have often said that without the love and support of our church family, this trial would have taken us under long ago. And that’s not because Christ is insufficient; it’s because he has made us to need one another and to live in community together. God’s grace is always enough, but so often he intends for that grace to come to us through his people — the fellow believers who have committed to walk beside us in the church through the joys and sorrows of life.
All glory belongs to Jesus Christ, because he is the Lord of the church who has determined to care for his suffering saints through the gift of his people. Praise God for the grace that comes through his redeemed people and sustains us in the midst of suffering. In his kindness, the story of our brave girl is also the story of our loving church family.