I have been on this journey, wrestling with the question of God’s goodness in light of seemingly senseless tragedy. In my mind, if God is truly a good Father then that leads to his being a protecting Father. But I look around, and people, Godly people, are facing tremendously hard things: abuse, infertility, poverty, unemployment, children dying, cancer… the list is endless. So, if God allows crippling pain into the lives of those he loves, or who love him, if his protection does not look like we hope it would, is he still good?
I find myself standing around the kitchen island of a woman I have talked to only a handful of times. She’s cutting an apple for the two giggling girls at our sides. My baby bounces on my hip. My throat catches as I ask the question I came here to ask, “So is He [God] a good Father?” I am hoping she doesn’t hear the emotion in my voice as the question squeaks out. Her answer catches me off guard, not because of the words she says, but because she is so emphatic, confident, and quick to respond. “Yes! I think so!” She continues, “The Bible says God loves our children more than we could ever understand, and this is of course why we aren’t supposed to hold onto our children, we are supposed to give them to Christ.”
In 2009 Linda Ahern and her husband Maurice sold nearly everything they had and moved overseas with their three young children; Grace, then 8, Nolan 2, and Micah 7 months. Not expecting to ever return to the States, the family settled into their new life ministering on a college campus. “It was a unique time in that city because the message of Christ was just starting to really grow and thrive. We were actually seeing more persecution of local believers and it was causing the church to grow. So we were actually in a really busy time of ministry.”
After 5 months they took a winter vacation outside of the country. While there, their youngest son, Micah came out of a hot bath with a strange line down his face, one side sweating and flushed the other remaining normal. It was weird, but they soon forgot about it as they returned to their new busy ministry. “Then summer came and it started happening more and more. He would go outside and come in with this line down his face.” This started happening multiple times a day. The family traveled again outside of the country and took Micah to a doctor, who ordered an MRI.
“[Micah] was 15 months at that time…the Doctor meets with us and introduces himself as an oncologist…He says, ‘There’s a massive tumor on your son’s chest and it is pressing on the nerve in his neck that causes sweating and flushing. I believe this is neuroblastoma, but we won’t know until it’s taken out.”
The surgeon recommended they have the tumor removed within 5 days. Getting the treatment he needed in the third-world country they now called home was not an option. So only 10 months after their initial move, the Ahern family, again, sold all of their belongings and moved back to the United States.
At the time Linda was 6 months pregnant with their fourth child, Eden Kate.
Within a week they were back in the States meeting with doctors and surgeons, and Micah underwent his first invasive surgery to remove the tumor. The doctors were able to tell them immediately that he did, indeed have Stage 1 neuroblastoma.
“Stage 1 neuroblastoma has a 97-98% chance of survival…” Linda says, “But I knew better. I just didn’t feel right about what they were saying…they declared him stage 1 and said we could move back [overseas] if we wanted.” They chose to stay in the U.S. and 6 weeks after his initial surgery, Linda’s motherly discernment was proven right. New disease was found in Micah’s lymph nodes and again required surgery.
In the meantime, the family still had not found a house or jobs, and now they had to schedule a major surgery for one of their children around the birth of another. “After all that and having to cancel a surgery because I was giving birth, and we couldn’t find jobs, and our son was sick over and over again, I just started having strong feelings of hatred toward God, like, if this is the kind of God that you are, then I’m out.”
They ended up moving back to Texas shortly afterward, back to the same jobs and neighborhood they had left a year earlier. Micah was officially in remission and had only a 3% chance of relapse, so the now family of 6 went back to life as normal for a few years.
One Friday evening in 2013, Micah, then 3 ½, refused to get off the couch, complaining of leg pain. The doctors did not seem alarmed as his chance for relapse was so low. But again, Linda felt there was something more going on and insisted on more tests. She had the hospital take a urine sample, but after a few days everything seemed to return to normal.
The doctor called the following week. “In comes a big room full of people,” Linda describes, “That’s how you know they’re going to tell you something that’s going to matter.” The oncologist tells them his urine counts were in the 100’s when they should be 10.
Micah had relapsed.
“He had new tumors all over, it was in his bone marrow, it was truly just everywhere.”
They spent the next 13 days in the hospital. During that time they put in a mediport, had his first round of chemo, and a tumor was removed from the exact spot as the original tumor that was removed a few years earlier. “Then we started full-time treatment. That was in March 2013. He started with 5 rounds of chemo, then a stem-cell transplant. We went down to MD Anderson and had 20 days of radiation. Then came home and found out that he had more disease.” At that point, the Ahern’s knew Micah’s chance of survival was only 10%.
Micah underwent a full year of chemo, and yet his scans kept coming back the same or worse. In March of 2015, nearly 5 years after his initial diagnosis, they found another large tumor in his chest. “This tumor was taking up his entire right chest. His lung was not even functioning on that side, and he was riding his bike that day, like nothing was wrong…” Linda says they were preparing to leave for a much needed vacation when the doctor had them run a few more scans. She told them that they were no longer treating Micah in hopes of curing him, but encouraged them to continue on to improve his quality of life and give him as many days as possible. The oncologist insisted they cancel their vacation, “If you take him to Colorado, you will bring him back in a wheelchair. He will be paralyzed in a week.'”
Micah needed radiation treatment immediately. Typically the prep for radiation takes weeks with tests and insurance procedures, but they started emergency radiation 45 minutes later.
In the last few months before I spoke with Linda, Micah has received multiple rounds of both chemo and radiation. In October of this year his scans came back again with more disease.
I look around their home. So much life is lived here. Even as we were arriving Linda was busy hanging artwork, made by her youngest, on their walls. I notice poster board with Bible lessons, fruits of the spirit and the armor of God, hanging low enough for children to manage, to learn from.
But how does a mother who is walking alongside her child as he battles cancer answer so emphatically: “Yes, He [God] is a good father!”?
Above: Super Hero Micah
Click HERE for the continuation of Linda’s story
click HERE to read Part 1 “and if not…He is still good” and find out more about my journey into God’s goodness.