I walked back into the church from the parking lot, where I had been chatting with a friend, and there was Ryan sitting in the entryway with our three boys and a few of their friends. The potluck was well under way, each boy had a plate of food they were neglecting while shouting “gummy bear” at Ryan. Every time they shouted “gummy bear” Ryan obliged them with a quick, or silly, or gruff “not now Steve.” The boys all laughed their approval, and began even more aggressively with their part of the game. Within a minute of sitting next to Ryan I was tired of the game, but he kept it going without a fraction of my annoyance, even though it was obvious the “fun” had been in progress for quite some time. After a few more minutes I was quick to point out that just as soon as they finished their food they could all go run and play, spoil sport that I am!
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This whole time, Joel was leaning against Ryan with a third of a banana in his hand. Joel took consistent bites, swallowing each one, and I could not help but ask if he had really eaten all of that banana himself or if Ryan had given part of it to someone else. He told me it was all Joel, and I was amazed, overjoyed even. Joel had been swallowing food successfully for several weeks now, but usually didn’t take enough bites to make me think he could get by without his bottles each day. I began to tell Ryan how excited I was about his eating, and how just yesterday at goodwill I thought about buying a small food scale so I could weigh his food before and after I fed him to try to get an idea of how much he was eating. Something in my spirit stopped me from buying the scale as I had the thought, “That would be a lot of work, and Joel will begin eating much greater quantities of food so soon that it will not be worth it.” This thought was counter to my standing opinion, but I’ve learned to listen to that quiet voice of wisdom. I was telling Ryan this story and saying how it seemed like such a huge confirmation that I was watching Joel eat so well the very next day. I was not holding back any of my excitement, but began to sense that for Ryan, my excitement was creating some hesitancy in him. Just then, a friend walked by and asked when Joel’s next doctor’s appointment would be. I told him that it was Joel’s MRI and lumbar puncture on Thursday and explained that we were excited for the MRI and expected it to be good, but that of course something in the back of our heads worries just a little bit about the result. It is partially that unavoidable worry that makes us glad to be getting this MRI out of the way. It will just be good to know either way, but we are mostly excited because our expectations are for more good news.
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Our friend walked away and I looked back at Ryan to see that all too familiar mixture of joy and fear on his face. I could tell he was so proud of the way Joel was eating, and so nervous that somehow all the pride he had in his son could very quickly be stripped away and replaced with the kind of news that has shaken our small world time and again. At this point Joel had moved on from his banana to some nachos that he was delighted to dip over and over again into the little pocket of cheese without much concern for how much cheese made it into his mouth. Just then another person walked by, looked at Joel leaning against Ryan with his nachos, and smiled the smile that so many of us at our church share, the smile that without words says, “Isn’t this just amazing, this same boy we prayed for week in and week out when he was scrawny and sick sitting here with his dad eating nachos!” He noticed me noticing him, taking in everything his smile silently conveyed and storing it away in my heart, and he looked up at us and said, “Wouldn’t that be an amazing picture?” He walked out the door, and I looked back at Ryan my heart overflowing with joy and pride.
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Ryan was struggling, and just by looking at him I knew his feelings. I have felt them too often myself. “Another MRI, another chance to confirm the miracle God has done, our only way to see what is going on inside Joel’s brain, a new opportunity to be absolutely sure that the cancer has been routed out forever. I know what God has done already, and so why am I still a little worried? I am looking forward to this not just to confirm what we believe to be true, but also so I can just be done with never feeling completely sure. What if my worry, my concern for my sweet son is enough to rob me of the amazing thing God has done for us. What if my doubt is so big and so wrong that the miracle we have seen is completely undone before our eyes?”
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How do we, as parents answer these questions that plague us, along with countless others, “What did we do right? Did we do anything right at all? Why has God been so faithful to us and to Joel? Why do some people who believe God’s promises just as strongly as we do sometimes not see the same outcomes in their lives, and if we don’t know why, what will we ever say to them?” How do we ever silence the accusing questions that rob our peace and steal our joy?
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Ryan, closed his eyes and began to sing. “Give me faith to trust what You say, that You’re good and your love is great. I’m broken inside I give you my life. I may be weak, but Your Spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but My God You never will.”
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As I watched Ryan’s response to the unspoken questions etched on his face, my pride in him, already so full, grew until my heart almost burst. This is how we silence the questions. We remember that we were never sure of the outcome for Joel, but we were never unsure of who God was, and that all of His promises were true whether we saw the fulfillment of His promises in each of our circumstance or not. We remember that our peace has always come from shifting our focus from Joel and the cancer he was battling, to our God, Joel’s God, who conquered death and the grave, and put an end to the power of sin and disease. We turn our hearts back to God again, and when the questions, doubt, worry and concern seem so big, we look at God instead, and remember that in His presence all of our worry doesn’t seem very powerful at all, certainly not powerful enough to trump God’s desire for our lives, or His eternal promises of abundant life.
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Post Script Cultural References:
“Gummy Bear.” “Not Now Steve” are lines from the animated movie, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
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Here is a video of the worship song Ryan was singing to himself.
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