Trusting God in Adversity
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FamilyLife CEO Chris Herndon and his wife, Mary, remember God’s goodness as they reflect on Mary’s diagnosis of a brain tumor in 2017. Almost a year later, their son, Charlie, was diagnosed with MRSA, a type of staph infection that is untreatable by many types of antibiotics. Hear the story of God’s faithfulness to this family.
Trusting God in Adversity
Bob: Jesus has promised us that in this world we will experience tribulation, sorrow, suffering. Mary Herndon says most of us have areas of life, where we think it would be unfair for God to visit us with sorrow or suffering.
Mary: I think in life we have things—you know, like we are willing: “Lord, we’ll go to Africa and serve for You,” “We’ll go into ministry; we’ll raise support,” “We’ll do whatever.” But I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have an untouchable list, like: “No, not my child; not that, Lord. You can do anything else—we’ll go anywhere You want us to go—but not my child,” “…not my marriage,” “…not my grandchild.”
I think there were things/I felt like God was just prying my fingers loose of the things that were heaviest on my heart that are heavy on His, too; He cares about the same things we do. Sometimes, the things that we grip the tightest are the very places He wants to get in there and work.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 23rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What do we do when suffering that is unexpected visits us?—when something that was on our untouchable list is all of a sudden being touched? We’ll hear today how one couple has learned to deal with that and drawn closer to God in the process. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. I don’t think many of us realize, when we get married, that there are going to be detours that are going to come our way: times of sorrow and suffering that will hit us unexpectedly. Most of us are probably not fully-prepared for the detours when they come.
Dave: Yes; we say, “For better, for worse”; and honestly—even when I got married and now, as a pastor, doing weddings—I don’t think very many couples think there’ll be much of the worse.
Ann: I don’t think they want to think about it, because it’s scary to think what the worse could be.
Bob: Well, and you’re hopeful; it’s your wedding day, and you see the glory ahead. There is glory ahead, but there’s also going to be challenge ahead.
In fact, we’re going to meet a couple today, who are a part of FamilyLife® staff. Chris and Mary Herndon speak at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. Chris serves as the chief operating officer for FamilyLife and gives leadership to a lot of what we do here. They’re a great couple, and they’ve been on a little bit of a detour journey recently.
They wrote about this in a devotional book that FamilyLife released recently called The Story of Us, where it is a 52-chapter devotional; so a devotion a week for couples to go through.
Dave: And they’re not the only authors.
Bob: No; you’re in there!
Dave: It isn’t just the story of them; it’s—
Bob: That’s right. You guys are in there; I’ve written in there; so we have people from our speaker team/from our staff. You can find out more about that devotional on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
But you were there when I sat down with Chris and Mary in a small gathering recently and asked them to share a little of their story and the journey God’s had them on.
Bob: You guys have experienced/you’ve been on a little bit of a journey over the last couple of years that was an unexpected journey for you, and it began with you having some headaches; right?
Mary: Yes; I was just sitting in Bible study and I had some weird vision things. I really just thought it was blood sugar and didn’t think much of it. Over the next couple weeks, it would happen multiple times; so finally, between Chris and our daughter, they’re like, “Go get it checked out.”
The physician was like, “Yes, I think it could be a mini-stroke/some other things going on,” and wanted us to get an MRI. We were thinking, “…in the next few weeks”; and he was like, “No, tonight.” The MRI showed that golf-ball sized tumor; it was a brain tumor in the center of my head, right on my brain stem; so yes.
Bob: You’re immediately in a whole new world with: “There’s something in your brain. You’re going to have to have brain surgery.” That put you on a journey to try to figure out, “What’s the best process?” You wound up going to MD Anderson in Houston for a diagnosis and for treatment.
Bob: What were they telling you? Did you have a sense of whether this was benign or malignant? What did you know?
Chris: They had a very strong sense that it was benign—that it was an acoustic neuroma, which it was—so we’re very grateful for that. The difficulty was its location, as Mary just said. It’s almost like if you draw a line between your two ears—I mean, it’s right in the middle—very difficult to get to and surgery would be extremely difficult and very long; and it was about 13 hours.
Bob: The risk associated with the surgery related to your hearing.
Mary: They said that my tumor was tangled in three nerves; so it would be the nerve that controls your face, your hearing nerve, and your balance nerve. To get it out, they knew there’s no way to get it out without damaging some of those. They damaged my hearing nerve, so I lost all the hearing on one side. It’s completely gone, which is good; because there’s no noise. [Laughter]
Chris: —to your right, yes.
