When I was 11 years old I remember my father telling me that we were going to have a family meeting of sorts in the living room. This seemed odd to me because we weren’t a family that was ever in the habit of having meetings like this, so I was curious as to what was going on that was out of the ordinary enough as to require us gathering like this. When I walked into the family room I saw my mother with tears in her eyes, and I could tell that my father was quite upset as well. My sister Stephanie and I sat down, and my father proceeded to tell us that my mother found a lump on her breast that they thought was a tumor. He told us that we didn’t need to be worried about anything, that most of the time tumors are benign, and we simply needed to pray. They were going to the doctor the next day, and he said that he’d call the school office (he was the principal at the time), and he’d have the secretary come get me when they found out the diagnosis so I could talk to him.
During the course of the day I went down to the school office to check to see if they’d called at least 10 times. The call never came.
I went home from school expecting that my parents would be there, but the empty house meant that they were probably still at the doctors office. I waited for an hour, then two hours, then three, but still nothing. I began to get really worried, but eventually later in the evening I heard the garage door open. I ran downstairs and opened the door to see both of my parents crying but trying desperately to hold back their tears. It turned out that my mother had an aggressive breast cancer, and she was going to have to start chemotherapy immediately after she had a surgery to remove the tumor. This would begin a grueling process for the next eight months of my mother being quite sick, losing all of her hair, and going through a battle with the disease.
The cancer took her on a roller coaster of emotions, but she fought so hard. It was hard for me to see my mother whom I loved very much lose all of her hair and have to be in bed a majority of the time because she was too weak to be on her feet. Bags and bags of cards a letters came in to encourage her and to let her know that people were praying for her. I even remember her trying to write people back to thank them for the letters, but I think they were too many in number. We had baskets and baskets in her room full of letters, all of them very sincere and meaningful.
As time went on the chemo seemed to be working, and the doctors said she was in remission. She began to regain her strength, and after awhile she even went back to teaching at my high school. Her hair grew back, and it seemed as though God had worked a miracle in curing her of the cancer—but I now see that the miracle was so much more profound and brilliant than I could have imagined at the time.
Suddenly, around April of 1996, she began to get very sick without warning. We came to find out that the doctors had misdiagnosed her, and they had missed the cancer spreading to different areas of her body.
There wasn’t anything they could do at that point to stop it.
In just a few short weeks I saw my mother go from seemingly perfect health and fully regained strength to being bedridden, hooked up on a machine to assist her with her breathing. It is so humbling to see someone you love depend on a machine to simply breath. The cancer became too much for her and she had to be admitted to the hospital with urgency. For the next week I went daily her hospital bed to see her and talk to her, but she became even too weak to talk. The odd thing about it is, I really thought there was no way that God was going to let her die.
I went to see my mom for the last time on April 23. I walked up to her room, gave her a kiss and told her about my day as I did everyday. She was the weakest I’d ever seen her, and she could barely speak to me. She whispered to me that she loved me, and I told her I loved her and that I’d see her tomorrow. I left with a friend who had driven me there, and my dad stayed behind to stay the night at the hospital as he had done countless nights before. The term "visiting hours" didn’t seem to apply to him.
That night around 4:30 a.m. my mother passed away with my father at her side. My dad drove home to get me and my sister. I was sleeping in mother’s bed, and I heard my dad and my sister crying in the hallway. I went out to them, and we wept together before we left for the hospital. I went in her room to see her, but I had this very spiritual sense that she simply wasn’t there. Her body was there, but life had gone out from it. Her soul had departed, and it was incredibly obvious. She had left to be with her Creator, whom she loved and and lived for.
I believe that suffering is one of God’s most brilliant concepts. It would seem that suffering would be a very negative thing. What good could ever come of death or pain?
But in His greatness He designed life with suffering, not at all to spite us, but rather to love us.
He uses this horrible thing to draw people into Himself. He used suffering to redeem all of creation through His Son.
I can’t begin to tell you how the story above has affected my life, but I can tell you that God has used it for His glory. He took a terrible thing and changed my life and the lives of my family for good. What a brilliant design.
Everyone suffers, but with suffering comes a beautiful choice. Option one is to run away from the pain. Run away from God. Let anger and bitterness take over. And honestly, this is the easier of the two options at times. It is easier to be angry at a good God for letting hard things happen. But option two is incomparably greater. Option two is to run towards Him. To embrace Him. To embrace the pain and the suffering as ordained by Him so that we would grow. I am who I am today because my mother died. I am going to be who I will be because of the things I have gone through. I am able to relate to other and carry other’s burdens in ways I would not have been able to had I not gone through pain and sorrow.
I really believe that God is brilliant. I know that these simple thoughts that I have aren’t even beginning to scratch the surface of His design, but He is revealing Himself to me through them. It really astounds me that He would create suffering for good. I think there is beauty in suffering. Growth is beautiful. Deeper realtionship with Him and deeper relationship with others is quite beautiful.
And as I’ve processed these thoughts and worked through them, this ancient text comes to my mind:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
And I can tell you with all of my soul that it is true. Suffering is terrible and beautiful, and only a brilliant God could come up with such a concept.