I’ve been fighting with myself since last night (November 20th) over whether or not to do this – to type this out for everyone to see, I mean. But this morning, Kelsey Krupa, one of my very closest and most loved friends, came to visit me, and upon hearing the story, she encouraged me to write it down. And the truth is, I’ve been praying for God to be glorified through it, so I am going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.
This isn’t going to have much flowery language. This isn’t going to be beautifully written. Because it isn’t the words that God has given me to express to anyone that will listen to them that are important, but the story that the words tell. It’s the story that matters.
If you’re reading this, then you probably already know, but at the beginning of this year, my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. That information and all of the emotions and pain that came with it shook my whole world to the foundation. I had no idea what to do with it, but I continued living and, even though her treatments had her worn down and in pain, I found a lot of God in the situation.
I was at work last Tuesday (November 15th) when I received a text message from my grandmother. In it, she told me that my mother had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance because she was having trouble breathing. I dropped what I was doing and called her. When she answered, her voice was clearly full of tears and she told me that the doctors had determined that there was really nothing left that they could do. She just kept saying it was “bad.” She told me they said she was terminal. She told me they were just going to make her comfortable. Without using the word, she told me that my mother was dying and there was nothing anyone could do. I got off the phone with her and tried to go back to work, but, for the first time in my life, I was in some kind of shock. My arms and legs, my hands and feet didn’t feel like they belonged to me. I could not process the information I had just gotten. In less than a minute, Stephanie walked in to visit me.
Stephanie is a girl that I met 65 days ago (September 17th). I know that, because she has a countdown widget on her phone that says so. She is the most beautiful, loving, incredible girl I have ever met, and I’ve been blessed with the honor of calling her my girlfriend. I was at the tailgate before the first Texas State home football game this season when a small group of us decided to make our way over to the stadium. While walking through the parking lot, we were stopped a handful of times by a handful of people – the *perfect* number of times by the *perfect* number of people. It was perfect because, at one point, after I finished talking to someone with whom I had crossed paths, I turned around and saw a beautiful stranger talking with a couple of the people I was walking with. “Who is *that*?” That was the thought I had. And *that* was Stephanie. She approached us because she was there alone and we were wearing Loud Crowd shirts. We walked together and we talked together and we stood together during the game. We haven’t spent much time apart from each other since that day, and now, after everything that has happened, I recognize and acknowledge that God knew exactly what He was doing when He determined the moment that He would introduce Stephanie into my life.
Just a few minutes before I received the text message from my grandmother, Stephanie had sent me a message asking if she could come visit me because she was dealing with some negative stuff that has surrounded her for a little while now. Of course I said yes, and, as usual, God’s timing was perfect. She walked in right at the moment that I needed her as much as I have ever needed anyone. She could see it all over my face that something was wrong, and when I told her, I could see in her that she felt my pain right along with me. One of the people I work with, my friend – some might call her my “boss,” I call her my friend – Mindy was standing there with me at the same time.
I have the privilege of working at the DC Shoe Store in San Marcos. I call it a privilege, not because I’m a skater – I never have been – and not because it pays a whole lot of money – it certainly does not – but because the people I work with are amazing. When I’m at work, it’s like I’m hanging out with my friends and I’m folding a t-shirt at the same time. It seems to me that God put me there for a reason, and that He chooses particular windows of time to leave the store empty of customers just long enough for real conversations of the heart to carry themselves out to completion.
If any of you from DC are reading this, I want you to know that you have all been a huge blessing in my life since I met all of you. Truly. Thank you so much.
Mindy told me she had my shifts covered for the rest of the week. She told me to go home and be with my mom and my family. I was and still am so thankful for that.
I left with Stephanie in her car, leaving mine in the parking lot of the outlet malls. I didn’t know what to say to her or how to behave at all, really. Ultimately, I called Joel Lowry.
I tell people all the time that I don’t really know what to call Joel as far as his relationship with my life. My pastor, my best friend, my brother, the guy that I lead alongside in ministry – a lot of titles come to mind. In the end, whatever he is to me, he was the guy I called at that moment. He’s always the guy I call in hard moments. And he always responds to me just the way God intends for him to.
