I was married six months after I turned 18. I was desperately in love with a boy and couldn’t imagine being apart from him. My mother said that if we couldn’t be apart then we had to be married. So we married. 12 1/2 months later, our first child was born. I was 19. Four months later (about a week before I turned 20), my husband was diagnosed with leukemia. I was 19, a newlywed, a new mother and now the wife of a cancer patient. I knew nothing about leukemia except that it killed people. I was terrified. I remember so clearly that first week in the hospital. We were so young, and so clueless and so completely and horribly scared of our future, or whether or not we even had one together. You need to understand that I was (and still am) completely and totally madly in love with this man. He was my whole world. He made me feel whole and was the only person who made me feel like I made any sense at all. And I thought I was losing him. My first response was anger at God followed closely by paralyzing fear. But I knew there had to be something God was going to do that required this of me – of us. I believed God was who He said He was still.
During the first week that Ricky was in the hospital, we decided to attend a chapel service. We were so desperately searching for God’s assurance or guidance or something that would help us to process and understand this terrible thing that was happening. The chaplain preached a message out of the book of John. He said that sometimes God uses sickness, pain or death to teach us, to grow us, to move us to greater faith. He read through the story of Lazarus in John 11 and talked about how everything that happened allowed God’s glory to be revealed and proclaimed. I read John 11:4 that said, “This sickness is not unto death but that the glory of God may be revealed.”
I spent a lot of time over the next several months processing that scripture. I prayed desperately for a miracle. I knew that God was calling me to a deeper faith. Calling me to trust Him with the thing that meant more to me than anything. Calling me to a faith that could survive losing my husband. Lazarus died after all. He was brought back to life, but first he died. I knew it was a possibility – a strong one – that my husband wouldn’t win this battle – that I would lose him. I felt a bit like I was wrestling with God. I was begging Him for assurance that I wouldn’t lose my husband, begging Him for a miracle. He was telling me that I had to let go, and was asking me to trust Him for the outcome. Ultimately I did. I chose trust. I knew there was nothing I could do but trust and obey and believe Him to be faithful. Not long after, Ricky went into partial remission (although they don’t use that word with leukemia quite yet). After about five years he went into further remission and now, over fifteen years since the initial diagnosis, there is still no sign of leukemia. Although we know that it could return at any time, we both have a deeper understanding of what it means to trust God with the impossible.
Not long after my husband was diagnosed with leukemia, he entered a medical trial for a new drug that was supposed to have a dramatic impact on his specific type of leukemia. It was not FDA approved yet, and there were a lot of unknown factors. His doctors believed it was his best option (I truly believe it saved his life) and so we agreed and signed the million page document that told us all the things he couldn’t do while on the medication – such as other medications to avoid, foods to avoid, etc. One of these things was that we shouldn’t conceive any children while he was on the drug since there could be no way of predicting what affect, if any, it would have on a developing child. Keep in mind that I was 20 years old, newly married with a newborn baby girl. We, of course, agreed and began to take every precaution to prevent pregnancy. Although I knew it was the only option, I was still very sad and disappointed. At the age of 20 I knew that I would never be able to have another child. It was a terribly sad time for me. I grieved for several years and even begged God for another child, even though I knew it was a crazy request. For over five years I grieved over the children I would never have. I eventually had to come to a place where I trusted God with my grief and with my dream as well. I had to let it go to Him and trust that He knew what was best. I had to give up my dream of having another child.
Less than a year after that moment of surrender, I became pregnant despite two forms of birth control. I still don’t know how it happened. It was a miracle of God. After five years of praying for another child, God had heard my plea. He had answered my prayer. He had fulfilled my wildest dream. God does that. Sometimes He does that.
In each of these situations, God answered my prayer. Both times He fulfilled my deepest desire. But also, both times He required me first to let go of that which meant the most to me. There’s a pattern here that can’t be ignored. Remember the story about Abraham? Where God asked him to sacrifice his only son? Let’s go back a bit farther. This is before the ultimate sacrifice was asked of him, before the promise was fulfilled, before his son was born, before his name was changed to Abraham. Here he was known as Abram. This is such an important part of the story, so let’s go back to Genesis 15:1-6:
“After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have give me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’ Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
God promised Abram a son. More than that, though, he promised him a legacy. He promised that his offspring, his lineage, would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. He promised him a hope and a future. That future – that God himself planned and promised – hinged on Abraham having a child, a son.
Fast forward to Genesis 21:1-5 where God fulfilled His promise to Abraham:
“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”
Abraham obeying God’s command to kill his son, Isaac, is a story of sacrifice. However, in light of the original promise in Genesis 15 it is the very ultimate sacrifice. God wasn’t just asking Abraham to give up his son. He was asking him to give up the son that he had prayed for, begged for, dreamed of and on whom his entire future was depending on. He wasn’t just asking him to sacrifice something of significance. He was asking him to sacrifice that which held the very most significance to him – that which he couldn’t imagine his life without. He wasn’t interested in some sacrifice. He desired all, everything, the very most and nothing less.
He asks the same of us. To let go of that which means the most to us, to give it to Him. To sacrifice our own desires, dreams, hopes and futures in order to love Him more fully and trust Him more deeply.
Sacrifice requires trust. Trust that God will keep His promise. Trust that God will come through. Trust that no matter the outcome, He is working it out for my good and for His glory. Deep abiding trust.
Deeper faith begins with a deeper trust. You cannot believe God will come through if you don’t first trust that He is ABLE to come through. You cannot expect His faithfulness unless you first believe Him to be faithful. Abraham trusted God. He would never have made the trek up the mountain to sacrifice his one and only son if he didn’t trust that God could and would find a way to bring him back to life. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham trusted God’s faithfulness because He knew God’s character. Abraham trusted God’s promise because He knew Him to be trustworthy.
And He is.
He is so faithful.