Mary: Then they had to completely snip my balance nerve on that side. My face was fine.
Bob: Talk about the fear.
Mary: I don’t feel like, as we went into it, I don’t remember feeling that God was preparing me that this was going to be the end for me. I remember I went to lunch once with Barbara Rainey. She was like: “Okay; I know what you’re telling everybody else. What’s the real story?”
I think, when you go into a difficulty surgery, sometimes you think, “Okay, what’s the worst that could happen here?” I remember feeling: “As a believer, if you wake up in the arms of Jesus, that’s not a bad thing. If things go well, that’s awesome too.” I think with brain surgery, you think, “The worst case scenario would be, if I wake up and I’m not me again, and I’m not able to be a mom or a wife in the same way that I was before.” You don’t want to be a burden to your family, so that would have been the worst case scenario for me.
Bob: Living now with a disability, do you find it challenging? Do you find yourself going: “God, why this? Why is this my life?”
Mary: I mean, I don’t challenge it; I think you just have to laugh. It still holds my earring; you know, my ear’s still there. [Laughter] We just laugh about it.
I think, especially in the Western world, when difficulty comes your way, we sometimes have the tendency to just want it to go away as quickly as possible with no fallout. I think, from the very beginning, God just pressed upon our hearts that our lives are not our own and that He really can be trusted.
We went into it with the prayer: “Lord, brain tumors are too hard; so help us to walk the journey well. Don’t waste our tumor. Help us to be a blessing in other people’s lives and shape our character through this in some way.” That was our prayer.
Bob: We’ve talked before; when our kids were still at home, we talked about the fact—and you kind of grit your teeth in saying this—but I said to Mary Ann at one point, “It would be easier for me if you were suffering with something than if one of our kids was suffering with something.” I think that’s just because we know we’re grownups/we’re adults, and we know we can tough it out. But when your kids are going through it, it’s a tougher deal.
You had that experience happen; then a year after you had had your surgery—tell everybody what happened with your son.
Chris: Yes, we picked Charlie up; he was gone for a week-long camp in Arkansas. We picked him up on Saturday morning and had about an hour-and-a-half drive back to home in Little Rock. He just fell asleep in the car, which for him is not necessarily completely unusual. We just probably thought he didn’t have sleep or eating poorly that week.
Saturday to Thursday he would always run a fever in the afternoons. We would give him an Advil® and it would break, and he would get back to normal. Well, Thursday, Mary took him to his primary [doctor] and said: “It’s probably a virus. It’ll run its course in a few days; but by Sunday, if he’s still running a fever, call me.” He was, and we did. The doctor said, “Take him to Children’s Hospital. Let them admit him, check him out—make sure everything’s okay—and run a barrage of tests.”
About two days later, they had determined that he had developed MRSA bacteria and that it had just settled in the middle of his liver.
Mary: MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant form of staph; it’s bad news.
Bob: So, he’s in Children’s; they’ve diagnosed him with MRSA. It’s antibiotic-resistant; they didn’t know what to do.
Mary: They didn’t. We watched our son go from a healthy kid to—I mean, right now, he’s 140 pounds—he ended up getting down to like 92—you know, a feeding tube. His fevers would get to the point where you’d give him medicine for fever and, instead of going down, it would go up. His vitals were tanking. They were doing everything they knew to do, and it wasn’t working. We knew that it was going to be a serious deal.
Chris: Man, as a parent, you feel helpless. You’re right, Bob, that comparison of a spouse and your kid—it is different; yes.
Bob: Talk about the day you came to work.
Chris: Yes; this sounds so stupid—that I went to work—but Mary is a mom. She refused to leave Charlie and would spend the night in the hospital every night. We still did have a daughter, who was a senior at the time; so I would go and stay till ten
o’ clock at night and then I would go home.
Typically, the doctors would round about nine o’ clock in the morning. I’m a morning person, so I would go into the office. I would work for an hour-and-a-half and then try to be at the hospital every morning—and then gauge how the day would unfold—whether I would just stay and continue to support; or if it was a holding-pattern day, I would go back to the office.
That morning, I backed into the parking lot at maybe 7:45. Our program, FamilyLife Today, is 7:30-8:00. This was July 18; it was ten days after we figured out what was going on with Charlie; he had atrophied tremendously.
That was the first day that Ron and Nan were sharing about their story.
Bob: Their story is the loss of their son, Connor, who at age 12, died from a MRSA infection/from a staph infection.
Mary: Yes, and we knew this.
Chris: Yes, we knew the story very intimately. They’re sharing that, on day ten is, unfortunately, when they lost Connor.
