Before the sun rose on that Saturday morning, I quietly left my room and got on the bus to TF Green airport. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. My mind had been operating in a haze for several days, ever since I found out that one of my close friends was dying, possibly within a few weeks. With the help of my parents, I booked a flight home for the long weekend to see her, potentially for the last time.
My friend’s name is Kristy Cheng Esporo. She was a youth counselor along with her husband Noel at my church during my middle school and high school years. It was well known that Kristy’s spiritual gift was prayer, along with her trademark grins and catchphrase “Let’s ask God!” She was the one who first started me on my journey of real faith, from my hopeless 7th grade self to who I am today. I could go on forever with stories about Kristy, but suffice it to say that she is an energetic woman of God who has been like a second mom to me (or older sister, depending on what age she feels like). This story is about the weekend I disappeared from Brown to go see her.
Kristy has been battling an abdominal cancer (Leiomyosarcoma) for the past 8 years. During that time, she has undergone several forms of treatment, including multiple rounds of chemotherapy. A year or two ago, she stopped treatments, because doctors could not find a suitable method. But this fell right in line with her longtime mantra to “Leave it all up to God.”
That previous Wednesday, I found out that Kristy’s health was rapidly deteriorating. Her body had been unable to process solid food for the past two weeks, and the frequent bouts of pain did not allow for long periods of rest. While I was on the plane back home, I was so afraid of what Kristy’s condition would possibly be like, since Noel had not divulged any details. I began to pen a letter of thanks and encouragement to her, since I might never see her again.
When I first arrived at their house, Noel burst into tears when he saw me, and hit me with two pieces of information: Kristy didn’t feel like seeing anybody at the moment, and that she had forgotten who I was. I didn’t know how to react. My parents had recently visited Kristy and informed her I was coming to visit, getting a big smile in response. But in just a couple days, she had forgotten who I was completely? I couldn’t even imagine how much her illness was affecting her. It was at this point that doubt really set in. I had already begun to wonder whether I was doing the right thing, ditching everything I had planned in Providence to fly back home to see one person. And now, having just arrived, I learned that I may not even get to see her that day. What was I thinking? God must be telling me that I should never have left campus.
Then Noel, wiping away his tears, told us that the only way we could help the situation was to pray. “Pray, pray, pray. Pray for…I don’t even know what to pray for. Just pray.” If even Noel, my role model and spiritual leader, was at loss for prayer, what was I supposed to do? So I just prayed. I begged God to let me see Kristy one last time. I pleaded for my trip to not be in vain, and for God to grant Noel wisdom and peace.
After some time in prayer, we were told that Noel wanted everybody upstairs in the bedroom. To pray over Kristy. So upstairs we trooped. Seeing Kristy in her current condition completely froze my heart. The woman who taught me how to hold a paintball gun and how to dive and slide was barely sitting up, supported by her husband. She was skin and bone, and staring vacantly ahead, disregarding the people walking into the room. Noel, with his spirit and wisdom, encouraged all of us to make a circle and hold hands, and proceeded to begin our session of prayer. I knelt by the head of the bed, and grasped his hand with one of mine. With my other hand, I gently held Kristy’s, as reassuringly as possible. Although, upon hearing Noel begin to pray, the reality of the situation hit me, and feeling the weight of the presence of God, I broke down into tears. Once I began to weep it was nearly impossible to get myself under control. I couldn’t fully describe what was happening to the others praying alongside me, but I know for certain that those present could feel something greater in the room with us. It’s not a feeling that can generally be conveyed or called upon at will. Regardless, I could hear how the Holy Spirit was moving through each one of us from the way people were praying, even the self-professed first-timers. I can’t say that there have been many instances in my life where I’ve been in the presence of such moving prayers. After a long while, Noel ended our circle of prayer. When I opened my eyes and lifted my head, I met Kristy’s eyes as she was looking around at us prayer warriors. Noel whispered in her ear, “This guy flew all the way here to see you,” to which she closed her eyes and shook her head. I could only smile because my spirit felt uplifted, and I was once again reassured that God is good.
The rest of the weekend was a rollercoaster of emotions, although one theme was abundantly clear to me: God is faithful, and we are called to place our trust wholly in Him. Over the next couple days, Kristy’s health improved to the point where she could sit up in a chair on her own, and hold conversations. She shared with me her plan to show her family (some of whom are not Christians) how God is powerful, by stopping her treatment of painkillers. She wanted them to see that God has the power to strengthen her, that she did not need to rely on anything of this world like man-made drugs. She wanted her family to know that her faith in God was real, not some delusion. Kristy told me that regardless of what happened after pulling the painkillers, whether God healed her or took her home, she was confident that the glory of God would be revealed to her family.
When I first booked the flight back home, I was thinking about how to prepare myself mentally and emotionally to provide some sort of support for Noel and Kristy. I was preparing myself to be the reassuring friend, sacrificing my time and money because I loved them. I was totally unprepared for the spiritual renewal God had in store for me. In the time I spent at Noel and Kristy’s house with a cancer patient and her numerous caretakers, I learned so much about faith. I saw, up close and personal, what it was like for a marriage to be tested to the limit, and what it looked like when both spouses are willing to have complete faith in one another and in God. Ironically, I was the one reassured by Kristy, with her unwavering belief that God’s plan for her is good and in motion. Kristy used to live such an active lifestyle, filled with activities like rock climbing, rally car racing, and paintball. And then, all these things were taken away from her and her body began to waste away. But despite this, her spirit remains unbroken, strengthened even, and somehow she is still able to inspire those around her. There have been so many people that, upon meeting Kristy or reading her blog, are simply amazed by this woman of God and her faith.
This isn’t to say that the road God places in front of us is easy and free from trouble. In fact, as was extremely plain to me, many times we feel and see so much pain that we wonder how this can possibly be what God wants. And yet, somehow, God gives us enough strength to cry out to Him for help. God blesses us in so many ways, and He just wants us to trust Him to carry us when we inevitably fall.
The author is finishing his final semester in Mechanical Engineering at Brown.