Count It All Joy??
by Kim Evans
Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. Let patience have its work in you that you may be complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally.James 1:2-5
Lessons Learned Early
Growing up in a loving, Christian home, the daughter of a physician and musician, I began my relationship with Christ as a five-year old. At such a young age, I don’t know why the verses in James 1:2-5 stood out to me, but I adopted them as my “life verses.” My precious mother helped me learn that trials are part of this life—that they will come, and we can choose to “count them all joy” or let them make us bitter. Little did I know the depths to which my ability to find joy during a trial would be tested later in life.
As I grew in my relationship with Christ, I realized that God’s purpose in a trial is to teach us. When I encountered a trial, I would pray for God to clearly show me what I was to learn. I prayed for Him to use each trial so that others could be helped through my experience. And God proved Himself faithful to me over and over again. Often someone would mention that he/she had been struggling through the same trial I had encountered. I found myself being thankful for the opportunity to help someone else. Every trial I faced increased my ability to trust God in every situation. Then, September 13, 2003 came....
A Life Too Short
My husband and I and our two children were about to leave to attend a summer musical when my parents called to tell us they had found my 43-year-old brother struggling to breathe and were headed to the hospital. “Please, Lord,” I prayed, “don’t let it be pneumonia.” My brother, a physician, had told me if he ever got pneumonia again, he likely would not survive. He had suffered so much—knee surgery, two back surgeries, numerous vocal chord surgeries due to an infection from an unsterile intubation tube, two neck surgeries, countless cases of pneumonia after every surgery, and eventually, gastro paresis. This incurable condition was caused by a surgery error which left his stomach unable to digest or gain nutrition from any food. He was being fed by a central line and was literally starving to death. On top of all this, his wife had left him. His pain was beyond my comprehension, yet he fought to live for his little girl, a precious five-year-old.
Mom called again at intermission and said the ER doctor had diagnosed severe pneumonia, but that Bubby (what I called my brother) had agreed to be put on a ventilator. As the curtain rose for the second act, my phone began to vibrate again. Mom, barely able to utter the words that changed our world forever said, “He’s gone.” Bubby’s heart, having to work overtime, had quit. Then Mom shared with me the last words she had spoken with Bubby. He had confessed, “Mom, I’m scared,” and she was able to tell him, “Just curl up in the arms of Jesus!” And he did.
I went back in to get my family, and we all wept loudly in the hallway of the theater. How do you say goodbye to your big brother? It just wasn’t supposed to be that way. He was my friend, the one who looked out for me, the one who understood our family like no one else and with whom I could share “family things,” the one who knew what I was thinking when we both recalled a memory from growing up, the one who used to “beat me up” and yet defend me if anyone dared harm me.
The funeral was a wonderful celebration of Bubby’s much-too-short life. I was moved to hear stories of how he had impacted his best friend’s life by making sure he knew Christ. The following weeks were filled with the overwhelming task of being the executrix of my brother’s estate. As Thanksgiving approached, I was looking forward to going back home to Arkansas, to spending time with my parents, only to end up being rushed to the hospital with severe food poisoning. This cancelled my trip home to spend what would have been my last Thanksgiving with my family.
Christmas without Bubby
A couple of weeks before Christmas my mother called and said she was not doing well. She was dizzy and couldn’t walk very well. We feared it was a stroke. Doctors found her blood count to be very low, which was low enough to merit a blood transfusion. All they could determine at this point was that she was losing blood, but they didn’t know where or why.
Christmas has always been a big thing with our family. Mom would decorate the whole house with 30 trees in varying sizes and themes. It was like a fairytale house. No matter the circumstances, our family always got together for Christmas. The last few years had been so full of magic, watching my brother’s daughter and my children coming down the stairs at Mimi and Pawpaw’s house to see what Santa had left them. But this year was different. It was so difficult. It was our first Christmas without Bubby. Because Mom was unable to shop, I put on the Santa hat and picked out all the gifts. We tried to keep as many traditions as possible. Dad always read “The Night before Christmas,” and this year was especially precious. As he read with grandchildren all over him, he sang (and he couldn’t sing) the story. He was so animated in his “pawpaw” way, the kids couldn’t keep from laughing!
