After Brad’s cancer diagnosis I felt compelled to tell the world what was happening to him, to me, and to our family. Besides posting regular updates of his treatment and medical progress on PostHope care pages, I sent out requests to mutual friends on Facebook. It didn’t matter that they were strangers. I wanted the world to know that the man I loved and have been married to for over thirty years was ill.
One of those requests was answered by Melissa Yeomens. I had never met her despite attending the same large church for a brief period of time. Though I was surprised when she asked to meet, I agreed. She shared that she felt a calling to write about our story. After doing a bit of background research, I learned that Melissa is a newly published author of a children’s book called, Run, Dog Run! and is currently working on a young adult novel. She is an enormously talent writer, and I was touched that she is allowing God to use her this way.
So, here is the first of six blogs she is writing about Brad and my journey.
Thank you, Melissa!
Dear Kerry… Part 1
It doesn’t happen often that I am alert in the dead of the night. I mean, if I am sleeping, out cold, I stay sleepy not suddenly wide awake and alert. I fight for sleep. Having a nursling/ half-the-night co-sleeping two year old, school age children, plus a teenager who stays up late, well, you get the idea. I grasp at whatever sleep I can get, even fooling my husband into believing that the 25 pound baby rolling around in our bed as she paws for what she calls her “Nunnies” doesn’t interrupt my sleep cycle. (Wrong. But worth it.)
One night a few months ago, I was strangely awakened with a sense of urgency, which according to my history can mean something spiritually significant. I thought, “What is it God? Should I pray for someone?” Silence. So, I just sent out a prayer. “I don’t know for who or why, or even if it was you who woke me Lord, but please, intercede in this situation, if there is one.” Then I asked him, “Okay, can I just go back to sleep now? After all, it’s 3:00 in the morning!”
Nope, it wasn’t going to happen. So, I picked up my cell phone and headed to the rocking chair. Maybe I could find a clue there. There it was! A friend request from a stranger!
Fast forward to March 2nd 2015, just two months later, I nervously entered the Blue Water Grille, a local restaurant boasting of a global menu and Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture, to meet this stranger. I knew God’s task for me, yet I felt intimidated. I wanted to shrink back from it feeling inadequate, yet I had full confidence in God, who calls the weak and enables them. I know how God used ordinary people, like David, Joshua, Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and present day believers. Surely, I believed, if this was God’s will I could trust him to see me through it. There was one burning question I planned to ask immediately, as soon as I had the chance.
The host nodded as I entered and led me around the fireplace wall to a small table for two. I took in the fine scene; the bright, white frozen lake directly out the wall of windows on my right and greeted the woman whose friend request had woke me so strangely: Kerry Kerr McAvoy, PhD. She appeared to be older than my 35 years, yet younger than my own mother. Her warm, wise look caused me to trust and respect her. After a couple pleasantries, then an exchange with the waiter, I took a deep breath to begin our conversation. But before I could start with my question, Kerry quickly asked, “Who are you?”
I supposed my question would have to wait. I fumbled through a brief synopsis of my life, family and new ventures as a writer. As she listened, I could see her insightful mind collecting information. She was really listening. It reminded me of what I imagined my editor doing as she combed through my manuscript. I had never seen a psychologist before. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a brief glimpse into what it would be like to experience counseling. I liked Kerry.
Then, it was my turn. “Why?” I asked. “Why did you send me a friend request in the middle of the night?”
“We have mutual friends, right?”
I shared with her the list of our mutual friends on Facebook. I knew this wasn’t the whole reason for her invite. “But why was I awoken in the middle of the night? It wasn’t the ding of my phone. Somehow I woke up!?”
“I have had a hard time sleeping at night since my husband Brad’s cancer diagnosis. I keep sending friend requests to people who have mutual friends with me. I want everyone to know. I want them to know what is happening to me, to my husband Brad.”
I sensed a passion in her, a sense of urgency. She detailed for me why there was little time left. After a miraculously quick diagnosis and surgical response to the cancer that was overtaking his digestive system and strangling the main artery to the lower half of his body, Kerry’s husband of 30 years, Brad, was still dying. It was impossible to remove the entire tumor. The doctor’s said that the rapidly growing cancer had most likely only been there for a half year to a year. Brad, a hardworking and skilled civil engineer, father of their three sons, Cameron 24, Devon 21, and Kellin 18, had suddenly lost vitality. His body was now in limbo with life and death, near the very door of eternity. In fact, the doctors had just predicted that he had only months to live. There wasn’t anything they could do but to provide comfort and to call hospice.
Tears filled my eyes as I saw her desire to be seen in her pain, to be known, to be supported, and to share her journey with others. It was all there, tucked into the reason why she had sent me a friend request. It meant so much. I listened as Kerry shared how the past year had rushed upon them, past them, and only to learn how nothing they imagined of their future together would be possible. No retirement travels. The plans of building a home on the wooded dream property they had purchased died as they became unqualified for a loan. It probably would have to be sold. Kerry was hoping to make a career shift, from owning and running a successful counseling office to becoming a full-time writer and speaker as she launched her third book. It was all postponed as Kerry took on the role of full-time caregiver. Providing equally for all three of their son’s college education needs became unlikely. Nothing was guaranteed.
There was more though. The great Goliath of Cancer and Death was screaming her name. As Brad suffered daily with pain and as Kerry looked at her future, she could not be falsely soothed out of the reality that accompanies the death of a faithful spouse. She would be alone. There would be no one to crawl into bed with her and to comfort her as she grieved. There would be much pain, so much pain in the coming days, months, and years.
I listened as Kerry spoke of the Gilda’s Club meetings where she gathered with others who had loved ones battling cancer. She was the oldest one in her group. I heard her heart breaking as she told me there were so many others. Young mothers with terminal cancer, no money, and facing recurrence after previous treatments, and spouses who cannot leave the house as brain cancer ravaged their loved ones’ cognitive abilities.
