by Sandy Watson | Fall 2016
"Your daughter has a tumor
at the base of her brain
and will require surgery
in the morning."
To say our world turned upside-down with one, short sentence is an understatement. Amanda, our nine-year-old daughter, had begun having difficulty using her left leg 14 days earlier. Initially, we thought little of it. But in two short weeks, her symptoms progressed so rapidly that we took her to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin about 30 miles south of our hometown. We went in on Wednesday. On Friday, Amanda had brain surgery to remove a portion of the tumor from her brain stem.
The morning Amanda had brain surgery, I received a text from our director of student affairs at Grace Academy showing us a picture of the teachers, administrators, and even students gathering to pray for our family. That day, two girls from the logic school put up sticky notes all over campus with messages like “We love Amanda” or “Pray for Amanda” written on them. Those two small acts that day were only a brief glimpse of what was to come as we experienced in new ways the body of Christ in action. Our family felt such an incredible peace while Amanda was in surgery that we can only attribute to the extraordinary power of prayer.
While we were at the hospital those nine days, a member of the school administration and a board member both referenced the story of Moses holding up his arms while the Israelites were in battle. When he became weary, Aaron and Hur sat him on a rock and supported his arms. This powerful story was used as a beautiful image of what Grace Academy would do for our family. Our school family would support us during our battle.
THE LONG ROAD
Amanda’s diagnosis with a grade three brain tumor quickly catapulted us into the public eye. At that time, Amanda was in the third grade and our son, Brandon, was in the fifth grade at Grace Academy of Georgetown. I work in administration at Grace and my husband, Thomas, is a paramedic.
The summer before, our family had started down the path of a new commitment to our faith. We were living life with an excitement to see what God was going to call us to next. We were planning a family foreign mission trip that very summer, but instead it turned out that our mission field would be our own community, and our story would spread farther than we ever imagined.
Together, we drew strength from Scriptures our children had been memorizing since kindergarten. Thomas and I didn’t need to spoon-feed our children Scriptures and truths from God’s word—they already had that understanding, and much more. Their knowledge, based on the Christian worldview learned at church, home, and school, provided them with the unique understanding that all things are from God and He uses them for His good (Romans 8:28). The one constant we clung to was our faith in God’s sovereignty in all things, even in the number of days our daughter had on this earth. We would rest in that.
Throughout the 17 months following Amanda’s diagnosis—the most challenging and painful experience of our lives—we relied on God’s strength to carry us through. The wonderful memories we carry of those months will stay with us all our lives.
THE VIEW FROM BEHIND AND BEFORE
The day that Amanda left this earth to live in eternity with our Heavenly Father, God blessed us with a gift for us to cherish until we join Him in glory. That morning my husband and I, along with my mom and dad, were with her. Our son, Brandon, was on his way home with Thomas’ parents.
Out of the blue, our ten-year-old daughter told us she was dying. Amanda wasn’t scared but instead her voice was full of awe, wonder, and amazement. As she lay in bed, she gave us instructions—what to do on her birthday and Christmas each year, to tell her cousins about her as they grow up, not to forget or quit talking about her, and many more directions. It was a steady stream of instructions until she paused and said, “It’s getting whiter.” She began to describe what she was seeing. “I can see the pearly gates,” she said next. She looked up at my dad and said, “Don’t cry, Papa. It’s not good-bye, but see ya later, alligator.”
All during this time, she told us over and over that we shouldn’t be sad but that we should be singing and rejoicing because that is what they were doing there. She then said, “The gates, they’re opening! It’s beautiful. It’s just like you said, Dad.” At that point she said, “They’re green.” I asked, “What’s green?” She told us there were grapes everywhere and that they were green and tasted so sweet. She said, “That’s what it means, that’s what it means: ‘I am the vine and you are the branches!’ ” She saw a big table set with food on it. I asked her, “Like a feast?” and she said, “Yeah, like a feast.” She again added, “And they’re rejoicing!”
She then said she was seeing a book, that it was a Bible, and to read it every day. It was at this point she was beginning to drift asleep and as her eyes closed, and her breathing slowed, the last thing she mentioned seeing was a big white book.
That day, Amanda peacefully went to be with the Lord, surrounded by family. As the weeks, months, and years have passed, we are still surrounded by love and encouragement from our community.
As I look at our son, who is now 14, and how he not only handled that painful time but also how his faith and knowledge of our omniscient God sustained him, I realize that the education and teachers at Grace Academy were incredibly influential in making him the young man he is today. So, when asked by someone considering classical education if the rigor is really worth it, I can answer with a strong, passionate, “Yes!” You see, when it comes to my children, I desire nothing short of the best education possible, but also I want them to know how to articulate, defend, and share their faith in a winsome manner and with a bold assurance. The past nine years at Grace Academy have molded our entire family and helped lay a foundation in our children that enabled them to weather one of life’s most painful storms.
Only our God could allow us to walk daily in the combination of two extremes—extreme pain and extreme joy. It is through Him that we are able to proclaim, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Don’t ever question whether a classical Christian education is worth it, but instead realize that as we commit to this education and to lifelong learning, the fruits from our dedication and perseverance will reap eternal benefits we will not fully see on this earth. Almost daily I am reminded of Amanda’s incredibly strong faith when she comforted us only hours before her death. She confidently told us that our parting is not goodbye, it’s simply “see ya later, alligator.” So while we still live here on earth by faith, our sweet Amanda lives by sight.
SANDY WATSON lives in Texas. She and her husband, Thomas, are the proud parents of two children, Brandon and Amanda.