213: Deciding to Obey God + Believe in His Goodness When Cancer Strikes with Melissa Ferguson

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As Christians, we know we should follow and obey God, but when the fallen world we live in throws us a curveball, it can be difficult to stay the course. On today’s episode of the podcast, Alicia introduces us to Melissa Ferguson, Jesus-lover, wife, mom, and cancer warrior. Melissa opens up about her experience of learning how to continue to trust God when life is hard. Listen in to hear how God showed up in her cancer journey while simultaneously teaching Melissa to continue to obey and trust Him even in the hardest of circumstances.

We know we should follow and obey God, but how do we continue to trust God when life is hard? Listen in as cancer warrior Melissa Ferguson shares her story of obeying God even in hard times


  • [04:37] Melissa’s ‘pick up your mat and walk’ moment
  • [08:43] How Melissa continued to obey God despite the enemy’s biggest lie
  • [12:46] Moments of extreme obedience during Melissa’s cancer journey
  • [15:18] Melissa’s experience of trusting God when life is hard
  • [27:08] Ways Melissa felt God’s presence in her time of need
  • [32:31] Melissa’s insight for people struggling to obey God in hard times
  • [36:12] Following and obeying God after a cancer diagnosis
  • [41:15] Alicia’s takeaways from Melissa’s story and resource to use when life is hard

[04:37] Melissa’s ‘pick up your mat and walk’ moment

When Melissa shared the story of receiving her cancer diagnosis at the women’s group she and Alicia share, she stated that she felt God had called her to make a very specific decision, similar to the story found in John 5, where Jesus directs a man at the healing pool to pick up his mat and walk. 

She felt God saying to her that He didn’t want her to stay on her mat, like the man in John 5 did for 38 years. She remembers God telling her, “You have to pick up the mat, there is work to be done. This is not a time for you to lay on your mat feeling sorry for yourself.” At that moment, she knew that He wasn't telling her not to be upset about the diagnosis, He just didn't want her to stay stuck. 

Our flesh can sometimes cause us to stay stuck, leaning on the thought that we have the right to sit on our mats and feel sorry for ourselves. There were definitely days Melissa felt like staying on her mat. Whenever she felt that way, she would turn on a timer for five minutes, mourn and feel sorry for herself, and then she had to get up. She would turn on worship music to encourage her to move. She would tell her cancer diagnosis how big her God was, not the other way around, and she would listen to God’s call to not stay down. God was telling her that there were things He wanted to do in her and through her for other people. Despite how easy it would have been to sit and wallow in her circumstance, she felt God saying that He was going to use this situation to teach her how to obey Him, and it changed everything about her outlook.

Anytime she would obey God and get off her mat, the joy of being able to pray or encourage someone else helped her with her fight. It helped her continue to want to move forward and take on whatever was going to come next. She always knew that God was with her, but it took her obedience and getting off the mat to really feel it in her time of need.

[08:43] How Melissa continued to obey God despite the enemy’s biggest lie

As Melissa continued to share her story on the podcast, Alicia felt she was tapping into something that the enemy tries to steal from us: hope. No matter what your story is, whether it's some sort of diagnosis, the loss of a family member, or divorce, the enemy will try to make you feel like your journey is over and there’s no hope to be had. He will try to make you feel like you no longer have purpose, but that is the biggest lie of all.

Just obeying in the moment is our purpose. Our calling is to show up and do what’s asked of us by God, no matter what is going on in our lives. As Melissa continued through her cancer journey, she felt that the more she obeyed God, the more she wanted to obey Him. Those experiences changed her entire mindset. In her experience, it would start with something small, like being asked to say hi to someone or give them a smile. As she continued to obey Him in those moments, she felt closer to God and was feeling joyful from following the calling, despite the heaviness of her circumstance.

[12:46] Moments of extreme obedience during Melissa’s cancer journey

Melissa shared that there have been quite a few moments of extreme obedience during her cancer journey. The most recent experience involved receiving the news that she would not be going to have surgery to cut out her cancer. She recalls immediately responding in anger and sadness. Afterward, she began praying, surrounding herself with other Christian women, and seeing a therapist. Melissa felt that doing these things helped her process, move forward on a different path, and stay in a positive mindset for most of her walk. 

Through prayer and reflections on verses like Proverbs 3-5, Melissa learned to stop leaning on her own understanding and trust in the Lord when things like not being able to have surgery pop up.

Melissa shared her new perspective and conversations with God: “I don't like what this is telling me, but I'm not going to stay on my mat. Just let me walk it graciously. Let me try to do this joyfully. Let me try to do it with a smile, even if it's hard.”

For reflection:

  • Proverbs 3-5
  • In what ways can I lean more on God’s understanding and not my own?

[15:18] Melissa’s experience of trusting God when life is hard

There are a lot of us that are praying for healing, and it can be easy to wonder why God would allow difficult things to happen. For Melissa, it was the question of why her surgery wasn’t going to happen if it was something that could help her.

Recently, the pastor at Alicia and Melissa’s church did a sermon on miracles and why God doesn’t always answer our prayers in specific ways. The pastor shared that he prays like crazy against brokenness and illness, but he realizes that it’s also a miracle for us to walk with God through our darkness and redemption.

We often want God to fix and heal our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental issues, but Melissa shares that’s not really why God is here. He’s here so we can walk with him, follow Him, and be in union with Him. His desire is to love, help, and guide us. We have to trust that even though God won’t take away all of our problems, He’ll be with us in the fire and never leave us on our own, even if we sometimes feel alone. Melissa feels one of the greatest gifts we can know is that we get to spend eternity with Jesus, knowing that no matter what happens here on Earth, we’ll be completely healed in Heaven. She chooses to focus on that knowledge on her most painful days, remembering that Heaven is her home and that there’s always hope.

