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The Past Remembered
Mary Jane Downs
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THE PAST REMEMBERED
When I stepped forward on that Sunday morning in earlier December of 2004 to answer the plea of a woman in my church, I thought I was just doing my Christian duty. However, later, as I read Karenís story, I knew almost immediately that this was no Christian duty situation but a divine assignment. As Karen got the tissues, I explained that the Father had spoken to me earlier about the importance of revisiting those lessons that I had had when I first learned to walk with Him. The purpose was first to fashion a necklace made from the pearls of wisdom that I had learned and then fasten it around my heart. The process would be like making an add-a-pearl necklace that would be permanently and uniquely mine. Each finished pearl like experience would be strung and securely knotted into my understanding by my Heavenly Father. Afterwards, I would be able to proudly display all of the pearls and tell about each oneís origin and purpose. Personally, I have no desire to go back to that season of heartache. However, at My Fatherís request, I am choosing to remember some of those important pivotal lessons of obedience from my past.
In 1978, I was finishing up my elementary education degree at LaGrange College while my soon to be husband, John, was finishing his seminary degree at Emory University. After dating for over a year, we were married on March 19, 1978, a week after I had completed my studies but John had one more quarter left. For the next three months, our home was the upstairs apartment of an old antebellum home just off the Emory University campus. Since John was a Methodist minister in the Louisiana Conference, a move back there was inevitable upon Johnís graduation in May. In June, we received the first of several assignments from the United Methodist Church in the sixteen years that we served in the Louisiana Conference.
Now that I have laid a brief foundation, the part of my past that I want to concentrate on began around the first of the year in 1982. Johnís face had begun swelling slightly at night when he slept but would go down quickly each morning as he got up and dressed for work. By late spring, the amount of swelling slowly increased. We were in the middle of another move and I was five months pregnant with our first child so we decided to just carefully monitor the swelling and let the consulting with a physician slide until after the move. By mid summer, after being in our new home for about a month, the swelling in Johnís face was to the point that others at the church began to notice it before his face could return to normal size again. After some heavy persuasion, John finally went to the local GP who was a member of our church. Since we were in a small agricultural community of about 1,500 people, the first causes to his facial swelling were attributed to allergies or even to too much salt in his diet. However, John and I were not convinced of that fact and neither was the doctor. So as a result, more tests were ordered and then finally a couple of biopsies. All the test and biopsies came back with no conclusive evidence that would prove what was causing Johnís facial swelling.
By now, it was October of that same year and our baby was almost full term with the due date in a couple of weeks. John had expressed to the doctors a strong desire to be at the birth of our first child. Even though they were stressing the need for one more critical biopsy, the doctors consented to a temporary halt of all testing until the baby was delivered. David Quincy Downs was born October 29, 1982. He came almost three weeks late which made the waiting time tenser for us and the doctors. None the less, Davidís birth was still a wonderful occasion to rejoice. Suddenly though, reality came knocking on our door again. Within the next three days, I came home from the hospital with our new baby boy while John packed to go back into that same hospital for a final biopsy. This biopsy was different from the previous procedures because the doctors would need to go deep into the upper chest cavity and that would require total anesthesia and several days of recovery time.
Waiting for the results of Johnís biopsy took several days and felt like an eternity. On November 7, the call came from the surgeon that John had a form of cancer called Hodgkinís disease, a large T-cell type lymphoma. The doctor told me that the tumor was diffused instead of contained which meant that it was non-operatable. The tumor had wrapped itself around the vena cava which is the main artery between the heart and the brain. The prognosis was that if the tumor was left untreated within a short period of time, it would cut off all the circulation in the artery which would cause Johnís heart to burst from the pressure. We had to make several decisions very quickly about where we preferred to have the treatments done, locally or at MD Anderson in Houston, TX. After the surgeon apologized for having to give me this kind of news over the phone, I thanked him, quietly hung up the phone, and went to sit down. I was in shock I suppose because no tears came until moments later when I finally realized that John could die and I didnít want to be left to raise our new baby alone.
During the days before and after the shattering news came, I was praying and trying not to think about or believe the worst but at the same time knowing that I wanted to prepare myself for whatever the outcome could be. I had a bad case of the: what ifs, why me, and what now. This was one of the first times that I felt forced into totally reevaluating everything to do with God and my faith. I guess the best way to sum up my christian walk to that point was that I had taken too much for granted. The ďfireĒ in the circumstances of my life had never gotten quite this hot before. In my mind, I began screaming, ďWhere are you God?Ē Then, slowly, I began to drown in my fearful thoughts. Consequently, I became angry and lashed out at God. In His love, God responded by ministering the truth to me. Within moments, the realization came that I had not yet taken the time to develop the type of close relationship with Him that it would take to go through a situation like this in divine hope and peace. Oh, that hurt me so much because I finally had to see my relationship with God for what it really was empty. I had the outward appearance down pat but the inward faith was found lacking. Godís protective love and care had always surrounded me and was there in that circumstance. However, He was now requiring a much greater faith commitment then I had ever given Him before. God never condemned me for my earlier lack of obedience but instead held out His hand and said, ďCome and follow Me.Ē I asked God on several occasions if John was going to die. He never promised me one way or the other but instead reassured me that no matter what may happen, He would be there to help me through. In other words, I was going to have to trust God every step of the way with no sneak previews.
