Forward

I’m probably the least qualified individual to speak about God. I’ve read the New Testament. I’m reading the Old Testament, but I haven’t been to church in more than 10 years. I don’t have a degree in theology. I can’t read The Bible in its original text. I’m just a man.

If you’re reading this to gain knowledge, I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. What I am is a man who feels called to testify about God and His glory.

I titled this “Testimony: My Trail of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer.”  I need to explain it. I’ve only just learned on March 3, 2018, that my mom even had Cancer. As I type this, I don’t even know what kind it is. So why “struggled”? Because I have faith that God will cure my mom of this disease. I have such faith, that I’m writing this story as it’s happening. Like any story I write, I don’t start writing until I feel confident I know the ending.  As this story develops, I hope you’ll understand why.

I’ll reference scripture, but only in the sense I’ve been reading it. The point of this book is to testify God’s glory. I’ll tell the story as I experienced it. I’ll reflect on how that affected me. That’s all this is.

The structure of this story will be as follows:

I’ll talk about a specific event. I’ll point out all the “elephants” in the room regarding faith and how I feel.  Then I’ll reflect on that event from a religious point of view, using The Bible to help establish these revelations.

I’ve made an effort to improve my relationship with God for years now. This trial, this test my family is facing, is one I insist on passing. As I struggle, every bump in the road and every bit of bad news is just another part of the test. Do I turn from God? Do I lose my faith and lament life and its hardships, or do believe more strongly? Do I increase my faith and trust in God? This is the test, and I believe that successfully passing that test will end with my mom free of this disease. In the end, keeping my faith is the only thing I can do.

I invite you to share this journey with me. I invite you to watch this opportunity to see a miracle as it happens because I believe it will, and when it happens, people will know God’s power.


 

The Call

Feb. 27, 2018

I was driving home, happily listening to “Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson. Audiobooks usually help me get through any drive. I’d just hit Maryland 295 when I noticed my phone vibrating.

I have a rule: Don’t call me during working hours unless it’s an emergency. Some of my family members aren’t very good at that rule, but my heart jumps any time I get a call before six. When I noticed my sister, Carlie, was the one calling, I promise you I felt an added degree of worry. You see, Carlie is actually good at following that rule. Also, Carlie, my baby sister, still lives with my parents.

I picked up the phone.  “Carlie, hold on!” I scrambled to drive 70 miles per hour, pause my audiobook and keep the phone in position. For anyone who might have been behind me, I’m sorry.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“They’re airlifting Mom to Phoenix.” She was crying. I could hear her breath catching. “They think she might have had a stroke.”

I have this unique skill. I think in addition to it being a gift from God, it’s something my time in the Navy developed. I go into this mode where I’m super focused. I process information, and I keep calm. That doesn’t erase the emotions.

My mother is the center of our family. She’s who we call when we’re mad at one another. She’s who we call when we want money. We all converge on her house on Christmas. She’s hyper productive. She’s genuinely compassionate. Every good thing about my personality, I got from her. And all I knew is she was hurt.

The last time I’d spoken to my mom, Etta Zavala (a very long story), was the previous Friday. I’m a momma’s boy. I call her pretty much every Friday. We talk about how our week went and what we have coming up the next week. During that last conversation, I was honestly annoyed. She’d seemed distracted. A number of my sisters were there. I was on speaker phone. She was sitting down to eat and talking to my sisters. So the conversation was short. I’d said something like,”Well, you clearly have a lot going on, I just wanted to call and say hello and I love you.”

It seems that day my sisters and father had noticed my mom wasn’t speaking correctly. My mom reads more than I do. She suffers the same issue any parent with more than one child has. You know, that habit where she has to list every child she’s ever had until she reaches the one she’s actually trying to talk to? Well, apparently by this point she wasn’t just naming the wrong child, she was using gobbledygook words in place of our names.

