I have been so inspired by Josh and Maria’s faithfulness through difficulty – they have never stopped pointing to Jesus as their source of strength and healing. A short bio like this can’t come close to sharing everything – their story could fill a book – but it will at least give a glimpse of hope and God’s faithfulness!
“God gets the glory if I stay faithful,” Maria starts out. “So many people told me how angry they were. They couldn’t believe that they begged God and he didn’t listen. I realized that everything I said from that point on, I had make sure it was clear that I didn’t blame God. Often God gets the blame when we don’t get our way.”
It seemed like so much of Maria’s life had been a tragedy, that she was due for a miracle. She grew up with a dad who wasn’t present for much of her life. And although she had a mom, they had a rocky relationship.
“I think about my life as a whole, and it really is a story of God’s faithfulness. I got into missions early, got a heart for the nations. I got a one-way ticket to Thailand to serve with some missionaries there. But while I was there, I had a motorcycle accident that should’ve killed me. I was in the hospital for three days, and the neurosurgeon told the missionaries that if I lived, I would be a vegetable. The missionaries took that opportunity to tell the doctor about Jesus. I woke up after one day couldn’t remember the accident, but I lived.”
Maria came back to the U.S., and that’s when she met Josh. Maria says, “I knew Josh was different – the man God had given me. He was one of the first constant men in my sister’s lives. He was the answer to so many of the generational curse prayers we had prayed.”
Maria and Josh got married. Before long, they had two little boys – with another one on the way.
“Josh got injured at work six weeks before Andrew, my third son, was born. No one believed anything was wrong, so insurance wouldn’t pay for an MRI. But when we were in the hospital for my c-section, Josh couldn’t even sit down because his pain was so bad. As I held Andrew in my arms, I knew something else was coming. I knew my faith was going to be stretched.”
Five days after Andrew was born, Josh collapsed. “I never was scared that he was going to die. I was emotional. I had just had a baby by c-section, and I had two toddlers. I was overwhelmed. But I was always confident that Josh was going to be healed,” Maria says.
Josh never regained use of his legs. He was diagnosed with leukemia, and it spread through 98% of his bone marrow.
“We always had so much hope. He went into remission after 3 months. When it came back worse, he got radiation. When the disease continued to take over, we planned to go to Seattle for an experimental treatment.”
But shortly before they were to leave for Seattle, Josh took a turn for the worse and wasn’t able to go.
Josh told Maria: “No matter what, if I’m healed, of course God will get the glory – because there are so many people praying for me. But God has to get the glory if I die, too.”
“I was so mad at him for saying that,” Maria says.
Josh passed away in October of 2018, when Andrew was just 1 year old.
“Going from there to being here, to Josh being with Jesus, has been a really hard process. Why all of those steps, why all of that hope, if it was just going to be torn away? I’ve had all of these emotions – hope and sadness and anger – and then it’s over. What am I supposed to do now? It feels so bad – like this story can never be good. I want to ask, ‘God, why didn’t you do this for me? Why do I have to go through this?’”
“I was in a fog for 9 months. The song ‘Jesus, You’re Beautiful’ played over and over in our house. Reminding myself of who God is carried me through those 9 months. I don’t remember what I did – but I kept us alive.”
Your boys have obviously experienced a lot of grief. How do you parent them through the grief?
“One day when Andrew was 3, he watched his friend wrestling with his dad and asked me, crying, “Why can’t my daddy come back from heaven to wrestle me?”
“Elijah (9) sometimes feels guilty for having fun playing soccer. Josh loved soccer, so now every soccer season is a reminder that Josh isn’t coming back. People who have heard our story sometimes automatically give a ‘sorry for you’ look. They don’t know what to say. And when people who don’t know our story ask something like, ‘Where’s your dad,’ it feels uncomfortable to share our grief with strangers.”
“The boys have a whole life of growing up without him. They need to know that it’s okay to be angry, okay to grieve, okay to be sad. So we talk about grief in our house more than most people. But we also still pray for healings and still pursue God – because He still has a plan! I want them to know that He is still their Father, and that He still cares for them. I also want them to know that because we live in a fallen world, prayer is not a magic genie box.”
How have these experiences taught or shaped you?
“I’ve been very open, so I’ve opened myself up for other people’s opinions. And people are very opinionated. I’ve had to learn not to get offended at people’s thoughts about how far along I should be in grief. I still mourn what we lost.”
“I’ve learned about grief – that just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t be angry. I’ve struggled with that. I don’t understand why he didn’t get healed, and I don’t think we ever will. But I’ve also learned to be cautious that my heart doesn’t turn towards bitterness. God can take my anger. He doesn’t require me to pretend that everything is okay even though I’m dying inside. I can hold onto the hope that God is still good, even when I feel so broken. He is the only one who can use my brokenness for His glory.”
“And I’ve learned that when we are faithful, it trickles out to the people around us, and they see Jesus through the way we interact with people and how we act. Even Josh’s nurses, who weren’t supposed to get attached because they deal with a lot of leukemia patients, saw something different. They told us, ‘Even though you’re in so much pain, you bring so much joy into this place.’ I’ve learned that people around me can see God through me.”
“And time after time, I have seen God’s faithfulness. I know I don’t even deserve God’s grace, so seeing His faithfulness over and over makes it easier to walk through the valleys. We don’t understand the valleys and we don’t understand the pain, but I have seen His faithfulness and how He has worked in the middle of them. Even though the world says I should be freaking out, even though my whole life has been a trial, I can hold onto this: that God is still just, God is still kind, God is still present, God is still love. I’ve known the presence of God in such a calming way.”
What would you say to someone else who is grieving?
“The brokenness is so real, but it’s not your identity. God still has an identity for you!”
“And – it’s okay to need people, to feel like you can’t do it by yourself. Sometimes we don’t want to let people in, because then we have to let them into our hurt. But it helps to have someone sit with you in the hurt.”
“And everyone says God will never give you more than you can handle. But my whole life has been more than I can handle! So it’s not that promise that gets me through – it’s that He will walk with me through everything. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus entered our pain when he went to the cross, and that He is interceding for us ever after. We like to feel like no one can relate to us. But God is familiar with pain. He entered into pain for us. He understands.”
How can someone help a grieving friend?
“Some of my really good friends knew when I was having a really bad day, and they didn’t give me a choice about how or when they could help. They just told me they were bringing dinner, and showed up to let me cry. They watched my kids so I could have time to myself. One time, I was told that a group of guys would show up at my house to help out around the house and cut our grass. I had people grocery shop for me, which was especially helpful as a single mom during the COVID lockdown. These are the things that remind me that God still sees me. Kindness like this says: ‘He still sees what you’re walking through, you still matter, and you still have a purpose.’”
Trusting God is hard even when life is going well. But through the days, hours, and minutes of grief, you keep making a choice to believe that God cares for you and your boys. It’s beautiful. How do we close this?
“Sad stories are hard to tell because it’s not the end you wanted. But then I go back to this: God gets the glory in it all. He can use it all, even the parts that are really ugly. God is still using the things we will never understand. He has a way of using pain to show us more of His heart – and not just to us, but even to the people around us, too. And He is still there with us, even in the middle of the pain. I’ve found a lot of comfort in the book of Job. Perhaps the book of Job was included to show that it’s okay to be sad and broken and confused!
Thank you so much for your vulnerability, and for your example of faithfulness and trust. We are praying for you and your boys.