Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice!

Ron Van Holst, Ottawa, Canada

Part 1 of 2 of the series A Personal Account of a Deeply Moving Family Experience

Precious Seed

Philippians chapter 4 verse 4 says ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice’. This has been my motto for as long as I can remember. Paul wrote this from prison, so we know this attitude is expected of us, even in adversity. This exhortation is so important that Paul repeats it.

It is easy for us to rejoice when we have a good job, nice family, kind friends, and warm fellowship with the Lord’s people. But what happens to our joy when we face adversity? If our joy is in the Lord – who never changes – then our joy will be independent of our circumstances. How can we know if the basis of our joy is in prosperity and health? If our joy rests in our comfort-able circumstances, then what?

Well, the Lord allowed me to find out, and I hope my experience may help others who are facing adversity, or those who will, 1 Pet. 4. 12. I am able to write about these things not because of any merit of my own, but by the grace of God who sustained me through it all. In the autumn of 2000, I lost a large amount of ‘on paper’ wealth in the telecomm technology meltdown but chalked it up as a valuable lesson in the temporal nature of things that are seen. This large sum had grown quickly out of a small sum, so the real loss wasn’t all that bad, but it had allowed me to briefly sniff the intoxicating effects of wealth, hopefully enough to inoculate me.

In the spring of 2001 I lost my telecom technology job, and although I could see it coming, it was still a shock. However, the Lord gave me confidence that He would take care of our family. That same evening, as we drove our four children to their midweek meeting in our assembly, I said to my wife, ‘Heather, I feel the Lord has something new for us, and I'm not sure what it is, but I'm excited by what changes He has ahead for us’. Although over the next few months I learned some tough lessons in a number of failed attempts to create work for myself, our trials had only just begun.

As we gathered with our extended family for Thanksgiving on a beautiful October weekend, Heather was troubled by a persistent headache. Fortunately she was already scheduled for a follow up scan to monitor her brain tumour, but the results confirmed our fears. You often hear people say that nothing can prepare you for times like these, but I do not believe this. We had just finished going through Job verse by verse in our weekly prayer meeting and Bible study. This was very profitable to me, and I am convinced it was the ideal preparation for what was to unfold for us in the next few months.

It was heartbreaking to see my dear wife wheeled down the corridor to the operating room for her second brain surgery in eighteen months. Yet the God of peace gave us peace, and Heather told me afterwards that the words of the hymn ‘Peace, Perfect Peace’ came to mind to comfort her on her trip to the operating room.

Heather and I had always felt that when we pray, we should be specific, and then look for the Lord’s answer. We received email from around the globe from many people assuring us of their prayerful intercession, and we felt the power of those prayers. It was also our prayer that the Lord be glorified in Heather’s suffering. I created a simple family web page to keep those faithful intercessors informed, and to give testimony of our hope for the unsaved.

As before, Heather recovered quickly from surgery, being sent home on the third day to everyone’s delight. Not being burdened with a job freed me to cater to my beloved’s needs, and take over the home schooling of our children. It was now clear that my unemployment was a blessing in disguise.

When the pathology report came back ten days after surgery, we were informed by our neural oncologist, that her brain tumour had transformed to a much more malignant kind, ‘It is the worst kind’, he said, ‘it is incurable’. Heather was stunned, and did not want to talk about it. I began to read everything I could find on this type of tumour. Reading article after article, it soon became clear how desperate people were for any kind of hope, for this hopeless, incurable disease.

The prognosis for this type of brain tumour is dismal, but the oncologist was optimistic that with aggressive treatment using new clinical trials, we might be able to do better than the median life expectancy of nine to twelve months. Although we believed the Lord was in control, we looked to medical advances for our hope to spend a little more time together on this earth.

Only a few days after the diagnosis, Heather’s headaches returned, so her medications were increased, and she was scheduled for a CT scan the following week. We had been putting off a romantic getaway due to financial concerns, but I felt strongly that it was ‘now or never‘. We spent the weekend in a lovely country hotel, and had some precious moments together, but it was obvious her condition was declining rapidly.

The next day, the oncologist and I looked at the CT scan results together, and they were shocking. In less than three weeks since her surgery, the brain tumour had completely re-grown, and had spread throughout the right hemisphere, causing swelling, and compression of the left hemisphere. There would be no time for clinical trials – this faint glimmer of earthly hope was gone. If the disease continued to advance at this rate, she would likely not live more than three weeks.

I went outside into the cold winter wind to be alone for a while, and I cried out to the Lord. If the oncologist were correct, she would be gone before Christmas! How would I tell the children? Our youngest was only 4!

We were sent home with a prescription for chemotherapy. We were told it was a long shot, but it might buy us a little time, and would provide some palliative benefits if it did help. I spent a few days in deep sorrow, unable to sleep. Heather could not understand why I was crying, the disease and the drugs prevented her from understanding, so we could not even grieve together.

Heather and I had already discussed and agreed that if a time came when all human options had failed we would call together the elders of our assembly as instructed in James chapter 5 verse 14. We had committed Heather's health to the Lord since the very first, but God often waits for the natural situation to become impossible before He intervenes with a miracle. Thus we called the elders together in our home the evening of November the 27th 2001. It was an emotional and encouraging time and I was able to unload some heavy burdens on these five dear men.

November 28th was the day that chemotherapy was to begin. Heather had always had difficulty with pills, and these were much larger than any she had ever previously managed to swallow. The statistics told me that ‘chemo’ would likely do her more harm then good. I spent another sleepless night with this burden that seemed too great to bear. 1 Peter chapter 5 verse 7, ‘Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you’, came to mind, and my burden was taken away. It was as if the Lord said to me, ‘I will carry this burden for you, if it is My will for her to take these pills, I will enable her to take them’. Heather was able to swallow the pills. Each day of her treatment the pills were made a matter of prayer and each day they went down. The Lord also blessed me with sleep again.

Heather's condition improved, her mind cleared, and we were able to talk about heaven, and grieve together. The tumour was also shrinking, and we were greatly encouraged; even the dreaded side effects of the chemotherapy were minimal. God was answering our prayers. Heather felt well enough to re-take control of the kitchen, so we put a ‘stop order’ on the steady stream of prepared meals that had been coming in, and we were able to send the relatives home, and be a ‘normal’ family again.

To be Continued.