Carlie explained this to me as she filled me in on how things got to where they were. She seemed off. My mom takes medicine. I’m not really sure what it’s for, but she’d gotten some new medication, and they wondered if that had adversely affected her. She only got worse as the days moved on. She didn’t want to do anything. My mom, who would cook dinner while vacuuming between commercials on a show she was trying to watch, didn’t want to do anything.

By the day my sister called me, they’d basically tossed her in the car and took her to the doctor. Her ability to speak was greatly diminished.

Carlie told me all of this, and I listened.

What I said was, “Well, she’s with the doctors, and they’re going to take care of it. I know God is going to make this right.”

In an infinite moment before I said that, I considered my options on how to react. I was terrified, but I’m regarded as the “calm” one in the family. I keep things in perspective. But something else occurred to me. Am I a man who believes and trusts in God or not? I swear to you I immediately sensed, this is a test of faith. 

I’m going to believe God will fix this!

Carlie promised to keep me in the loop. I told her to focus on mom and let me know what she learns when she learns it. I’m a journalist. I deal in accurate facts. I don’t deal with theories or worries. I wait to know what is going on, and I go from there. At that moment, all I knew was my mom was sick.

I don’t have the perfect clarity some claim to have when tragedy happens. I’m not sure if she called back or if we were still talking. I only know that “stroke” was the first theory. Then I got another call.

“They found a tumor,” Carlie said. “It’s in the speech area of her brain.”

Suddenly, that stroke seemed like a preferable option. You can recover from a stroke. You can go to speech therapy.

Best as I can remember, she hadn’t been taken to Phoenix yet.  My sister, Crystal, called to tell me she was going to meet Mom at the hospital. My brother Ben called.

Do you still trust God? I didn’t hear the voice, but I could feel the question in the back of my mind. I’m going to believe he’ll fix this!

I told Crystal, “God will handle this.”

I told Ben, my best friend who married Crystal, “The whole point of faith is for times like this.”

I sat by my phone, stubbornly working and acting like the woman who raised me and a number of siblings that’s hard to specify wasn’t in any danger. Why? Because I wanted to show God I wasn’t worried. I was. I really was. But I kept reminding myself, God will fix this.

I waited for word. Crystal told me, “They’re bundling her up for the helicopter now. I’m worried because it’s really windy.”

“People don’t know enough about helicopters,” I replied in that confident tone I use when everything is going insane. “They’d never take off if they didn’t already know they’d land safely.”

They never took off. That weather Crystal mentioned caused the hospital to change the plan. Instead, they’d drive her there via ambulance.

Carlie told me they weren’t driving, “with light’s blazing,” so I replied with, “See? They’re not that worried about it.”

I hung up, and wept. I’d run out of strength and fake confidence. I’d run out of the ability to focus. I didn’t have anything to do. I was powerless.

But aren’t we always powerless? In comparison to God and His will, what can we do? Nothing. We never have any say. Even in that moment, and every moment, I understand that my tendency to become hyper focused and drive myself into whatever I have to do (that day I had to write a blog post and set up the book cover tournament I do every month) is only an illusion of power. But the other reason I tried to act like nothing was wrong, was because I was doing everything in my power to show God I trusted Him.

Hours passed. Three. Long. Hours.

I have wonderful friends. I have an amazing girlfriend. I hadn’t told them what was going on yet. I was still working it out. So messages kept coming. Each time my phone buzzed, my heart leapt, hoping it was news about my mom. But no. My girlfriend was stuck in traffic. My coworkers were being their usual chipper conversationalists. My sister, Rosa (long story), who didn’t know my mom was sick, sent a message asking if I’d pick something up from the house she’d just moved out of. Every single message that wasn’t news on my mom felt like a whip.

I wanted to shout at everyone. I wanted to yell. I wanted to be mad. But that’s not what God wanted me to do. At some point, I filled my girlfriend in. I wasn’t ready to talk to my friends yet. They didn’t know. What right did I have to be mad at them for something they didn’t know? I sent Rosa a message, but she was some 2,000 miles into a 4,000-mile trip across the country.  What I felt God wanted me to do was remain patient. Wait. Trust him. So I did.

