By Kristi Mitchell
A quick note from Pastor Paul
This week's article is written by a family friend named Kristi Mitchell. The Mitchell kids were childhood friends with our children Zach and Samantha. In 2016, they lost their youngest child Jared to cancer. We saw firsthand how the Holy Spirit strengthened, comforted and carried them through this dark time. Anyone grieving the loss of someone they love, a child, a parent, a spouse or close friend will be encouraged by Kristi's vulnerability. This article originally appeared in Gritty Faith, and is reprinted with the author's permission.
I buried my face in the old carpet of my bedroom. When I am most desperate for Him, the only place that seems appropriate is the floor. It’s almost as if groveling before God, getting as low to the ground as possible, might cause my prayers to be more effective. Today though, I was not even aware that I was there; it just happened. My stomach ached from the deep sobs as I spoke out loud, “Please God, I cannot take it anymore. Please just take him. I can’t watch him hurting anymore, Lord. I’m sorry to ask this, but I’m begging you, please call him Home.” I still wrestle with the fact that I allowed those words to come out of my mouth. What good mom asks God to take her son? However, when I put myself in that moment again, when I recall the frail body that laid there, being eaten from the inside by cancer, I can conjure up that desperate plea again. No mom desires their child to endure pain and the only way Jared would feel relief was for him to die.
Jared was only two days’ shy of turning twelve when he started chemo. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. This aggressive pediatric bone cancer started in the ball of his hip and traveled down to the upper part of his thigh bone. According to the radiologist, his bones looked like Swiss cheese. Jared went through all kinds of interesting and horrible experiences as he endured the evil disease. Interesting because Jared was curious. He was crazy about science. He loved knowing the “why” behind everything, even his echocardiogram. He would ask great questions like, “How come you use titanium and not some other kind of metal?” This question preceded his hip replacement surgery along with, “What if it just pops out? What do we do then?” Which is exactly what happened. Lying in his bed one day, he told me his hip hurt. I took one look and could tell it was protruding out further than it should. That evening he was in surgery again to realign the titanium hip and cover his torso with a half-body cast. That was one of the horrible times. I do praise the Lord for Jared’s curiosity though. His questions got us all through some dark times.
The nurses and doctors told us that Jared was one of the sickest patients they had experienced. Not that the title is a badge to be worn, like the “bravery beads” handed out by Child-Life Specialists. Those beads that once hung from his IV pole now lay in the box with Jared’s ashes. One hour into Jared’s first chemo treatment (April 27-my 42 birthday) Jared started throwing up. I had four kids and never saw anyone throw up like that. He was green and could not lift his head on his own. The nurses and I held him up as he heaved. My heart was heaving too. This was my new reality and I had no idea how to deal with it all. Tears popped out of my eyes uncontrollably. I apologized to the nurses. One of them left
momentarily and brought back an older nurse. She came to my side by Jared’s bedrail and gently touched my arm and led me to a couch across the room. She looked at me tenderly as tears flowed down my cheeks, “Kristi, you are going to be okay. I’ve been a pediatric oncology nurse for 42 years and I can say, you will be just fine. You are a strong momma. I can see it in you. I know you will get through this.” 42 years. That’s the number of candles that were supposed to be on my birthday cake that day. She had sat bedside, nursing kids and moms alike as long as I had been alive. That was a God-moment for me. God was quietly letting me know that all the experience this woman had was enough to reassure me that I could cry and still be a good mom. I could endure this moment and we would be okay. Strength welled up in my soul as I privately prayed, “Thank you, God, for this birthday present.” I thanked her and hugged her and went back to my post by my son with a renewed perspective: I was going to be okay.
Being a parent of a kid with cancer is an honor and a burden. The burden being the fact that you are a constant witness to your child’s pain, treatment, anxiety, and side effects, and cannot do anything to change that fact. The honor is that you are the advocate for the most important person in your world. That title belongs to you, and no one can change that fact. I prayed daily that God would give my husband and I courage and strength, wisdom, and discernment to make the right choices for Jared and the rest of our family. One way in which God provided that strength is that He reminded me to turn to His Word. Spencer, one of Jared’s good friends, sent Jared a letter early on after diagnosis. He wrote this scripture across the top of the page:
“Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.”