I’m sitting in the car; I’m listening to this program. About 7:45, when they say that, I just have this question hit me, like: “What are you doing?! Why are you getting ready to go into work?” It just dawned on me again that, “This is day ten for Charlie.”
I cranked my car, going to the hospital. It was a tough day—just one of those days; I think we all have them, where it’s a mental snapshot in your mind of your life—you can go back to certain days, as a kid or whatever, and you can see it in color—you know it; you can smell it—I mean, it’s just one of those days. That was one for me.
In the afternoon, we’re with Charlie, just having conversation. He just says to me, “I don’t think I’m ever going to leave this room.” [Emotion in voice] I knew I should have brought a hand towel. [Laughter] The first reaction: “You know, he’s complaining because he’s in the hospital; who wouldn’t? Ten days lying in the bed; you can’t get up; he’s miserable; he’s throwing up all the time; he can’t keep food down; he has a feeding tube.” But when I looked at him, what he meant was like, “This is it!”
At ten o’ clock, I’m driving home; and I just lose it. Brian [fellow staff member], yesterday morning, shared a question that Jesus asked His disciples. It’s the exact same question Jesus asked me on that 20-minute drive home—when I’m doubting, when I’m angry; I feel helpless—“Chris, who do you say I am?” That was a deep stake in my faith that night, that Jesus drove a little bit deeper for me.
That was a day ten; on day twenty-three, he continued to digress. The decision was made that he needed to be air-lifted to Cincinnati. One of the toughest things in my life I’ve ever had to do was watch the door close and me get back in the ambulance to go back to the hospital, where our car was. Then our middle daughter and I got in the car the next morning, and we drove the ten hours to Cincinnati to join them. He spent another 30 days in Cincinnati.
Bob: The good news is there was a breakthrough.
Mary: There was. I mean, I think, just because there was no one else like him, there was no protocol of how to treat him. You know, when you have a surgery, sometimes they give you all the things that could go wrong; and for us, it was a blank sheet of paper; because they didn’t know what it would be. He was taking the strongest antibiotics—five or six of them at the highest doses—and nothing was working.
As a mom, I think you reach the point, where you’re like—we knew Nan and Ron; we knew the risks—so I think you have to process these things on difficult levels. My moment—it was my Abraham and Isaac moment—of just, you know, that control is an illusion; and you have absolutely no control here. I remember wrestling with God. I felt like He was asking me: “Do you believe that I love Charlie as much as you do? If I chose to take him home, would you still think I’m good?”
I think, in life, we have things—you know, we are willing: “Lord, we’ll go to Africa and serve for You,” “We’ll go into ministry; we’ll raise support,” “We’ll do whatever.” But I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have an untouchable list, like: “No, not my child; not that, Lord. You can do anything else—we’ll go anywhere You want us to go—but not my child,” “…not my marriage,” “…not my grandchild.”
I think there were things/I felt like God was just prying my fingers loose of the things that were heaviest on my heart that are heavy on His, too; He cares about the same things we do. Sometimes, the things that we grip the tightest are the very places He wants to get in there and work, if we will just give Him access.
We know God doesn’t love us or our child any more than the child across the hall, whose story was going to end differently; so we had to get to the point: “Lord, if Charlie got to go be with Jesus, that’s great for him. It would be something I probably would never get over, as a mom; but I have to trust that You are good and You have a plan.”
Bob: We were all in Little Rock, praying for you guys and hearing reports, “Well, they’re going to try this…” “No, that didn’t work. They’re going to try this….” “No, that didn’t work.” I mean, this was kind of the, “Well, they’re going to now try this…”
What was the breakthrough, medically? What did they do?
Mary: There was some resident in Cincinnati, who had read a study about something in China that had never been done before/nobody knew. He would be put under every Monday and Thursday; they put drains directly into his liver, and would inject vancomycin into his liver, shut it off, hold it for several hours and let it out at the end of the day. He was put under anesthesia two times a week for a couple weeks, and his fever finally broke. It was the first time in 60 days there had been no fever. Yes, it worked.
Bob: As you think about what you’ve been through: your health issues, Charlie’s health issues, and the mission that God has called you to—to effectively develop godly marriages and families that change the world one home at a time—how has what you’ve gone through affected your thinking about the mission that we’re a part of?
Mary: I think family is the Trojan horse. I was recently with a group of women. We went around, as our last day together; we’re like: “What is your prayer request? As God put you on my heart; how can I pray for you?” Every single person in the room, it was: “Here’s what’s going on in our marriage,” “This is where I am with my children.” It was all prayer requests about the family.
