It couldn't be happening. But it was. Their youngest boy, the delight of their lives, had become a victim of an illness Lillian had only read about. "Will he be all right?" she whispered.
"We'll try chemotherapy," the doctor said. "It works in many cases."
Many cases. But theirs was the only one Lillian could think of right now. How could such a terrible thing have happened to them? Raul, now nineteen and a college student, had always been so healthy.
"It's my fault," Lillian heard her husband whisper, as the doctor turned and went down the hall. "All my fault."
"What do you mean?" Lillian put her arms around Anibal. "You had nothing to do with this. Cancer isn't contagious."
"That's not what I mean," Anibal brushed aside a tear. "I've done wrong things in my life. God must be punishing me for my sins, by giving Raul this illness. How could I suffer more than by watching my child suffer?"
Lillian shook her head. "Whatever any of us has done, God forgives us when we ask," she insisted. "He wouldn't deliberately send cancer to anyone." But her words fell on deaf ears. Anibal was convinced that his child's sickness was retribution for his own failings, and nothing was going to change his mind.
Raul began chemotherapy, a difficult process for anyone, let alone a not-yet-mature young man. Life continued along a shadowed path. And Anibal continued to feel responsible for it all. One day while driving to work, he began to weep. "God," he sobbed, "please let me know that You have forgiven me for my sins. I have to know...please send me a sign." He was nearing his office, so he pulled over to the curb to dry his eyes. The traffic light turned red, and a car pulled up alongside him. Anibal glanced over---and felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Painted on the car in big, black letters was just the message he had requested. "BE AT PEACE," it said, "FOR I HAVE FORGIVEN YOU"!
Astonished, Anibal attempted to follow the car through the now-green light, but it faded into traffic. "Thank you, God," he whispered as he went on his way. Perhaps his wife had been right. Perhaps God's mercy was bigger than Anibal had ever imagined.
Anibal's inner peace continued, even when the chemotherapy failed to rid Raul's body of the disease, and it was decided to attempt a bone marrow transplant. On the day of the transplant, the Zambranas were joined at the hospital by a good friend, Dorothy, who led them in prayer. "She especially prayed that the Lord save Raul from any pain or suffering," says Lillian, "since the after-effects of this procedure can be quite severe."
When he heard this, Anibal added a prayer of his own. "If it is necessary to go through any pain, please take it from Raul, and pass it on to me," he asked God, in the stillness of his heart. "Let me suffer for my son."
Within minutes after praying, Anibal told Lillian that he had to leave. "So soon?" she asked. "We haven't even seen Raul."
"I'll see him later," Anibal said over his shoulder. Lillian assumed he had to go to work.
But Anibal had suddenly become deathly ill. Instead of going to work, he went straight home and, hardly able to walk, staggered to his bed. Pain ripped through his entire body, and he trembled in agony, asking angels to comfort him. Was he dying? Should he call the paramedics?
At the same time, Raul's bone transplant was ending. Not only had he felt no pain, he had smiled and kidded around with the nurses the entire time. "Raul, you should take some medication to relieve the side effects," one nurse cautioned.
"Why?" Raul asked. "I feel great, honest!"
Later that day, Anibal came back to the hospital. His horrible siege of suffering had ended as inexplicably as it had begun. And it was only when he heard that Raul had undergone his transplant without the slightest discomfort that Anibal realized what had taken place. God had let him bear his son's pain, just as he had requested.
Raul is healthy today, and Anibal's faith has dramatically increased. And Lillian never fails to give thanks. "We have felt the presence of our Lord and His angels many times during our son's illness," she says. "In the midst of the difficulties, He has brought blessings."