Following Christ Home
By my sophomore year of college, I had my life planned out. I was going to do biology research, attend graduate school, and become a professor. I obtained a research internship at Harvard for the summer, and everything seemed to be going as planned.
Except for the fact that my mother was slowly slipping away.
Initially, just her right hand was weak. She gave up her job as an ultrasound technician and struggled with simple tasks such as buttoning her shirt or closing the faucet. Then her whole right arm became limp and useless. In January of 2012, my mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Googling the term confirmed what my mother already instinctively knew: she was dying.
I struggled with what to do. My parents encouraged me to go to Harvard, but I didn’t know how much longer my mom had on earth. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure what would happen to my career prospects if I spent the whole summer at home. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to work at Harvard the next summer, since I needed to conduct research at or near Swarthmore to complete my Honors biology thesis. I tearfully explained my dilemma to my youth pastor over the phone. He listened, then said, “I think you should go home.” I was also convicted by a passage that I had read during a Bible study:
As He walked along, He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him (Mark 2:14-15, NIV).
I was struck by the fact that Levi instantly left his lucrative career to follow Jesus – right into Levi’s own home. I started thinking about what it would look like for me to follow Jesus into my own home, which had always been the hardest place for me to model Christ’s love and patience.
So home I went.
By this time, my mother had trouble walking on her own. My dad and I took turns being her caregiver. I’d wake up at 7 am to help her get dressed, brush her teeth, and walk to the kitchen. Sometimes, at 3 am, I would wake up and help her turn in bed. When my dad was not able to take my mom to prayer gatherings, I carried her into the van and drove her there myself. I also stepped into the role of mother for my two younger sisters, making sure they ate well, buying their clothes, and disciplining them when necessary. I was both physically and emotionally exhausted.
Yet it was during this time of my weakness that I saw God pour forth His blessings and grace. As my mom got progressively weaker physically, she became so much stronger spiritually. She couldn’t even lift a child’s sippy cup to her lips, but with her left hand, she would write letters of advice to our whole family, family friends, and everyone she could think of. In the past, I had been the one urging her to pray – now she was the one who would ask me if I prayed. She spent the early hours of the day praying for me and my sisters. Additionally, my church supported my family in every way imaginable – praying for and with us, giving my mother massages, providing financial support, bringing food and various herbal remedies, spending time with my sisters, doing bible studies and praise sessions at our home, and constantly encouraging us.
Looking back, I am so glad that I chose to go home that summer, which turned out to be the last time I saw my mom on this side of heaven. My worries about my future career turned out to be misguided: the next summer, God blessed me with a wonderful research internship on ALS at the University of Pennsylvania. Due to UPenn’s proximity to Swarthmore, I was able to continue my research throughout the school year. This work formed the basis of my Honors thesis, which focuses on epigenetic mechanisms underlying C9ORF72-associated ALS.
As a soon-to-be-graduating senior, I do not know where God will lead me next. However, I am convinced of this: God is good, and His way is true. By His grace, I will continue to lift my cross daily and follow Him.
Kathryn is a biology-loving penguin from Southern California. She regrets not submitting her senior Honors thesis as a haiku.
academia, church, college, death, family, love, sickness, Swarthmore College