Two Trees

When I was nine, my maternal grandmother had cancer. For months, I prayed God would heal her, but despite my persistent plea, she passed away six days before Christmas.

When I was seventeen, we learned my dad needed a five-way bypass. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car one night, sobbing as I admitted I was afraid to pray because God didn’t answer my prayers for Grandma. But I did pray, and my dad pulled through that surgery.

Four years later, he needed a second open heart surgery in which doctors replaced his mitral valve. That procedure was scheduled during finals week in the first semester of my senior year of college. My parents were concerned for me, and they let me decide whether I wanted to join them at the hospital or stay at school with my friends. As I talked through my options with Travis, I was overcome with guilt, remembering a time before my grandma got sick when I was invited to spend the night with her. Instead, I chose to go home, not knowing that would be the last opportunity for such a slumber party. This memory made the impending decision easy. And thanks to divine intervention (a story for another day), my professors allowed me to take my exams early so I could head home to be with my family.

Sixteen years later, in 2009, I participated in the Reset Journey at our church. We were challenged to visit a cemetery where we listened to an audio file that led us through the exercise. While driving by Gate of Heaven Cemetery, I decided since our young daughters were asleep in the backseat that this was as good a time as any. As I weaved around markers, the desire to find my grandma’s grave preoccupied my thoughts. I hadn’t been to that cemetery since her funeral in 1985, so I called my parents to ask which section I might begin to look, but neither of them answered the phone. At this time, I did believe God hears and answers prayers, but I remember feeling cynical that day. I challenged God – I wanted proof. If He really did listen to my prayers, He’d lead me to her grave. After wandering around for a long time without success, I climbed back into the car. The girls would wake soon, and I still had to drive home.

Rounding a corner on my way to the exit, my eyes were drawn to a rich, lush, green tree, standing alone on the top of a small hill. This tree caught my attention because the other deciduous trees reached naked branches toward an early-spring sky. Raindrops washed my windshield, and I ignored the feeling I should investigate further. But as I approached the cemetery office, the nudge became stronger. Leaving my girls in the car, I ran into the building and asked a woman if she could direct me to my grandma’s grave. As the lady highlighted the path on a map, goosebumps pricked my skin. The yellow trail she traced led straight to the section from which I had just come. She then said, “Oh, this should be easy to find. Her grave sits at the base of the only tree on this hill.”

I drove back to that tree to see for myself, and as the rain washed away my tears, I prayed for forgiveness. At that moment, God had shown me that He listens to our prayers and He does answer them even though His answer may not always be what we want to hear or come when we wish to hear it. I’m grateful to have had this experience. Four months later, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I was forced to lean into my faith to get through the years I have referred to as the “Season of Sorrow.”

Fast forward to present day… In early June, my dad started having intermittent fevers, and doctors believed he had a virus. When his health continued to decline, my mom took him back to the doctor. He was admitted to the hospital on June 27th, and we learned he had a bacterial infection in his blood. This bacteria had settled in his heart and negatively affected his mitral valve, the pig valve he received in 1997. Due to his complicated heart health history, my dad is currently receiving Hospice care. I am shocked and heartbroken, but I know God is bigger than all of this. If my dad hadn’t gone to the hospital, he would have died on that Thursday. Each hour we’ve spent with him since that day has been a blessing, and I will forever treasure the time we’ve had together.

In preparation for his passing, my dad requested to be buried at Gate of Heaven, and I attended the appointment at the cemetery with my mom. During the meeting, we rode on a golf cart to view two different sections so my mom could select their plots. I didn’t say much as she considered the possibilities, but I was aware of our location. Once she had selected a shady spot beneath a beautiful oak tree, I turned around. My grandma’s tree stood about one hundred yards away. Nothing blocked the view.

Up to this point, I’ve not been one to visit loved ones in a cemetery, and I’m not sure that will change. Instead, I find comfort in the memories of the time I spent with those who have gone before us. As I spend these days with my dad, I’m reminded of the various ways my faith journey is tied to him. I’m grateful to both of my parents for making sure Jesus was a part of my life as long as I was living under their roof. Through experiences like those that I’ve shared, I’ve seen God at work, and I’ll continue to worship Him through good times as well as bad. And though the grief of losing loved ones has often stolen my breath, I praise God and trust in His promises. I hope that by sharing my story, readers may look at moments and milestones in their lives from a different perspective – that trust would replace doubt.

“And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm”