Living By Faith
“The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble. The Name of the God of Jacob defend thee — send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion. Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah. Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel. We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the Name of our God we will set up our banners. The Lord fulfill all thy petitions. Now know I that the Lord saves His anointed. He will hear him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen but we are risen, and stand upright. Save, Lord: let the king hear us when we call.” (Psalms 20)
I read a book this week written by Christian music artist Jeremy Camp. It was his story of living life by faith — something I am sure many of us just can’t do, myself included. When I say he lived by faith, I am serious. Growing up in a poor family (albeit, rich in God’s love) the family trusted that their needs would always be met. Whether the need was food or bills getting paid, or having a car to get where they needed to be, God always provided. As he alludes, things weren’t always rosy in his life. Like many of us he has struggled, and been consumed by pain that many never experience but he always remained faithful.
I originally picked up his book though because just a small part of his story tugged at my own heartstrings. The part about his first wife dying of cancer less than four months after they got married … because not that long ago, my little brother lost his beautiful wife to cancer too, in an equally relatively short time frame. Many of us know people who have battled and won or battled and lost. But either way, I truly believe watching someone fight to live is the biggest test of faith we can ever experience.
My sister in law, Shannon was the middle child of three. She grew up in a small island community where everyone knew her. She always had a smile on her face. She always knew the right thing to say. Indeed, she radiated — beautifully, both inside and out.
She was a little older than my brother when they met but we all knew that theirs was love. I asked her about their first meeting once. She told me that she was at her desk working when a guy she didn’t know walked toward her. She said that when she looked into those most incredible blue eyes — my brother’s eyes — she was hooked. But unfortunately, like the story by Jeremy Camp, my brother and his new wife didn’t have near enough time together.
Because of the close proximity of towns and villages, Shannon and my paths had crossed a few times earlier but I didn’t actually meet her until she became my brother’s girlfriend. Looking back, I wish I had known her longer but maybe if I had, she might never have dated my brother. This is what I do know.
Shannon turned my brother’s life around and for this I will forever be grateful … because for a few years, it felt like we would lose him. Shannon brought out the best in him. He was HAPPY all the time. His smile almost rivaled hers for brightness. As hard as it was to believe, when they got engaged they became even happier. One of my happiest moments was the day she asked me to stand up with them as they said their vows. How could I not? This wonderful young lady had given me back my little brother!!!!!
The little boy who used to tell everyone that the devil wouldn’t take away his smile was now an awesome young handsome man — once again smiling. Their wedding day was beautiful. It was a breezy autumn day four years ago. The sun shined (even though the temperature was freezing) and the leaves so colourful and bright. I think the inside of the church was even brighter though because their love lit everything up. Shannon was what every bride should be on her wedding day — absolutely radiant. A quick look at their wedding pictures and it is easy to see the glow coming from them.
That is how much they loved each other.
However, one day, things started unraveling. Not their love for each other but rather life itself was about to be tested in ways that no one should ever be tested. While sledding at a local sledding hill that winter, Shannon fell and hurt her back. It just wouldn’t get better so she was put off work. Maybe not sitting at a desk nine hours a day would help but unfortunately, it didn’t. It eventually took a bone scan to determine what was wrong. I can say, without exaggeration that on that day, when the diagnosis was made, many lives crashed.
Shannon’s bones were full of holes. The pain in her lower back wasn’t going away because the bones were barely holding her together. Up until the moment that she fell off that sled, she was perfectly healthy Now they had to put a pin in place to hold her together. When placing the pin, her medical team did a biopsy of different areas of her body. Her blood work was showing something wrong but the final results shocked everyone. After months of not knowing what was wrong, a simple pain in the back was now stage four lung cancer…..WHAT!!!!!!!!!!
From my perspective, I’ll never understand how a seemingly healthy person with no symptoms of lung issues (or any other sickness for that matter) can end up being the worst form of cancer in her lungs I’m not sure how Shannon felt, or my little brother because with that diagnoses in hand, the two pulled back from the world. They only wanted each other. I know I was devastated. I cried and cried when my father called and told me the news.
Then I googled it (just an FYI, Google is NOT your friend) and I cried some more. Ultimately, Shannon’s medical treatments did not work. Her lungs started filling with fluid, requiring her lungs to be drained on a fairly regular basis. Chemo took her hair and her strength but it didn’t take Shannon’s beautiful smile away. And it turned my brother into this amazing person who took care of his wife with more love and tenderness then I’ve seen from any other human being.
My biggest regret (and we all had some) through their cancer journey was that I listened to the family members who told me to give them space. To let them be alone with each other and enjoy the remaining time they had left together … because in the end, I had regrets that maybe they never knew how hard I prayed, or how much I loved them, or how much I wanted to be there for them.
My last visit with Shannon wasn’t near long enough, but I knew she was tired. Her smile was still as beautiful as any I had ever seen, possibly bittersweet because it was the last one I saw. A week after I saw my dearest sister-in-law, the doctors told her they could only make her comfortable until the end. She was gone a few days later. I think the next few days were the worst days of my life and undoubtedly, definitely the hardest.
I had questions. Unanswered questions. How could God give my brother an amazing wife, partner and friend — only to take her away a short time later???? How would my brother ever recover? My biggest fear was whether I would lose my brother too. It’s been almost three years and I still miss Shannon like our conversations were yesterday but most of all, I miss my little brother. I believe our Lord God has a plan for him…..an amazing plan but the devil had found a way to take away his smile.
Still, I have faith that my brother will get it back. In fact, I saw glimpses of that smile — the amazing one that God gave him last weekend. He is beginning to move on with his life and I know it has been hard for him. One day, him and I will be able to talk about Shannon and how awesome she was without me crying….lol…. or him either. I hope anyway. Until that day, I have faith that God will continue to heal his hurts and take away all his pain. He is an awesome brother and I am grateful to have him as part of my family
I can honestly say that this journey hasn’t been easy. In fact, I have been writing this post for months now in my head but could never bring myself to find the right words. Reading ‘I Still Believe‘ by Jeremy Camp made it possible for me to write this blog, because reading about how he struggled and about how incredible his wife’s faith was — even though she battled cancer too — helped me write the words I’d never be able to say. Life isn’t always sunshine and roses. Even the most faithful have dark days but God can and will take away our burdens. All we need to do is ask Him.
“Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
In closing, I am glad that Shannon was my sister/sister-in-law for as long as she was because the other option would be that she was never a part of my life and that just isn’t an option. Because of Shannon, I am a better person because she taught me that even when life is at its worst, you can still smile.