The pastor of my church mentioned Sunday morning about the reality of “survivor’s guilt.” He told us how he and his wife went through an unexpected emotion after their two year old drowned and was miraculously healed after they had been told there wasn’t hope. After the overwhelming joy of seeing God breathe life back into their son, the counter emotion of guilt came that left them asking themselves, “why my child and not theirs?”
This week my family has been on the other side of survivor’s guilt. Yesterday we lost one of our finest. After an eight year heroic battle, millions (no exaggeration) of prayers being sent up by children of God impacted by my cousin Kevin’s life, after being classified as a “survivor” by kicking cancer in the tail more than once. . .the text your heart is never prepared for came, “Kevin is at peace.”
Kevin would have turned 57 this Saturday. He leaves behind a beautiful wife, who is a cancer survivor herself, four children, three grandchildren, many others like me who had the honor of calling him family, and I would imagine 1000s of other students, players, friends and colleagues that call him Coach or Mr. Weaver from his decades of coaching and teaching.
Kevin was my oldest boy cousin. He was 17 when I entered the family and for 40 years I have been his “baby cousin.”
My earliest memories of Kevin are sitting in his lap at our “Ma-Ma’s ” house as our family gathered together every holiday to pack out our grandmother’s tiny house in Caddo, Oklahoma. I can still close my eyes and hear Kevin’s infectious laugh that would echo through Ma-Ma’s house. I was known as the baby cousin that would always tell him “put your shirt on” when he walked around Ma-Ma’s house strutting the handsome temple God had given his spirit to reside in here on earth.
I would say that similar to “survivor’s guilt,” there is an emotion I refer to as “family heritage guilt.”
I count it a privilege to have dear friends whose life stories are very different than mine. Friends whose parents gave them up for adoption. Friends who experienced childhood physical and emotional abuse. Friends whose childhoods are marked by unthinkable injustices. Friends who grew up with a family shackled to sin or shackled to religion. Friends who weren’t taught the freedom that comes from dying to self and living for Christ.
Often when I hear their childhood stories, I almost don’t want to share mine because I battle feelings of guilt. “Why did I get to grow up sheltered in not just a immediate family but an extended family, that loved me no matter what, and a family filled with people living out the Gospel of Jesus’s love for the hurting world?”
I’ve watched my family fight life’s battles on their knees. As the “baby cousin” I have learned through observation the power of loving people by watching those who have gone before me in life. Living out the Gospel by loving those the world shuns was normal to me because that’s what I saw happening all around me as a child. Choosing to forgive those who hurt or disappointed me was just what I did, because it what I had watched my family do.
As with most kids who grow up a bit sheltered as I did, my college years were the time in my life where I grappled with choosing for myself to live out my faith in Jesus.
Faced with the reality of being diagnosed with a physical disability that changed my life’s plans, dealing with injuries that impacted my college basketball career, and having my world rocked by a broken marriage engagement, I remember spending my college holidays at Ma-Ma’s house trying to figure out if I really believed in the same good, loving God that I had watched all my family follow.
The crisis of belief was real one Thanksgiving during these years. I found myself leading a bible study for my teammates and going through the motions of daily quiet times in the Bible, yet still in the recesses of my heart I wondered if all of this was indeed truth.
Since I was a college basketball player, I was only given about 48 hours to celebrate Thanksgiving with family.
I remember my precious Ma-Ma sitting with me at her huge kitchen table encouraging me with her words of faith. She had just unexpectedly lost her eye after a minor eye surgery, yet still she was encouraging me to press on.
Amidst the noise of all the second generation of cousins running around that tiny house, I remember sitting with Kevin and his encouraging words to me despite the fact that he was going through an extremely difficult situation in his own life.
I was so touched that when I got back to the dorm the day after Thanksgiving I sent Kevin a card thanking him and encouraging him in his own trial.
A few weeks later, there was a letter in my college mailbox.
That letter was a life source to me on that day. Kevin, who was a high school basketball coach at the time, took the time out of his crazy busy day as a teacher and coach to write a letter to encourage me in my struggle.
Last night, I dug through my college box and found that letter. For the first time in almost two decades, I read through Kevin’s words to me.
I was immediately taken back to the moment I read his words for the first time.
Simple words on paper that truly memorialize the life and legacy of Kevin. Two pages of hand written words concluded with this…
“But in the valleys, we grow even more if we stay in the Word and allow Christ to carry us. I think 1996 may be a year I will want to forget, while at the same time a year I have learned more than any other. I’ll see you at Christmas and will write again soon. Love, Kevin”
And then my favorite line honestly…because if you know Kevin you know he tends to always leave everyone with a smile on their face. (remember this is a 38 year old man writing this to his 20 year old girl cousin)
“P.S. Sorry I don’t have any cute cards like you.”
I will never understand why God allowed me to be a part of a family that includes people like my cousin Kevin. Where when faced with death and tears, we truly can celebrate a life well lived and rejoice in the hope of an eternity together.
Family heritage guilt can silence me at times.
However, if ever there is a time to shout about the impact of family on my life it is when faced with the reality of death.
I did not think there was a better way to memorialize my cousin Kevin than with words. Sharing his words to me. Words were a gift he used to impact the world around him for good.
May we all choose to learn from the life moments we wish we could forget and allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts as Christ carries us through the valley of the shadow of death.
See you soon, Kevin. See you soon.
And I also wish to pass along Kevin’s desire…for all who can to be a part of the registry at www.bethematch.org.
It is because of stem cell donors, that Kevin’s family was granted more years on earth with him. A few minutes of your time in signing up to be a donor, could mean granting more years on earth with a loved one for some family somewhere. My family is forever grateful to the donor’s that granted this to our family.
For those interested in reading more about Kevin’s journey, you can find some of his writings here.