Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 29

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 29

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

See Part 25 here.

See part 26 here.

See part 27 here.

See Part 28 here.

The Ceremony

Mom was never one for big deals. I got that trait from her. This mean her gathering was a small open house. The flaw in Mom’s plan was that she didn’t take into account just how many people loved her. The fact that my dad is well loved in the area as well meant that a few hours of an open house turned into a house packed with people, all sharing stories and talking.

I saw old coworkers of my mother. I saw family I hadn’t seen in years. I saw childhood friends of my sisters. Everywhere I looked, there were groups of people talking and eating. I think at that point I was more overwhelmed than anything else.

I spoke with an old coworker. We got caught up in talking about the Bible and faith. I talked to family when I saw someone was alone. Eventually, I had a chance to talk with my dad.

The constant opinions that, “her pain is, at least, over” weren’t as much of a comfort as some might have thought. We all wanted Mom to get better.  After a week, I still don’t think he was in their bedroom for more than a few minutes. He certainly wouldn’t sleep in there.  When he talked to me about his frustration with the “end of pain” theory, I offered a different perspective.

“Of course we all wanted her to get better,” I said. “But if I had to choose between letting her suffering end and letting her existence to continue in pain, I’m glad her pain ended.” The fact is, we’re all mad about Mom’s death.

I think Dad had it pretty tough that day. I heard him explain the circumstances no fewer than four times.

“It wasn’t even the cancer that killed her,” he’d explain. “Her body just gave out.”

That’s true. The cancer hadn’t been what ultimately killed her.  Her body was fighting on too many fronts.

He maintained his strength and kept talking to people. I’ve always believed he was a very strong man. I think that day was the strongest I’ve ever seen him.

In reflection, the saddest thing was that it took something like this for this many people to come together.  When I was very young, the house looked pretty much like that around the holidays. Family would come from all over to hang out and share stories. Neither my dad nor I are fans of large gatherings, but I’d like to see our family come together more often without the tragic loss that caused this particular reunion.

The best thing was that love was everywhere I looked. People who needed comfort received it. People who needed fellowship received it. People who needed quite solace received it.

The hours went by, and the family cleaned up. Most of us had to head back to our lives after that, but they wouldn’t be normal. When we lose someone central to our life, normal doesn’t seem possible. My little sister still stops when she realizes she was about to say goodbye to my mom before work.  I caught myself picking up the phone the next Friday because I call her every Friday. She was such a central figure, our muscle memory was activating, and we had to remind ourselves that she was gone.

Several members of the family talked to me during the event. There’s a real fear that things will simply unravel now that Mom’s not here to hold it all together. I’m still not actually sure how to prevent that. On my end, I have to do a better job of reaching out.

There weren’t waves of tears and lamentations (which would have frustrated my mother).  Sure, some of us shed tears of sadness, but for the most part, we all just talked and caught up. This is exactly what my mom would have wanted.

Looking back, I’m happy at the number of Christ-like attributes my mother demonstrated.

First, she was forgiving and always willing to welcome us back. (Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the Prodigal son). No matter what I or any of my siblings did, we knew where home was. We knew if we were willing to make it right, she’d welcome us back.

My mom was loving, and she respected her own mother (Leviticus 19:3). When our grandma got sick, mom cared for her for so long I can’t remember.  I imagine grandma moved in somewhere around 2008. Mom denied herself trips, vacations, and even simple dates with my dad so that she could care for her mother. She did this all the way until Grandma’s death.

She was driven to make her home a home (Titus 2:3-5). She always worked around the house. She always had a project in mind. She cleaned almost nonstop.  Before her retirement, she did all of this after working to provide for us financially.

She was a selfless servant (John 13:1-17). If I’m shamed by anything, it’s how I never learned from her example. She never flaunted or abused her rightful power over us. She simply did what needed to be done. She never let something go undone because it was beneath her. Heck, she never let something go undone because she felt it was her duty to do so.

Reading The Bible as I do now, and looking back on how she acted, I can’t believe how blind I was. My lack of scriptural training made that impossible, and my hardened heart convinced me that being served was my right. As I grew older, I resented others for not doing more, but even my acts of service weren’t done out of love, but to elevate myself above my siblings.

Now, as I prepare to become a father, I can be glad that I had her example to learn from. She wasn’t perfect. I’m not trying to portray her as such, but she was the perfect mother for me. Now that I have a scriptural context with which to reflect on her behavior, I’m more equipped to be a better father.

The only thing left to do, was start my life without her.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

How can I apply what I saw my mom do to my life?

