Amber and Dave VanVickle on Finding God in the Midst of Suffering
‘I used to want the longest life, perfect health and happiness, but really it is that feeling that I am so glad that this isn’t all there is ... and that we have heaven to wait for, and that we’ll be with Jesus, and there will be no more tears …’ — Amber VanVickle (1982-2023)
In moving testimony captured just ahead of Amber VanVickle’s cancer diagnosis in 2019, Amber and her husband, Dave, talk candidly with Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka about their own faith journeys, piercing personal suffering, incessant searching for miracles that never come, and the light they both found in the true vocation of marriage.
As thousands mourn the loss of this beautiful mother of five who died Feb. 23, and will be laid to rest this Saturday, please take the time to watch this conversation, highlighting the heartfelt words of a courageous woman who endured such suffering with a fierce heroism and grace. May we all pray for such wisdom and understanding amidst our own trials and crosses, especially as we continue on our Lenten journey.
Released just a couple of days ahead of her wake and funeral, Amber first begins by talking about her own faith life, growing up in a Catholic household, and never straying from God.
“I kind of bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have this really great conversion story — like my husband has this really great ‘lightning moment’ where he encounters the Lord, and I never had that. ... And that must be just because I have been Catholic all my life. I have never really strayed ...”
Amber and Dave both speak passionately about their fervent prayers to God asking for healing for two of their five children who were born with disabilities, hoping their pleas would be heard, until they came to understand that the pain they felt, what some might call a “tragedy,” was much more. As Dave explains: “Now looking back, it was the first time I really ever experienced the cross.”
With a son born with cerebral palsy and a daughter born with spina bifida, even friends joked the family was “due for a miracle,” Amber recollects. “It took a long time, it was definitely a practice of mine to be like, ‘Lord, not my will but yours ...’”
“Finally it was just like, ‘No, Lord, if this is your will, and our children are not to be healed, because that is how you have created them to be and they have their own vocation, and you have a plan for them as they are, then just give us the strength to follow out your plan and surrender ...’”
It was finally through immersing herself in the Gospel daily that Amber finally began to see clearly what the Lord requires of all of us, as we begin to make our will his. And a real turning point for Amber was when her husband said: “You can’t be angry at God if you don’t have a relationship with him.”
The conversation lays bare the true meaning of marriage: two people finding their way to heaven through each other, through the vocation of marriage as husband and wife. Dave says simply that they are soulmates.
“I know you’re not supposed to say you believe in soulmates, but pretty much it’s been … that way. … Every time we go through something or we have this journey in life, I say, ‘Thank God this is who I am with,’” Dave says, adding, “For us, I think they say if you’re married, that’s how you’re going to get to heaven; there is no question in my mind that our marriage is how we are going to heaven, in our vocation to marriage.”
And the suffering brings them closer, Amber adds, and such a silver lining to the crosses they carry. “I’m grateful to God because, with every hardship, it brought us closer together, and we’ve been so blessed to journey on this road together ...”
“We know that we’re fulfilled in having a relationship with God right now, and we are so joyful, but we are so happy because we get to spend our eternity with him,” Dave says, before reflecting on a vision of true love found every Easter morning. “The empty tomb is one of the greatest things you can ever see in your life ...”
“I used to want the longest life, perfect health and happiness, but really it is that feeling that I am so glad that this isn’t all there is … and that we have heaven to wait for, and that we’ll be with Jesus, and there will be no more tears,” Amber says. “This is not supposed to be heaven on earth ...”
And in a beautiful denouement, husband and wife say in unison: “He is who he said he was.”
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Please continue to pray for Amber, Dave and their family.
- amber vanvickle