I’m sitting at my desk on a call when I see a call from the house. This is pretty typical for 4:45 p.m. on any given day. It’s normally Madison, my oldest, most emotionally sensitive daughter calling to see when I’ll be home. At age 8, she inquired into why I had to go to work every day and why I couldn’t just stay at home with them. I remember being impressed with how precisely the answer was rolling off my tongue, and how infused the answer was with spiritual lessons. I told her, in part, that as a father I had to provide for the physical needs of my family, and that men were cursed in the Garden of Eden to “toile” all of their lives. So if she wanted to have a warm, dry bed to sleep in, daddy had to get up early and go to work every day. With the faith of a child and perspective of an elder, she responded that she would rather us not have a nice house and have me at home every day. Ever since Madison has been able to reason, which seems like it began at age 3, she has challenged me spiritually in inexplicable ways. Figuring it was her, I stayed on my call. The phone rang again. This, too, is typical. While she knows how to dial numbers, she hasn’t learned the social graces of phone etiquette (she called her best friend 13 times yesterday in a five-minute span because she was supposed to call after soccer practice). It wasn’t until I got the email from her that I knew something was going on. “Ingram needs surgery call mommy now,:( Madison :).”
I hung up and called them immediately. Ashley answered and I still have no idea what she said. I heard “tumor,” “surgery,” and “Ingram.” Ingram had just had a CT scan done. His doctor believed that he had migraines and wanted to rule out anything else. I didn’t think much of it because we always have these pre-cautionary tests run to rule out the big problems. Deep down, I don’t think I ever thought those came back positive. Apparently they do. The last thing I heard Ashley say was, “I just need a friend.” A little bit incredulously, I told her to just get up to my office and I would take care of her (riding a bike to work all of a sudden seemed like it had been a dumb idea). I mean, who needs a friend when you have your spouse there? I packed up my office and went downstairs to wait for her. Thinking more about her saying she needed a friend, I decided to call her best friend, Stephan, to tell her to please call Ashley. I don’t have her number so I called her husband, Chris, and asked him to call her.
The image of Ashley and Ingram arriving at my office was surreal. In the front seat was total panic and in the back seat was total oblivion. Ashley was scared to death while Ingram coolly colored the back of her chair with his new markers (the seat honestly looked more like he had been painting with a paint roller than drawing with a marker). For once in my life, I didn’t care at all. Color all you want, buddy, just stay with us, I thought to myself. I hugged Ashley trying to calm her down but we really didn’t have time for it. I thought they needed to do emergency surgery so I thought there was some urgency to getting to the hospital (I later found out that it wasn’t that urgent). I ask her where we are going and she says she doesn’t know. Really? I can drive really fast, but I kind of needed to know in what direction to drive.
God Beat Us There
We arrived at the LeBonheur ER and the first thing I see when I turn into the parking lot is a giant, pearl-white Suburban. It’s Stephan’s – Ashley’s best friend. It was the first sign that God was not just going to carry us through a tough journey, but He had beaten us there. I am a believer that God works through His people. From my experience, God sends His people to minister to people at just the right time. As His people, we have an opportunity to do His work when we listen to His calling. Too often, I’m too busy to listen. But as the recipient of His grace time and time again, I ought to know better. I might just miss the chance to be the one waiting for someone when they are about to walk into a valley.
Hell on Earth
Tuesday night was pure hell. The doctors thought our son had medullablastoma and a tumor on his brain. I didn’t know what any of this meant and I had no interest in researching it. It’s a weird feeling to not want to research what your ailment is, but I’ve felt the same way about my heart condition for the past five years. Knowing the label of a disease is great for third-party observers. But when you don’t think you have enough strength to get through what you already know, the possibilities of what it could mean seem to be unnecessary burdens. My most acute fear was that my son was dying. Many of our friends showed up at the hospital. I felt badly because they couldn’t come into the room so they just waited in the waiting room. I’m an entertainer so I wanted to go out and tell them thanks for coming or share some emotions with them. I tried, and I quickly realized that my emotions were everywhere. I was still stunned. I wasn’t having the emotional response to this that I expected. I didn’t want to cry with anyone. I didn’t think anyone knew what this felt like. And, frankly, I was too busy wrestling with God.
This Is My Fault
My first thought was that Ingram was being punished for my sins. The older I get, the more I recognize my abject depravity. Some of my sins weigh on me more than others. I know that God has forgiven all of my sins through the blood of His Son, but His mind is better at erasing what I have done than is my mind. I hang on to things and let them weigh on me. I’m sure this is natural. But as I sat there and looked at my son knowing he had a malignant tumor in his head, my sins were all I could think of. I questioned why God would impute my sins to my son. I explained to Him that Ingram was innocent. That he lit up the room wherever he went. That people loved him and he was going to have a huge impact on the world for God’s glory. If God had a problem with me, I told Him to take it out on me, not my son. I’m pretty sure I told God to leave my son alone. Twelve hours later, I would be begging God to not leave my son alone.
