On February 7, 2014 my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. We were surprised and shocked. My sister and I knew what stage 4 meant – the cancer had spread to other organs and the doctors were declaring her incurable – but my mom wasn’t giving up and I wasn’t either. Don’t moms live forever?
I remember clearly the moment I pulled into the familiar parking spot in front of her Vancouver apartment and I sensed the Lord saying; “this is my will for you right now; to care for your mom.” I didn’t realize or really accept the thought that this would be the last few months my mom was alive so I resisted a bit. Drop everything, Lord? And then, in God’s kindness, as if to punctuate with an exclamation mark, after dinner I opened a fortune cookie that read: This year your highest priority will be your family. Can God speak through a fortune cookie?!?
It was a 7 minute walk from my mom’s apartment, which she’d called home for 19 years, to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) where she was recovering from a colon sectional. I slept at her home and would walk to VGH. One morning, while on the short walk, I was mulling over Psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me.” The “you are with me” jumped out as if to say: “look at me”! Before I reached the hospital I would have a simple encounter with God that would change my perspective.
I sensed Him saying, “Leslie, you want me to DO something for you. I want to simply BE with you. You want me to act as the Defender, the Healer, or the Miracle Worker. I want to be with you. I want to walk with you right into the midst of the pain, uncertainty, anger, helplessness and sorrow.” Then I imagined a friend who is able to “just be” and not attempt to fix the problem or talk through the issue or “do anything”; she’s just there, fully present, compassionate and empathetic with her ear toward my heart. God was wanting to be a friend.
A number of months later, my mom was admitted to the palliative care ward. Some of the questions I was asking weren’t getting answered, and nobody was moving fast enough for me (it seemed) and I was anxious. On one tumultuous day, my mom’s GP called to ask how things were going. Sensing my anxiety, she said: “Leslie, after 53 years of practicing medicine I’ve learned that you need to trust the process. I could once again hear God’s whisper – “Trust the process, Leslie.”
At the time I didn’t know exactly what that meant, and I’m still learning. I think it meant being okay with unanswered questions and trusting that God was able to work out everything for good. He was able to move on my mom’s behalf. I didn’t need to play God. Trusting the process looked like putting my mom in the hands of others who had more knowledge and experience than I did. Trusting the process meant letting my mom die in her way and God’s time.
On the very morning of the day she passed away, I went for a run before heading to see her. I heard God gently and lovingly say, “If you can’t trust me in death when can you trust me, Leslie?” I felt so broken, a good broken, not condemned. I saw how, over the years, I’d moved from being child-like and trusting God joyfully, to a grown-up middle-aged woman who learned how to manage people and situations because I thought I knew best. But God was inviting me to let go. By showing me my inadequacy in trusting Him, He set me free to trust Him. It is easier to trust Someone who knows you and still loves you.
My mom passed away on October 27, 2014 and the days following meant cleaning up her now empty apartment. One morning I went out for breakfast and brought my journal – “Your Ears Will Hear” by Steve and Evy Klassen. Earlier in the year I had bought two: one for me and one for somebody else, trusting that the Lord would show me who it’s for at the right time. On this morning, I accidentally forgot my own journal, the one I’d been writing in, and brought the other one – maybe it wasn’t by accident.
I was about to leave when a gal came to sit at the table close to me. This woman started up a conversation with me and pretty soon I discovered that she was attending a prayer time at a Buddhist temple in Richmond hoping for healing. She had thyroid cancer. I told her how I’d seen Jesus touch people both physically and emotionally. I asked if I could pray for her and she agreed to let me. I prayed for her thyroid and also her heart as I sensed it had been broken and needed Jesus’ touch just as much as her thyroid cancer. She was visibly touched as tears rolled down her face. God was present with us and reaching out to this precious woman. I looked over at the “Your Ears Will Hear” book and handed it to her. This is for you, I said. I showed her how the book was laid out and how she could hear from Jesus too. “He loves you so much!” I exclaimed.
When I went back to the apartment, which had been hard emotional slogging, I had a renewed energy and joy. I’m learning to trust and I’m seeing the beauty in it. Though God wants to heal and work in this world he also simply wants to BE with us.