There’s a tender spot in the heart of every human, who wants their family to go well; so because of that, once life goes poorly, people are willing to hear about God and Jesus in ways that, when life is perfect, they’re not. We know that intimately. It’s a sacred spot to be able to walk with families through hard things. Really, life is not about the good things or the bad things that happen to you; but “What do you do with those?”
We quickly realized that our lives are not our own, and there’s always an army of people watching you. I remember when Charlie was sick—especially since we had all of our international staff in from all the different countries—I’m reading all the prayer requests to him; and we had the blog, and I looked at it this morning; there were 55 countries following his story. I’m like, “Who but God?”
You realize that you have the opportunity to show: “When life is going great, so be it.
Mary: “When life goes poorly, and you handle it and walk through it differently than everyone else, I think that’s when people are like: ‘Tell me about this Jesus. How can you be calm when life is chaotic?’”
Bob: I heard John Piper say—he said: “Your pagan next-door neighbor—if something good happens to him, he says, ‘Well, that was lucky.’ The fact that something good happened to you and you say, ‘Well, praise the Lord,’ that doesn’t cause your next-door neighbor to go, ‘Oh, I want to know more about Jesus.’ But when you go through trials and you say, ‘Bless the Lord,’ your next-door neighbor goes, ‘Now, you need to explain that to me’”; right?—yes.
Chris: Just kind of a takeaway thought for me this weekend, that hit me last night, was that the characteristic of God does not change given my circumstances and how that provides peace and hope—to your point of people who do not know Him—when they are in the valleys.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation I had not long ago with Chris and Mary Herndon, speakers at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—part of the staff/the team, here at FamilyLife—sharing about the journey that they’ve been on.
We’ve said so many times—Matthew, Chapter 7, says: “If your house is built on sand, when the storms come, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Dave: Big, great crash.
Bob: But if you are working today, in the calm, to build your marriage/to build your family on the Rock, when the storms come—and they will come—your house can stand.
Dave: It is really difficult to build a foundation in a storm.
Dave: You do it before the storm, knowing they’re coming. We’ve seen Chris and Mary’s story and their storm reconciled, because they had a foundation—
Dave: —of Jesus.
Ann: I love how Chris ended, too; because he talked about how God’s faithfulness never changes. He’s always there with us/for us—fighting for us—sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but He’s always there.
Bob: Circumstances are going to change; God’s character won’t change. That’s our anchor; that’s our rock in the midst of the storm.
Chris and Mary shared this story as a part of a new devotional that FamilyLife has put together, a 52-week devotional for couples. There’s one devotion each week for
52 weeks. These are devotions that are written by couples, who speak at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways/some of our FamilyLife staff and team. The devotional is called The Story of Us. You [Dave and Ann] have a devotional or two in there; I have one. This is just a great tool for couples to continue to direct their marriage toward God by, once a week, reading the devotional together/praying together as a couple.
We’d love for you to get a copy of The Story of Us couples’ devotional. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order your copy of this devotional. Again, it’s called The Story of Us. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to get a copy of The Story of Us couples’ devotional.
You’ve heard us say this before: “The time to build and strengthen your marriage is not when the storm hits; it’s before the storm hits. You build the foundation when things are going well.” To be in a devotional like this, once a week throughout the year, that’s part of how you build a foundation; or maybe you get the video series we’ve talked about this week. This is how you build a foundation so that, when the storms come, your marriage can stand strong in those storms.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the devotional, The Story of Us, or about the Vertical Marriage video series, featuring Dave and Ann Wilson: the five sessions that are available on Vertical Marriage. The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you’re ready to order these resources: call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Again, thanks to those of you who make FamilyLife Today possible: our Legacy Partners, who give each month; those of you who will donate from time to time. I want you to be thinking about it this way: your donations are doing more than just keeping FamilyLife Today on this local radio station—although that’s a big part of it—your donation is helping thousands of couples draw strength, and encouragement, and hope from what they hear as they listen to FamilyLife Today, what they read online/access to articles and resources we make available. You’re helping husbands and wives and moms and dads have stronger marriages and families/to be anchored in what the Bible teaches about marriage and family. So thank you for partnering with us to strengthen the lives of so many couples and so many families.
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We hope you can join us tomorrow, when we’re going to hear a remarkable story of a young woman, whose life got derailed early in her life, as a teenager, and how God ultimately rescued her from being trafficked. It’s a powerful, compelling story; we hope you can tune in and hear it tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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