Sixteen years ago I watched a moving van unloading at a house down the street, and prayed that it was a family with kids the same age as mine and a mom whom I could call a friend.
Later that evening I saw a disheveled woman chasing two naked, shrieking preschoolers across the front yard while carrying a baby on her hip, and I knew for sure she was “the one.”
Katy became my best friend.
She was smart, laid back, and fun. We each had three kids—hers were ages 5, 3, and 1, and mine were 7, 5, and 3. We both grew up on the east coast. We both left our careers to be stay-at-home moms. We could talk for hours about things. Real things. Imperfect things.
When she started getting super-forgetful, she joked that she probably had a brain tumor. I told her she was just sleep deprived because her 1-year old son was having night terrors. “It’s not a toomah” I’d say, quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger from Kindergarten Cop.
But it WAS a tumor. In her brain. Presumably, stage 4 cancer.
Everything that happened after that was a whirlwind of fear and hard things.
I helped Katy record videos for her kids’ future milestone moments, “just in case.” Her love for her children was relentless, and her spirit was so brave. And the whole thing was SO hard.
Watching Katy say goodbye to her children as she left for surgery across the country in Boston a week later was even harder.
I’d agreed to move into her home for a few weeks with my own kids so her mom and In the darkest night of my life, I discovered more truth about God than I’d learned in 30+ years of church.could focus on her during surgery and recovery in Boston. Taking care of 6 children under the age of seven was hard. Especially with a baby who screamed all night and Caleb, my own three-year-old, who’d been suddenly coughing, complaining of leg pain, had a constant stomachache and basically stopped eating.
And then things got REALLY hard.
The day after Katy left for Boston I found a babysitter to look after the brood while I took Caleb to the pediatrician. The doctor was concerned and started asking scary questions and wanting to run scary tests. We went to get x-rays of his lungs, and when the doctor called to tell me Caleb’s right lung was “occluded” he then told me Caleb had a tumor in his right pelvis. He wanted him to go to the hospital for more tests—a radioactive bone scan—and he told me NOT to Google anything.
I didn’t listen. I Googled it that night because I HAD to know. And while rocking Katy’s screaming baby on my lap at 3 am the night before her brain cancer surgery I stared at the computer screen and realized my son had the classic symptoms of Osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. A cancerous tumor in his pelvis, that had likely already metastasized to his right lung.
Overwhelming feelings came rushing into my throat, and I vomited into a trash can—still holding Katy’s crying baby in my arms.
Somehow it seemed certain that Katy would be taking care of my baby in heaven while I took care of her babies on Earth. Our relentless love for our children would be exchanged for eternity. And the pain of that reality was too much to bear.
I’ve been through hard things in my life…but still today that moment has been seared in my brain as the single, hardest moment I’ve ever experienced. I sobbed, I vomited, I paced, I panicked.
And finally, just as the sky started to turn at the first light of dawn, I remembered to pray.
God and I talked for a long time that morning. And on the same computer that I found Web MD’s diagnosis about Osteosarcoma, I started searching for Scripture, praying for God to guide me to the verses He wanted me to hear. I needed something black and white from God. I needed words. His words. His promises. Something concrete to hold onto to keep me from falling apart.
In the midst of the fear, the pain, and the horror, I suddenly felt the presence of God wash over me. As the sun rose in that morning sky a light overcame my darkness. For the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of a “peace that passes understanding” as the Holy Spirit held my soul and whispered words of love and comfort.
Also, for the first time in my life, reading Scripture was like reading a love note from God. I soaked in it—breathing in His words that felt like fresh oxygen in my lungs. There were so many treasures of hope buried in so many verses, but what came through over and over was God’s mighty power, love, and presence in my life.
God was relentless.
He was bigger more relentless than the giants I was facing.
He was more relentless than cancer.
He was more relentless than the fear that gripped me.
He was more relentless than the anxiety that crippled me.
He was more relentless than the impending sorrow that was swallowing me whole.
In the darkest night of my life, I discovered more truth about God than I’d learned in 30+ years of church.
- God’s love endures forever. FOREVER.
- He NEVER leaves our side.
- NOTHING can overcome God.
- God wasn’t punishing me, and I was already forgiven by the promise of the Gospel.
- God longs for a relationship with me just as I long for future relationship with Katy and Caleb
I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I knew that God was holding me. And he wasn’t letting go.
And that was going to be enough.
The rest of the story…
Life is hard sometimes, but God is good. I am so thankful.
It’s 16 years later, and Katy endured miraculously successful brain surgery and grueling recovery, and she is thriving and 100% cancer-free today.
And my son’s bone scan revealed a benign non-cancerous tumor that would resolve on its own. But that particular test also happened to reveal an unknown congenital kidney issue requiring removal of the kidney that could have threatened his life if he hadn’t had the bone scan. He’s now a healthy, sassy college student today.
Thanks be to God.
Digging Deeper: Devotion questions for reflection
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, during my darkest night when I turned to the Bible for comfort, I was actually practicing Lectio Divina. I would read a passage from the Bible over and over, and let God highlight a word or phrase that I needed to dwell on.
Lectio Divina is an ancient Christian practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied but as the Living Word.
Although it might sound daunting, it’s easy to do, and can really help make Bible reading something more than simply “reading words.” It deepens the understanding and what God’s message for you is behind His Word. At Group Mission Trips this summer our theme is “Relentless” and we’re helping teenagers explore scripture in a deeper way than just reading a verse. At camp, we’re calling it “Scripture Soak” but it follows the same simple steps of Lectio Divina.
Here’s how to do a Scripture Soak/Lectio Divina with Psalm 139. We are using this verse during camp this summer, and it’s also one of the verses that I clung to on that night 16 years ago.
- Read Psalm 139 at normal speed. (out loud or silently.)
- Read it again very slowly.
- Ask God to help a word or phrase stand out to you, and then read the passage again.
- Once you land on a specific phrase, underline or highlight it.
- Ask God to help you understand why He showed you that word or phrase, and spend some time thinking about it.
- Focus on what God is saying to you and write it down.
Kami Gilmour is the mom of five teen and young adult kids. She and her husband, Tim, are enjoying their new role as empty nesters and replacing the chaos of kids by adopting rescue dogs. Kami is the parent champion and a mission trip leader for Group Mission trips, and she’s also the author of a best-selling devotional book for parents that chronicles her imperfect journey of parenting in this season of letting go: Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly.