The Bible sat open at her bedside, a portion of its right page deeply highlighted in yellow. Every morning and night she would read the verse, absorbing a daily dose of spiritual medicine for the unexplainable obstacle she faced.
“Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” – John 11:4.
I can only imagine the questions and doubt that my Mom battled on a daily basis as she lay in the hospital during the winter of 2003. What started as a persistently bad cough was found to be a non-cancerous growth on her heart, throwing an unexpected wrench in the life of an otherwise healthy, strong woman.
The grim diagnosis, however, soon gave way to optimism. And by that summer, following a lengthy surgery, my Mom was back to her old self, fueled by her newfound testimony built on God’s grace.
But another year of positive doctor’s reports suddenly gave way to my family’s worst fears. On the morning of December 12, 2004, my Mom’s sickness did unexpectedly end in death when she suffered a heart attack while getting ready for church.
In the days afterward, as I tried to wrap my 20-year-old mind around the fact that my Mom was no longer physically here, I kept coming back to that Bible verse she had proclaimed so often.
Didn’t God want my Mom to live and not die? Why would He provide her with so much hope if it was just going to end like this? What about all the praying and fasting that our family had done?
All were valid questions; none had a “good” answer. But to be completely honest, God’s will is almost impossible for the human mind to comprehend. On the surface, that statement might sound frustrating and even contradictory to a God who is defined by love. But at its core, that truth is not such a bad thing.
For one, if we knew everything that God knows, He would by definition cease to be God, the One who is all knowing and all powerful. I was reminded of this as I prepared the eulogy for my Mom.
By no means do I compare what I went through to the nightmare that Job endured, but I found comfort in the text of Job 42:3. After questioning God, who in turn reminded Job of His place on the throne, Job humbly responded by saying: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
When we go through circumstances that don’t make sense, God’s hope is that any limits on our faith will be lifted. Rather than basing our faith on whether things are going well in our lives, those dark times challenge us to have a steadfast trust that is rooted solely in the merit of God’s Word and promises. And even in our limited understanding, with God’s help, those trials can produce clarity and growth.
When people offer condolences after they find out my Mom passed away, I often tell them: “I would not be where I am today as a man if my Mom was not where she is today with God in heaven.”
To this day, I regularly find myself drawing upon the exact Christian values and truths that she imparted upon me as a child. Although I got saved at a young age, for most of those 20 years that my Mom was physically in my life, I was more interested in being “cool” than following Christ. But whereas before my reverence for God was based on obedience, when I was faced with my mother’s perplexing death, the “works” part of my relationship with God was no longer enough. I needed a trusting faith to know that, no matter what I did or what God allowed to happen in my life, He would always be there to keep me (James 2:17).
When I surrendered my limited logic to God’s infinite wisdom, I realized that God had indeed been true to His Word.
While it didn’t happen in the way I expected, God had healed my Mom. In His presence, she has realized her complete restoration and been provided a new heart. No pain. No sorrow. No fear of the unknown in regards to her health.
Even though I know my Mom prayed for God to bless her with long life, during those moments of devotion in the hospital, Christ had shifted her focus to the latter part of John 11:4. From that point on, no matter how much longer God intended her life to be, she understood that her purpose now rested in her newfound testimony “so that God’s Son could be glorified through it.”
That’s why one of my last memories with my Mom is of her standing in Wal-Mart, talking to a stranger about Christ. My Mom had always been a strong Christian, but in the final 18 months of her life, after going through her surgery and recovery, a new fire ignited her faith. She was fearless in her evangelism and deliberate in her daily walk.
The grief process plays out in many different ways, so I understand my experience may not be the same as everybody else’s. Every situation, however, is sealed with the same promise from God, that no matter how dire or confusing your circumstances may look, Romans 8:28 rings true:
“All things work together for the good of them who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
Brandon Parker is the Communications Manager for the NFL Players Association. Formerly a sports journalist for The Washington Post, he has a passion for impacting young men and women through writing, mentorship and outreach rooted in God's Word. Brandon lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter. You can follow him on Twitter at @brandoncparker.