Bad phone reception is something that irritates us at the best of times.
So imagine a phone line crackling and crunching as you attempt to decode the words of your devastated son as he tells you life-altering news.
In the middle of a shopping centre in Penrith (NSW), Steve struggled to hear his son as he explained to his father that he had cancer.
Over and over, he had to ask Andrew to repeat what was being said. However, despite Andrew's repetition, Steve couldn't grasp it. The words took shape, but the reality was too much to understand.
“I began to feel panic and helplessness all at the same time.” Steve says, “Awful dread gripped me and I screamed to Marion, ‘Andrew's got cancer! We have to go home now!” Steve and Marion experienced something that would never be wished on any loving parent.
From that day, Steve and Marion's life has never been the same.
It was February 2003 and their 26-year-old son, Andrew, had been diagnosed with germcell cancer.
As they fought for their son's life, it became apparent to both of them that the fight against cancer would not be won. But there was a victory they could win—in a spiritual fight against something more hideous than cancer.
With daily drives to the hospital, several crushed hopes and countless tears, Steve and Marion fought what the apostle Paul described as “the good fight of faith.” The battle for life that raged in Andrew's body mirrored a battle that raged in the hearts of his parents—a battle that could end in a loss of faith or in a renewed and strengthened trust in God.
Marion suffered as any mother would in such an ordeal. “I remember one day after he had vomited yet again he cried and said ‘I'm starving.' He literally was starving to death. It broke my heart.From the time your baby is born, your job is to make sure he eats. It's a mother's job!” Marion says.
Amazingly, Andrew's spirit wasn't broken as his body suffered and shut down. “It seemed to me that the weaker Andrew became physically, the stronger he got emotionally and spiritually.” One of the major supports for the Penny family throughout this time was their church. Steve says, “We were all believing together for a miracle. We learned the power of our relational networks and that church is much more than a weekly meeting of strangers. We were connected with real people who walked this journey of faith with us and we found strength in knowing they were there for us.”
nderstandably, in a situation where faith is put to the test, the fear of failure looms. For the Penny family, this time came when reports that the latest course of chemo had failed and the cancer was returning very aggressively.
Steve tells of the fateful day: “Andrew just broke down and cried as Marion tried to encourage him. He then blurted out, ‘Where's the miracle? Aren't we believing for a miracle?'” These words echoed through Steve's mind, and haunted his faith. He earnestly sought God, and God gave him the strength to make it through.
Marion says, “People say, ‘How did you cope?' I would say my faith in God was the biggest thing that kept me sane."
“I have faith in the fact that God is in control— even when I didn't like what was happening."
“I believe we don't know everything and God does! Simple—but I can't explain it any other way."
“Do I still trust God? Yes. We miss Andrew terribly ... but we know one day we will see him again.” A tragedy such as that Steve and Marion experienced is not likely to be closed as easily as a chapter in a book. Realistically, it is something that shapes our existence from the initial point of impact and carries on throughout our life.
Be it the loss of a loved one, the loss of a marriage, money or job, when something has played a major role in our life, losing it often disheartens us and causes us to be wary of trusting in God again.
From disbelief and failing faith, to physical exhaustion, and dealing with grief, Steve and Marion tell the story of losing Andrew in their book Where's the Miracle? While the book tells the story of their loss, it also provides practical keys on how you too can ascend from the valley of death, without fearing the evil that tugs at your soul.
Writing their book has allowed Steve and Marion to show themselves and others that loss is not the end, nor is it a sign of defeat. Rather, it is a declaration that through faith, hope and love, any kind of loss can ultimately bring a different kind of victory.
Loss will visit us all at some stage in our lives. Loss through a marriage breakdown, loss of a job, loss of health or the loss of a loved one. Throughout a time of loss, it is our decision—to either admit defeat or persevere in God's promises—that shapes us.
For Steve and Marion Penny, loss came at the end of their son's fight with cancer. However, while Andrew's passing was a devastating loss in their lives, through this troublesome season Steve and Marion matured in their Christian faith.
“Faith, hope and love can all work together to achieve a good outcome for those who love God,” says Steve.