That verse became our mantra. We wrote it out and taped it up in every room we stayed in, every time Jared was in the hospital. It was our beacon of hope, reminding us of our ever-present, comforting Heavenly Father. We allowed those words to penetrate to our core, giving us all courage to march on in the face of this ugly battle with cancer. Jared, with all of his great questions, was a picture of bravery because He knew God was with him in every MRI, every surgery, and every chemo. Those “bravery beads” may have told the story of what he endured, but only Jared’s peace and resolve could truly tell the story of where he found that endurance.
The sweet hospice nurse was just doing her job. She had to do a very uncomfortable procedure. As she turned his limp body over, I saw the bedsores for the first time. I had no idea that my sweet baby boy had gaping holes in the skin across his shoulder blades. My heart dropped and I lost my breath. Tears still come as I think of that sight. Not only was cancer killing him from the inside, but his body was losing the battle from the outside. I lost
it. I turned to that sweet nurse, the young lady who was taking on Jared as her very first hospice patient, and I lost it. I told her to stop! “Leave him alone, I mean, look at him, why do you have to do this?!” My dear husband, who knew how to handle my emotions after everything we had been through in our 25 years of marriage, turned me to him and told me to take a break. I trusted his leading and that is why I was face-down on the floor of my
bedroom, calling out to God as I had never in my life called out to anyone. I was pleading and aching, and longing for relief. I closed my eyes and just laid there, silently crying.
My older two boys are very musically talented. Growing up they spent many days singing, playing guitars and keyboards and rhythm instruments, creating their music, and playing many genres of others. Even as young kids they loved hymns. One of my favorite pictures of my kids is one of all four of them singing and playing music. My house is too quiet now that we are empty-nesters. The joy, the beauty of music is one that I long to experience when we all get together again in heaven someday.
As I cried and prayed, an old hymn came through the floorboards; not stopping at my ears, but sinking deep down into my soul. My older sons had no idea what was going on. They were doing what they do. They were singing, creating, harmonizing. God was leading that band that day. He led a song I have loved since I was a kid through the precious voices of my boys. He used their sweet blending notes to melt me and remind me of His love, to help me know that I could be strong and courageous because He was still with me. Even in this dark moment of desperation, He was with me.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever
my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
I moved from face-down, up to my knees. I sang the chorus with the angels in the basement…
“It is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.”
I felt it. Deep down. I even remember nodding my head in agreement with Him. God spoke to me and I heard Him. I rose to my feet. My cancer baby needed me. I went downstairs and sat by my husband. Jared was all taken care of, patched up, and laying peacefully. I apologized to our lovely nurse. She was wonderful. She hugged me and forgave me and told me she was a believer. She even sang with my boys as they continued with other worship tunes. Yes, it was well with my soul, even as my baby lay dying in my living room.
Jesus said we would have troubles in this world. He told us that when we endure hardship we will not be crushed or abandoned, that He is with us. He te
lls us that He has gone to prepare a place for us. A place where there is no sickness or death, no tears, no more darkness. In times like this, we have to hold onto that belief. It’s easy to believe it when all is well. But when things are not good, when all around us is grim and sad, it's faith in His promises that allows us to endure. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
A few months before his resurrection day Jared was asked if he was scared to die. He loved the book of Revelations. We read it to him a lot. His faith led him to believe that death allowed Him the freedom to sit beside God and that is what he longed for, even as a nearly 16-year old boy. He said, “Have you read Revelation? No, I’m not scared. I will be sitting by God up there when all of that goes down! It’s gonna be cool.” So, Joshua 1:9 did sink deep. He knew he would always be with God. There’s nothing more important to me than knowing the security of my son’s eternity. It IS well with my soul. I may have to endure this life on earth without Jared, but I know where he is and where I am going.
I like to imagine we will all be singing in heaven someday and my kids will look at me and say, “Isn’t this the song we sang when Jared was dying mom?”
“yes, it is.” I will say to them, “I could sing it back then because I knew this day would come.”
Kristi is dedicated to sharing how God has woven the gold-thread of His hand into our lives. Finishing a degree at Colorado Christian University so that she can be most effective with her message, she is now looking for God’s leading in teaching others how to share their stories, while she shares hers. She and her husband, Daren are empty- nesters (after raising four kids) and reside in beautiful Colorado. To contact Kristi with speaking opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org