For reflection:

  • Matthew 6:26-27
  • You don't have to be defined by your circumstance. Above all else, God is in charge. God will take care of this. He takes care of the birds. He takes care of the lilies. How much more important are we to him than just that? 

[27:08] Ways Melissa felt God’s presence in her time of need

Living in Fallbrook, Melissa feels she experiences God’s goodness in a whole new way. She is surrounded by nature, and simply by watching the birds she’s reminded that God supplies our needs. In Melissa’s time of need, God worked through amazing people in her community to bring food to her house, groceries, and other necessities. At one point, as she wondered where everyone was coming from, a friend reminded her that they were being the hands and feet of Jesus for her. To see a community come together to take care of her, to show her that she wasn’t alone, was an amazing experience, and she saw God in all of it.

Being a type A person, Melissa admits that she likes to have a plan, and she used to be the one to do everything in the house before her diagnosis. She felt that God used this experience to show her that He can take care of everything. Initially, when people would ask if she needed anything, she would say no, but she would hear God say that she needed to let them bless her and not block them from doing His work. She had to learn to just say thank you.

[32:31] Melissa’s insight for people struggling to obey God in hard times

In response to Alicia’s question about what may be helpful for someone struggling with anger in their time of struggle to hear, Melissa had this insight to share: “It’s okay to be angry. We need to feel and express our emotions in a way that is beneficial to us.”

For example, Melissa shared that she sometimes has days where she needs to scream into a pillow to let her anger out. She gets frustrated sometimes that the world continues to move on despite her circumstance. She describes anger as the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ It’s the emotion we see, when there’s something different going on underneath the surface. 

She describes her anger as the fear of the unknown, not knowing what to do next after hearing the diagnosis. What we need to do is process whatever emotion is going on underneath the surface, she says. Melissa encourages anyone who is struggling to reach out to someone they trust, whether it's a good friend, therapist, or pastor. It’s important to run to a safe place where you feel comfortable talking about what’s going on. You could even grab a journal and write out everything you feel with no inhibition, but be sure to express that emotion.

[36:12] Following and obeying God after a cancer diagnosis

It is really difficult to hear a diagnosis like cancer, but Melissa wants to remind us that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always mean death. She reflects on the people she knows who have been in remission for years, as well as the varying types of cancer, as she looks to those stories for hope. Knowing that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, she finds that she can say, “Okay, God, I don't get it. I don't know why I'm walking this, but I do know, if I'm not done. Then there's something else for me to do. There's a reason why there's breath in my lungs today.” Her belief is if there's breath in your lungs, the enemy better watch out because God has something for you to do. It could be as small as sprinkling kindness wherever you go, like saying hello to your cashier at your local grocery store. We have no idea the impact that makes on that person, but God does. The more we can get out of that anger, allowing ourselves to feel it but not staying there, the better.

Melissa shares the best advice she ever received from her mother as a child was that God can handle our anger. What He doesn’t want is for us to stop communicating with him. So when you're upset, tell Him, she says. He died on the cross. He can handle your anger.

Something that helped Melissa along her journey was finding something to be grateful for, no matter how small. This allows us to continue to shine the love of Jesus. Like 2 Corinthians:4, we have light within us. And though we are broken, we are precious, and the brokenness is what allows God’s light to shine through for others to see.

[41:15] Alicia’s takeaways from Melissa’s story and resource to use when life is hard

Alicia shares that hearing Melissa’s story was an emotional experience for her because she knows how hard Melissa has fought to look for healing and ways to to conquer this battle that she's in, and yet she still clings to a deep commitment to Christ. It takes so much bravery and courage to continue to trust God while walking through something like a cancer diagnosis, especially when you don't know what the answer is.

If you’re walking through a challenging season of your own, Alicia would like to share a process she uses with her clients called A.D.D., which stands for Acknowledge, Discern, and Decide. This is a tool that allows us to process through the emotions that we’re feeling in the midst of tough moments.

Acknowledge is the first step in the process, which allows us to reflect on the feelings we’re experiencing before we dive into the deeper layers. What can we do to acknowledge our emotions, like anger? What can we do to see why it makes sense that it's there? Why is it plausible that you're angry? Of course, we want to get to the truth, and truth always overcomes emotion, but we have to work through the emotion for the truth to be able to be absorbed deeply in us

The second step is to discern. Discerning allows us to see what’s true and what is not, what God has said about the situation and what beliefs we may be creating ourselves that aren’t necessarily true. It takes some introspection to sit quietly before the Lord, journal, and let it come out. What are the things that I believed? Is my belief keeping me in this emotion? What do I need to believe?

The last step is to decide. At this point in the process, we have acknowledged the emotion, we have recognized that it makes sense to feel a certain way, and we have reflected on the truth of the situation, now it’s time to decide what we’re going to do about it. This is the point Alicia describes as the rubber meeting the road, because what does it matter if we can see the truth and we can feel the emotion if we're going to stay stuck on the same cycle? This is why deciding is the last step in the A.D.D. process.

As Alicia has mentioned in the past, the more we make a certain choice, bad or good, the more the brain will automatically revert to the choice. So, the more we choose God and that perspective, the more the brain automatically begins to work with us instead of against us in moments of hardship. Alicia’s prayer for you is that you can take that concept and apply it to something hard you're working through, and you can use that new ability to decide to obey God in spite of it.


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