For Kyle

A friend of mine, Kyle Gendron, just lost his battle with cancer. A father of three young children, he should have been getting ready to send them back to school this week; instead they are left with this hole in their young and tender hearts that can never be filled by anyone else.

A kind and generous soul, Kyle was loved by many. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of prayers were surely offered for his healing. Across his two-year battle with colon cancer, everyone around him pleaded with God to spare his life, restore his health, and permit his children to grow up with a father, who they so desperately need and so deeply love.

And yet this God – the Creator, the Great Physician, the Bestower of Miracles – in response to these prayers for healing, remained quiet. The prayers for the restoration of Kyle’s health went unanswered. And just the opposite, he faced two long years of medical procedures and treatments which were a constant challenge.

Kyle’s family looks a lot like my family. He and his wife Kerry were married almost as long as Glen and I have been. They have three children, roughly the same age as mine. Their middle child, daughter M-E, has Down syndrome. So does my middle son, Davis.

And yet on my family goes, for now in good health and together. How can one make sense of that? How can one reconcile a Loving God with the many unanswered prayers for Kyle’s recovery from cancer – a reasonable plea to spare this young father’s life, a request well within the ability of Almighty God to grant. The only way I am able to reconcile this is by turning my focus away from this large, looming unanswered prayer, turning to look instead at the evidence supporting all of Kyle’s “unprayered answers” – the blessings that were given to him – the provisions God sent – although they may never have been prayed for.

At the top of the unprayered answer list is Kyle’s beautiful wife, Kerry Hennessy Gendron. God provided Kyle with a wife who is stronger than anyone should reasonably be. She has lit the way across his journey for all who loved him, showing us how to not fear getting close when the tragedy was imminent and overwhelmingly sad. I don’t know if Kyle prayed when he was younger for a wife who was in equal parts extraordinarily courageous and gracious, but that is what he got.

Whether Kyle ever specifically prayed for two handsome wonderful boys and a beautiful daughter I will never know, but I suspect as well these were blessings sent his way without a specific request. I know his children made him who he was in many ways, and gave him the opportunity to be the outstanding father that he was, always present for their activities and proud of their achievements.

And do any of us ever specifically pray before disaster strikes for a circle of family and friends that will be there in our darkest hour? But that is what Kyle received without asking. An unfathomable number of people who loved him, appreciated his gifts, cherished his time, and who rallied, each as best as they could, to support his family so they never felt alone even when the road was darkest.

Pondering Kyle’s blessings doesn’t make the big question of why wasn’t he healed go away, but thinking about the unprayered answers Kyle had on this earth helps me believe that he was loved by a God who was not surprised that he got cancer, but had provided the support Kyle would need to get through it, long before Kyle got sick.

And get through it Kyle did, and so will those who so deeply feel the loss of Kyle in their lives.

The Pioneer

The weight of her hand on my shoulder was different.  I am often approached by older women who whisper “I have a son too” when I am out with my 11-year old son Davis, who has Down syndrome.  I am so grateful for these women, now in their seventies and eighties, who were pioneers – embracing their calling as mothers of children with special needs before society caught up and accepted that their children had a right to be part of the community.

But this petite woman put her hand on my shoulder with unique gravity, almost a grip.  It signaled she had something important to say, not a casual exchange.  “I never knew what a blessing it was until now,” she said.  “He is the only one who cares about how we’re doing,” she whispered, as she tipped her head toward her husband at her side, also well into his eighties.  “I appreciated it before, but I didn’t realize it until now.”  This was a woman who realized that now, as their lives were winding down, the person who would stand by their side with the most care and concern was their 57-year-old son with Down syndrome.  That was all she said, before she returned to her seat.

It wasn’t that she was telling me that Davis would grow to be even more of a blessing to me than he is now.  As I listened to her soft voice, and felt her firm grip on my shoulder, she was making things right.  She was confessing that she didn’t fully appreciate the gift she had been given, but with her acknowledgement of it now, she was setting the record straight.  In that moment, I served as her priest, and in articulating the sin she felt she committed in rejecting the fullness of the gift that is her son, she found redemption.

I understand that.  With regret, I too received the gift with despair.  I share the shame of looking into my son’s eyes now and not being able to tell him that he was received with joy.  And like her, I try to make things right by connecting with mothers newer to the journey than I, and saying with conviction the gift is real, and it is unfolding.  Although I appreciate the blessing that Davis is now, thanks to this woman’s guiding hand on my shoulder, I am open to the idea that there is fuller blessing up ahead.  Another reminder that I’ve not yet arrived, I’m on a journey.