Right before Brad’s diagnosis Kerry was preparing to launch her latest book titled, Pain as a Starting Point, book three in a series of devotionals called Living Life 2 The Fullest.
Did you catch that? Pain as a Starting Point.
Let that sit and simmer for a while. Kerry had taken everything she had learned through her own pain and her ministry as a psychologist, and had poured it into a book to help others meet and trust God through their deepest pain. In fact, weeks before Brad’s cancer diagnosis Kerry and Brad had taken a short road trip. On the way to Chicago, Kerry read Brad her book for the first time. Chapter 1- Mysterious & Good God, Chapter 2-When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Chapter 3-Psychological Need for God, and Chapter 4-Comfort in God. Each chapter included a message, Bible readings, thought-provoking questions, prayer, and a musical playlist.
The question posed on the back of Kerry’s book asks, “Does God understand our most basic psychological needs?” Kerry concluded on her book’s back cover with this statement, “As you read, you will discover that pain does not need to isolate us from God or threaten to destroy our faith; instead it can act as a starting point to a deeper trust in God, an increased reliance on God, and a stronger commitment to God.”
Brad had listened willingly soaking up Kerry’s words and encouraged her to pursue promoting this devotional without realizing the journey they were about to embark on; the early goodbye they were set to face.
As I sat there across from Kerry hardly able to eat the appetizer in front of me and listened to Kerry’s story, I was reduced to tears because I deeply understood God’s request of me. You see, after I Facebook stalked Kerry that night just a few months ago and read her blog, I knew in my heart I was supposed to write for Kerry. God put it strongly in my heart that I was to take her book and mirror back to her in a personal way the words she had written for others. He was possibly saying, “Kerry, I do understand your needs. Let me show you.” I was to be a small part of taking her story and helping to make it known. In effect, this was a direct answer to why she had sent the friend request in the first place! Remember, Kerry wanted to be seen, known, and comforted in her pain. God woke me up, a stranger, in order to reveal his mysteriousness and goodness just as Kerry proclaimed in Chapter 1 of her book! But that’s not all.
That day at the restaurant Kerry shared with me how she cared for a dear friend of hers, who also happened to be a dear friend of mine’s mother-in-law, Laura Mayne, during the last days of her battle with cancer. She remembered how Laura, a woman of great faith in Christ, refused to speak of death or cancer. How Kerry wished for a moment to say goodbye before Laura entered eternity. So, God gave Kerry a dream. And in that dream Kerry crawled into bed with weak Laura and shared a special time. Through a prophetic dream God helped Kerry gain closure with Laura’s impending death. Then, a few short days before Laura’s departure, it really happened. Kerry lovingly crawled into bed to be present with Laura in a meaningful way. She knew in her heart this would be her goodbye.
I can’t help contemplating that maybe God is reassuring Kerry that she will not be alone in this either. It is as if he has asked me to use my words to go where no one else can go. I don’t know how I will write them, but I trust him. Also, I can’t help but rejoice that he has given her a time to say goodbye to Brad. They are taking a vacation together at an island resort to celebrate their thirty years of life together. What a treasured time this is!
It shakes me to my knees! Yes! Though Kerry will certainly face a painful absence of her husband, I see her heavenly Father grabbing hold of her hand. Pondering the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139:7-12 it is if I can hear him say,
Where can you go from my Spirit, Kerry?
Where can you flee from my presence?
If you go up to the heavens, I am there;
If you make your bed in the depths,
Kerry, I am already there!
If you rise on the wings of the dawn, if you settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there my hand will guide you; my right hand will hold you fast.
If you say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night all around me,”
Even the darkness will not be as dark to me; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to me.
I will remain faithful. I will show you my goodness.
It is with great hope in that goodness that I join him, the One Who Is Faithfully, Never Endingly Present, to journey alongside Kerry, grieving with her. I will journal through Kerry’s book, Pain as a Starting Point, in prayer for Kerry and Brad. I am confident I will taste and see their victory in Christ, as the Goliath of fear, cancer, and death is crushed by faith. They will overcome just as we are told of the saints in Revelations 12:11. I can already see beauty as I spend time listening to Kerry’s testimony. I will see “pain as a starting point” for Brad’s journey, casting off a broken body to gain a new eternal one in the fullness of Christ’s presence. I will see “pain as a starting point” as Kerry allows her Heavenly Father to comfort and strengthen her through the indescribable pain of an early goodbye.
Praise be to Jesus, who humbled himself, taking on human flesh and who tasted death for us, and that by his precious blood we might receive an eternal home in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father! On this very day we celebrate his victory, and take comfort in his promises.
Here is a link to a song about God’s presence in our suffering.
“Held” by Natalie Grant
Here is a link to a song about Christ’s victory over the enemy. I am praying this over Kerry and Brad as I trust God to provide them the faith they need each day, and minister to them as only he can.
written by: Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton, Kari Jobe
Brad was a bit apprehensive about me being involved. He wondered what I would write and if I would be trying to tell his story. When he heard of my plan, he approved!I told Kerry to tell him not to worry! I feel the same way! I am kind of wondering what I will write as well. I see this as an honor to be able to write, and pray that something will come of it to bless Kerry and Brad.
Will you join me in praying for them through the coming day? Kerry has blogged through the whole experience and I highly recommend sharing her journey with others you know who are dealing with pain in their lives. www.posthope.org/Brad and www.livinglife2thefullest.com.
We are reminded in Scripture to pay attention, to spend time with those who mourn lest we forget our own humanity and forget to number our own days.
A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Please click on title for your copy of Pain as a Starting Point