Houston, TX became like a second home for us as John went through both radiation and chemotherapy. And yes, in the beginning, little David made the trips with us because I breastfeed him for four months. Those frequent trips for the first two years were long and tiring but as John progressed, the visits needed lessened until five years later the doctors released him completely. On that last visit to Houston, we were all able to share a wonderful victory with all our newly made friends first and then later with our family and friends at home.
God was faithful to fulfill the promise to help me grow to a higher level of spiritual maturity. It was during those days of great uncertainty and fear that I willingly began to reach for more faith and revelation on how to live out my christian faith. The change did not come suddenly in a miraculous way but with a steady disciplined search for God and His ways. Mostly, I learned how very important prayer, Bible study, and evaluating each experience was to my growth process. The development of sound consistent practices helped to facilitate the flow of Godís revelations about His love and care for me. Each new revelation brought the encouragement I needed to continue on with the journey. Looking back now, I think the most precious time of all was when my faith had grown to the point where God could show me how it was possible to live in divine peace. I so desperately wanted to master that revelation so that the fear that had grip my heart months before would subside.
Our christian growth is not always detectable on a daily, weekly, or even sometimes a yearly basis. There were many times during those days of Johnís illness when I wanted to give up the quest. I had many temper tantrums or pity-parties where I temporarily wanted to believe that the process to christian maturity was too difficult at obtain. Yet somehow, I knew deep down inside that those mental images of failure were not the real truth and that I needed to press on. Underneath, I kept longing to prove that God was who He said He was and that I could learn to trust Him completely. So it became imperative that I not lose hope completely when I didnít understand how God was going to work in me or the situation. I kept telling myself, ďThis is a walk of faith. You are going to have to continue with the daily disciplines that God has taught you. Only then will you find Him and the answers you are longing for.Ē Later on, at special ďgraduationĒ occasions, God would graciously open up my growth chart to show me all the strides that I had made and the pride He had in my efforts and progress. I was always amazed by my improvements. Afterwards, my eyes would fill with tears of gratitude because of the steadfast faithfulness of my Heavenly Fatherís belief that I would indeed see myself mature.
There is not a standardized formula on how to grow because every one is unique. However, I do believe that any basic plan of growth will require that you make a commitment to learn to pray about everything, study and meditate on the scriptures regularly, and learn to evaluate each experience God brings you to and through. The idea here is to develop an individualized plan that will help you to renew your mind so that the fundamentals of Godís character can be established in your heart. The plan should also help you to establish a mental foundation for hope in a prosperous future. Throughout your chosen course of action, expect God to speak to you and then seek to do what He is requiring. Evaluate and journal your experiences along the way in order to confirm and establish the lessons being taught. With your routine in place, faith in the steadfastness of the Fatherís love and care can soar. As you continue on to develop your individualized plan, you will see that God is more then able to show you how to walk with Him in peace and give you a hope for a prosperous future.
There are three remaining points that are important to keep in mind. First, christian maturity is a journey where the pace can vary greatly depending on the speed of obedience you choose to use. Second, Godís timing may seem slow but I have found that although it may never be early, it is never too late either. Third, try never to put God in a box when it comes to how He can or will work His plan out in your life. Godís ways are beyond our understanding and I think He likes to keep it that way. Why? Because in doing so, it forces us to walk by faith and to give Him the glory. Otherwise, we would have a tendency to think that it was because of our own thoughtful creativity that made us so faith filled. However, rest assure, Godís promise is that He will always give wisdom and an escape at the precise time needed. Waiting gets tricky at times but that is where our faith is tried and tested so that we can measure and evaluate our progress.
My prayer of encouragement to everyone is this: If I and my inabilities can mature than so can you. Just remember that no matter where you are in your relationship with God, He desires for you to mature to the next level of faith. The growth process doesnít end until we see Him face to face. God loves to see His children grow and He is willing to do whatever it takes to help the process along. Yet, He never condemns us for where we are at any given moment. Instead, He continually stretches out His hand with a compelling invitation to: ďCome, Follow Me.Ē
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