“We fear its cancer and we’re really late.” That’s the news we were given, as Angela laid in that sterile hospital room, wide-eyed with a look of surprise. She who had only recently come through a severe two-year bout of depression, but in that moment, she didn’t cry or wail. Instead, Angela said the words that only someone who understood and lived the idea of breakthrough prayer would say, “Jesus still rose, so we will trust.”
It was Easter Sunday, and Angela would not let this news ruin the glory of this day. She knew from her battles with depression that “Good Friday” moments were always followed by Easter Sunday joys, and suffering was always followed by new life. This was indeed a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”, and yet she chose to focus on the Easter resurrection as opposed to the Good Friday cross. Angela had a master’s degree in breakthrough prayer.
Angela and I were married for nearly five years at this point, and much of it was marked by struggle. Not struggle in our marriage, but struggle in life. We had been through the ringer – a failed business attempt, followed by a major move for new opportunity, followed by a job that fell through, nearly ending up homeless, finally finding a new job, only to be met with a major falling out with a close family member that was bitter and painful.
Angela was a great mom, a great wife, and a great woman after God’s heart. From the outside, most people had no clue that she had struggled with depression off and on since her junior year of high school. This latest bout was most certainly the worst. She had a general sadness and sometimes a deep despair and anxiety.
Often when she was feeling her worst, she would tell me how she just felt this heaviness. She would say, “I don’t feel God. I don’t feel His love, but I know He loves me and I know He is real because I’ve met Him and I know His words are true.” I would say, “We can pray together,” and she would often say, “I can’t pray right now. I can’t say the words, but you say them for me.” In these moments, I found the Divine Mercy Chaplet to be the most effective prayer to pray. I would recite the chaplet while she held my hand. Many times, she would be squeezing my hand very tightly as I prayed and she would seem to get more agitated as the prayer continued. But as we neared the end and I would begin to recite the final prayers, “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Her grip would weaken, her agitation would lift and she would begin to breathe again. Sometimes she’d even finish the prayer with me. As I got to the final prayer “Eternal God in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us, and increase your mercy in us that in difficult moments, we might not become despondent, but commit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself,” Angela would be reciting it boldly.
We learned breakthrough prayer in those times of despair and the Lord was teaching Angela, and I, that his grace is indeed sufficient. Those breakthrough moments were little miracles that paved our path and strengthened us in preparation for that Easter Sunday news.
For me that news meant the shattering of our hopes and dreams. It felt as though our life had just shattered to the ground into a million pieces of glass. I had no words. I was in complete shock and yet, Angela, who had fought through depression, anxiety, and despair for much of her life, she was the one that reminded me that we could hope because our Lord was faithful. “Jesus still rose, so we will trust.” That became our motto in those coming months and our fervent prayer for a miracle.
Indeed, we experienced many miracles during Angela’s seventeen-month cancer journey. As we fought to save her life, God constantly provided a way where there was no way. After her first two rounds of chemotherapy failed, we weren’t sure if we should continue the course of treatment she was on. We took a break to go back to Phoenix and visit family and during that time friends had set up appointments with specialists who had some advanced and alternative methods along with some very aggressive approaches to therapy. The options were remarkable and we felt this was our best option. The only problem was that most of this treatment would not be covered by insurance and we had very little money. Still, I looked at the hope in Angela’s eyes and something told me this was our path forward. So, we decided to trust that we would find a way. The clinic allowed us to start treatment that very week even though we didn’t have a method of payment quite yet.
There was a lot that now had to be figured out very quickly. Angela needed these treatments immediately but we had our whole life back in North Carolina. We quickly made plans to go home as scheduled the next week, pack our things, and drive Angela and the kids back to Phoenix. I would then head back after the family was settled and load a moving truck to get the rest of our things to Arizona. Only, we didn’t know where we would live or how we would pay for the treatment.
We simply had to trust that the Lord would show us how. We prayed and waited on that answer while we enjoyed those last few days of vacation. That following Monday as we boarded a plane back to North Carolina, I received a call from a dear friend, “The Avenzini family has offered to give you their rental house for four months rent free.” Their daughter, who’s sister was one of Angela’s best friends, was getting married and told her parents she wanted to move out of their rental and back in with them so we could have the home. We burst into tears as we walked down the jetway, and we knew that the Lord indeed was answering our prayers.
Over the next few days, I launched an online campaign asking for people to help save my wife’s life. People from all over the country donated $35,000 over a course of thirty days. Meanwhile, my family put on a fundraiser in town and raised another $15,000. The next thing we knew, others were hosting fundraisers at local restaurants and the money continued to pour in.
Angela got the care we desired and she started to push back against the cancer. She also had energy back and could be there for the kids. But Angela’s cancer was severe, stage IV when we found it and there was very little hope. Truth be told, she likely wouldn’t have lived more than a few months if we hadn’t fought for her life. Our breakthrough came in the living we got to do that last seventeen months. Near the end of her life, we realized that medical treatment was no longer an option. Her condition had started to spiral downhill and given every best effort, she was no longer able to receive treatment.
I remember Angela saying to me, “So I won’t be getting my medical miracle and walking out of this place cancer free?” I replied, “You may not get that medical miracle, but we can still pray for a miracle.”
We went home on hospice care and decided to live whatever days she had left as a family praying for healing. She began to more fervently offer her suffering for others and that incredible community who had raised those dollars to pay for her care were now organizing prayer campaigns. News of this young mother in Arizona was spreading like wildfire. The prayers, notes, gifts, and well wishes poured in from everywhere and with each of those prayers and words of encouragement, Angela would say, “I have a lot of people to pray for when I get to heaven.”
You know what happened next? Miracles began to happen in ways we could have never imagined and not the kind of miracles you’d expect. Instead of Angela being healed of her cancer, we began to hear from people who had been praying for her that they were experiencing miracles in their own life. People saying they were in depression and since they’ve been praying for Angela the depression had lifted. People telling us that they were dealing with one medical issue or another and it cleared up when praying for Angela. People who had been away from the faith saying they felt called to begin praying for Angela and that led them back to their faith. I recall one woman saying she hadn’t been to Mass in 15 years and now she was going back. We even heard from folks who were infertile who were able to conceive.
These people each made their own connection that the miracle they experienced came through praying for Angela’s healing. Our breakthrough wasn’t a medical miracle for Angela. She died on September 21, 2012. Our miracle came in the incredible transformation Angela went through as she slowly surrendered her life to God. Our miracle came in the incredible healing that Angela’s journey brought to our family. Our miracle came in the deathbed forgiveness Angela gave to that estranged family member I mentioned earlier. Our miracle were the countless thousands who were drawn deeper in their faith thanks to Angela’s relentless trust in God. Our miracle came in the way Angela left this life and our miracle came in the continued journey that we’ve been on ever since.
For me, my breakthrough was a complete lifting of a debilitating discouragement that I had experienced for as long as I could remember. For most of my life this discouragement had kept me from doing many things. It had kept me from finishing projects, from completing work, from even showing up sometimes. This discouragement stopped me from doing many things I was called to do.
When Angela passed it was as if a cloud had lifted from my life and I was now empowered to do the Lord’s work without fear. Since that time, I was able to complete a book telling Angela’s story, begin a healthcare sharing ministry, Solidarity HealthShare, which was inspired by the experience of that Christian community coming together to support our family and even started another company that serves the chronically ill with high quality food and nutrition support.
None of this would have been possible with my previous bout of constant discouragement. Through Angela, I experienced a breakthrough that continues to drive me today.
Sometimes our breakthrough prayer is more about the Lord breaking through our heart than it is about him curing someone or healing someone or saving us from a hardship. He certainly does those things – but most of all, I believe the breakthrough comes in the transformation that happens within us as we trust in Him. Jesus still rose, so we will trust.
“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Chris Faddis is the Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder of Solidarity HealthShare, and the author of the book, IT IS WELL - Life in the Storm