My sister and I shared a corned-beef sandwich at the Irish Heritage Festival in the park. “Do you want to join in the ceilidh dancing?” she asked.

“You go ahead, Mary. I’ll watch.”

Mary wove her way around some laughing children and took her place in the reel. I dreaded telling her my devastating news. I’d gotten my diagnosis the day before. Breast cancer.

Only my husband knew about it, and I’d made Scott promise not to tell anyone. I imagined the sadness in Mary’s eyes when she found out. Worse yet, I could feel her fear. It would be the same with everyone I told: my parents, all of my friends—and my daughter, Molly, only seven. How could I bear hurting the people I loved?

Mary rushed back to me, her cheeks flushed from dancing. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my secret. I couldn’t imagine that I ever would.

“I can’t do it,” I said to Scott once I got home. “I’m afraid and I can’t worry everyone I care about.”

Scott tried to reason with me, but it was no use. I had to face my illness alone.

That night I went to bed early. I dreamed I was surrounded by darkness so deep no light could reach it. And I was by myself, disconnected from everything that mattered. No love, no hope, no family. No God.

I woke with a start, trembling with the sense of overpowering loss. That must be what hell is like. I pulled the covers over my head and shut my eyes.

Sunday morning I sat up in bed and massaged my temples. My terrible dream still lingered in my thoughts. Scott was already dressed—in a suit, no less. “Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m coming to church with you,” he said. That was unusual for Scott, but I knew he was doing it for me.

Molly and I got dressed, and after breakfast we headed out to the late-morning service. The church I attended was some distance away, but I didn’t mind the quiet morning drive through the wooded New Jersey countryside. I looked forward to sitting in the pew with my family around me. I wanted to feel God’s reassuring presence. I wanted to forget all about that awful dream.

Going south on Route 23, we hit a roadblock. A police car was pulled across both lanes of the highway. Flashing lights signaled some trouble down the way. An officer motioned for us to turn around. He wouldn’t tell us what the problem was. We had no choice.

“I don’t know any other way to get there,” I said. Scott turned the car around. “There must be another church around here,” he said. “Let’s look.”

Up ahead a steeple rose above the treetops. “There!” I said. I read the sign as we got closer. Cars were just pulling in for the eleven o’clock service.

I’m here, Lord, I thought as we walked inside the church. I need to know that you’re with me.

The service was pleasant enough, yet I struggled to feel God’s reassurance. All through the sermon I couldn’t shake the loneliness and despair from in my dream. If I couldn’t face telling anyone about my cancer diagnosis, how was I going to face fighting the cancer itself?

We filed out with the congregation after the last hymn. “Eileen!” A woman I didn’t recognize hurried toward me. “It’s Meg Garrett! From the kids’ camp, remember? We’re starting a Bible study here in the annex on Tuesday mornings,” she said. “Won’t you come? We need some new members.”

I was never any good at names, but I usually had a knack for remembering faces. I had absolutely no recollection of ever meeting this woman. Yet Molly had gone to day camp....“Can you make it?” Meg asked again.

Somehow I couldn’t say no. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll try to make it.”

“I don’t know how she remembers me,” I said to Scott on the way home. Perhaps she had mistaken me for another Eileen? No matter. I doubted I’d be going back to that church on Tuesday. What were the chances of our ever running into Meg again?

Come Monday night I couldn’t get Meg off my mind. “I don’t have anything else to do tomorrow,” I told Scott as we got into bed. “The only things on my schedule for the next few months are doctor visits. Maybe a Bible study will help keep me focused.”

The next morning I went back to the church. I parked my car in front of the annex. Women I didn’t know chatted, pulling up folding chairs and drinking coffee. I took a seat and immediately regretted it. What am I doing here? No Bible study would solve this problem. I glanced at the door, wondering if I could slip out unnoticed.

A woman stood up. “We have three classes to choose from,” she explained.
I half-listened to the first two classes, then she named the last one. “Lord Heal My Hurts,” the woman announced. “God as the Great Physician.”

I settled into my seat. This was the reassurance I’d craved.

“I’m glad you came,” whispered Meg, sitting down beside me.

If only she knew! It had taken a mysterious roadblock, a late-morning church service and a friend I didn’t remember to rescue me. But once God got hold of me, he didn’t let me go. He helped me share the burden of my illness with my sister Mary and the rest of my family, and with my new friends at Bible study.

With everyone’s loving support, I made it through chemotherapy and some difficult decisions about my treatment. Five years later, God is still with me. Fear is just a memory.

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