A little over a year ago Jason Taber had supper with his sister, Tonya. This was no ordinary meal. This was the first time they had met. On Jason’s 38th birthday he reached out to his sister for the first time in his life.
Now, one year later Jason stands beside Tonya’s hospital bed as she is fighting complications from Hodgkins lymphoma*. Their story is a testimony of God’s grace and the uniting power of the gospel. Jason was kind enough to share his story with us.
Jason, can you share the back story to your relationship with Tonya? What inspired you to finally reach out to Tonya?
My birth father left me when I was a baby. I learned that I was adopted at the age of 12 or 13. I first learned that Tonya existed when she first got married about 13 years ago. I had always stayed away because I assumed that the family wanted nothing to do with me. In reality Tonya had known about me her whole life, and had prayed for the day that we would meet.
God had been working in my heart for awhile about my propensity to isolate when things get difficult. One Sunday a man from our church shared his testimony of reaching out to his estranged daughter. On November 22, 2011, my 38th birthday, I finally decided to contact Tonya. I feared that it would be awkward. It has been everything but that; it is as if we had known each other those 37 years.
Shortly after our reunion I met my dad for the first time. Or rather I saw him for the first time, he was lifeless on a hospital bed. Tonya’s relationship with him had been fractured. We were able to be there for one another during this time.
When was Tonya diagnosed with cancer?
Tonya was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in October of 2012, just under a year of our first meeting.
What was your initial reaction?
My first reaction was a mixture of fear, anger and confusion. I was terrified to lose this person that I had just found. We had quickly filled empty spots in each others lives and become extremely close. I was also very angry and confused with God. I could not understand why He would bring us together only to take her away from me. That along with other setbacks in my life made me pull away from God and those close to me. I was becoming bitter.
About a week ago Tonya had some major complications from the cancer. Can you tell us a little about this recent trial?
About two weeks ago Tonya experienced extreme fatigue from chemotherapy treatments. On February 10th she collapsed in the shower. She was admitted to the hospital the next day. At first the doctors assumed they were treating dehydration and other deficiencies due to her weakened immune system. Little did they know an infection had taken hold, with her body having no way to fight it. On February 15th, Tonya developed a fever and labored breathing. They quickly determined that she had fluid in her lungs and feared she could be septic. Within hours she crashed, with her blood pressure dangerously low and unable to breathe.
I received the call that she had been rushed to ICU, and I needed to come quickly. Shortly thereafter the decision was made to put her on a ventilator. Things looked very bleak. For three days she was under constant sedation as they tried to kill the infection in her body. On Monday the 18th they awoke her from sedation. It took me 2 hours to get her to open her eyes. She has steadily—actually quite miraculously—improved since then. From last Wednesday on she has improved leaps and bounds every day. (Tonya was actually released yesterday, to continue recovery at home).
How have you seen God's grace during this time?
God's grace was evident in so many areas. Tonya's immune system was completely gone, medically speaking she should not have made it. The outpouring of prayer on Facebook and in churches all over the place was an act of grace. The cancer that had caused me to isolate from God and other unbelievers, had now by the grace of God drawn hundreds of believers to my side to encourage me. There is no way on my own volition I would have done that. God was gracious to draw me to Him, and believers to me when I needed it most. It was by God's grace that Tonya received amazing care. Doctors somehow made the correct choices without even knowing what they were fighting at first.
How has this trial of suffering strengthened your relationship with Tonya? with the Lord?
My relationship with Tonya was very strong to begin with, but this situation has made it even stronger. We lived 37 years without being able to be there for each other. We both suffer from abandonment issues due to our history with our dad. He wasn't there for her much more than he was for me. Tonya knows now that even in the worst circumstances, I will never leave her side. Watching my sister through a window, many mornings at 3 or 4am, struggling to just take each breath, made me realize just how much that I love this person.
These same times alone in the morning, also strengthened my relationship with God. I was at a point where I was helpless to do anything. All I could do was cry out to God to save my sister. Sometimes I didn't even have words, just sobs or tears. In the beginning, I felt alone without my sister. By the end, it was obvious that God has carried Tonya and the family through. We had given everything, we were drained and weary. He picked us up each time that we felt like we couldn't go on. I feel ashamed for pushing God away while I attempted to fix all my problems on my own. I have no doubt that it was only by God that Tonya was healed. His grace and love was so great that at times it felt like being hit by a truck. It was overwhelming each time Tonya was able to do something she had no business being able to do. This is one of those markers in life I can look back on and say “look what God did!”
What is one thing that you would say to estranged siblings?
For those who know they have a sibling out there, don't ever give up. Tonya prayed for years to have a relationship with me, her brother. For those scared to reach out, take the risk, it is worth it. For years, I missed out on a relationship with an incredible woman, my sister. I was held back by fear. We have a God who forgives, and who heals broken relationships. Pray!!! I can't say enough about Tonya praying and the faithfulness of God to hear that prayer.
Lastly, how can people get involved? How can we pray?
Pray for Tonya to continue gaining strength. Also, she does still have cancer. Pray that she can get rid of the cancer when her strength returns. Pray also for her three young children.
If you are interested in further updates to the story, or to know how to pray with more information, you are invited to join the Praying for Tonya Hief page.
*Tonya was actually released from the hospital yesterday to continue her recovery at home.