We all have or had a hero in our life, someone we admire or look up to. Andrea is my hero. I want to try to capture the strength of this woman. Andrea is unique; at first glance you would say it is her height or her eyes, the most beautiful blue I have seen. You just feel important when she looks at you, you feel loved, not threatened. Although both these are true it is only the surface. The day I met Andrea, April 19, 1980, I looked into her eyes, at her warm smile and immediately I saw everything I needed. I was at a stoplight and I looked to my right and I saw my wife in the car next to me. I can’t explain it but her eyes loved me the moment I looked into them. Quickly I came to realize she had something I never knew, a peace, a relationship with Christ, and faith. Faith like you read about, faith like a little child, a pure, trusting, knowing faith. She just believed. I love having a wife with the spiritual gift of faith. But faith is grown and matured like all spiritual gifts and Andrea’s faith was tested early on in her life in two significant events. Where most people would have crumbled Andrea grew stronger. Though not easy, she trusted when everything told her otherwise. I met her shortly after these events. I was so attracted to her faith. I was living my own life where I had religion but no relationship with my God or my savior. It was a good life and I was having fun, but when I looked into her eyes, I saw my emptiness, I saw my need. I loved her the second I saw her and I think I knew she loved me at that very same moment.
Fast forward 20 years. Andrea finds the lump, and our life as we know it crumbles around us. Everyone who has received bad news can relate. Your life is changed in an instance, in a flash what was important is no longer, things you have been planning that seemed a must are suddenly forgotten. I look back at that moment and at times wish I could go back to the second before I received the call from Andrea. “I finished my doctor appointment, they found a lump but I’m sure its nothing.” That moment was headed our way and we never saw it. It has changed our life in every way. I looked back on the girl I met at the stoplight and I remember her beautiful blue eyes full of faith and I think it is time to meet her again.
We had 20 years of life going pretty well and we had long forgotten the trials of Andrea’s youth, and so was the faith that carried her through them. Pleasure, success, the busyness of life had replaced it. We were enjoying ourselves, our faith and our relationship with God was relegated to an as needed basis, so as to not interfere with what I wanted and what I was doing. I had never really needed faith. I prayed but I worked for my accomplishments and I think I took the credit for them, even if I was “praying” for them or “trusting” God to help me. I trusted him right up to the point I felt I better get in there and help this situation out. You know push it along and get it going, time was wasting and I could make it happen. It was all working well at least on the surface. The military has a way of confirming this by giving you medals and awards. I can think of nothing that better represents how easy a job can put pride in your life then someone reading glowing statements about what you had done and capping it off with pinning a medal on your chest. It is all about you. No mention of all those who helped you, no mention of your family, and forbidden is any mention of God, no this song of praise is titled “How great I am.” And it sounds beautiful when the chorus kicks in, they can’t be wrong. Heck it is the medals and reports are usually signed by someone very important! It feels good basking in the warmth of your own sun.
But life will send us warning signals that we are not as good as we think. Maybe some trials intensify, maybe we seem to be just barely making it through, maybe we feel more and more overwhelmed by life and deep down we know we are not doing such a hot job. The facade is harder and harder to keep up. Maybe people close to us are beginning to see cracks in our mask. Then God says “Okay you think this is all about you, you seem pretty confidant in your ability to handle life, let’s try a little life and death.” If there ever was any doubt about who is God and who is not, facing death clears that up in a second. It is crystal clear then. But for me it was clear as long as death was a threat. I will be very honest with you. When Andrea was first diagnosed we fell back on our faith and I did grow I did learn my need for faith. But After six months of treatment, we thought, what now. Suddenly cancer was not there. You are done with treatment and the intensity it brings. It leaves as fast as it came. Andrea walked out of her last radiation treatment with balloons and cards from friends who came to celebrate her “being done.” We got in the car and we both thought to ourselves, what now? What do we do now? No one says okay you are healed, you’re just done with treatment. The doctors basically say, “We have given you the legal limit of chemo, and radiation allowed by law, so good luck.” Well I guessed it is over, and I went back to my life as it was the moment before Andrea said “I have cancer.” Sure I was changed by the experience and my faith had grown in many ways, but I was tired from the intensity of faith I needed and I wanted a break from that as much as I wanted a break from the treatments. I wanted my old life back and I did that by letting go of the faith I had needed. I did not carry it over to my day to day life anymore. It was necessary for cancer but surly God did not expect me to live abandoned to Him everyday! I don't think this was a conscious decision as much as a letting down of my guard. So we took a vacation to Europe and moved to Washington D.C. We had geographical separation from cancer, and I built separation from the intensity of my faith as well. I went back to serving me and my desires. Heck I had some catching up to do. That year in D.C. was an amazing void of faith in my life. I was on vacation from faith. I justified it in many ways. We are only here for one year so no need to get in a church, no need to be involved if we are leaving so soon. It was a totally self absorbed year and I deserved it. That is how I felt; I needed a rest from the pressure of cancer and the intensity of faith required. Like many vacations, you find it did not rest you nearly enough and you think about quitting work and staying on vacation, retirement starts to sound pretty good. But you have to pay the bills for that vacation and it is back to work you go. Just like going back to work after a vacation that first day back is awful. Especially if you took a vacation after be totally worn out, exhausted in every way, all you want to do is sleep, and when you get back to work, you find the exhaustion returns all too quickly. That pretty much sums up how I felt when we arrived in Goldsboro in June 2006. Within 2 weeks we were back in the fight. Cancer had returned and with a vengeance. It was a short break and it was time to put the gloves back on.
I began to think back to the girl I saw at the stoplight, and what made her so special, and I knew it was her faith. She had suffered a trail that lasted for several years when she was young and the same faith that had carried her then would be needed again. I relearned what faith was, the strength to trust, to believe, to know what you have never seen, as I watch Andrea face cancer I am reminded of what I saw in her eyes the moment I first saw her. It was what I needed in my life then, and it was what I need in my life today, faith. Unlike the break we had our faith does not need to not be a temporary solution to a problem but a way of life. God is looking for me to live an abandoned life, a life poured out and willing to be used by Him, for Him. This is not a “get me by faith” so I can tell God, “thanks; now I’ll take it from here.” No this is the faith I saw in an 18 year old girl who had faced hard times, times that would cause you to wonder, God, where are you? Yet she believed. She came out of her trial still trusting, she was still abandoned to Christ. She did not have “temporary get me by faith”, she had faith. Now I’m beginning to understand what a gift that is and what I saw in those blue eyes the moment I first looked into them. A living faith is not easy; it is more than just words, and we cannot manufacture it, we can not force it, muster it up, it is a gift from God. I see what makes Andrea so special, and I’m glad I see that faith back in her eyes. She lives her faith in the fire of cancer. It reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they faced death for not bowing to the golden image made by King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel Chapter3:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."
Andrea’s cancer is her fiery furnace, and when we look at her and see her faith we see the one with her, we see Christ. Andrea has taken the most difficult situation and has faced it with faith, and strength. She has been an example to me and those around her. Those of us who have seen Andrea face this cancer have been inspired to be better husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, and workers. To me, this is the definition of hero.