For starters, I can show the same sort of investment and love for my boys as my mother showed me. She took an interest in my life. She read the books I read (and my siblings) just because I read them. She watched whatever I wanted to watch.  I think the first year we truly started becoming close was 1997. Mom watched an entire football season with me. She even participated in a fantasy football league (and won I might add. Look, she picked mostly Broncos, her favorite team, and they won the Super Bowl that year.)

I have thoughts and scripture to guide me on a lot, but my mother’s example mostly helped me realize how to love and support my children. I want to make sure my boys feel that same level of support from me.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 25

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 25

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

Phone Calls

I think it took a few days to get a hold of my mom. She was exhausted from the trip, and the medicine she was taking always took something out of her. I had a chance to talk to one of my aunts, who I haven’t had the chance to see or talk to in quite some time.

Then I got to talk to Mom. I told her I understood she was tired. I talked to her about getting stronger so that we could try again. Mostly, we just shared our love for each other.

Even though she sounded so very tired, she wanted to make sure she told me she loved me. This is one of those things that wouldn’t change no matter what. I think I’ve learned from that call. We sometimes use, “I love you” perfunctorily. We say it like a sneeze or a casual bump during a ride on public transportation. My mom had lesions all the way down her throat. Eating was next to impossible, and talking couldn’t have been fun. But in our five-to-ten-minute conversation, she must have said, “I love you” four times.

It’s easy to say, “I love you” in times of joy or casual meetings. How meaningful it was to hear those words when I knew they literally hurt to say.

I spoke to one of my sisters next. At some point, the concept of salvation came up. She mentioned she was condemned because of a sin. I’m leaving this vague for a great many reasons. The most relevant reason is that there are people in the world who genuinely believe they’ve committed an “unforgivable” sin.  I don’t think my sister thought this particular sin was “unforgivable” except when viewed from the filter of our upbringing, and the false teachers we were bombarded with.

I digress. When people hear constantly that they will go to Hell for their sins, it’s possible they’ll be convinced.

My reply to my sister still holds true for any who feel they’ve done something or too much to be forgiven.

“If you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart as your savior and repented of your sins, yes, you’re going to Hell.”

Not the nicest thing to say to a sister, but I wasn’t done yet.

“Nothing else can keep you from Heaven. If you know that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and strive to live a life without sin, then you are going to Heaven.”

I went on to explain one can increase their treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). One should strive to be more sanctified each day. However, in this case, my desire was to put the key to the Kingdom in the right place. No man can condemn you for your sins. No man can deny you entrance into Heaven. No sin is so great as to be unforgivable. The moment we accept Christ as our savior and repent of our sins, we are saved, one and all.

We talked a bit more about our childhood. I explained how much I wish I’d read the Bible more as a child, for I would have been much more prepared to recognize false teachers for who they were.

There’s a balance that those who evangelize must walk, and it’s done in respect to the aspects of God. He is grace and sovereignty. Some focus too much on his grace and forgiveness, but others are to easily led astray simply by focusing too much on his sovereignty and judgement.

The conversation didn’t revolve around this topic. It fell there naturally, and we transitioned to other things after, but it was during this process I kept hoping I’d, I don’t know, do it right. No, I can’t actually save anyone. But I’d read about Peter and the sermon in Acts and felt a little convicted that he could speak a paragraph and convert thousands.

This is where people remind me that Peter was the lead apostle. He was filled with the spirt. I understand my own human limitations, and I’m grateful that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The point is being raised in a life filled with false teachers, it’s hard not to wonder if my words are seen as more of the same.

I have a ways to go in this regard. I should have more trust that when I’m called, I’ll be filled with the spirt to say exactly what I need to say. Hearts can be hardened or changed only through God.

My talk with my sister ended well, and that would be the last positive phone call I’d have.

The next day, this same sister called in tears. She’s said something to one sibling, who then took that information to the rest of the family. For whatever reason, there were a lot of misunderstandings, and my sister felt a powerful degree of judgment and anger.

“There is no God!” she said. “Because if there was, he’d never do something like this to me.”

I’ll be honest. A lot of retorts came to my mind. But this was a person acting out of extreme grief, sadness, and betrayal.

Sure, Job remembered to glorify God (Job), and Christians should rejoice in their sufferings (Romans 5:3-5), but sometimes people make mistakes.

Peter, the leader of all the apostles, denied Christ three times.  “I do not know him!” (Matthew 26:74).

Rather that act defensively or argue, I focused on the fact that she was hurting.

