Caitlin Phelps serves on the Selah Team as our Director of Social Media. She has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Lipscomb University and is currently living in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can learn more about Caitlin on our website here.
Emmanuel is a name of God that I’ve been familiar with my entire life. Mostly, this name for God has surfaced for me around Christmastime, singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel and other songs that reference the beautiful birth of Jesus and the entrance of God into our suffering and our humanity. But this year, I found myself reflecting on the idea of Emmanuel for more than just Christmastime, it started permeating my everyday. Here’s why:
On July 12th, 2019, at 26 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was alone when I received the call, and the moments after were filled with panic, fear, shock, denial, pacing the house. The next hours would be incredibly hard, having to tell my loved ones the news and ask for help making sense of it. I called my family and told my closest friends that day and each of them responded the same way, confidently exclaiming, “we are with you.” It was in their tears, hugs, and words that I knew they were carrying the pain just as I was. We had no idea what the next days, weeks, months, and years would look like, but I knew that I experienced Emmanuel that day. God was with me.
The next week I was faced with difficult, life altering decisions, making plans for treatment, having to navigate decisions on future fertility, and receiving tests to see just how treatable this would be. Tests told me that along with the current cancer I had, I also was born with a genetic mutation (BRCA2) that leads to me having a lifetime high risk of developing breast and other reproductive cancers, something I would have to manage my entire life. And a treatment plan was made — chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and medications to reduce risk over the next many years.
Each of those overwhelming steps, I had my family and closest friends around me, communicating in words or actions that, “We are with you.” My family and friends have moved in close, and have continually reminded me of their withness and of God as Emmanuel. It would be easier to keep their distance — it would be easier to stuff the scary feelings, it would be easier to avoid this, and they haven’t. They’ve been scared right next to me, they’ve been sad right next to me, they’ve rejoiced right next to me. I’ve never questioned if I am alone in this. And that is clear evidence of God as Emmanuel.
How beautiful that God chooses US to bear the image of Emmanuel. How wonderful that God comes to us in our relationships. How incredible that regardless of if we are aware or not, God’s presence is with us. How amazing to know that the story of Jesus promises us that we are never alone in our suffering.
Since July, I have received chemotherapy, underwent two major surgeries, had too many appointments to count, spent hours in doctor’s office waiting rooms, had multiple blood draws, experienced bad side effects, lost energy, and I’ve had to change my plans for the future. I’ve had much taken away from me. I’ve also had much given to me. I’ve lied awake with tears in my eyes, I’ve been scared, hopeful, mad, grateful, peaceful, and sad. I’ve grieved, I’ve hoped, I’ve lamented. I’ve asked God to help me keep my eyes open to where He is. And God has continually responded, “I’m with you.”
God with me…. in the phone call where I received my diagnosis.
God with me… in the embraces after sharing my diagnosis with others.
God with me… in the waiting for answers.
God with me… in the MRI machine.
God with me… in the waiting room.
God with me…. in the quiet of the night.
God with me…. in the chemotherapy chair.
God with me…. in the sickness.
God with me… in my family carrying the weight alongside me.
God with me… in the love of my friends sitting with me in the pain.
God with me… in the letters of encouragement from my team.
God with me… in the operating room.
God with me… in the hospital room.
God with me… in the monotony of healing.
God with me… in the radiation room.
God with me… in all of the side effects.
God with me… in the future celebrations.
God with me… in the future fear of recurrence.
God with me… in the lamenting.
God with me… in the begging.
God with me… in my anger.
God with me… in my gratitude.
God with me… in the waiting.
God with me… in the peace.
God with me… in the darkness.
God with me…. in the light.
I’m not sure what my story of cancer holds in the future. I’m not sure how my suffering ends up. I’m not sure if I’ll be healed fully. But I know God is with us. I know God doesn’t just show up in the glory, in the celebration, in the good, in the Light. I know God is there in the darkness, holding close, giving peace, showing Light.
May you experience Emmanuel in the light, may you experience Emmanuel in the dark. May you know how very close the Divine is. God is with us, God is with us, God is with us.