Ben called, “Hey, they’re taking her in, but it’s going to be a few hours before they know what’s up.”

“Ok,” I replied. “I’ll just finish up and try and get some sleep. There’s nothing else to do, and I want to be able to function when we get word.”

So that’s what I did. I finished my blog post. I even played a few video games. Why? Because if I could just act like nothing was wrong, if I could just trust God and let him handle things, it would all work out.

I went to my bed, I knelt down on the floor like I do every night, and I prayed.

My prayers have a pattern. I begin with the day’s greatest blessing. Then I offer prayers for those I know. Then I pray for what I need. Lately, I’ve been saying, “Lord, you know my heart, my goals, and my dreams, but what I need most is strength.”

My girlfriend and I want to abstain until what we both hope becomes a wedding day.

That’s not what I prayed for that night. That night, I wasn’t the least bit interested in my hormones.

“Lord, I’m going to trust that you’ll handle this in your time and in your way. I’m going to have faith that this will be an opportunity for me to testify about your grace and your glory. So I ask that you take care of my mom.”

I don’t dream often, and the dreams I have are either mundane or bad. They’re always related to whatever was on my mind before I go to sleep. I woke up four or five times from vivid dreams where something happened. Each time I woke, I’d say, “God will take care of this.”

At some point, my phone buzzed. Carlie wanted to know if I was awake.  Once I said I was up, she called.

They found the tumor (it was hard for the doctors in Yuma to pin down due to the differences in equipment). The doctors found the tumor, and it was operable. At some point the next day they were going to surgically remove it and go from there.

“See?” I said. “They’re going to pull it out, and it’ll be fine.”

Carlie was so strong. I’ve honestly never seen her this strong. She was always tough. Well, if I’m being honest, stubborn is the better word. But she, like me, uses fury to push through more than she should. But she was patient, detailed with her information, and comforting. She’s also working to improve her relationship with God, and she validated my faith by agreeing God would handle this. We talked for a few minutes.

When she hung up, I prayed.

“God, praise your grace and your mercy. Thank you for watching over my mom.”  By the end of the sentence, I was bawling. I was a weeping mess curled up in a ball. I love my mom. I’d promised God I’d praise him when this was over, and I’d just learned that this tumor was operable. Sure, they’d have to look at a few things, but my mom was going to have that thing taken out of her.

The next day, I intended to testify, just as I said I would. I did testify, but I also learned the test wasn’t over by a long shot.


 

Questions and Revelations

You’re telling the world about your mom and her struggle with cancer on a blog?

Yeah. Angie was updating people pretty regularly via Facebook, so it’s not like people don’t already know. And I promised God I’d testify. I have this platform to do so. I feel I’m keeping my word to God the best way I can. To be honest, I intend to compile these posts into a memoir. I’ll donate every single dollar in royalties to cancer research, as I think this is God working through me to make more progress against the disease. I’m honestly a very private person. Part of the reason for my pen name is to keep a level of privacy. But when one promises to testify for God, he does it.

So you think God gave your mom a tumor to test your faith?

God tests us in a number of ways. I’m a huge fan of the book of Job. His whole story was about how God tested him to demonstrate just how faithful he was. I haven’t read that book in The Bible yet, but I’ve listened to some sermons. I’ve heard the story a few different ways. The one I’ve heard most is God let the devil pretty much do everything but kill Job. The point was no matter what the devil did, Job wouldn’t turn against God. The point is, nothing happens without God’s will, so yes. is God only testing my faith? No. Remember, my mom is the centerpiece of my whole family. My sisters are being tested. My brother is being tested. My father, who’s already lost several members of his family to cancer in the last few years, is being tested.

So why praise a God who’d give your mom a tumor just to test your faith?

