I am a first generation Canadian, my parents came to Canada from Denmark in the 50’s and I was born in Calgary 6 years after they arrived. I think as soon as I was weaned from a bottle, I was immediately introduced to coffee. I don’t mean the Tim Horton’s coffee we all know and love, no, I mean black, thick, strong coffee…the kind of coffee that a spoon would have a hard- time-stirring-through coffee! When I was about two years old I would get about a quarter of a cup coffee, and the rest of the cup was made up with cream and sugar. Every year after that the mixture got blacker and blacker, thicker and thicker. Ever since I was a little girl I can remember drinking coffee.
It was a cold Sunday morning early into January of 2000 and I was putting on my makeup and fixing my hair and trying to finish quickly so that my husband, Charles and I could have some time to enjoy our second cup of coffee before heading off to church. This had been our usual custom for 21 years. As I was combing my hair and looking into the bathroom mirror I heard a distinct voice around me saying: “Would you give it up for Me?” I thought Charles had spoken to me so I turned around but saw no one. Then I heard the voice again very distinctly say, “Would you give it up for Me?” I stopped brushing my hair, and said, “What? Give what up?” The voice again said, “Would you give it up for Me?” I don’t exactly know, but I felt more than understood that I had just had an audible encounter with God and for some reason the Holy Spirit was asking me to give up coffee.
I went downstairs where my husband was and I told Charles what I had just experienced and I told him that I needed to stop drinking coffee immediately. Charles did not question my sanity, as I thought he might, but he said, “If you think God is telling you to stop drinking coffee, you must stop and I’ll stop too, to support you.”
Well, over the course of that year, many times I wondered why the Holy Spirit had asked me to stop drinking coffee, but I would not question God’s wisdom.
We had the youth group come to our home for a New Year’s party to usher in the year 2001 and as we prayed together, our youth pastor’s wife, Cathey said something that remained in my thoughts for a very long time. “We welcome in the New Year,” she said, “But even as we do that, we think about how we need to stay focused on God throughout this year. This might be a year of challenges; of good times and of bad times. We might be called upon to offer help and support to each other. We might have to say, “Good-bye” to friends. Some right here in this room, may not be here with us next year…” I thought about those words, and even as I knew that she was thinking more along the lines of kids moving away than anything more ominous, a month later I suspected God used Cathey to prophesy what the future year was to hold for me.
In January of 2001, I had a full physical at the doctor’s and I was sent for a routine mammogram. The technician normally does not reveal findings to patients but she let on that she thought she saw something unusual in one of the pictures and sent me immediately for an ultrasound. Three weeks later a biopsy confirmed I had breast cancer and on March 6th of 2001 I underwent a mastectomy. Four days later I danced at my brother’s wedding as we welcomed not only his wife but her thirteen year old daughter into our family! There are countless of stories I could relate during that two year battle with cancer, where God spoke to me through prayer, scripture, and God’s people…as Cathey had prophesied, the youth group was instrumental in lifting me before the Lord in prayer that year. Her words were remembered by many of those young people and they banded together to surround one of their own, my daughter, with unconditional support as our entire family experienced my cancer together. My entire church family ministered to me through random acts of kindness and service, while I went through the chemotherapy treatments and the worship team even came to my home and led a mini-worship for me when I was too exhausted and weary to venture to church. I received countless emails from friends around the world and truly God used them all to encourage me through the entire experience. I could and probably will, write a book someday about my journey with God through that cancer experience, but I know that the first chapter would focus on why God told me to give up coffee in the first place.
I didn’t know it at the time, but doctors, nurses and technicians told me after, that the lumps that were discovered in my right breast at the time of my mammogram were so small that the technician almost missed seeing them. She had asked me before the test if I was a coffee drinker and I had told her I had given up drinking coffee the year previously. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but discovered later that in some women, heavy coffee drinking can cause little fatty cysts to develop in breast tissue because of the caffeine. This can sometimes throw off a mammogram reading. If I had not given up coffee, the technician may have thought that those tiny lumps were nothing more than cysts caused by my caffeine intake, however, since I was not a coffee drinker at the time of the test and had been off of coffee for over a year, she decided to investigate those minuscule lumps and as a result that early detection of cancer saved my life. I was told by my surgeon that my particular form of breast cancer was extremely aggressive and had the lumps not been detected when they were, I would probably not have survived the year.
This past week I have Facetimed with my daughter several times. She is gloating over the daffodils sprouting up in her yard there in Louisville, Kentucky while we’re still on “snow watch” until April here in Alberta. Jaxon, my grandbaby, is walking now and whenever he sees me (on their iPad) he says, “Gaaah!” and laughs. They’ll be home for the summer and I am counting down the days. My youngest child, Carmen is heading to Guatemala next week on mission with her grade eleven class. She’ll have millions of stories to tell when she gets back. I am so looking forward to hearing them all! My son, Brett brought home an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen the other day, declaring that he just thought we might like a “surprise”. Such a treat! Such a blessing! Life has indeed come around full circle. The little everyday things – memories – that I count as treasures. How does one adequately thank God for this gift of life?
I have thought often about God telling me to stop drinking coffee. It sounded like a strange thing at the time but I obeyed without hesitation. God asked, “Would you give it up for Me?” The more I have thought about it over the years, the more I am sure that those words at the time didn’t have as much to do with giving up coffee as it was my giving up everything to God.
Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God that if you have heard from God, what you do next, determines what you believe about God. The moment God speaks to you is the time He wants you to respond to Him. I had no idea what was happening within my body, but God did. His timing was perfect. Had I disobeyed, I would not have lived out that year. It was a life or death decision for me and I didn’t even know it at the time.
I have learned since then whenever God speaks to me, He may be waiting for me to give Him a “life or death” answer. I pray that in the large things and small things whenever He asks me to “give it up for Him”, no matter what He asks of me, I will respond immediately, “Yes, Lord!” God will then respond, “That’s thanks enough!”
“Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back. For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who got down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living – the living – they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell your children about your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38: 16-19