No Gas Tank for Extra Grace
One of the pastors from our church, Taylor Parks, said something that stuck. I really didn’t think he had said anything that would help, but I guess he knew some of the feelings we would be going through in the coming hours. I didn’t want to listen unless he could tell me why God would let my son endure this. He said that God only gives us enough grace to deal with what’s in front of us, no more and no less. That we cannot store up grace to help with something that might happen tomorrow. This proved to be one of the most clairvoyant things anyone said to me.
Crying with Men
Late Tuesday night, Ashley went home to get some clothes and explain to the girls what was happening. I was left with four of my friends and Ingram. We took Ingram to his new room, room 709. The nurses were confused at first as to who was the guardian. We obviously played that up for a while. Once things settled down, we prayed over Ingram. We cried a lot. Perhaps one of the most encouraging things I saw that night was the sight of one of my good friends, Britton, crying as much as I was. There is truly something about crying with other men that eases pain. I don’t understand it. Throughout these past few weeks I have noticed a trend. When we get bad news, I can act as though it will be okay in front of my wife; but, it is not until I grieve with other men that I am able to completely release my fears.
Crisis of Faith
As we prayed that night, I told God what I thought. I told Him I wanted Him to heal my son. I told Him I didn’t want to feel the way I did about Him. I told Him I didn’t know why I felt that way, but I did. I told Him that I thought it was my fault and that I didn't see it as fair to punish Ingram for my failures. And I asked Him to keep Satan out of my mind and out of our room. That was all I knew to do. I've often heard more spiritually mature people say that when you don't feel like praying, you should. And that you should tell God that you don't feel like praying, asking Him to give you that desire. It was out of that paradigm of how God works that I told Him where I was that night. As I walked the halls later that night once everyone was gone, my greatest fear apart from losing my son was that I would lose my faith. I am aware of the theological debates about the possibility, or impossibility, of losing faith. My understanding of the topic is insufficient to defend here. Regardless of if it is possible or not, that's what my fear was. It's funny how the theoretical arguments don't give you much comfort in the midst of real life. I remember walking down the hall of the 7th floor wondering if I would be a Christian a year from then.
Wednesday morning began the way most of my mornings spent in hospitals have begun, with Chris Rowland blazing in full of jibber jabber. The day after I found out I had heart problems, Chris showed up with Starbucks… just what a heart patient needs! It took me a little while to figure it out, but something significant had happened overnight. I woke up in a totally different place mentally than where I had been the night before. It was nothing I did, nothing anyone said. God simply changed my heart. I was not angry. My fears that I had done something to cause this were gone. I had great faith that God was there. I had faith that our only hope was found in God. Less than twelve hours after I wanted nothing to do with God, He had gently brought me back in. Despite the voluminous efforts of man, His grace cannot be explained.
God Loves Ingram More Than I Do
I’ve been wrestling with the idea that God can choose to either heal Ingram or not. My thought is that He absolutely, without question, should since that’s what I think is best for my son. I’m tempted to say that a loving god would surely heal a three year-old boy from cancer, although I know this is a fallacious argument. As I was running today, the idea that God loves Ingram more than I do really hit me.
This intangible thought is impossible for me to grasp as a father. While it is easy to say, there are a lot of things that we say about God which are easy to say. But when you are forced to live as though you actually believe them, they become much more difficult to accept. I can feel my love for Ingram. I can feel the raw emotion of thinking he is sick. The lumps that well up in my throat, the tears that keep me from being able to talk, the mental anguish, they are all very real to me. God’s love is less tactile to me. I remember watching the engineers from Airbus as the new A380 made its maiden flight. Tears rolled down their faces as the plane took off, the culmination of years of their labor. Surely they all believed without doubt that the physics of the airplane would work. I’m sure they professed complete confidence in the design in the years leading to this singular event. But when they actually saw it work, they were overcome with joy and, most likely, relief. I can imagine that in the days leading up to the take-off, with millions of dollars of orders waiting on the plane and the livelihood of an entire company, they probably all questioned if it would actually work. The physics of God are no different. I can study His Textbook all I want, it is only through test flights that I get experiential evidence of His claims. This reminds me of something our former pastor, Ronnie Stevens, said. He said, and I am paraphrasing, that we are not given the Bible to understand life. Instead, we are given life to understand the Bible. I John 4 tells us that “God is love,” and that “love comes from God.” If the love I have for Ingram comes from God and God is the very definition of love, then I have to deduce that His love for Ingram is more perfect than mine. That’s significant. Only once I believe this can I truly accept the idea that God will take care of him. For now, I believe that God wants what is best for my son more than I do. I guess I ought to, God let His Son die for Ingram, afterall. I love Madison and Lindsey just as much as I love Ingram; but, I wouldn’t let my son die for my daughters, nor vice versa. I pray that God will seal this understanding in my mind to give me the strength I need.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I John 4
To be continuned...