"For I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether wellfed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do ALL this through Him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:12-13
He answered, "God's Bible says no worry so I will be HAPPY IN JESUS." Those words washed over those of us in the room with him, almost in disbelief. The question: "How do you feel about that?" In the weeks preceding, his life had literally been turned upside down. He had every reason to be UN-happy in Jesus by human standards.
You see, on Father's Day 1986 my father-in-law Arnett Bennett collapsed in seizures as he fellowshipped with some of his church family. We had just returned home after being out of town for the weekend when we got the call. "Sheri, Arnett is in the hospital. He's having seizures. They think he has a brain tumor and they want to send him Parkland Hospital in Dallas." Those words fell heavy....Cancer invaded our home.
Arnett went to Parkland Hospital for brain surgery to remove an orange-sized tumor. This wasn't his first overwhelming obstacle--my father-in-law had lived a life of adversity. Fever made Arnett deaf as a toddler in a world (the 1930's) that saw handicap as a mental disability. Arnett's parents didn't--they sent him to the Texas State School for the Deaf where he learned to communicate and function as any other person. He learned early in life not to let obstacles be unsurmountable mountains. He married, divorced, and raised his three boys with the help of his mother. He worked hard his entire adult life in spite of people who believed he wasn't useful. He supported his own family against the odds. And now this...
When he regained consciousness after surgery, Arnett was told with the help of an interpreter that he had a malignant tumor that could not be completely removed and his condition was terminal. The family was told that his prognosis was 6 to 18 months. He accepted that without question. He was unable to move his left side. His pickup keys were taken away from him due to recurring seizures. And he was moved from his home into ours--a small two bedroom already cramped with three small children--before he even came home from the hospital. For weeks, I drove him from Cross Plains to Abilene every day for radiation treatments and physical therapy. He suffered from violent headaches, loss of hair, radiation sickness, and extreme exhaustion. Still, he accepted it all without question.
This day, we sat in the social worker's office at West Texas Rehab after he had finished his physical therapy to close out his services there. She was bound by profession to make sure he understood what was happening. I had interpreted for him so often in the hospital with doctors, but I was by no means a professional--I was still learning myself. For this, we made certain there was an official interpreter present so we were sure he understood everything. Jerry Drennan was one of his closest friends from South 11th & Willis Church of Christ--he knew Arnett well and had walked through the past weeks with all of us.
The caseworker asked Arnett if he had any questions about his illness, his treatment, and what the future held. He had two...First, what did the word "malignant" mean? And second, what did "terminal" mean? His questions punched us in the gut. The words had been bandied about fairly often. We thought he understood--he never asked before. But the deaf vocabulary is more limited--they don't use 12 words for the same meaning. We had never actually said the word "cancer" to him--malignancy seemed less abrasive I suppose. The caseworker, Jerry, and I sat dumbfounded for a moment. The caseworker simply explained what the words meant while Jerry interpreted. He had cancer and he would die probably within 6-18 month--a truth that would hit most people hard. When asked asked how he felt, he didn't even waiver, "God's Bible says no worry, so I will BE HAPPY IN JESUS."
He lived 3 1/2 years with us. He ate heartily. He taught my children sign language. He rejoiced when Elias was born. He walked to town every day, knocking on every store and business window and going in to hug people and visit, equipped with pen, notepad, and a smile. He went to the bank and everyone called out his name and waved. He went to the local soda fountain or cafe and enjoyed a hot cup of tea, always greeting everyone with a smile and a wave. He went every weekend to spend time with his church family and attend deaf services at S. 11th & Willis. At home, he read his Bible faithfully and studied. He read through all my hymnals and songbooks and found his favorite... He would lay his hands on the piano when I played and sang it for him--my own respite from the cancer in my house. He couldn't hear it but he felt it, and he would smile. He was the epitome of those words..."BE HAPPY IN JESUS." Those have been some of the most powerful words I've ever heard in my entire life and I often remember them when I'm drowning in my own struggles.
He passed away five days before my youngest was born. Cancer stole his life but it didn't steal his joy, even in the last moments. I had always wondered how he remained so happy when he was losing so much... At his service (and in the beginning stages of labor pains), the secret of his happiness found its way into my heart as I sang that country & western hymn for him one last time...
"I don't know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from its sunshine for its skies may turn to gray.
I don't worry o'er the future for I know what Jesus said,
And today, I'll walk beside Him for He knows what lies ahead.
Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand,
But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know He holds my hand."
Composed & written by Forest Stamphill