Nearly four years older than me, Dan was my protector. When the bully next door smashed my stick horse into the sidewalk, it was Dan who marched over to his house, broken pieces in hand. He made it clear to the bully that he was to leave his little sister alone.
When we hit our teen years, I looked up to him even more. He was one of the three “cool guys” in our church youth group and would often let me sit in on their guitar practices as they dreamed of being a 70s band. When he’d tell his friends, “My little sister’s coming with us,” no one would argue. Once, he even let me ride in the back seat of his ’57 Chevy when he went on a date!
When I was old enough for my first date, Dan had “the talk” with Roger, who asked me out to the County Fair. He made him promise to drive the speed limit, to never leave me alone, and to return me home safely.
Still a Hero
I really thought my big brother was something back then. He’s still my hero today, but for more significant reasons. Recently Dan battled cancer for more than five months–and I mean battled. He fought it every way he could: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
He fought it physically by opting to try radiation and chemotherapy, even though doctors told him the cancer was inoperable and incurable. Also, he fought it for us, his family; he didn’t want to leave us. “I want to be in every family picture,” he told Mom. And he fought it for God because he felt his ministry as a youth pastor wasn’t over yet. He only stopped fighting the day his doctor walked into his hospital room and gently said, “Dan, the chemo isn’t working anymore. It’s time to go home now.” He died at home two days later. And if he’d been given a chance, I believe he would have even fought those last two days, too.
He fought it emotionally by struggling to dwell on the positive and thinking of other’s needs. Whenever negative thoughts haunted him, he rejected them for positive ones. We talked almost nightly by phone, and I can’t remember any conversation that ended in a discouraged or negative way. Even if he’d been anxious or crying, he’d pull himself together and say, “I’ll be okay, Nanc.” Rather than talking only about his illness, he’d often ask how my family was doing or what I’d done that day. I remember one call when I was the one crying. That night he comforted me. Even on the day he died, he thought of me. That last morning, he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Don’t get sick, Nanc.” Those were the last words he spoke to me. In the end, he was still my protective big brother.
He fought it spiritually in a powerful way. He began each new day of life with God, thankful to be alive. His strength came from choosing: choosing to read his Bible, choosing to fill his home with worship music, and choosing to pray. He shared his most private and personal thoughts with God—his fears, his worries about leaving his wife and kids, his pain—yet he never blamed. He knew that the enemy had caused this, not God. I remember he told me, “The Devil doesn’t want to just take away my health or my life. He wants to take away my joy. But I’m not going to let him!” And he didn’t.
A favorite text that saw him through many restless nights was Psalms 63:6-8: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me.” This text also saw him through his final moments, for even on his deathbed, he remembered God, and God’s right hand did hold him up. When Dan could no longer speak, our Dad leaned over and said, “Dan, we’ll meet in heaven….” And he nodded. He knew the final outcome. Praise God, he knew.
His Life Was An Inspiration
The way Dan lived the final months of his life was an inspiration to many—especially to me. And I needed to tell him so. Near the end, he became so weak that we had to take him to the ER. Alone with him there, I took his hand.
“Dan, I have something to tell you, and I really need you to hear me, okay?”
In a weak voice, he said, “Okay.”
“You’re an inspiration to me,” I said. “You’ve gone through so much, and yet you don’t complain. You never give up. Watching you go through this makes me feel that I can face whatever tough things might come my way. You’re my hero.”
Tears formed in his eyes. “Thanks, Nanc.”
The day after we brought him home, the Hospice nurse said, “It will be today.” Our family gathered around his bed. Moments before he died, I told him that I would share his story–that I’d write about the things his struggles taught me. “It can help other people,” I assured him. “This way, your ministry will live on….”
So I write my brother’s story because it teaches this: Though you will have troubles in this world, they don’t have to break you. Your prayers may seem to go unanswered, but the silence doesn’t have to destroy your faith. You may ask, “Why?” but your questioning doesn’t have to lead to unbelief. The Devil will try to steal your joy, but you don’t have to let him take it.
Whatever pain you may face now or in the future, with God’s help you can win the battle. The darkness of this world does seem unbearable at times, but a better world is coming. How do I know? God has promised, and I choose to believe Him. It’s as simple as that. I’d be overcome with grief if I thought I’d never see my brother again. As 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, I must now “live by faith, not by sight.”
Dan stayed faithful to the end.
So will I.
So can you.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, NIV).
Read the related story, The Hope Card
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Nancy Canwell writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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