I think a great many people, especially well meaning Christians, too often forget that our command is to love one another. Maybe they want to defend God, who, by the way, doesn’t need our protection. Maybe they want to bring people to God. Maybe they want to defend the Bible. Regardless of motivation, not once in the Bible (I know, I read the whole thing) did Jesus or any apostle ever respond to threats, persecution or even violence with anger or more violence (Ok, you may through Peter at me on the night Jesus was arrested, but please also remember that Jesus rebuked Peter for that act, therefore showing it as the wrong response). At most, you might be able to argue they used harsh words. But even those harsh words were said in love to help those see the wrong done (Acts 2:22), and those words were always balanced with mercy and the chance for forgiveness (Acts 2:38).

So I did something I’m not exactly that good at. I listened some more. I offered my condolences that things had gotten taken so out of context. I offered whatever help I could.

Then I gave what insight I felt was appropriate:

When people act out of emotion, there’s no foundation for what they do. I have my rule book (the Bible). Others might have other standards, but my point is, if one acts in accordance to what he believes is right, he should take heart in knowing he’s doing right, even if he suffers for it.

My sister was doing what she felt was right. So, I believe, was everyone in the family. I’m not equipped with the knowledge and understanding one would need to truly judge the hearts of anyone. My point here was that if one believes he’s doing what is right in accordance to his faith, then even when he’s persecuted for it, he should take comfort that he is doing what is right. People shouldn’t judge.  The shouldn’t lash out, but they do. We can’t stop people from doing these things, but we can control what we do, and how we respond.

It doesn’t in any way make suffering less painful. It doesn’t make suffering fun or easy. It just gives comfort.

This conversation molded into an opportunity to show support.

“I will never turn from you. I will always love you. I will always try, in accordance to what I believe is right, to support you. No matter who else might abandon you or hate you, I will love you.”

Isn’t that what Jesus did? Don’t misunderstand; there are those who denied (and continue to deny0 Christ. However, notice the same above, that even some of those who literally crucified Christ were saved. The repented and were baptized. Do some refuse to repent? Yes. Do some continue to deny? Yes. However, Jesus is always there for those who choose to come to him. Therefore, I will love and be there for any who seek me for love or comfort.

I’m not sure when I spoke to my father again. I’d resolved to call home more often. Rather than my usual once a week call, I just called as much as I could. At some point in that conversation, Dad made it a point to explain that my sister hadn’t been cut off or denied access to information. One of my other sisters explained that the rest of the family understood they didn’t have all the accurate information. This reconciliation would be critical for the next set of phone calls I’d receive.

 

 


Questions and Revelations

What did she do?

It doesn’t matter. She didn’t do the thing for which everyone got mad. The thing she did was done out of love and concern.

This is a failing of mine I struggle with, but I’m blessed with the revelation of that struggle that I might help others see it.

Too often, when we’re wronged, we feel defensive or angry. I’m of the opinion that one of the most common commands the Lord has given us that we ignore is to forgive because we were forgiven (Colossians 3:13).

I understand how it feels to be hurt, wronged, judged, persecuted, injured, insulted, and even abused. I can’t even say honestly I’ve forgiven all those who’ve done those things to me. My point isn’t, and has never been, to show how “right” I am. My point is to help you see I understand how it feels.

What I want people to know is to forgive someone is in itself the best way to feel better. Those whom I can’t forgive only build in me more resentment, which brings more anger, which causes me to resent those who commit smaller versions of the original transgression. This only makes me more angry and breeds only more resentment in me. Suddenly my heart is filled with that anger and resentment rather than the very love and mercy I want from God.

Pray for me. Pray that God help me find the forgiveness in my own heart that he and his son offered to the worthless sinner that I am.  Let me not focus on what others have done to me, but only on that which I can do to be better. Let me not count off the wrongs I deemed were done to me, but let them go as nothing, as the price Christ payed for my sins caused God to passover me.

While there were many hurt feelings and angry resentments, I’m grateful to God that he softened the hearts of my loved ones to strive always to seek reconciliation. I hope they see that. I smile when I think about how much they’re doing to look not at the transgressions, but to at least seek compassion if not the ultimate goal of forgiveness.

Did it feel weird talking about God that way?

Yes. It’s very easy for me to see just how hypocritical and annoying I could be. Three years ago I only would talk about what a terrible Christian I was and how I should want or try to be better.  Those were the extents and short durations of my testimony.

Now I’m pretty much talking about God every day, and quite often throughout each day.

What I want to focus on, however, is why. My heart is filled! Each time I see someone hurting I think, wow, God can help with that. How do I know, because I’m hurting, and God’s helping me.  Wow, God can help ease this frustration. How do I know, because I’m frustrated, and God’s helping me.

For those who don’t see me as much as others, this probably seems like a dramatic shift. It’s actually been just about three years in total since this journey began. I got tired of being a “bad” Christian. I wanted to understand more, so I started reading the Bible. I wanted to be encouraged, so I started watching sermons online. I wanted to show God I was committed to being better, so I started attending the church that streamed those sermons.

