Seeing death through God’s eyes.
by Xenia Schiller
I have been awed by miracles my whole life — mostly secondhand accounts of healing, people accomplishing impossible feats, special communications from God. I never took much notice of the everyday type of miracles. I usually chalked them up as coincidences that happened mostly to other people.
In 2000 I wanted a fresh start, so I decided to make myself over with miracles. I surrendered control of my life to God and asked Him to show me the path He wanted me to take.
Before the month was out, my life began to change. A dead-end romantic relationship abruptly ended, and a co-worker brought in a classified job ad — an opening more in line with my career goal. I applied and, almost immediately, landed an interview. I was offered the position and accepted it.
At my new job I met a handsome, easygoing co-worker, Paul. I was attracted to him immediately. I surprised myself by quickly feeling at ease with this new friend, even though I’ve always been shy. Paul had everything I looked for in a boyfriend, and he was Christian. He never discussed his own faith, but he loved hearing me talk about mine.
One day at lunch, Paul told me that his family would like me because I was “pious.” He meant it as a compliment, but the description both mortified and pleased me. Paul no longer attended church services regularly but said he wanted to return.
Falling in love
Several weeks went by, and it became apparent we were meant to be together. Although we saw each other every day, it wasn’t enough. I knew already that I had fallen in love with Paul, but I wanted him to say it first.
One night, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I unconditionally adore you.” That gave me goose bumps; I had never been “unconditionally adored.” Coming from him, I thought I might like a lifetime of it.
Although Paul told me early on that he had suffered from a recurrent benign brain tumor, the information didn’t impact me at first. Happy and in love, we failed to recognize the warning signs creeping up on us.
That Christmas, Paul’s family invited me to join them in Arizona for the holidays. I enjoyed Paul’s close relationship with his parents and what that said about his priorities. Paul had numerous seizures during the trip, but at the time, we didn’t understand the implication.
After the holidays, we settled back into our old routines. Paul’s seizures occurred daily. One night he became tearful and confided that he didn’t think he could bear any more seizures. In the past few weeks, his foot had begun to drag, and his hand had lost its strength. The doctor voiced concern about the loss of function in his patient’s left-side extremities. We were directed to Paul’s former neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins.
A series of tests and surgery followed. Several weeks later, we learned the reason for Paul’s frailty: At 28 years old, Paul had developed brain cancer.
Cry for mercy
The news devastated us. Suddenly we faced the reality that Paul wasn’t expected to live more than a year . . . twelve months . . . 365 days. How would we fit a lifetime into 8,760 hours?
I wanted God’s plans to fit into ours, and I fell on my knees before Him and begged for mercy. “Please don’t let Paul feel betrayed by his faith. Please heal him and demonstrate to him the power in prayer.”
My own prayers felt so inconsequential in the face of this destructive disease. I sensed God’s presence every time I looked at my beloved fiancé, and I took it as a sign that God was working a miracle in Paul.
Therapy was hard on Paul’s system. My fiancé endured frequent headaches, nausea, and fatigue. I prayed every day that the poison he received would make him well.
Months later, however, we learned it had failed and that we could no longer seek chemotherapy as an option. The only avenue left involved research studies, so we decided to enter a clinical trial involving more surgery and medication placed within the tumor cavity.
If we wed, I could take care of Paul during the surgery and recovery, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act. We pushed our wedding date up and married June 18 in the courthouse. Surgery was scheduled the next month.
Paul withstood an intense period of recovery following surgery. As part of the study, he wore a pump that infused a solution to make the medicine work better. He suffered constant anxiety that the pump would break down or that the new treatment would fail him, too.
One morning, Paul woke up in a reverent mood. In a voice full of awe, he told me that God had “healed” him during the night. He said he had difficulty going to sleep, so he started to pray. After several hours, he felt a “peace beyond understanding” envelope him. Filled with serenity, Paul drifted into a dreamless sleep. He later sent out a mass e-mail to all his friends and associates, telling them he had been healed.
End of options
In January, after another failed surgical treatment, we knew we had exhausted our options. Paul’s condition began to deteriorate daily.
I agonized over his pain, although he never complained. I believe this was his way of easing our heartache. In February Paul’s parents and I made the heartbreaking choice to bring Paul home with hospice.
I met with a pastor to deal with my impending loss. I sobbed, confiding my anger with God. I felt betrayed by Him; He had not kept His promise to Paul, who believed God had healed him. Though I knew God didn’t “owe” me a miracle, Paul had just returned to his faith when he contracted terminal cancer. What could God be thinking?
The pastor gently took my hand while he answered my questions. He asked if I had considered the possibility of redemptive suffering, that Paul endured tribulations on this earth so others might be saved. I had not.
A different healing
The pastor went on to tell me that God healed in many ways — physically and spiritually. Was it possible that Paul, who had left his faith, had received a spiritual healing?
A memory from weeks before suddenly struck me. Paul caught me crying alone on the bed. He sat down beside me and pulled me close to him. I saw the love on his face when he said that God had given the cancer to him for a reason, and he accepted God’s will for his life. Was that how God had healed Paul? I felt I had my answer.
A week later, Paul died peacefully in my arms, surrounded by his parents. Although the pastor’s words had brought comfort, I wanted God to take me too. I didn’t believe there could be any comfort in a world without my husband in it.
They say that you never get over a loss; you just get used to it. Somehow I got past the initial shock, and then hours gave way to days, which turned into weeks.
It has been almost five years now, and I still cherish Paul. At times it feels wrong to be separated, but most of my days I spend in happiness and peace. I feel as it says in Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (NKJV). Someday we will be reunited in eternity.
I’m truly blessed to have had Paul in my life, but the most significant blessing is that God brought us together to share this journey. My faith is stronger now, having been tested and confirmed. Comfort lies in the memories of a love we created together and in the knowledge that God did keep His promise: Paul was “healed”; he no longer battles the brain tumor. In that regard, his was a spiritual and physical healing.
God’s promise to me was the same as it is to each of us: that we will not walk alone on this journey. He will hold our hand the entire way.