What Really Matters
by Adam Ahola
It was spring break 2011. We had taken the kids to Spokane to visit my wife Amy’s parents for the week. All I remember of the trip is that Amy and I had ended up in a fight. We had survived a somewhat rocky 14 years of marriage and somehow managed to raise three wonderful children. But here we were again, butting heads. Amy sensed my dissatisfaction as she tried to measure up to some idealistic standard of this world that I had created in my mind.
I did not grow up as a Seventh-day Adventist. I spent my youth bumping around various other protestant churches. When I was a young man, I had given myself over to Christ at one of these churches and for a brief time, walked the talk. But as I moved into college, work, and the business of life, church and God took a back seat. As a result, my heart hardened over the years and I became cynical towards religion and full of doubt. But once you open your heart to Jesus, he never stops knocking. When I met my future wife, Amy, I felt that pull again. She was a county girl who grew up in the Adventist church, seemingly so pure and innocent. “Here is someone better than me,” I thought. “If I can hang on to her, maybe she can rub some of that goodness off on me.”
We began attending the Woodland Adventist church. Even though I was not an official member, they welcomed me in and I helped out where I could in the small church. I was not a big Bible student. I felt intimidated at Sabbath school classes where long-time Adventist members seemed to know the Bible cover to cover. Though I went to church regularly with the family, I was still lukewarm. It was as if I was waiting for some big wave of faith to consume me and wash away all my doubt. Well, I found that it doesn’t work that way.
It was shortly after we had returned from our Spokane trip that I became severely ill with fevers and pain. A couple of doctor visits and scans revealed the devastating news. I was diagnosed with advanced Stage IV colon cancer with metastasis to the liver. The prognosis was grim to say the least. It is hard to say how anyone should react after hearing such news, but as for me, I received instant clarity of what really mattered in my life: God, family, and work. IN THAT ORDER. Up to that point, I had been living with these priorities completely backwards.
My first order of business was getting right with God. I did not know where to start, so I searched out a knowledgeable friend from church who pointed me in the right direction through a couple Bible studies. I also began reading Steps to Christ by Ellen White. It was an eye-opening experience as I realized that I didn’t have to have unshakeable faith to be saved, I just had to make the conscious choice every day to follow Christ. Faith would take care of itself.
So that’s what I began to do. As our family dove into the cancer battle, there were ups and downs, but we were seeing God’s presence constantly. A year and a half passed. I read the New Testament to completion and started in on the Old Testament. Amy and I became closer than ever and I began to truly appreciate why God had put us together. The kids stayed busy with school, piano, and softball. God seemed to have placed a shelter around them so that Daddy’s cancer did not worry them too much.
I had never been baptized, and always imagined it outdoors in a real river or stream, preferably at the Cedar Creek outdoor church service that is held once each year near Woodland. I had planned on taking the baptism step during the summer but with all the doctor appointments and treatment changes, I was distracted and procrastinated. Before I knew it August was winding down and I hadn’t even inquired about baptism. It was at this time that the cancer took a sharp turn for the worse and I realized that I may not get another opportunity if I didn’t put things into action now. I asked Amy when the Cedar Creek outdoor service was planned and she replied, “Next week.” Next week?!! I hadn’t even begun to study.
I talked to the pastor and asked if he would be willing to baptize me on such short notice and with little time to study. He agreed and I was immediately flooded with study guides and books from fellow church members. It was a wild week to say the least, splitting my time between studying and dealing with changes in my cancer treatment. By the time the Sabbath service rolled around, I found myself agitated and nervous. I wanted this baptism to be more of a private commitment, between myself and God, to follow Christ and leave my old sinful ways behind. With the presence of so many church members at the service, I was feeling the anxiety of a public display. This stress kept on right until the point where Pastor Marty approached me and said, “It’s time, let’s go get our robes on.”
A switch flipped in my mind and I knew God was with me this day. All the anxiety disappeared. As we drove up to the Cedar creek Church to dress, rain began to fall. “Well, it is Washington,” I thought to myself. “I guess it wouldn’t be right if it weren’t raining.” The drizzle continued as we made put preparations and drove back down to the outdoor service site. Elders Rick and Terry White had agreed to assist me into the water given my “weakened” condition from the cancer recurrence. As we made our way into the stream, both Terry and Rick began to slip and slide, but I felt sure as a mountain goat. I asked them if they needed some assistance and they just gave me a glance and a laugh. Finally, after we were all ready, the pastor began to say a few words. At that instant the sun broke through the cloud cover and shone brilliantly right onto the stream and stayed on us through the entire ceremony. When they immersed me in the water, a wonderful sense of warmth enveloped me and as I walked back to the shore, dry clothes or a towel were not needed. Standing on the beach afterwards, talking with family and church members, I felt God’s presence all around. It was truly a day I will never forget.
It’s now been a few months since that day and, surely, struggles remain. I still have cancer and Satan loves to plant seeds of doubt and fear in my mind whenever he can. But all I need to do is look back on the last year and half and see the blessings that God has bestowed on my marriage, my children, and my church family. I know he is, and always has been with me. I will use whatever time God grants me to build my family stronger in the Lord, study His word, and do my best to live the life Jesus intended for me a long time ago. And the faith will take care of itself.
Note: Early this year, Adam passed away. While sorely missed by his family, friends, and church family, he now waits for Jesus' return and the reunion of that day.