As a minister and a man who prides himself on loving others, praying for others, believing in miracles, I find myself heartbroken over the death of my mother, Donna Hendrix. From the well of my despair, troubling questions have surfaced. Was I living a foolish lie to believe I could help her beat pancreatic cancer? Did I think my prayer would reach heaven where others had failed? Did they fail? Or does God act according to his purpose, which we often cannot see or understand? We always think of "Yes," when the answer may well be "Wait" or "No."
A pastor friend told me to examine my life and attitude in light of God's works. If my mom was still sick, there was a reason, and God would reveal it to me as I sought him diligently. And seek him I did. And yet, I often wondered -- did I have hope, not faith? Hope that she would be healed ... faith in God doing the right thing? I became aware that I felt a pain in my chest when I would say, "Your will be done." I was afraid I couldn't convince God to heal my mother. I now realize I could not persuade God to heal my mother against his own will.
In the midst of my mother's illness, I watched as a family begged God to heal their baby -- a baby who could not have done any wrong, a baby who was blameless. The father told me he didn't understand why God showed respect for others' lives over his baby's. Was it respect or his will again?
I disagree with doctrine that suggests that if you are not healed, something is amiss in your life. As the apostle Paul might have described it, a thorn was in my mother's flesh. In my mother's case, many thorns were in her flesh. My sweet, godly mother was ravaged by pancreatic cancer, not sin or punishment.
I thought of the baby who died of cancer, my mother who died of cancer, and I realized: although God is interested in every detail of our lives, his ultimate plan is for us to spend eternity with him. We are at the table of our lives on Earth, so we cannot see the big puzzle or pieces in God's will or eternity.
I watched as my mother begged God for a healing. My sisters, my friends, we all begged for a healing. Why does God heal some and not others? Our spirits were just as strong, our hope and faith was unbreakable. We were tried, and we felt victorious. And yet, in the end, we lost. Did we lose or did we truly feel we could outsmart God and his ultimate plan so that we could have our loved one here and absent from eternity? Did we somehow feel we were different and we could find the cure?
As I attempt to make and find my way, absent my mother in this world, I am starting to feel an array of emotions, including a feeling of total loss of myself and my purpose. I've prayed thousands of times for people in my situation. I now realize I couldn't have prayed enough, given enough, and I certainly could not have understood the true meaning of their pain until now. I never realized the true feeling of the splitting, gut-wrenching pain that has taken a home within my chest. The sun seems dim, the stars seem to fade, the wind seems to cut through to the bone.
I would sit and wonder, sometimes, what was going on inside my mother's head after she was diagnosed with cancer. Did she reach out and touch a flower, and did it feel the same? Did she wiggle her toes in the carpet or slide them across the floor to remember what it felt like before cancer stole the sensation and joy from her body? Did she take a deep breath in and exhale to remember how quickly it can be gone? I wonder, because now that she is gone, I do all these things.
I live in a daze. I keep thinking she will walk in and the bad dream will be over. I cannot grasp that her reality was to become a fatality. I find myself second-guessing God's intentions. Were they to open up a cure for others? Were they to allow Mom's spirit to now guide me and my family? Or was it just his will, motivated by the utmost love for her?
I realize buying more time with my mother was selfish. It was buying more suffering for her. I now realize God took my mother when it was best for her, and not when it was best for me. God answered our prayers, and her suffering has ended. As humans, we are arrogant sometimes to feel that our prayers will always be answered and our lives directed by what would be best for us. Sometimes a sad outcome for us is just our cross to bear.
The suffering I am experiencing from the death of my mother has made me remember the story of Paul praying for God to remove the thorn in his side and let him be healed. God said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you." God's power is made perfect in our weakness. That's what God tells Paul. This storm was mine to walk through; this was my mountain to climb. God healed my mother many times before. He did not ever promise me her life indefinitely.
The Bible says God gives good things to those who ask. God cannot give me a bad gift. He loves me too much. So what was the gift in losing my best friend and mother to cancer? I can honestly say I am a better brother, father and follower of God. I am a better friend, and I have a deeper understanding of loss, a deeper capacity for compassion. I appreciate the relationship and respect I have with God, which have grown from my dependency on the divine and my habitual praying for the healing of my mother.
I will no longer presume to comprehend more than God does. I will always know the difference now between having hope and having faith. I realize that if God is not God of all, he is not God at all. As a result, I will remember to never negotiate with God or try to convince him. He is God, he gave me life, and the payment for this life is death. God is no less real because my prayers were not answered. Out of trauma, I now search for triumph.