From my teenage years, I had clear plans for my future. Following college, I would head to a big inner-city, probably New York City, to work for the Salvation Army. Children weren’t in my plans as a previous surgery led me to believe I wouldn’t be able to become pregnant. However, after meeting Mark at Asbury College (now University) in Kentucky, the plans for my life changed.
Mark was intentional about pursuing me. One day I heard God say he was the man I would marry. I shared my medical condition with him, but he was so strong in his faith, unwavering in his belief that I would bear children. After a short courtship, we were married on June 10, 1995. Six months later, I was pregnant with the first of our four children – William, Emma, Kaye, and Josiah. We were so thankful and praised God for His generosity and grace.
We could feel God changing us. I was transitioning from a pampered princess to a woman of God, desiring to be the example of Christ to my children, and better serve Mark as his Help Meet. For Mark, God opened his heart in humility, letting me in to respect, support, and challenge his ideas from time to time.
Mark would say “your dad treated you like a princess, but you’ve married a king. It’s time to become a queen.” We’d laugh, but there was truth in that statement. God was calling me to maturity and a position of authority within our family, one that required sacrifice and service. Little did I know, I’d soon get a huge opportunity to live this out.
Mark truly was a king in his vision for his family, as well as his work ethic and high expectations. He pushed us to always improve, work harder and smarter; challenging us to always give our best. I saw Mark submitting more and more to the Father, as he realized we can’t be our best without His Spirit working within.
He was always involved in his family. He was a basketball player in college and coached all four of our kids – teaching, cheering on, correcting, and challenging them.
After ten years as a drug rep, Mark received a promotion that would require him to fly out on Mondays and return home on Thursday evenings. He never considered it. “I won’t leave my family for a job.” He knew many of his colleagues were divorced due to their demanding schedules. It was more important for him to be a present husband and father.
After prayers and many late nights studying, Mark started as a Financial Advisor with an incredible company. Although challenging, he thrived in his new career, serving the community with joy, wisdom, and an impeccable work ethic.
Four years later, our lives changed forever. While playing basketball, Mark took a step back and something popped. I rushed to meet him at the ER, not knowing what to expect. He laughed at himself for breaking his leg with a simple pivot. His outlook put my mind at ease. But his orthopedic doctor seemed a bit perplexed at the type and severity of the injury.
Later that evening, he nonchalantly informed me he was being sent to get a second opinion, and the next day we set out to meet with another surgeon. I didn’t notice the word Oncology posted on the building. The doctor entered the examination room, greeted us, flipped on the x-ray film, and said bluntly, “It’s Sarcoma.”
I struggled to breathe. Mark didn’t warn me before the visit as he didn’t know how to. I was shocked and struggling to process what I just heard. My heart was pounding, and tears streamed down my face. What I heard was “Your husband is going to die.” The doctor kept stopping to check on me, and Mark gently put his hand on my knees, looked me square in the face, and proclaimed, “Woman, I’m not dead yet. Let’s hear the plan.”
His unexplainable confidence calmed me enough to get through the initial shock of this horrible news, and fear left me. Yet the battle had only just begun.
Over the next eight and a half years, we signed up for everything the doctors recommended. From powerful rounds of chem, then surgery to remove part of his tibia and replaced it with a cadaver. After that surgery, the cancer returned, and that’s how we knew it was in the tissue – an amputation would follow.
Through it all, Mark never got angry with God, and he wasn’t afraid to question Him. He would always say, “God isn’t intimidated by our questions. And who better to ask than the One True God?”
He led our family powerfully, holding tight to his faith and being a sure-footed example to me, the kids, and the community he continued to serve. Mark would often say “What’s the plan?”
It was after the first surgery, as we were preparing for some major chemo treatments, that I fell on my face, begging God to keep me faithful to Him and allow me to be a right example to my kids in my faith, wherever this was taking us. How did my God answer? He came near.
Even through more rounds of chemo and surgeries, Mark fought with the confidence of a king leading his army into battle. He was rock solid, through all the hair loss, vomiting, removing pieces of his body, and devastating radiation.
After every intense treatment, Mark would look me square in the face and say “Come on. Let’s go!” He kept getting up after every blow to his body with a stronger resolve to honor God and fight than before. I saw Mark as a willing participant in whatever God’s plan was.
About four years after the diagnosis, I was led to stop praying for Mark’s healing and for the kids, but directly for Mark – physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. I could see a transformation in Mark. As he deteriorated in his body, he softened in his heart. He sought God and shifted from loving us in his way to loving us with the love of God. He continued to grow in his faith while the rest of us were struggling to survive.
Cancer had consumed me; it was always on my mind. God continuously showed me that He was near. One day I remember hearing something loud and having a vision of something black hitting the floor and slithering out of the hospital room.
