Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fear Not

As mothers, our most important task is to raise our children to be happy, healthy, and independent. Consequently, one of our greatest fears is dying before we accomplish that goal. When our children have disabilities that make them rely upon us more, we worry about who might care for our children––even when they are adults––if we were not there to do it ourselves. However, our faith tells us not to fear because God already has everything figured out.

Yesterday, I read an emotional article about a young mother who passed away last week, leaving behind a husband and young daughter along with a letter she left for friends and family. When her husband posted this letter on Facebook a few days ago, her words went viral, shared thousands of times and capturing the attention of the mainstream media as well as social media. NBC Chicago entitled the story “Wisconsin Mom Who Died of Cancer Writes Heartbreaking, Hilarious Letter.” [To read this article, which includes a link to her letter, please click here.]

Certainly Heather McManamy’s courage in facing her death is admirable, but I failed to see what the media described as hilarity. Yes, she had some humorous comments in her letter, but I was more struck by the heartbreaking nature of her words. Even more than the sorrow of leaving behind her little girl, Brianna, I felt heartbroken that she did not seem to have faith in God when dealing with this greatest fear mothers face.

She states: “Whatever religion brings you comfort, I am happy that you have that. However, respect that we are not religious.” While I respect her candor that she was not religious, I wish for her sake and her family’s sake that she had had faith, which her letter seems to indicate that she does not. I think perhaps faith could have brought her comfort as she dealt with cancer and facing death and leaving her loved ones behind. Because I have not walked in her shoes, however, I don’t know that for certain.

What was especially heartbreaking from my perspective was that she does not want anyone to tell her daughter that she went to heaven. In her letter, she requests, “Please, please, please do not tell Brianna that I am in heaven. In her mind, that means that I chose to be somewhere else and left her.” She goes on to say, “Because, I am not in heaven.” I must respectfully disagree with her decision because I believe that knowing that our loved ones are in heaven provides comfort rather than confusion, even for children.

While Alex has been mostly spared of having to deal with the loss of loved ones in his life, he does talk about heaven and people whom he knows are there, including his beloved childhood doctor, his grandfather whom he barely remembers, and his most-admired U.S. President, Ronald Reagan. Moreover, he looks forward to going to heaven someday with anticipation because he indicates that he has a lot of questions he wants to ask God that he can’t find in books or on Google. Somehow I think he and God will have some fascinating conversations one day.

Alex’s complete and confident trust in God allows him to face the future mostly fearlessly, which comforts me as his mother. Last week, he awoke in the wee hours of the morning in a full-blown panic attack, something that has not happened in years. (The next day, Ed and I decided that the combination of dairy-free and gluten-free birthday cake and ice cream along with soy egg nog was not a good snack ahead of bedtime, and we decided to limit his evening sugar consumption to prevent further nighttime meltdowns.) Even in the midst of his adrenaline surge in which he shook and muttered about not being able to count to infinity, Alex knew to seek God’s help along with ours.

With his overly quiet voice, Alex rarely yells, but in the midst of his panic, he kept crying out, “Need to talk to God! Need to talk to God!” As Ed and I tried to calm and reassure him, we reminded him that God is always listening and that he can pray anytime to talk to God. While this isolated incident was upsetting because we hate to see Alex so distraught, we felt comforted that he knew what he needed to become calm: he just needed to talk to God. His faith was rewarded, and God calmed the storm within Alex so that his anxiety disappeared, and he could resume a peaceful sleep.

As Alex turned twenty-four last week, I assessed my work as his mother over the past two dozen years. Yes, he is happy and basically healthy, with the notable exception of autism, but he still has a way to go to be independent. However, as I began thinking about the tremendous strength his faith in God gives him, I felt a sense of accomplishment for teaching him what is most important in life. If something were to happen to me, he would have his faith to carry him, and he would know that he would see me again in heaven. Maybe it’s not as important that we teach our children to be independent as to teach them to depend upon God always, especially when life becomes overwhelming.

With the imminent arrival of Christmas this week, Alex and I have faithfully been counting down the days on our Advent calendar. More than most, he knows the true significance of the holiday, reminding us it’s Jesus’ birthday and looking forward to going to church on Christmas Eve to celebrate. Despite autism, Alex can fathom the significance of Christ’s birth, knowing that his Savior guarantees the ultimate reward in heaven. Consequently, we need not fear troubles in this earthly life, knowing that because God’s plans are good, indeed, we can celebrate with great joy.

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

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