Reconciling God’s Promised Care with Life’s Disasters

South Pacific Division

Reconciling God’s Promised Care with Life’s Disasters

Commentary | Australia | Rod Cooke

In 2011, my wife, Cheryl (née Aveling), was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), which is a failure of the bone marrow, causing it to produce faulty blood cells called “blasts.” The MDS developed from an existing neutropenia, despite Cheryl living a very healthful lifestyle, keeping fit, and otherwise very well.

Cheryl’s diagnosis was 10 percent blasts, which meant she had around 18 months to live. The recommended treatment was a bone marrow transplant, which, at the time, provided only a 30 percent prospect of survival by the end of the process. However, Cheryl’s brother Graham was a perfect match, so we planned to proceed.

At a final consultation with the hematologist before proceeding, I asked the specialist if we could possibly take our recently completed campervan for a tour before the procedure. He suggested that Cheryl have another bone marrow biopsy (BMB). If results remained at 10 percent, then we could go for three months and, if Cheryl was feeling well, then we could extend to six months. However, if the blast count increased, then she would need to have the procedure immediately. I asked, “What if they decrease?” His response was, “That will not happen. They never go down without intervention.”

The BMB results took six weeks to arrive. Unknown to me, Cheryl was feeling uncomfortable with having the bone marrow transplant and had been praying that if she was not meant to have it, then the blast count would reduce. We stepped into the hematologist’s office, and he blurted out, “Well, your blasts have dropped.” 

After some discussion, I asked what the count was. His reply: “Two percent. I didn’t believe it, so I sent the sample to two more pathology labs, and they each confirmed 2 percent. I didn’t believe it [was] possible, so I did the count myself. There is no question. Your blast count is 2 percent. I can’t explain it, and I need to inform you that NSW Health will not be funding a bone marrow transplant for a patient with only a 2 percent blast count.”

Cheryl’s prayer was more than answered. It seems that God had stepped in. We embarked on a memorable two-year journey around Australia, wondering why Cheryl, at 63 years of age, would receive such an intervention. 

We were well into a project to publish An Enduring Vision, my dad’s exposition of Revelation, which we continued while we travelled. The book was published in 2015. However, in late 2019, after we had completed the manuscript for the final edition, ominously, it crossed my mind whether Cheryl’s MDS might now return. Within three months, she was diagnosed with 25 percent blasts—acute myeloid leukemia (AML)—the usual progression from MDS—and fatal.

Cheryl underwent a miserable six months of chemotherapy in 2020 and was in remission by August. 

Bright days! Our house was put on the market in late January 2021, anticipating a move to Glen Innes to support our son Brad, who had been sole-parenting in Tasmania for five years. 

For two-to-three weeks, in a hot property market, keen buyers loved our waterfront property and were happy with the price, but no one moved to buy. Eventually, the agent and I concluded that the property wasn’t meant to sell—not aware that Cheryl would subsequently receive a fatal 50 percent blast diagnosis in late February and die in March. In addition, the reason to sell would be gone. Brad’s wife returned to the home in late March after Cheryl had died. 

I had tried to sell our A-Van camper, again in a hot market for RVs. There was no interest in the van for six weeks, so it was used to accommodate family during the funeral week. On Sunday morning, when it was no longer needed, it sold instantly for cash, allowing me to travel with Brad to Glen Innes that afternoon.

Does God have His hand over our lives from beginning to end? Is He interested in the affairs of our lives when we wonder what’s going on? I believe so, and I am personally grateful that Cheryl was given time to help complete the book project and support Brad as a single father in Tasmania. As stated, in late 2019, Cheryl’s MDS condition returned with a vengeance, and her days were effectively numbered, despite the brief remission after chemo.

Cheryl was a true daughter of the Most High and lived her life in His presence. God knew Cheryl would develop a condition that would end her life prematurely. However, He intervened to achieve His purposes. He then intervened to prevent the sale of the home. He even intervened to ensure there was sufficient accommodation for the extended family during the funeral period. Nevertheless, God didn’t intervene again to prevent Cheryl from dying. 

One evening in March, returning from the hospital, my car was shunted. Despite minimal damage, the insurance company paid out the policy and handed the car back to me with AU$10,000—the amount needed for Cheryl’s funeral costs.

God has allowed the almost unbearable loss of my beloved, special girl. Yet, at the same time, He was providing for the tragedy to unfold smoothly and be a testimony and inspiration to those attending the service, even now.

With that said, how do I reconcile the events I have witnessed? My conclusion: If God was so involved in Cheryl’s life to reverse a fatal situation in 2011, sustain her for ten years to enable her to complete a project and support Brad’s family, but then allow her to die, yet intervene again in the details of the funeral period itself to provide for contingencies unknown to me, then God knows the end from the beginning. His purposes will be achieved, and I can trust Him to bring good out of a profound disaster for me. He allowed my darling Cheryl to die for a reason, and I have to trust Him. For now, she sleeps, awaiting the call of her Redeemer (see Job 14:15).

Romans 8:28 promises, “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

God doesn’t release His people from the impacts of a world in rebellion, but He promises to be with us through those experiences, despite our anguished tears. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you” (Isaiah 43:2, NASB). Trust Him!

Rod Cooke, retired, lives in Wangi Wangi, NSW, on Lake Macquarie and attends Toronto Adventist Church. This article is adapted from a paper Rod presented to his Sabbath School class, referencing the experiences of Joseph, son of Jacob.

This article was originally published on the website of Adventist Record