If I’m being frank, because I’m nothing compared to God, and if I’m right, and he is testing my faith, turning away from him would only make matters worse. You can look at this from a bunch of different ways, but here’s the thing. We all want to believe in a kind and glorious God (well, those of us who believe in God).  A lot of people want to give God all the credit for everything good that happens in life. That empowers the doubters in the world to point at the bad.

Then there are those who hate God or refuse to believe in God because of those same bad things. God does this and lets that happen.

There are those who believe God doesn’t do anything. God put us on Earth and lets us make decisions.

What I currently believe is God is God. He is merciful and wrathful. He is great and powerful.

Job 1:21: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return tither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Could God take my mom? Yes. At any moment, God could take everything I have from me. If I were a different man, I’d focus on the fact that he took them. I once had more than $20,000 in my bank account. Now I don’t. I once had two nieces and a nephew. Then I didn’t. Then I found them again. (Long story, but true.) Now my Mom has cancer! But for me to be angry at God for taking anything from me, I’d have to first realize that God gave them to me in the first place. So I learned about that phrase and, as I often do, I paraphrased it in a way that makes sense to me.

“I don’t have or deserve anything. Everything I have is on loan from God, and he can loan me more or take all I have back whenever he wants.”

That reminds me of some critical things. These things in my life were never mine to begin with. We think too possessively as humans. My mom. My money. My house. My thinking is if I do a better job of realizing it’s all God’s, I’ll have a better perspective of how things are.

So what does God want?

Oh! if I only knew. Look, the basic point is God wants us to worship him. So my new mantra is, “The more I’m tested, the more I’m going to worship God.” Now some may argue that’s exactly why they don’t believe in God or choose not to follow him. “Who would ever follow some bully who would give tumors to parents or take children from mothers.  Well look, believe in a God or not, something: life, nature, the world, is taking those things and those people. The difference, from my point of view, is if we continue to praise God, he’ll reward us. Frankly, on this earthly plain, God could make every day of my mortal life miserable, and people would probably say, “Look at him, he’s miserable, and his whole life is miserable because he won’t turn from that mean God.”  But here’s the part where I do math. Let’s assume that I live the 75 or so years most people in my family live (easy), what is 75 years of suffering compared to eternity?

I write fantasy and science fiction. We read stories about people who are immortal or ultra powerful.  Do you ever read anything where they tell you about that bad century a few millennia ago? No, because in comparison to infinity, every other number is nothing.

Do I want God to make me suffer for my entire mortal life? Of course not! Look, I think I’ve had some tough times in my life. I don’t want to get into a “my life has had more trials than yours” competition, but I’d unfortunately think some of my trials have been pretty numerous in comparison to others (see below for that). But I’ve had some great years too. Even if I can’t point at that many years, I can point to moments that are worth decades. I remember my niece Kailynn’s laugh. I haven’t heard her for decades, but the mere memory of her laugh is still enough to make me smile.

I remember the feeling I got when The Journals of Bob Drifter went live.

I remember the worst year of my life (2013).  Life is more than any one thing. We do too much as a race pointing out all the bad or pointing out all the good as proof of God’s existence or not. I believe God is always with us. We’re tested. We’re frankly punished. It happens. But if we keep our faith, if we do our upmost to live in accordance to God’s will, the blessings will come.

Can I prove this or not? Well, I’ve started this entire project specifically to present evidence in support my theory.

But it’s not fair! Why does God give so much to bad people, but he punishes and tests me?!

Man do I struggle with this. Listen folks, I was single for thirty-seven years. How do you imagine I felt at every wedding? A considerable number of my brothers result from marrying my sisters. I’ve wanted to be a father since I was 8, and I once remember a man complaining to me about, “how many kids he has to deal with.”

You don’t think I wasn’t jealous? There were times I said, “If I see one more wedding invitation, I’m going to punch someone!” Life is pretty unfair when you’re selfish enough to only look at what you have and what you don’t have, especially when you’re only looking for more.

