I drifted between what my young brother had just said on the phone, and the wedding pictures on the wall. The two couldn’t have been more different. My wife and I are leaning against the giant columns of the Nelson’s Art Gallery in Kansas City. That was a perfect day. That was the type of day you can live in forever. That’s the type of day free of questions like, “Why would God do this?”
My brother has undergone three rounds of light chemotherapy. He doesn’t have Cancer, but he’s about as close to having it as you can get. He has a rare disorder that produces lumps on your body that can turn into cancerous tumors. I don’t really know all the details. I don’t need to. His words are enough. “I don’t wanna die,” he said, “I don’t wanna die.”
That’s when I realized the weight of the conversation. I had no clue what to say. So I just listened. “I know you want me to be closer to God,” he said. “But it’s just so hard right now. Why would He do this? I don’t get it!”
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I can give you a cliché answer, but I’ll just let everyone else give you that. I don’t know what to say.” I think he felt relieved that I didn’t “preach” to him or say that God has a plan for him (true of course—but not what he was looking for). I had suspected that his new marriage and desire to please me motivated his pursuit of Jesus more than his own heart did. He confirmed my suspicions.
It breaks my heart, that there’s a real chance this experience will drive him away from Jesus. But I cling to the hope, that maybe God will work in his heart, and use these next few weeks to draw him closer—like he’s done with so many others. Like he’s done with Angie.
Jim, Angie’s father, lay in bed. Bags under his eyes. Pale skin. Faint breathing. A brain tumor changed the person he was – loving dad, husband, and provider.
“I don’t remember much.” The Missouri native pauses, seemingly to cherish a mental picture. “Dad was always sick. That’s all I ever knew.”
On February 15, 1992, Jim, at only thirty-five years old, lost his battle with Cancer. Seven year old Angie lost her father.
“Little things were big. My dad wasn’t there to tuck me in, to hug me, or kiss me goodbye before he went to work. I couldn’t be Daddy’s little girl anymore. And the biggest thing,” her eyes fill with tears, “he won’t be there to see my graduation… my wedding.” Her voice trails off.
Angie couldn’t understand why things happened.
God’s hand seemed absent.
But somehow, she still believed.
Fast forward to her freshman year at UCM, a school one hour east of Kansas City, for a chance at normalcy. “I didn’t go home a lot. It just wasn’t normal.”
Tragedy, however, has a strange way of bringing people together.
Like Angie’s father years before, her mother lay in bed suffering from a mysterious illness. “Sick?” Angie grimaced. “What do you mean sick?”
“Angie,” her mother shook her head. “I’m so proud of–”
“STOP.” Angie pounded her fist on the dresser. “I’ve already lost one parent. I’m not gonna lose another!”
By the next week, her mother was in the hospital. The following Friday, February 21, 2003, Debbie, at only forty-five years old, passed away. After her mom’s death, Angie withdrew from school.
But still, Angie believed.
Three years later, on September 9, 2006, twenty-two year old Angie, along with several friends paddled down the Niangua River, located in southern Missouri. The sun beat down on their yellow vests, sun screened noses, and over sized safari hats. Then in between jokes and mosquito bites, chaos struck again.
“We waited for the slow girls to catch up..” She laughs. “Then everything went black. When I woke up on the shore, I was totally confused.”
Angie seized, fell from her canoe face down in the water, and floated like a fishing bobber. Had it not been for her friends and strangers around them, she would have drowned. Later that night, doctors confirmed the worst.
“They said it was the size of my fist, an ‘abnormality in my front temporal lobe.’ I had a brain tumor. Just like dad.”
Three weeks later, Angie had a grade three (four is the highest) tumor removed from the front of her brain. Weeks of recovery and therapy followed, with the possibility of the Cancer returning.
Despite her trials, she said, “I never would have thought that I’d be in this position. I had brain surgery, how crazy is that?” Angie’s squinty green eyes widen. “If I could take it all back. I wouldn’t. I’ve learned so much and felt so loved. I’ve seen friends and strangers pull together. I’ve experienced God.”
Today, Angie undergoes an alternative natural treatment for her Cancer. But the truth is, she’ll never be fully recovered. Her brain scans will never be normal. The type of tumor she has can’t be cured.
Yet still she said, “Sure, at times I questioned, cried. But my God is faithful, even when I’m not. I praise Him for that. My relationship with Jesus is better than ever. ‘Cause when all seems gone, He’s all I have left.”
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9, NIV)
My brother can choose a life without God. He has that choice. Many who have also endured tragedy and misfortune have chosen this path. The only thing I can do is bind him down with the powerful chains of prayer. And what do I pray? I pray that my brother can echo Angie’s words.
“Jesus, draw Him close to you. Use this experience God to open his eyes and to make You his God. Work in him so he can eventually say ‘My God is faithful even when I’m not.’”