By Matthew Shuka
I grew up in a Christian home with my four siblings and two happily married parents. The oldest child was Amanda, then there was Michael, Jonathan, myself (Matthew), and Stephen. We grew up in a Christ-centered home, established by our parents. Jesus was always just a part of my life. I didn’t ever have anything notably difficult or challenging that I had to deal with throughout my life that was a pivotal moment of realizing my faith. Faith in Jesus just came naturally for the most part because of the way I was raised, at least until about 4 years ago.
On January 2, 2013 my oldest sibling, Amanda, was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 22. My initial reaction was complete shock and confusion. Many times I had heard stories of loved ones dealing with life taking illnesses, but I had never imagined that something like that could happen to someone so close to me. Especially to someone as amazing as Amanda. Of course I asked the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It just didn’t seem fair or right that God would let something so terrible happen to someone so faithful.
For the next six months Amanda went through Chemotherapy treatments. Never once did I hear her complain about her situation, though it would have been so easy to. She spent months at a time in a hospital room, in bed, away from the people that she loved; but somehow she always kept a good attitude. She was courageous, positive, and determined as she had completed her first round of chemo. With all things considered, the progress report was optimistic. Everything was looking up for her and we all had a very positive attitude about her overcoming this illness. I remember a conversation with a friend where he asked me if I thought Amanda would beat this illness. I told him that she was doing so well and that I didn’t have a doubt that she would come out fine.
About three days later that all changed. Amanda quickly developed an infection in her stomach due to her lack of immune system from the chemo. Within 24 hours she had been taken by life-flight to a clinic in Iowa City. And within 48 hours, Amanda had gone home to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On July 21 2013, I said goodbye to my sister and friend.
This was the most painful thing I ever had to deal with. Again, of course it was easy to ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Needless to say, I was frustrated, confused, sad, overwhelmed, broken, and upset. But after reflecting on Amanda’s life, journey, and legacy, it was clear to see Christ in her and His work through her in the short 23 years she was given here on this earth. Even though I love and miss Amanda, even though I feel the pain of her absence, even though some of my questions linger on, I fully believe in the promises and purposes of God for Amanda’s life. So even though I struggle, I see more and more glimpses of God’s purposes through Amanda’s legacy that she has left behind and the people she impacted with her life.
God has a plan for my life. For our lives. His hand is at work all the time. When things are bad and even when they are good, God is there. He has always been there and he always will be. God’s promises and purposes are always true. This was the realization I came to after witnessing Amanda’s life and death. This is one of the many ways God has used Amanda’s life to impact my very own life.
Matthew, thank you for your honesty and courage. Your testimony reminds me of the opening Q&A of the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.