So here I am hearing about yet another member of my family having cancer. (Seriously, I’ve actually lost count of how many family members I’ve lost to cancer in the last couple years. I mean I literally, have lost count.) But I had them to begin with. I also know people who wish their mothers or fathers had died. The man who’s genetic material brought me to Earth wasn’t a good man, but the man who raised me, who taught me to be accountable, who taught me how to be strong, and who taught me how to be relied upon was a blessing in my life. It’s easy to get caught up in how much more I want in life. It’s easy to get caught up in how many bad things have happened in my life. But I think if I focus on all of it, I see it’s just life. And when I focus on the fact that I’ll die one day, I can remember that this mortal life is sort of like a test run. Life as a whole is a test. We live it, proving to God who we are. I’m just tired of being angry. I’m just tired of thinking I’m made to suffer as some sort of punchline or curse.

Will I get angry again? Yes, I’m human. I got angry, like forty minutes ago. Seriously!  I just have to think, to believe, there’s something more after it all. If I live right, and I believe, I’ll be granted eternity of wonder when this test of life is over.

Could I be wrong?

Yes. Yes I could be wrong. I’m human, and prone to that particular position. But if you’re  a non-believer or even a Christian, what’s the harm? What do I lose if I choose to believe God will make sure this all works out in the end? I’m going to live, and I’m going to die. These are facts. I can live miserable, lamenting all the things I don’t have. I could be resentful I’m not a best seller. I could envy my friends who are married. I could resent family that have never had to deal with abuse or cancer. I could be a downright asshole. But what would it get me? So I might as well be the man I want to be, believe in the God I know exists, and live as if I’m right. If I’m wrong, and you’re not a believer, it’s not like you’ll be able to tell me, “I told you so.” We’ll be dead.

But if I’m rightI gain eternity of salvation. Sounds like a win, win to me.

Thanks for reading

Matt

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24 thoughts on “Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 1

  1. Oh, wow. This was really encouraging to read. The last bit made me think of a C.S. Lewis quote I love so much: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you get neither.”

    I have two questions if you don’t mind. How did you get saved? And why don’t you go to church?

    (Totally random questions. I’ve had some bad experiences at church, and I know that’s one of the things that stop many from attending. And the first question is something I always love hearing about people.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your comments. I’m completely okay with questions.

      How did I get saved? That’s a tough question. I’ve known God exists for pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve been baptized a few times to be honest. Back then I thought baptism was the washing away of sin.
      I guess the act of salvation coincides with my not going to church.

      My bio-dad was a bad man. He did bad things. We all went to this church. We were planning to leave. I was visiting my best friend for what I thought would be the last time.

      Well, the church took that night and came to my mom’s house en mass and sat her down and said,”He’s your husband, and you can’t get a divorce.” I don’t remember, but my chaplain at work informed me the sexual immorality was a Biblically approved reason for divorce. Apparently this church hand’t read that particular passage in The Bible. We moved, and I figured that was just a bad church.

      We moved to a place where the man who lived at the choke point of our cul-de-sac was a member of a very extreme church. They’d protest professional sports events and tell everyone all the reasons they’re going to Hell.

      He’d physically obstruct me from going home to tell me all the reasons I was going to hell. He once told me he was concerned because of the kind of company I kept. Ben is native American. I asked him why he thought I had bad company. I told him Ben was (and still is) one of the kindest, most compassionate men I’d ever met. He responded with, “Oh! So native Americans go to Heaven now?”

      These events led me to believe that God is good, but men in churches are considerably less reliable.

      I wish I could tell you that my bio-dad was the only bad man I was exposed to. But my family was exposed to several bad men. I’d mentioned 2013. Well, another bad man did something to someone I love very much, and that set me off the edge. I wasn’t doing well at work. There were a lot of communication issues. The demand on all of us was frankly unfairly high. I was over stressed. I worked about 12 hours a day and then went home to do more work. I was the only one to finish the list of things he was given, and I only did that because I didn’t do anything else. Then I got that news, and I lost it. I came up with this phrase, “No Hope Lives Here.” I seriously thought I was just waiting for death. I was never more tempted to turn from God.