When I told Joel, the change of tone in his voice was obvious. He asked me if I wanted to go to his house and I did. So Stephanie and I drove over there and went inside to sit with Joel, Lauren – Joel’s wife and my friend – and David Booth, another very close personal friend. I sat with them and talked with them while I tried to process what was going on – something no one could help me figure out. I cried. I just talked as the words came. The whole time, my question was never *if* God was in the situation, but *where* He was in the situation. I just needed something to hold on to. I needed to know where God was. And in the end, every person in the room – Joel, Lauren, David, Stephanie, and I – prayed for my mother and for me. That time was really a blessing.
When Stephanie and I left, we went to my apartment, where we just sat in my bed without talking too much. We didn’t turn the TV on or get on Facebook. We just sat together for a while. I spoke up as words came to me, but really my heart was just seeking after God, still asking where He was. In that time, I kept hearing Him say “I love you. I love you. I love you.” You might say it’s cliche, but that is what God was saying to me right in my ear. And suddenly, all at once, I was hungry and knew what I wanted to eat.
That morning I had woken up to a steady, heavy roll of thunder. It was raining in San Marcos. As anyone that lives here knows, it never rains in San Marcos. Before I went to work that morning, I met with a few guys to talk about relationships and how to love people well. I left that meeting a little early to get to work on time and on my way there I had a debate with myself in the car. I tried to fight off the urge to stop for breakfast, mainly because money has been tight lately – tighter than it ever has been in my life. I kept telling myself I could stand to wait until I got off of work to eat, but, ultimately, I stopped for food.
Standing in line, I fought with myself again, this time over how much food to get. I knew I couldn’t eat more than one kolache – they’re pretty much the size of hamburgers – because I had tried to do it before and failed. I knew there was no logical reason to buy two of them, but, ultimately, I bought two of them. It was silly. It didn’t make sense. And I know this seems trivial, but God found his way into that decision.
I got to work from there, ate one of the kolaches when I arrived and, since I could only finish one, I put the other away for later.
It was about two hours later that I talked to my grandmother, Stephanie showed up, and Mindy told me to go home. When I went to grab my things, I saw the food there next to my keys and thought I would offer it to someone else – that was fully my intention: to give it to someone that was working. In the midst of pain and fear and doubt and shock, what was I going to do with a greasy kolache? But when I was walking out, when I was saying goodbye, in the midst of pain and fear and doubt and shock, I decided to save it so that I could eat it later. Again, it was silly and it didn’t make sense, but God found his way into that decision.
I left my car in the parking lot and rode with Stephanie to Joel’s house, and then from there to my apartment. When she parked, I looked at my food, which I had put in the floor at my feet. With empty hands, I decided that I didn’t want to lean down and pick it up. I decided to just leave it there in the car for no reason of any worldly logic. It was silly. It didn’t make sense. But God found his way into that decision.
I’m getting to the point here, I promise. Like I said before, after sitting in my room with Stephanie for some unknown amount of time, I was suddenly hungry, and I knew what I wanted to eat – that kolache. That food that I only had because I had ignored the idea of financial responsibility and paid for breakfast. That food that I only had because I knowingly bought more than I would be able to eat at one time. That food that I only had because I decided to keep it for myself in a moment that food should have been the last thing on my mind. That food that was in Stephanie’s car because I had left it there without any reason to do so.
“Can we get my food out of your car?”
That’s what I asked Stephanie. We immediately got up, walked downstairs, and opened my front door. When we opened the door, it was obvious that the sun was shining. It had been raining – *raining* all morning. There had been no sunshine for the several hours I had been awake, but here was sunshine. Stephanie walked out to her car, which was parked just outside the door to my apartment, and I looked around – I looked up at the sky. What I saw there surprised me – it didn’t really make sense. Just above us – just above my apartment, the clouds had separated just enough to create a hole through which the sun could shine. For the 180 degrees that I could see in the sky, there was no blue. There was only gray. It was raining all around us, but in the midst of that storm, in that moment, the sun had come out and was lending its brightness and its warmth.
