Not the Life I Signed Up For

Learning to accept the unthinkable

"This is not the life I signed up for!"

I screamed those words through tears more than once after my husband's death. "O Wife of My Youth" was Jon's term of endearment for me. Suddenly it was stripped away, and I was slapped with new, unthinkable labels: widow and single parent.

It all started nearly two years earlier, the day Jon received a devastating diagnosis: acute lymphocytic leukemia. Jon was just 40 years old! When we pressed the oncologist for a life-expectancy projection, he would say only, "It's not good." He wanted to hospitalize Jon immediately, but we negotiated for a few days to return home and regroup.

Driving home, we struggled with the harsh reality that we might not be afforded the luxury of growing old together. I don't recall many tears in our four-hour journey that day—mercifully, we were numb with shock—but I do remember Jon declaring, "I'm not afraid to die. I know it means I'll be face-to-face with the Lord." Then his voice crumbled as he said, "My biggest concern is for you and the girls. I feel cheated to think I might not get to see Aimee and Molly grow up." Our children were just 9 and 11 years old. We decided that we shouldn't focus too much on the future—it would only paralyze us with fear. Our goal that day was simple: Get home, break the news to our daughters, and prepare for Jon's first hospitalization.

Trusting God's Plan

Nineteen years earlier, we'd promised before God to love each other "in sickness and in health." But during the 21 months between Jon's diagnosis and his death, at times we both said, in effect, "This is not the life we signed up for." There were many moments of anger, fear, sadness, and tears. Yet I can honestly say that somehow, through it all, there was always an underlying sense of peace because God was in control. Trusting God's sovereignty and goodness helped us accept that this was all part of his plan for us.

Believing God was in control helped us to willingly receive cancer as our lot. Although Jon's diagnosis took us by surprise, we agreed that we couldn't expect God to shield us from the diseases that plague the rest of the world. "Why this? Why us? Why now?" are questions that naturally flood our minds in times of crisis, but before we reached home that first day, we concluded, "Why not us?"

Questions … And Comfort

Three days later we made the return trip to Marshfield, Wisconsin, where Jon was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital. We were confident he'd receive the best medical care available, but our real challenge was to accept that the outcome was ultimately in God's hands. Although I believed God was able to heal Jon, questions like, "What if God doesn't heal him? How will I manage?" still shattered my peace from time to time.

I took up residence in Psalms for my daily Scripture reading. I found comfort and strength in God's Word not just to get through the day, but to accept that God had a plan for Jon—and me—and that all was going according to that plan. I was reminded that God ordained the number of Jon's days before Jon was even born (Psalm 139:16). The prayers of the psalmist became mine: "[W]hen I am afraid, I will put my trust in you" (Psalm 56:3). "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by" (Psalm 57:1).

The Real Test

Less than two years later, the outcome was revealed: After two remissions, Jon's leukemia came back with a vengeance. A compassionate young doctor sat down with us and explained that there was nothing more they could do. So we prayed for God's mercy, asking that Jon wouldn't have to suffer much longer. That same afternoon his kidneys began to fail; he slipped away three days later.

The real test of accepting God's will came after the funeral, when all the well-wishers went back to their lives. My grief was compounded by the overwhelming responsibilities of parenting and the weight of household decisions I now faced alone. That's when I cried out to God, "This is not the life I signed up for!" But after careful examination of the "fine print" in Scripture, I realized that this, indeed, was the life I signed up for when I committed my life to Christ. In fact, Jon and I signed up for this life together. Twenty-three years earlier, we had stood together at a mission conference and vowed to serve God wherever he sent us. Little did we know that our mission fields would be a cancer ward for Jon and life as a widow and single parent for me.

A Pathway To Peace

Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Nearly 20 years have passed since I first became a widow. It is the heaviest cross I've had to bear, but it's one I've learned to willingly accept.

I've grown in acceptance as I've experienced God's faithfulness to his promise to care for the widow and the fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18). I've also learned to keep my focus on Jesus, the ultimate role model of acceptance. Jesus knew all too well the life he signed up for, yet he willingly received the cross he bore; "I want your will to be done, not mine," he prayed (Luke 22:42). Choosing to follow Christ, I take up my cross daily. This is the life I signed up for—it's a good one, and I'm at peace with it. Acceptance has been a pathway to that peace.

Kathy Ptaszek is a speaker and freelance writer living in Michigan. holygroundallaround.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Cancer; Difficulties; Grief; Illness; Loss; Single Parenting
Today's Christian Woman, May/June , 2013
Posted May 15, 2013

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