Ryan’s Last Days
I wasn’t expecting to write about my youngest son Ryan the other day when I began typing Wednesday Words. It never ceases to amaze me that over and over again my thoughts have been directed by the Holy Spirit. (It shouldn’t because long ago I started praying Proverbs 16:3, “Commit thy work unto the Lord, and He will direct your thoughts!”) As I was typing, my thoughts began to turn towards Ryan, and I was in the midst of writing when I realized it was literally to the day in June twelve years ago that we received word Ryan’s Melanoma cancer had returned. He was only nineteen when he was diagnosed, and then it was a total surprise. Two years before his doctor had found a benign tumor on his spine while giving him a physical for his junior year on the high school golf team. He sent him to a neurosurgeon for a biopsy to be sure it was indeed benign. It was, and Ryan was given a choice: have it popped out now or wait. If it grows and seems bothersome have it removed then. Ryan’s team had a good shot at a run for the state championship, and he didn’t want anything to bother his swing. The doctors truly believed there was no danger in leaving the small tumor alone.
It took a number of weeks after his small tumor was removed for the biopsy results to get back to us. By the time we got word, Ryan had taken off for Colorado to camp out in the mountains around Boulder. It took time to get word to him and get him back to Ohio and into a cancer surgeon. This surgeon opened his entire back and found a minuscule bit of melanoma. Ryan and I sat in the office with the surgeon three weeks later, and were stunned when he said, “I’m sorry, Ryan, but with your prognosis you have about five years to live.” You see, with Melanoma at this stage, when it has gotten internal, there is no cure. We really couldn’t absorb what we were told. Treatments were all trials and pretty bleak. We needed to take a little time to decide. Ryan and I left the office without much understanding of what we had just heard. It was pretty brutal. That’s about all you can ever say of a diagnosis like that truly.
God’s great grace in action
There is something about the great grace of God. It didn’t take long for Ryan to come to the conclusion that he was nineteen, and he intended to live life on his terms. Nineteen years earlier, he had no control over his arrival on an Easter Sunday, we actually thought he was a few weeks late! He was in the cradle beside me exactly five weeks later on the day we celebrate as the Ascension – when Jesus ascended into Heaven – and I was on my knees as a born-again Christian praying a simple prayer written by Dr. Billy Graham for another young Christian who was having trouble walking the walk, as was I. The prayer ended by asking Jesus to send the Holy Spirit. As soon as I ended the prayer, I felt a warmth break over the top of my head and flow through every vein in my body; it went from the very top of my head to the tips of my toes. And suddenly I was filled with joy and laughter. Five week old Ryan was right beside me. I look back now and see how significant his birth date and the infilling of the Holy Spirit are in life’s journey and am amazed to find that Ryan came home in his last days wanting to know about a passage from John 14, which is the very chapter in which Jesus begins to tell us about this great Helper, the Holy Spirit. (John 14:15-18)
God gave Ryan seven years to live instead of five. It was an adventure: some good, some bad. I watched the Lord intervene in his life so many times in so many different ways, but the most beautiful expression of God’s grace came shortly after he arrived home for the last time.
By the middle of August in 2006, we knew that it was top priority to get Ryan back to Ohio. We had been in constant contact with Ryan and Katie. Because they were newlyweds, we were trying to give them as much space as possible, but by August Ryan was in the hospital and had agreed to take part in a Melanoma trial. He did this for Katie and the baby’s sake in the hope that there might be a chance. Because I had taken a new position, Tom flew out to see him and talk with the doctors. There was no mistaking that this was the time to get him back for the last days. We needed a medical flight and his loving big sister stepped in to help make that happen. As soon as the hospital in Longmont said he could be released for home care and gave permission for the medical flight, Ryan was on his way back.
A number of us were at the airport to greet Ryan. The final stages of cancer can be pretty brutal, and Ryan had not reacted well to the treatment. I had never seen him looking so devastated by the disease. I had been with him only eight and one half months before for a spinal surgery and he had looked so much healthier. I needed to turn away and recover from the shock before I could greet him with smiles and hugs as usual. We rode home in the car and talked about this and that. It’s an hour ride and I could see he was getting weary.
When we got there and everyone was somewhere else Ryan said, “Mom, Jesus was talking to me on the plane!” I was a bit surprised and said, “Really! What did He say?!” Ryan said, “He said, “Don’t worry, Ryan, I’ve cleared a path for you. Where’s that at in the Bible, Mom?” I was pretty well floored because it instantly came to me that this sounded like when Jesus was telling the disciples about his death. I wasn’t strong enough to begin to talk about death with Ryan yet so I said, “I’m not sure. Let me think on it, and I’ll look it up.”