In that moment, I had a thought – a prayer, really. I told God that I so badly wanted that to be Him. I had been searching for Him, and I wanted that moment to be Him, but I didn’t want to cling to the first little thing that presented itself to me because I was desperate. I didn’t want to cling to a lie.
When she stood up out of her car, Stephanie looked up at the sky and said so simply “That’s weird.” At hearing her say that, my heart felt like it stopped. That was all I needed – the expression from another person that there was something unusual going on. Turning around, I walked back into my apartment and hurried to the back door. I threw the lock off, pulled the door open, and stepped outside. When I looked up… all I could see was gray storm clouds in every direction all the way unto the horizon. But there, right above me, shining down through a hole just wide enough, lending its brightness and its warmth… there was the sun. And I heard the words “I’m right in the middle of it.” I collapsed in the floor of my kitchen at my backdoor and wept. I praised God. I thanked Him. See, because, in finding out that my mom – the one person that has gotten me to where I am, the one person that has made me worth something when it would’ve been so easy for me to be worth nothing – in finding out that my mother might not live much longer, my only question was “Where are you, God?” I kept saying “God, I know you’re here somewhere, but where?” Like I was in the darkness with my hands out in front of me, searching blindly for the only one who could take care of me – the only one with the answers. And in my searching, in my seeking, He grabbed me, He pulled me into his arms, and He told me “I’m right here. I’m right in the middle of this.”
In the time it took me to get up off the floor and explain to Stephanie what had happened – what God had shown me, the sun was covered by the clouds again. From my kitchen, I looked at the windows in my living room, and it was dark outside. I opened the front door and the sun was gone.
Everything had led me there. From my ill-advised decision to buy food to my decision of how much food to buy to my decision to save what was left to my decision to call Joel to my decision to leave the food in Stephanie’s car to the moment that I recognized my own hunger… it all worked together to create the window through which God intended to present Himself to me and to comfort me. He used it all to bring me to Him so that he could tell me He was right in the middle of it.
That night my mom accepted Jesus Christ as her lord and savior.
I’m crying while I type this. But my tears are so happy. My smile is so true. And God’s love is so real in my life.
All the decisions surrounding my breakfast that morning aren’t the only decisions that look strange when they stand alone. See, in learning that my time with my mom had suddenly seemed to become extremely limited, instead of packing some things, filling up my car with gas, and getting on the road right away, I decided to stay in San Marcos long enough to go to a Texas State basketball game that night.
A basketball game.
I love basketball, but sitting next to my relationship with my mother, basketball might as well not exist. Despite that, though, I stayed in San Marcos. I went to that basketball game. And it was in that span of time that my mom accepted Christ, and my aunt was the one who was with her when she did it.
It’s important to point out here that my aunt is not my mom’s sister. She’s my dad’s sister. My mom and my dad were divorced when I was just a baby – only months old. Their relationship, in my recollection – since the time I’ve been old enough to *have* a recollection – has not been a good one. But somehow, as unusual as it is, as odd as it might appear to the rest of the world, my mom and my dad’s sister have remained best friends. For all 22+ years of my life they have been best friends – for lack of a better term, they’ve been *sisters*. And my aunt is one of the sweetest, most incredible, most spiritually grounded people I have met in my whole life. And there was a reason that God put her in my mom’s life. And there was a reason he *kept* her there.
While I was at the basketball game that night, I received a text message from my aunt – a lengthy one. In it, she told me that she sat with my mom, who really could not talk, in the hospital room. She told me she asked my mom if she was scared, and my mom nodded her head “yes.” She told me she asked my mom if she knew Jesus Christ – if she had Him in her heart, and my mom shrugged her shoulders to say she didn’t know; that she wasn’t sure. She told me she prayed with my mom and, at some point along the prayer, she told my mom that, if she wanted to invite Jesus Christ into her life to take care of her heart, to pray along with her. She told me that, when she finished, she asked my mom if she prayed the prayer with her, and my mom nodded her head “yes.” She told me she asked my mom if she was scared, and my mom shook her head “no.”
It took 46 years of her life and 22 years of mine for my mom to *really* say yes to Christ, but He finally took his place in her heart in her waning moments. And indeed they were waning.
