On the night of my arrest, my fiancée, Susan, sat inside the home we recently had purchased, addressing the invitations to our wedding scheduled for December 30, 1989—and despite my arrest, she waited for me. She faithfully visited, wrote hundreds of letters, and spent countless hours on the phone. We married on July 8, 2006. She wore her original wedding dress. Thirty months later God blessed us with a son, James.
From 2007 to 2010 God blessed me with success in my writing career. I wrote and released three mystery novels. But about the time the third novel rolled off the presses in April of 2010, my wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time, continued to express concern about an enlarging lump in her right breast. She initially found a small spot in the same area about eighteen months earlier. However, a specialist at a renowned Cleveland hospital chose not to biopsy the lump, and instead offered us her opinion: “It’s nothing to worry about,” she said. “If you get pregnant it may change shapes, but it is nothing to worry about.”
Susan conceived, and change shapes it did—it grew to a mass over 7 centimeters long and 4 centimeters wide. Now at the end of April my wife, less than two weeks away from her due date, climbed onto the exam table in a hospital gown, as the doctor hurried into the room.
“I don’t even know why you are here,” she said in a condescending tone, lifting the gown, “I told you . . . oh . . . oh, I see.”
“What is it?” my wife asked.
“I’m going to biopsy that right now, myself.”
The following evening as I put my son down for a nap, we got the call.
“It’s cancer. Stage two. HER2 positive—an aggressively growing form of cancer. I have scheduled you to report to the hospital in two hours so we can induce the baby and begin treatment immediately.”
Tears welled up in my wife’s eyes and then traced down the sides of her face. The room receded from focus. The next several hours blurred together as we arranged to have my in-laws stay with our two-year-old son. Ironically, the subplot in one of my novels features the main character’s wife being misdiagnosed at the same hospital for the same condition. I originally wrote the manuscript seven years before we lived out the storyline.
My wife lay in the birthing bed wired to a heart monitor, an epidural taped to her back, and a harness of probes around her protruding belly. Monitors beeped, IVs dripped, and instead of the joyful anticipation of the long-awaited arrival of new life, we frantically searched the Internet for information on breast cancer. Phone calls to and from doctor friends punctuated the waiting, all busy researching and relaying the latest information. Some made recommendations. Others made referrals. Some just prayed and cried along with us.
The Bible says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (romans 8:28). Sometimes “good” isn’t exactly what we expect or want, and while we had no idea how things would turn out, our experience of navigating crushing disappointments and crises during my incarceration taught us that we could trust that God could even use cancer for His glory and our good.
At 8:03 p.m. on April 30, Audrey Ann Swiger took her first breath—a beautiful, fragile little girl weighing only 5 lbs., 13 oz. Immediately, the birthing staff suspected something wrong and called in the “Special Care” team to evaluate.
“She’s a little under-responsive,” the doctor said, “but still within the normal range. I think she will be fine.”
Two hours later Susan placed a bottle into Audrey’s mouth. After just a few sucks, her face turned blue.
She stopped breathing.
The observing nurse whisked her down the hall for further evaluation, and she stopped breathing again, this time without the bottle. The next time we saw our precious Audrey in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a tangle of wires and tubes filled the incubator. A myriad of tests over the following weeks revealed an exceptionally rare genetic disorder, leaving her with two ping-pong ball-sized cysts in her brain. The muscles in her esophagus were paralyzed, this coupled with severe reflux forced the doctors to place a feeding tube in her abdomen. For the next three years she received nourishment through a carefully calibrated pump. Simultaneously, Susan’s first round of chemotherapy completely wiped out her white blood cells, leaving her neutropenic—her white blood cell count was low, leaving her very susceptible to infections. For one week in late May, my wife and daughter resided in two separate Intensive Care Units in the same hospital.
Yet through procedures and surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, exhaustion and fear, the Lord graciously walked us through the crisis. We continued praying daily for God’s wisdom in making medical decisions. God brought Christian doctors and health care professionals into our lives who helped us negotiate the maze of medical procedures. Step-by-step He gave us peace, knowing we were exactly where He wanted us to be. Five years later my wife is cancer free, my daughter’s health concerns have resolved, and we are blessed. We have a deeper faith in God and we know that our growing faith was part of the good that God was accomplishing during this time.
When faced with my first major crisis, I lacked a moral compass and shipwrecked my life. During my wife’s and daughter’s health crises, I had a solid biblical foundation to stand on, a fellowship of believers to help guide and direct me, and the battle-tested faith that comes from trusting God through heartaches and disappointments. Over the years I learned that when life doesn’t seem fair, God has a plan and is at work. God has a plan for my life and He has one for you as well. God once told the Israelites, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (jeremiah 29:11). God’s promised plan for Israel is not the same as what happens to you and me, but He is still the same God. He is the God who intervened in Joseph’s life so that what was meant for evil turned out for good. He is the God who can be trusted. However, you cannot experience Him or the richness and blessings of His plan until you find Him. The path that leads to Him starts with Jesus, who He is, and what He did.
In order to experience God’s forgiveness and receive the free gift of eternal life, you have to understand that heaven is a gift you cannot earn. You need to confess that you are a sinner and that your sin has separated you from God. But Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and you can receive the free gift of eternal life by placing your faith in Him. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (romans 10:9–10).
Confession, repentance, and placing your faith in Jesus Christ is the start of a relationship with God, one that continues to grow as you learn more about Him and His love for you. Not all stories turn out the same. Not everyone in the Bible who had something bad happen to them had the same experience as Joseph. Not everyone will have the same experience as me. But the God who worked in Joseph’s life is the God who worked in my life and the same God who can work in yours too.