My mother’s probing fingers discovered the soft mound protruding beneath the hard lines of her ribs in the summer of 2014. It was probably nothing, a doctor assured her, but scheduled a biopsy to be sure.

Living in Maine, three states away, I couldn’t be there. But the week my 64-year-old, single mom expected the results, I sped down long miles of wooded highways in our family minivan, children crammed inside, to the small Connecticut community where she’d recently bought a cottage.

The Willimantic Camp Meeting Association, established by Methodists more than 150 years before, happened to be in the very town where my mother’s grandparents had run a furniture store and raised her father nearly a century before. After two decades of living out of boxes while traveling through Central Asia as a full-time missionary and linguist, translating the Bible into an endangered language, my mom finally had a home, which she renovated with the generous help of friends.

A few days after I arrived, Mom’s cell phone rang. She was on her way to a conference to talk about her work. She arrived home near midnight. Asleep on the living room futon, I awoke briefly as she brewed tea before sitting at her desk to work. It wasn’t until late the next morning that Mom mentioned the phone call.

“I have cancer,” she said softly. As her graying eyes filled with tears, I saw the disbelief written across the downward lines of her mouth. “But I know God can heal me.”

“Oh, Mom.” We hugged in her cramped kitchen as I grasped for words. Having grown up in church, I knew that God could heal too. If anyone deserved a miracle, it was my mom, who’d sold our family home to earn a divinity degree and pursue a life of serving others. But I also knew that, at some time or other, everyone dies.

Looking for comfort, I searched for scriptures on healing. Instead, God led me to the quiet reassurance of Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. … Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

And so I waited, praying – begging – to see God’s goodness. In the hard months that followed, Mom began chemotherapy and radiation. I visited as often as I could. When I couldn’t be there, new friends from her church and community filled in.

Even after the cancer spread to her bones, Mom cut her pain pills in half so she could stay up late, pouring over ancient Greek and Hebrew lexicons late into the night as she continued to work. We never talked about what stage the cancer was or how long she had. Instead, we enjoyed the time we had together as I clung to God’s mercy, seeking his grace and searching for his goodness.

I saw it in the neighbors who drove her to doctor’s appointments and picked up her groceries and medications. I saw it in my friends and family and neighbors who picked up my children after school and stayed with them so I could be with my mom. I saw it in my mom’s neighbors who opened their house to me while they were away so I could help care for my mom without disturbing her work or rest. I saw it in how God had provided for my mom in advance by leading her to this refuge of faith and love.

And that harsh December, six months after my mom’s diagnosis, as she lay dying in a Connecticut care facility, I saw it in the face of the wizened nun who prayed the Eucharist over her and blessed her and assured me that I would see my mom again.

Why didn’t God heal my mom? I don’t know. But rather than prescribing how he should act, I have learned to trust that – even in life’s deepest darkness and disappointment – God is still good. More than the assurance of divine healing, this is the certainty I cling to: that no matter what hardship we face, by the grace of God, we do not have to face it alone.

Meadow Rue Merrill is a midcoast writer, editor, inspirational speaker and mom of six who writes a weekly column Faith Notes. She can be found at