i found out my brother was going to die in the middle of an intervarsity meeting. as with every new school year, the leadership team gathered to catch up with one another and to prepare for the work ahead. we broke off into small groups to share about our summers, and when it was my turn, i started off by talking about the joy of going on a month-long missions project to china and some of what i learned. but i spent most of my time describing how i found out dennis was sick in the hospital the day we returned, and how in the weeks that followed i would watch the baffled doctors misdiagnose dennis over and over again, until one day, during a procedure to install a shunt, the doctors found a massive tumor on his spine.
i kept my composure during this time well enough. i was deeply touched by the compassion and empathy of my friends and co-leaders. they calmly listened as i shared, and communicated so much care and love through their eyes. one friend struggled to recall what exactly he did over the summer because he could not get past what it would feel like if one of his brothers were to become ill. it seems strange to say this, but the severity of the situation did not sink in until he said that.
we took a break. some people got up to use the bathroom; others engaged in small talk. i took a glance at my phone and saw that i had a missed call and voice mail. it was my mom. i will never, ever forget how it felt when the absolute, bottomless pit of hell opened inside of my chest when i heard her say: “hi jeffrey, i have bad news. the cancer is terminal. okay, bye bye.”
i dropped my phone, gasped, mumbled a bit. then i collapsed into a flood of uncontrollable tears and wailing. the words “its terminal… its terminal…” slipped out of my mouth. i never experienced more despair, more hopelessness, than in that very moment, and i hope i never experience that again.
I remember dave wrapped his arms tightly around me on the floor. my friends put their hands on me, some prayed quietly. they all held me up,
it’s been almost seven years since that day, and it’s taken me about seven years to see the ways in which God’s grace was present to me even in that moment.