When I joined a church-wide fast about three years ago, I surrendered my children to God. It was one of the most difficult spiritual experiences I have gone through as a parent.
Why? When I was young, something traumatic happened to me (which I may share at a later time), and while I believe that God certainly used everything for good in my life, I had this fear that something “bad” might one day happen to my children. I put bad in quotation marks because as a follower of Jesus, I do believe that God is ultimately in control of our lives and is purposeful, good, and wise in all that he does. However, I also know that tragic occurrences bring pain and I would never want for what happened to me (or anything remotely similar to it) to ever happen to my children.
As I prayed to the Lord during that fasting week, I felt there was something blocking my communion with God. And as the week progressed, God revealed to me that I was not able to surrender my children to him. It was then that he spoke to me.
“Your children belong to me. And if I should ever allow something to happen to them, do not forget that I am a loving God who has a purpose and plan for all things. And if I should choose to glorify myself in the lives of your children, then you can be confident that my grace will be sufficient.”
Even though I knew these things in my head, the manner in which I held on to my children made them more important than God’s work and God’s will. When I recognized the idolatry in my heart, in tears I said to the Lord, “Okay, Lord, I will trust you.”
In Psalm 24:1 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” While Edric and I must do our part to provide our children with security and safety, we need to parent them with a perspective and disposition of surrender to God, to whom they belong.
What does this look like? About a week ago, sitting in the cozy living room of an amazing homeschooling couple, this truth became clearer to me.
Edric and I had the privilege of visiting the Cox family in Taneytown, Maryland. It may have been just a short four hours, but the conversation was worth a lifetime. Gary Cox is a pastor and an educator who set up Walkersville Family Schools, which provides accreditation for homeschoolers in Maryland. He and his wife, Sally, raised and educated their 10 children, the youngest of whom is 16 years old. (And I thought 4 were a handful! What was I thinking?!)
Personally, I was refreshed to spend that afternoon with Sally – a woman who radiated with the Holy Spirit. As I spoke with her about homeschooling and parenting with the disposition of one eager to learn, it must have seemed like I was conducting an interview at some point.
Sally told me the story of one of her older sons – David. We didn’t have time to talk about all of her children, but I certainly would’ve loved to listen to all her stories. But God allowed me to hear the story of one.
David was a bright child whom, at the age of 8, was sure of many things in his life, one of which was the desire to fly airplanes. Because the Cox family did not have the kind of money needed for flight school, Gary and Sally challenged David to pray about his desire and find a way to earn the money on his own.
By 13, David started a small business of breeding papered Golden Retrievers and it became viable enough to support his flight school training. Prior to this, at the age of 11, David also started praying for his future wife. (Yes, he was mature for his age, but then again, isn’t this as it should be for all young people?)
In a blog entry I read where his testimony was posted, this is what he shared, … somewhere on I-70 between Kansas City, Kansas and Illinois, I just surrendered my whole future to the Lord once again especially most specifically about getting married. I said, “Lord, You know, You can search the entire world up and down and back and forth and You can search the entire world, check all the hearts out and find the best one for me. You know which girl is most compatible, most godly, the one that is just for me.” I said, “If she is on the other side of the country or on the other side of world, You can bring her to me in Your time. (What can I say, homeschool kids have special insights on things!)
Everything was going well for David until about age 20 when he had a severe back problem that left him immobile. He had to be carried out of his home on a stretcher because he could not move. And he wondered at that point if he would ever see the farm home that was so dear to him.
After running tests, it was discovered that David had cancer. This was in November 1999. He was diagnosed with myxopapillary ependymoma – very large intra-spinal tumors.
Here is another excerpt from his testimony.
When I first found out about it I didn’t think I would live to see the New Year as I told you before. I didn’t know what God had for me but I didn’t think it would be marriage. But that was a big struggle for me especially in December because the Lord knew that my heart’s desire more than anything else was to have a family, to raise a godly offspring. That was just an incredible struggle that I had. More than anything else I wanted to raise a family. So I had to surrender that to the Lord.
One day in December my heart was just breaking and crying out to the Lord and He led me to Psalm 89 which was incredible, it was like God clearly answered me, answered my prayer and answered my fears because I was worried, “Am I going to be cut off? Am I going to not have any family or any posterity which is a future generation? Is my heritage going to be shortened or cut off?” And the Lord led me to this Psalm. I was wondering, “God, have You forgotten about me?” or “Why are You doing this to me?”
And Psalm 89 was incredible encouragement. It says, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. With my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, ‘Mercy shall be built up forever, Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish forever and built up thy throne to all generations. And the heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord, Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. For who in Heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints and to be had in reverance of all them that are about Him. O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto Thee or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?” And when I read that Psalm, it goes on another 52 verses, but when I read that Psalm I was just so excited and so amazed and so at peace with what God is doing because it was like He clearly answered me and says, “Yes (name omitted), I have not forgotten about you. I still have a plan for you. Everything is under control.(Read more about his engagement testimony in this blog entry: http://www.walkersvillechristianfellowship.org/?p=131)
When doctors from Johns Hopkins saw the size of the mass that had grown in David’s sacrum, they said they could not do anything – no radiation or chemotherapy would help. And they refused to operate on it because the spine is such a sensitive place with so many nerves. They did say that if surgery were even an option, he would never be able to have children. The only thing they were able to do was remove the part that had metastasized to one of his vertebra so that the severe pain went away.
“What did you say to him, Sally?” I asked as I fought to contain myself emotionally (I couldn’t help but think of the kind of pain she must have been going through as a mom). She said, “Joy, I told David, ‘I don’t know why God is allowing this, but I do know that God always has a plan and you have seen God do amazing things in your life and you are going to have to trust him for this, too.’” (This is a paraphrase.)
In the meantime, Gary and Sally exhausted all possible options to help David get well. One day they read about a specialist in New York, a very unconventional doctor, who performed unique surgeries like the one their son needed. It was still very risky but if there was anyone who could do it, this doctor was the guy.
This doctor was successfully able to remove part of the mass, but not all of it because there were places he could not get to. David lived through it and it has been 15 years since. He married Abbey (the woman he specifically prayed for) and they are about to have their 8th child! What was once thought to be impossible became a miraculous demonstration of God’s faithfulness and goodness.
David still lives with daily pain, like the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but he has made every day of his life count for Jesus Christ.
As I listened to Sally share this story, I tried to read the emotions on her face. Here was a mom who journeyed with her child through a lot of suffering but there was no trace of anger or anxiety in her countenance. She spoke with a sincere peace and hopefulness in God’s sovereignty, goodness and wisdom.
I asked her, “How did you deal with all of this as a mom?” She said, “I was confident that God loved my son more than I ever could.”
The image of my four children came into mind as we ended our conversation. There is nothing in this world I would not do to protect my children from heartache and pain, but what if that heartache and pain is from God and part of his plan to bring them closer to himself and make them testaments of his glory? What then? Who am I to dictate the circumstances that my children will go through as they walk with the Lord? What can I do as a parent?
And it occurred to me that when I surrendered my children to the Lord during that week of fasting, this meant that I was not just entrusting them to him, this meant that I was fully confident that God loved my children more than I ever could. Sally went on to share with me that many parents feel that they must direct their children’s lives, sort of like “herding” them like sheep. But, God is the one who decides which way to take our children. He has a specific plan for each of them, orchestrated in love for his good purpose and glory.
What I took home from that afternoon visit was this: Our children will inevitably face difficulties in their lives, the specifics of which are not revealed to us yet, but when they walk through the valleys they someday will, the most important thing is that they go with God, hand in hand. Our responsibility is not to fear what lies ahead but to fortify their hearts with a sincere love for God, his truth, his promises, and a perspective of faith. For if we build on this foundation, when the storms of life come (and they surely will), they will have the confidence to believe and see that God indeed causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Thank you Gary and Sally, and the entire Cox family for your life of faith.