But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. (Philippians 2:25-28 NASB)
The above section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians tells how one loving family, in this case a faith family in Philippi, responded to the sickness of one of their own who was far off in Rome: concern, sorrow, longing, and distress. Epaphroditus, Paul writes, was “sick to the point of death.” Epaphroditus knew how grieved his family back in Philippi would feel, knowing he was sick and so far away. And their distress distressed him!
Paul, loving both Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, was eager to send Epaphroditus back to his Philippian family—partly so that he could end all this distress by reuniting everyone and letting them see how well Epaphroditus had recovered. Seeing is believing.
This ancient letter from Paul, the apostle, touches me right now because I’m part of a contemporary story of love and sickness. It’s my very own husband who is sick, with a sickness that is by no means over, nor likely to end soon. But getting to make a Thanksgiving trip to California was a family reunion that parallels Epaphroditus going home to Philippi. The circumstances are a little different, but the feelings are similar.
First, you should know that Kent is the “away” child of his family, living up here in Washington. His parents and three siblings all live near each other in northern California. He usually visits his California family about three times a year.
On the heels of a typical visit in spring 2018, a series of disastrous medical events landed Kent in a hospital for 12 days. The nearness and support of his family was an amazing blessing to us, but it also gave them a ringside seat to a bewildering and terrifying medical journey. Like Epaphroditus, Kent was “sick to the point of death.” God spared us “sorrow upon sorrow” by bringing Kent through the trauma and setting him on his feet again, albeit on a new journey: the medical mystery tour to discover the cause of his sickness, and maybe a cure.
Four days after Kent left the hospital, while he was still weak and precarious, we flew home to Washington. We knew that his California family was concerned about him. Our email updates about doctor visits, diagnoses, and chemotherapy didn’t bring much comfort.
So, our return to California for Thanksgiving this year felt particularly significant. It was what our brother-in-law calls a “marathon” of family gatherings and sumptuous meals, with some changes; this time, many gourmet meals (Burmese Fiery Tofu with Vegetables!) were prepared with Kent’s new dietary considerations in mind.
After seeing Kent over the course of several days, his dad commented that he really just seemed like Kent. Yes, he’s grappling with a difficult illness, but he’s still himself. Although the question, “How did he seem to you?” will still be asked and answered over the next few weeks, Kent’s family could see him and be relieved. Much of Paul’s writing mystifies, but this depiction of family love rings absolutely true to our own experience.
Jani can be reached by email here.