Then Christmas day arrived—a wonderful morning when my children and niece were able to come down Mimi and Pawpaw’s stairs one more time to see what Santa had left. I flashed back to when Bubby and I were on those stairs. I missed him, but we had to make things as joyful as possible for his fatherless daughter. I think we succeeded.
Mom began tests to determine if she was losing blood in her digestive system, but this took an immediate back seat when I found my father lying on the rock walkway in front of their house yelling for help. He had fallen while going up the front stairs and hit his head on the rocks. He had been lying there for almost an hour in below freezing temperatures. I called for my mother who, despite her dizziness, came running out to help him up.
We rushed Dad to the Emergency Room, and I looked over at my mother who was visibly shaking with tears rolling down her face. This was very unusual for my mother who was by far the strongest woman I have ever known. She explained that she was sitting in the same chair next to the same bed where my brother had been when he passed away. The pain Mom felt was so severe as she relived the unexpected death of my brother while simultaneously watching the man of her dreams slipping away. I recall asking my parent’s pastor if he knew of anyone who had gone through such severe difficulties simultaneously. He replied, “Job.” I thought to myself, “Yeah, but I’ve only lost one of my family, and he lost his entire family.” I shouldn’t complain.
The bleeding in Dad’s brain subsided, and he was moved from ICU to a regular room to work on rehabilitation and to keep him under observation since there was a large amount of blood still in his brain. Mom did not leave his side despite her continued health problems until it was time for a scheduled colonoscopy, a procedure that could possibly locate the source of the loss of blood. I stayed the night at the hospital with dad while a friend stayed with my mother at home helping her through the difficult preparation for her test. Dad was so confused; the blood in his brain made him think he was back in his 40s. Ironically, it was my brother’s birthday, and Dad kept wondering where Bubby was and when the party would be.
The CAT Scan
The next morning, I left Dad asleep in the hospital and went home to take Mother for her colonoscopy. When I arrived, I found her in an awful state. She explained that it hurt to breathe, and with every breath, tears would flow down her cheeks. The doctors decided to do an x-ray prior to the colonoscopy to make sure she didn’t have pneumonia. The x-ray found a “shadow” under her rib, and the doctors decided to follow up with a CAT scan after the procedure. The colonoscopy was completely clear; however, her blood count continued to drop. While Mom was upstairs having a blood transfusion, I quickly went to check on dad. He had been rather agitated and they had given him some medicine so he would rest. He was sleeping peacefully.
A few minutes into the blood transfusion, my father’s former physician partner and lifelong friend pulled me into another room to give the results of the CAT scan. Choking back his own tears, he explained that Mom had very aggressive lung cancer, and it did not look good. He wanted to wait until she recovered from the procedure before telling her. When we told her two days later that she had cancer, she was not surprised. Her only concern was that she may not be there for Daddy. Her lifelong prayer had been to care for my father to his last day.
No Time for Tears
Dad was not improving as we had hoped. Mom was two doors down on the same hospital floor, facing her fight with cancer, enduring needle biopsies and painful procedures. I kept going from one room to the other trying to keep smiles on their faces, fighting the buckets of tears that were pouring out in my heart. I received a phone call from my husband, who was being father, mother, chauffer, and chef while working at our home in Texas, informing me that both kids were sick. I missed my husband and children and felt torn between my responsibilities as a wife and mother, and of being the only living child of my parents. But, there was no time for tears. It was apparent that my dad would not have a full recovery, and a nursing home would be his next home. I went to pick out a room, feeling as if I were betraying my father’s one wish that he would never be in a nursing home since he had watched his father endure this same fate.
