20 June 2011
I have never considered myself to be a courageous person by any means. In fact, fear is a powerful force in my life. Fear has prompted me to do as many things in my life as it has prevented me from doing. Still at forty-something I struggle with the "fear factor" on a daily basis. Courage hasn't come easy for me. But last summer I observed it for several months in another and learned some powerful lessons.
In July 2010 my father-in-law was suffering with stomach problems that he could no longer ignore. At eighty-nine he didn't panic about the health issue; feeling that his life here had been long and full. He met with his doctor and scheduled a colonoscopy to determine the cause of his medical trouble. Meanwhile, he spoke calmly with family and friends of the possible diagnosis. When the day of the test came my father-in-law had some anxiety about the procedure so he was hospitalized for the colonoscopy. Due to a mass in his colon the test could not be completed.
In August my husband and I drove down to be present for the surgery to remove the mass. We arrived in time for father and son to visit prior to the surgery. We were concerned about the procedure because my father-in- law recently had a heart stint placed. But what happened next caught us off guard. We didn't see it coming. Only fifteen minutes into the surgery and the doctor came out to talk to the family. The mass was cancer, it was large and it had spread throughout the abdomen. Removing it was too risky. How fast it was spreading was anybody's guess. How long it had been there was also unknown. Chemotherapy was out of the question at his age.
A few days following the surgery my husband and I arrived at the hospital early. After much thought and discussion, my husband decided he would tell his dad the results of the surgery himself. My father-in-law took the news with quiet strength. Never once did he ask God why. His faith didn't waiver. And each day he was given he used it to glorify God in a quiet and humble way from a hospital bed. Over the days that followed family and friends came to visit and offer encouragement. One by one they left his bedside a better person for having been there.
Several of us who visited daily stayed until he was ready for sleep. He reminded us on more than one occasion that when we prayed we were not to pray for healing. "Save that prayer for someone who needed it", he would say. Our instructions were to pray for rest, peace and comfort. This was not because my father-in-law didn't believe in God's power to heal. On the contrary, he knew that God could answer any petition if it was His will. My father-in-law had completely submitted to God's will and had spent years living that mind set.
I don't recall hearing my father-in-law complain instead he displayed an attitude of contentment in situations that few knew about.
Before the sun rose on October 11th we got the phone call that we knew would come.
During those summer months I remember asking what should I be learning from this person, this situation. How can I use this to my betterment? What significance does this relationship have in my life. How did God want me to use this?
Fast forward to January 2011... We were awaiting the results of my biopsy. My husband calls and says meet me outside your office we'll take a drive. As soon as I got into the car I knew the diagnosis. I knew the word...cancer. And I knew why the four summer months of the previous year were significant for me. Everyone who was a part of that summer experience could choose to learn from it. I don't think it was all about me. I do think it was all up to me to look deeply into a relationship and find the lesson, learn the hard part and then decide to use it.
There is not a day that has passed since that January morning that I haven't thought about my father-in-law, Joe. And today, on father's day, I am thankful for the relationship and the lessons from him. The lessons of courage lived by him and learned by me.