The next day, Stephanie and I got in my car and drove to Beaumont to see my mom in the hospital. When we arrived there four hours later and I saw my mom – the single mother who had worked her fingers to the bone daily to provide for me for 22 years; the woman who had gone back to school so late in life and carried a 4.0 grade point average through three years of college before cancer took her away from it; the woman who had fought the *hell* out of that cancer; the woman who continued to *try* to go to work and to school while enduring debilitating chemo therapy; the woman who had survived *so* *much* – when I saw her for the first time lying in that hospital bed hooked up to the machines and wearing an oxygen mask because she couldn’t even breathe on her own, I was not broken. I was not shattered. I was okay, because I didn’t see all of the worldly pain… I saw a woman redeemed and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
I went to her bedside. I said “hey mom.” She looked up at me with her struggling gaze and I knew that, through all that was going on, she recognized me. Of course she recognized me. She told me my entire life that I was and am the only thing that mattered to her. I was able to talk to her and I was able to introduce her to Stephanie, this new love of my life.
The medication that was running into her body made it difficult if not impossible for her to control her own body. She lay there in the bed while her legs moved abruptly and involuntarily, but she was still awake. She had no strength. She had no control over herself. But in a moment, for just one moment, her love for her son – her only son, overcame that medication. She was able to fight her elbows onto the bed so they could prop her up a bit. Her boyfriend and my grandmother – my mom’s mother – grabbed my mom’s hands and helped her sit up in that bed. She looked at me and I knew what she wanted. Leaning in, I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug. She was able to lift her arms around me and hug me back. There was no squeeze and no strength, but she hugged me and I hugged her.
For the rest of my life, I’ll know that God led me to that hospital room exactly when He intended for me to be there. Because after she leaned back into bed again, she didn’t move or open her eyes very much; after Stephanie and I spent about 10 hours a day in the hospital for the next five days; after we spent a night there at my mom’s bedside; after I watched the Cowboys win with her one more time – she’s the reason I’m a Cowboys fan – after Stephanie and I left the hospital and got on the road back to San Marcos, my mom slipped away from us, and that hug she gave me was the last meaningful movement of her life.
The last meaningful movement of her life here was to hug me… and the first meaningful movement of her life where she is now was to hug the lord of her life who she had come to know just six days before.
In the days and what have become weeks following my mom’s passing, the outpouring of love has been unbelievable. To all of you who have been so incredible, I say thank you. The list is too long to remember each by name, but you all know who you are. From those who said the tiniest prayer to those who drove 4 hours just to attend my mom’s funeral service even though you never got the honor of meeting her, thank you. Thank you. From the deepest part of my heart, thank you.
And to those who question God. To those who know Him and those who don’t, I promise you that He loves you. To the ends of the earth and with everything in Heaven, He loves you. In the most painful situations, even when you don’t know where He is, I promise you that He is right in the middle of it.
See, during this whole thing, the whole time it was all going on, I was praying two separate prayers. I was praying one prayer begging God for healing. I was begging Him to heal my mother. To take her pain and her cancer all away from her and make her all better. And at the same time, I was praying for His will to be done. And, knowing that she had accepted Christ, knowing that she was saved, my prayer for God’s will to be done in the situation was real – it was genuine, even though I knew it might be His will for Him to take her away from me. So, to me, I felt like I was praying what might’ve been two completely different prayers. Here was my heart in one place, praying for the healing of my mom’s body. And here it was in another place, praying for God to do what He intended to do and to be glorified through it. How could I pray for both? And then she was gone. In the moment that I found out, I felt so lost and so hurt, but I found the strength to calm myself and call my aunt on the phone – the same aunt who was with my mom when she accepted Christ. My mind and my heart were all over the place – all over the world, it seemed like, so I don’t remember much of that conversation. But there is one thing that I do remember – there is one thing that she said that I do remember and I will always remember. It was the only thing anyone could have said to make me realize that my prayers – what I thought were two completely different, completely conflicting prayers… were really the same prayer all along. It was the only thing she could’ve said.
“We asked for God to heal her, and He did.”
I love you, mom. Thank you.