When I returned to the hospital, my father had suffered a massive stroke and was unable to communicate, calling out loudly, constantly. I told him about my trip to the nursing home, and that I was going to have to make a trip back home to see my husband and children whom I had not seen in seven weeks. I strongly feared that this would be my last conversation with my precious daddy. I told him that he had lived a wonderful life and served his Savior well. If he happened to see Bubby, Grandma, or Jesus’ face, he should run to them. It was okay to go. But if he was here when I returned, I would bring him some strawberry ice cream (his favorite). When asked if he would like this, his face lit up and he replied, “Sure!”
After sleeping for the first night at home, the phone rang. Mom explained that Daddy had curled up in the arms of Jesus.
Mom Stopped to Rest
Mother’s strength was evident to all throughout the funeral activities. She even walked the long aisle of the church unassisted. No one would have realized the gravity of her illness by looking at her. After the funeral, I wanted Mom to get back involved in many church activities in addition to her continued ministry to shut-ins and senior adults (of course, never realizing she was a senior herself!). When asked about a routine, she stated, “My routine died.” That was so true. She spent her life caring for my father, even cooking him meals when she could barely stand up herself.
Mom’s cancer spread quickly. She was told she had four to six months to live. I wanted to spend every minute asking questions, gleaning family history, talking constantly. Most of our time was spent trying to get her to various doctors’ appointments. On Wednesday, just ten days after my father passed away, we returned from an eye doctor appointment. She said she was exhausted and needed to take a nap. That was a first! My mother never stopped to rest but was always working for the benefit of others. Had I known that those were the last words my mother would speak, I would have never let her go to bed. She went into a coma and after several days curled up in the arms of Jesus, just two weeks after Daddy.
I would like to say that my trials ended here, but they didn’t. After my mother’s funeral, my video camera was stolen, and I lost every picture and video of the last few months with my family; I had a breast tumor and a lumpectomy that was benign; I had two more cancer scares; my son was thought to have a brain tumor; I had three kidney stones; my daughter was thought to have ADHD; I was sued in federal court by my brother’s ex-wife; some of my extended family chose to support my ex-sister-in-law and testified against me; I was no longer allowed to see my niece; I had three estates and two trusts to manage; I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis; my son was diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome; I was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia; and my mother’s only sister passed away.
Should I count facing all these trials joy? Does God really expect me to be joyful after losing my parents and brother in five months? After being diagnosed with a chronic incurable disease? After knowing my son has a form of autism?
Joy is a choice. God does not expect us to walk around with giddy smiles on our faces during times of pain and grief. Jesus Himself wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus. But God can provide joy in the midst of trials. Joy comes in the form of peace, comfort, and an unexplainable provision of mercy and grace. This joy is in knowing the final outcome. Christ has already fought the battle and won! We have such finite minds we sometimes forget that the best possible outcome for our loved ones is being in the presence of their Savior and Lord. Joy comes when we focus on this outcome.
I had to make a choice. Either I believed what I had been taught from birth, or I didn’t. Either I believe my Savior can supply all my needs according to His riches in glory, or I don’t. What would people watching me see? Would they see Christ working in miraculous ways in my life, or a bitter and angry woman? I chose joy because God had never failed me in the past. All the trials previous to these were building my weak faith into a strong faith.
During the last four years, there have been moments when all I could do was breathe, and even that seemed difficult. But when you are so completely dependent on Christ to sustain you, there is no safer, more peaceful place to be. You become “complete and lacking nothing” because you are complete “in Him.” When things are so overwhelming that you are being carried in the arms of Jesus, you realize how vast His infinite love is for you. You aren’t fighting for your way or your will. There is no greater place to be. My joy is not dependent upon circumstances, but rather on the unexplainable sufficiency of Christ.
I choose to focus on blessings which are too numerous to mention. I choose to focus on helping others. When I feel depression coming on, I find joy in acts of kindness...writing someone an encouraging note, taking a meal to a new mother, helping others who are “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. . . . Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
That is why I “count it all joy.”