Focusing my attention and energy on my husband resulted in my kids drowning and being left on their own. They each made different choices – either reaching out to Christ or making bad choices. Our kids being thrown into trauma brought depression, fear, and anxiety. This resulted in dropping out of college, drug, and alcohol abuse, and ultimately addiction. Through this experience, I’ve learned how important it is to use discernment, especially when it comes to our children experiencing trauma.
Few people realize that it’s not just the actual patient who is affected by the diagnosis. As a mom, I felt compelled to “fix” my family. To stop my kids from spiraling through their depression, anxiety, and toxic abuse. But slowly and mercifully, Abba remained with me, reminding me that He is their Father. And it’s His Spirit that rescues, saves, heals, and renews.
We battled valiantly, led by Mark’s strong example. We fell. We helped each other get back up. We grew. We got help from professional trauma therapists. Then, one day we got the call.
“Mark, it’s not good.” Of course, Mark’s response was, “So Doc, what’s the plan?” The doctor sighed and said, “Mark, for a warrior such as yourself, I don’t know what comfort looks like. But when it’s time, promise me you’ll call Hospice, when Tina needs it.”
We hung up.
Thanked God for never leaving us.
Believed He could give us a miracle.
Surrendered to His perfect and good plan for us.
And then Mark started planning. He sold his business, ensuring that we were provided for financially. We summoned our children home from different parts of the country, including our youngest from Marine Bootcamp. Mark gathered the kids, and with an intentional presence, he spoke life to each one. He sat me down, loved me, thanked me, and charged me with moving the family forward in our faith by my example.
On December 6, 2020, Mark broke free from his diseased body and went home to be with the Lord. Mark always spoke victory until the end. We expected an earthly miracle, and so many times he rebounded, but ultimately his miracle came at his death as he was healed in the presence of God.
I saw God’s faithfulness in Mark’s strength through his battle. I felt His presence with me as I battled alongside him. And at that moment, my heart broke. Grief covered us. We all missed Mark terribly. But once again, in our greatest need, God drew near. He remained and pulled us to His side. He wasn’t shaken by our raw emotions and profuse sorrow. He comforted us and guided us through our grief.
One night my grief was so heavy as if Mark’s death was going to kill me. It felt like darkness surrounded me when the sun set. And then I felt God sit there with me, right in my grief. His presence was so tangible. He didn’t take the grief away, but He remained with me all night, watching over me. As the sun rose and drove out the darkness, I felt Him say the same power that raised that sun is within you and is going to get you through this.
Looking back, I can see through all the battles, the ripple effects of the cancer diagnosis, and even in Mark’s death, Abba drew near. He pulled me into Him, steadied my heart, and relieved me of my assumed responsibility to make all of this right for my family. Experiencing the loss of my soulmate for over twenty-seven years surprisingly ushered in deeper intimacy with God.
God has been so faithful to be Emmanuel. Always with me. Encouraging me. Comforting me. Growing me. Challenging me in His mercy and grace. Meeting me wherever I am in the moment, extending even more mercy and grace when needed. Through everything I went through, He never left my side. He was always near. And remains still to this day.
Encouragement for Moms:
I know the loss of a spouse is so different for every one of us who has experienced it. I honor that and want to encourage each of us to grieve as we need to, in our own way.
Yet, there is one common lifeline available to us all; a source of hope, help, and undying faithfulness from the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Abba Father. He desires to be with us through this process.
He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). For you. For your kids. For me, and mine. However your grief goes, I am a living testimony that Father God is faithful, steadfast, willing, and able to meet you where you are. To draw you near. To breathe for you if you can’t. To bring you to a place of healing. I’m still on this journey, with days of laughter and moments of intense sorrow. Still, floating beside Him, observing His goodness, and proclaiming it to all who will listen.
I encourage you to let Him into your grief. Rest in Him. Run to Him. And when you can’t move, receive His Presence and Ever-Present help. He loves you, my friend!
Verses to Heal Us:
In your grief, know where God is. “He is near to the broken-hearted; He saves the contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
His promise to us is “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
He whispers to us, “Let not our hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” (John 14:1)
Prayer for Moms:
Thank You for Your enduring, steadfast love for Your own. I bring each broken heart to You, asking You to fill and heal each one with more of You.
Believing before we see, feel, or experience Your help that You hear this prayer, as well as every sigh and groan of your children. Wrap them up in Your Everlasting arms and minister Your peace and love to them at this moment, and in all the ones to come. We trust You. Help us when we don’t. We thank You when we struggle to find something to be thankful for. We love You because You are faithful.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Connect with Tina at tinaakridge.com.
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