A Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow, Part One

Lead the Way, Lord!
New believers sometimes imagine God as the Holy vending machine, standing by to dispense everything we request. Others believe salvation promises that no bad things will ever come our way again. But God works in His ways, which surpass our understanding. Walking with Christ is no guarantee of a life free of problems–in fact we can expect earthly trials.

However, God does care for us in times of trouble. If we listen carefully, we may hear Him directing our course through the chaos.

On June 17, 2008, I was home from work recovering from a cold. Midmorning, my father called me with news. My mother had been hospitalized the night before and a biopsy was scheduled for later that day. “Do you need me to fly up, Dad?” “No,” he said. “You sit tight and I’ll keep you posted.”

I hung up the phone. I sat for a moment. I phoned my husband. “I need to get up there,” I told him. Rich said, “I’ll support your decision, but if they’re doing the biopsy today, maybe you should wait until we know the results.” I said, “I think I’d better go.”

I phoned my siblings. “I’m going to Reno, ” I told them. I called my daughter and filled her in on my plan. I arranged a ride to the airport. I booked a flight and called my husband again. “My flight is at 1:30,” I told him. “I have a return flight booked for Friday, but I can change it if I need to.” “Okay,” he said. “Be safe. I’ll miss you.”

Finally I called my dad. “I’ll be at the airport by six,” I told him. “I’m on my way.” My father replied that since our previous conversation, Mom’s treatment plan had changed; the biopsy might be delayed. “Okay,” I told him. “You can tell me about it when I get there.”

This tale could be the straightforward narrative of a daughter’s response to her beloved parents’ crisis. But it’s not. My conduct was contrary to an established response pattern that had worked well for years.

In 1999, my parents had left Southern California. In those intervening years one or the other of my parents had been hospitalized on several occasions. My standard routine was to inquire if my presence was needed. Typically, if Dad was in the hospital, Mom would say, “Yes, please come.” If Mom was hospitalized, Dad would tell me to stay put and they’d be fine. I would act accordingly.

My mother’s family had a strong history of heart attacks. Her mother and four of her five uncles had died of heart attacks. When Dad called a few years ago to tell me that Mom was being evaluated for chest pain and the doctors suspected a heart attack, you would think that I’d felt compelled to go to them. But at that time Dad told me to stay home and I did, with no sense of worry.

This time was different. It felt different in two important ways. First, I knew I had to get to my parents as quickly as I could.

Second, I knew that my mother was going to die of this illness.

And so I behaved differently. I acted against Dad’s request that I remain at home. I also left town without speaking to my boss: I couldn’t reach her so I sent her an email. Under normal circumstances I would never do such a thing.

In Reno I slept on a cot in my mother’s hospital room. The glittering lights of a casino mocked me from the window.

As it happened, six days passed before my mother’s biopsy was performed. A series of frustrating delays had provoked anxiety in my father. For the first time in my life, he consulted me about significant questions. He and I needed each other. Mom needed us.

The day of the biopsy Dad and I waited a long time in the waiting room–much longer than the surgeon had projected. When he finally emerged to speak with us, he was grim. “It’s cancer,” he told us. He had removed most, but not all, of a malignancy the size of a honeydew melon from my mother’s abdomen.

Later that day my dad and I discussed our next steps and decided that for the time being, I should return home. I reserved a flight for Tuesday, June 24.

Looking back, I would not trade the time I shared with Mom during that long, dreadful week for anything. I gained key information about her condition by being present when her doctors came in. More importantly, my mother and I shared many conversations during the long nights when she slept poorly.

God continued to care for us throughout Mom’s illness. More on that later.

16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar
paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and
make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake
Isaiah 42:16 (NIV)