There’s a Place for You
Five days after arriving home in Zanesville, Ryan took a turn for the worse and ended up in the hospital. After taking tests, an oncologist came in to talk with us. My husband, our oldest son, and I were all there in Ryan’s room. She showed us results and then said very kindly and gently that Ryan had two weeks to two months to live. She turned around and began to walk quickly out of the room with Tom and Shane following. Ryan turned to me and said, “Alright, Mom, what do you know?” I said, “I know where the scripture is in the Bible that Jesus was talking about on the plane. It’s in John 14:2-3. Let’s get our Bibles.”
I told Ryan we needed to open to John 14. Once we got there I began to read aloud with Ryan following along:
“Let not your heart be troubled, You believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
I looked up at Ryan to see if he was following me. He was, so I completed what I was reading: “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
I told him, “There is a place for you. Jesus has been clearing a path.”
Ryan said, “What should I do?”
The thing is Ryan got it. He knew the “where” was heaven. He knew then what Jesus was telling him on the plane flight to Ohio. Ryan was a hiker and a rock climber. He had spent a lot of time in the mountains and knew what it meant to clear a path and prepare a place to pitch a tent. He felt up in the mountains was a bit of heaven on earth. He realized Jesus was telling him what He told his disciples before His death only He was speaking in terms dear to Ryan personally. Jesus spoke to Ryan’s spirit, to his very soul and let him know that He considered Ryan one of His own and when it was time, He would personally come to bring him to his new place in heaven. Ryan got it.
Looking back, I know the Holy Spirit and His holy Angels with their Holy grace must have surrounded us in that room because we had such peace. We weren’t distressed or upset – that went out the door with Tom and Ryan’s oldest brother as they raced after the oncologist. We were just basically bathed in this amazing grace of God. So I simply reached over and held his hands and said, “Christians all over the world have prayed and only hoped to receive a word from the Lord when they were so sick as you, but Jesus himself has spoken to you and He has told you clearly.”
Ryan said, “What will happen?”
I said, “I don’t know exactly, He could work some miracle. Or He could come and bring you home to Himself quickly. Either way, Ryan, He has you covered.” Ryan said, “Let’s pray.”
And we prayed. Just the two of us heads bowed thanking Jesus for giving Ryan His word not to worry that He cleared the path. I helped Ryan tell Jesus that he trusted Him whatever the path was, wherever it was leading. We accepted His word. We were simply grateful for this amazing grace happening right then.
Ten days later early in the morning, Jesus came to Ryan and received Him to Himself. Only a day or so before Ryan told me that Jesus had told him that he would be receiving a new body! I asked what he had replied to Jesus. He said, “Thank goodness, I am finished with this one!” And so he was. So he was.
Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. If you have never truly studied John 14, do it sometime and think of Ryan or put yourself in the gospel with Jesus and let Him walk you through it with new insight. I have learned so much about the love of God through the great grace of having the son we lost born on an Easter Sunday. I find great comfort in the reminder that God’s Son died that my son might have eternal life.
Who the Son Sets Free
I’ve had people ask me to share Ryan’s testimony because it might help others, if you think it might help someone you know who is going through a difficult time like this, please pass this post along. Heaven is real. The way to get there is also real and our God is just waiting for people to turn to Him. (I wrote a post about how I did once long ago. He heard me. It wasn’t long until I came to Jesus….)
This post was mostly written days ago, but truthfully it is beautiful and painful at the same time because there is so much more to the story. Then this morning I was making coffee and heard a song and the words “Who the Son sets free, is free indeed…” It struck me personally, and when I brought my coffee into my den to pray and look up this amazing song, I found it was singing the words from John 14 that Ryan and I prayed. Funny thing, I am a cancer survivor. Exactly three years ago today it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. Now I know so much more about Ryan’s ordeal and what it means to know you have this horrible disease inside of you. Would I have done anything differently in handling this wild, crazy, wonderful young son? Probably not, but the pain I would have endured for him would have been even deeper. I never wanted cancer, yet I am grateful to be a cancer survivor, and I am also grateful to understand what it is like inside the hearts of those who suffer.
Ryan died knowing that who the Son sets free is free indeed. If he could tell those he knew anything it would be that there is a much easier way. I am including the music video here of Who You Say I Am. You can watch it and enjoy the music and your spirits will be lifted. If you don’t know the Son Jesus. I’m going to type a prayer right below the video, and I invite you to pray this simple prayer. We may never meet here on earth, but I can guarantee you that we will meet, you and I – and Ryan, one day in Heaven with the Son who set all of us free!
Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Please come into my heart and set me free for I am a sinner. Please forgive me, cleanse me of all my sins and send me the Holy Spirit. Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ for setting me free!
If you have prayed this prayer, tell somebody that Jesus Christ has set you free, and please visit the Contact Page and let me know so that I can be praying for you. Leave any questions and I will try to answer or find answers for you.
In Him we live, and move, and have our being,
If you’d like to read the post referred to about Ryan and Katie, visit Wednesday Words.
© 2018 Nancy H. Montgomery. All Rights Reserved.