      Then I met Rosa. She’s this amazing woman who I find is quite impossible to be in a bad mood around. Her and her daughter welcomed me into their lives. It took about a year for me to adopt her as a sister, but it happened. Then one day I was babysitting, and I let her dog out, and the dog escaped.

      We realized it at like 10. I was going to go home. My niece was already asleep. I looked at Rosa and swore to her, “I’m not coming back until I find your dog.”

      I drove a few blocks. Then I’d get out and walk around calling for the dog. It was pouring rain. It was cold. It was noisy. But I wandered around calling the dog. I fell into this routine. “Lucy!” I’d call. “Heavenly father please help Lucy find her way home.” I didn’t ask for God to allow me to find her. I felt that was like asking someone to make something right that I made wrong. I just wanted the dog to be okay and find her way home. I did this for at least an hour. Drive. Wander. Call. Pray. Call. Pray. Repeat.

      I was determined. I was in some bushes, calling for the dog, when I see this tiny red light. I thought was an insect.

      “You’re looking for that little, white dog aren’t you?”

      Imagine my surprise when a bug talked to me. It wasn’t a bug. For some reason I can’t fathom, this man decided, “It’s late and raining cats and dogs, but I’m going to go grab a cigarette at the exact moment this moron is randomly wandering around calling for this dog I saw a few hours ago.”

      He directed me to the woman who found Lucy. She directed me to the base police, who couldn’t have turned her into the pound because they closed just after they found the dog. I picked Lucy up and drove her home. From that day until the day Lucy died, I called her the Miracle Dog.

      I honestly believe that was a miracle. That was the day I learned if you work hard enough, pray long enough, and have enough faith in God, it’s only a matter of time. I’d always known God exists. I’d always wanted to avoid sin (and, therefore, his punishments). But that’s probably when I realized he’s watching me. Not just the world, but me.

      Since then, I’d opened myself up more and more to God. I struggled. I struggled with several sins and vices. I still struggle with them. But that night was when I learned that I can be better. Things can change.

      I hope that answers your questions. Thanks for commenting. I’m glad it gave you encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wanted to let you know that I’ll be praying for you and your family. Also, regarding the book of Job: it’s a difficult book, but can be encouraging for those going through a hard time. I’ve been teaching a Bible Survey class over the last 6 months or so and I can send you my notes on Job (about 6 pages long) if you are interested (or the audio can be found here: http://calvarybaptist.life/sermon-audio/mediaposts/bible-survey-job ).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the notes. I’m always appreciative of information. I’m a scientific mind, so any ability to analyze is good from my point of view. As I grow, I hope to gain more understanding and scope on things. As it is, I’m just stating what I think and feel. I’d be grateful for any pastors or experts in Christianity to offer input.

      Like

    1. I sent you an email, but I just wanted to say publicly how much I appreciate not just that you shared the post, but the compliment you offered along with it. I am humbled, honored, and appreciative.

      Thank you!

      Like

  3. I’m awed and humbled by your ability to navigate through these emotions. I wish you the peace I know you need and the strength you pray for. And, I wish your Mom good health. Not knowing, really knowing, much about God – except he exists – I can’t speak to the correctness of your beliefs. But I can speak to the courage you’ve demonstrated in bearing your innermost soul. May God bless you, your Mom and your whole family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m not sure courage is the word I’d use. I’m simply someone driven to understand. I believe this journey can be an example. What sort of example remains to be seen, but I hope it’s a good one. (Please note I’m stating the journey is the example. No smart person should ever try and repeat my mistakes.) I thank you for reading, and I hope it inspires you, and honestly, I hope it encourages you to learn more about God, as I feel that’s the reason for this journey in the first place. I can’t say it enough. Thank you.

      Like

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