But I’ll confess I feel the most awkward speaking to my family about my faith because I’m quite aware of how we see what some call “organized religion.” Others might call it, “what those church people do.” I’m not honestly sure how others describe it, but I remember the pastor who’d block my path to tell me how I was bound for Hell.  I remember the story of how this other church sat my mom down and directed her to “get over” my bio-dad’s molestation of her daughter.

So every time I even talk about things, I feel this “ping” of, “Here it comes.”  To be clear, my family hasn’t shown me an ounce of resentment or anger when I talk about it. Some have asked respectfully that I don’t try to preach to them, but that’s it. I’m still of the opinion that the source of all that weirdness is that group of false teachers.

How do you react when you feel weird?

This is a spot of growth for me because I’m not quite sure what to do. When I don’t know what to do, I don’t do anything.

I’ve seen a person (not in my family) talk about how they don’t believe. If they’re aggressive in their comments (acting from anger or defensiveness), I don’t say anything. If they don’t want to hear about God, no amount of me talking will make them suddenly want to hear about  God. I don’t want to make God a point of argument or debate.

If I see that someone is curious or seeking opinions, then I speak, offering what I know and being honest when I don’t know.

This is how I’ve evolved from those aggressive false teachers in my life. If one doesn’t want to hear or can’t, no amount of screaming will make them hear. This doesn’t mean I’m not honest about my thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t mean I deny or try not to talk about God.  I simply try to just be me.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 24

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 24

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

The Fateful Appointment

Being on the other side of a country from a loved one who’s sick is no fun. I’m three hours ahead (at the time of this writing), so I have to wait before I call. I went to work knowing that. I wasn’t at my best. I was distracted. I got pretty irritated with the most minor student issues. I don’t think I was horrifically off my game, but I found myself stepping out to pray or remind myself that I shouldn’t be focused on myself; rather, I should have been focused on God.

Those thoughts got me through the day. I hoped my mom went to her appointment and was willing to take on the next treatment and move forward.

She wasn’t.

I called my sister, but didn’t get an answer (she was dealing with the fallout).  I called around and eventually got ahold of my Dad.

“I suppose you know how that went,” he said.

That meant the news was already bad. One of the things our family was dealing with was conflict among family members. As I’ve said before, people were all processing, and sometimes those emotions caused disagreements. My dad’s answer meant the appointment didn’t go well, and that emotions were high.

I explained that he was the first person I’d managed to get ahold of. I already knew the appointment didn’t go as we’d hoped, but I had no idea how poorly it went.

Mom didn’t just walk into the hospital and say, “No thanks.” She was in pain, tired, and angry. I’m of the opinion the steroids didn’t help either. She lashed out. I wasn’t there, so I can’t go into much detail, but I know that she was visibly and physically acting out.

What made me feel a little better was that the hospital wasn’t quite giving up. With the most recent issue with my mom’s throat, it was expected that she just might not be physically up to going through treatments.

The new plan (which I always love) was that we’d let mom rest, get her some care, and, hopefully, she’d be willing to restart treatment in time.

I’m pretty sure Dad was driving mom home to Yuma during that conversation. Mom was asleep, so I said I’d try to call back later.

Later that day, my sister called. She’d decided to relinquish her role in the power of attorney form. She called to tell me that. We talked a bit more. I focused on trying to be encouraging.

To be honest, things looked dark. All I could really focus on was getting a chance to call and talk to my mom, which wouldn’t happen for a few more days.

 


Questions and Revelations

I thought you said God would fix it?

God isn’t a genie. He doesn’t grant wishes, and acts aren’t the cause of our salvation. Good acts are the fruit of our salvation and sanctified life, or at least they can be. This question is one I expect, but the better question would be, how did I respond to my fear? Besides, I still hoped God would bless my mom’s health.

The answer is I prayed. I pray every night before bed, and then I read the Bible before I close my eyes. I pray to God, and I ask him things. I confess to him my heart’s desires, but, since my greatest desire is truly to glorify him, I understand that he does what is in line for his great design, which no human can rightfully fathom. “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).

I worked very hard to combat my fear with scripture. I failed miserably in that I never failed to fear or wonder if my mom would make it, but I succeeded in that I always remembered to turn to God’s word and glorify him.

I didn’t do this like some person in credit fraud trying to make some form of payment to appease a bank. I did it because I know that faith in God is always the answer.

I don’t think it’s the answer to wealth or human measurements of happiness.  I think it’s the answer to a contented heart.

This work, to remind myself to trust in God and seek his word for comfort, would be critical as this trial continued.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt