Six Months to Live
Meet my friend David, who shares about a period of his life where God called him to serve in a way he had not planned to.
“I only have six more months to live.”
On a cool, fall-like day in October 12, 2002 that I will never ever forget, my mom took me for a walk around the neighborhood. It was on this walk that she told me, “I only have six more months to live.” It was strange and surreal. She did not look like someone who was sick—she had all her hair, her mental capabilities, and she looked like—my mom, the way moms are supposed to look. But, for some reason, this bit of news made her look apprehensive.
Growing up, I had this impression that my mom could handle anything tragic. She had experienced enough tragedy that could make any normal person go crazy. She was forced to flee from the only home she ever knew in Vietnam in order to enter America as a refugee. In doing so, she lost the dignity and respect of being a venerated teacher, and the honor as a wife of a high ranking navy officer in Vietnam vanished. She endured the humility of having to tell her two kids that she couldn’t afford to buy them ice cream, only to find herself selling her last piece of jewelry so that she could enjoy the smile and joy that appeared on their faces while they ate their dessert happily.
Finally, after achieving the American dream of living in the right house, in the right neighborhood, she suffered her greatest loss yet – she lost her 18 year old daughter to some jerk who was driving her around on his motorcycle, drunk. After everything she had gone through, you would think this cancer would not worry her. But, for the first time, I could see that my mom was unsure of how to move forward, knowing that she might not live much longer. And there was something stirring in my soul, telling me I should do something. But, I doubted myself, asking – what could I really do? And to make matters worse, deep inside, I had so many logical reasons not to be involved.
At this point in my life, things were actually going really well for me. I was a young, 23 year old who had aspirations to do great things for God. I was working at a non-profit organization called Youth For Christ. At Youth For Christ, we were in the process of starting a whole new program that was going to introduce teens to Jesus Christ in a new, exciting way, and I was appointed as the director which was a huge honor. Not only was I getting to head something new and promising, I was starting to receive more and more invitations to share and speak at other churches (A lot of it was because I had two very popular pastor friends, Jaeson Ma and Thomas Chen who always referred me when they couldn’t speak, but regardless, I was reaping the benefits and it was proving fruitful for my career). I was meeting a lot of friends and of course, a few potential Mrs. Huynhs. Things were starting to pick up for me; I just needed to be around to make things happen.
And yet here I was on this walk with my mom who was on her last leg of life. I knew that she needed me. The Lord kept tugging at my heart, and I kept arguing with Him.
“No, not me, Lord. I love my mom but I’ve got YOUR work to do. I’ve got souls to save. I’ve got my future wife to meet!”
I mean, how was I going to take a girl out on dates with no income? Plus, though I loved my mom, she and I did not always get along. She was a typical strong-willed Vietnamese woman who wanted things done her way, to her particular liking. That in itself had caused a lot tension in our relationship. Finally, I didn’t know if I was even capable of taking on this challenge. I was not a nurse or a doctor; I knew nothing about caring for a dying person.
“Please, Lord,” I begged. “Find someone else.”
And still after all that, I knew what God was calling me to do. In times of desperation or uncertainty, I knew that He would guide me. Even though it would be hard, and in some ways seemed like the worst timing, I knew that He would take care of me, and that in this moment, my mother was the ministry that God was calling me to serve.
My mom actually ended up living three more years instead of six months. I wish that I could say that it was glamorous, that we had these mother-son bonding times and that I was super proud to be her heroic caretaker. But in all honesty, I was depressed a lot of the time. Our relationship had definitely improved and my love for my mom had gotten deeper. But, at the same time, as my relationship w/ her was becoming more and more alive, she was still physically dying. The monotony of taking care of a sick person, especially when it’s your mother, gets tiring, both emotionally and physically. It was maddening not knowing what was going on with her as she experienced new symptoms here and there, and watching her deteriorate was painful for me. Oftentimes, I spent days just waiting for my mother at the hospital, alone for hours on end, walking the halls, praying to God for Him to heal her.
My mom’s time eventually did come and I was there with her in the hospital room. I’ll never forget her last hours of her life. Because of the pain she was going through, she was heavily medicated, and the medication caused her to become mentally delusional. The doctors had put some tubes in her and she thought that they were trying to kill her. When we looked at her, she did not recognize anyone – not my brother, my father, or me. She thought that we were all trying to hurt her.
She also became fussy and aggressive. She was trying to tear the tubes out of her face and body and I was in so much pain watching her go through that. I was not ready to let her go. I got close to my mother, stroked her face, looked into her eyes and said in a loud voice, “MOM”. For a second, she stopped tearing at her tubes and yelling. I could see it in her eyes, she knew it was me. At that moment, I said, out loud, “I love you mom, please don’t go.” The strangest thing happened. She would hold my gaze as if she knew. I wish that I took a picture of her face as she looked at me for those three seconds; it was as if she was at peace, as if she was her old self, as if she was looking into the eyes of her son, not someone out to hurt her. A second later, she would go back to her aggressive self. I would say again, “MOM.” Again, she would stop to look at me. “I love you, please don’t go.”
She died the very next day.
Life eventually went on. I was 26 by this time. After spending the last three years of my life “on hold,” I didn’t really know where God was leading me next. But as God always is, He ended up being more than faithful. My mom ended up living three years longer rather than the expected six months. My finances were never an issue because my invitations to speak at other churches tripled and every church that I spoke at were very generous, and I lived very simply – I always had what I needed. During one of my speaking engagements, I ended up meeting my wife, who was not turned off by what I was doing but actually felt it was God’s confirmation that I would be a good husband. Things at Youth For Christ didn’t take off, in fact, things fell apart while I was away. I eventually spoke at a retreat and met a great friend who recruited me to start pastoring at Chinese Church in Christ North Valley, where I have now been serving the past five years.
Lastly, I think about my relationship with my mom. God really gave me an opportunity to be part of something that has helped me become a better pastor, husband, father, and friend. Although it was one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life, it was also one of the best. I have no regrets. Those daily drives to Stanford Hospital, my mom singing along to my 80’s music, our lunches out eating pho after her chemotherapy, wheelchair walks that I would take my mom out on every day… they gave me an opportunity to know my mom better, appreciate her, and most importantly, understand her better. These are the memories that I will treasure in my heart forever.
David can be found as one of the Pastors at Chinese Church in Christ North Valley, located at 399 South Main Street, Milpitas, California 95035. He would love the opportunity to host and welcome you at their 930am Sunday Service.