Each year, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation gives a special award to a National Bible Bee family that endured and overcame significant hardship during that year’s journey. This year, that award was given to the Hawkins family, who has undergone intense difficulty amidst the trial of cancer that Mrs. Hawkins has experienced. As a mother of six children and a host of the NBB, Sunny would like to share part of her story with us by answering a few questions. In her own words, “I’ve been able to relish the word alongside my husband and children, and the Lord has walked us through the issues of life with His word as a guide. National Bible Bee has challenged me to get back into the practice of memorizing scripture.”
Tell us a bit about your story
In April of 2019, I was told that I had breast cancer, and that I would need chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. I was also told that I would no longer be able to bear children due to the treatment. I was given a hormone-blocking drug and a date for surgery. When I went in to have the surgery, I was told that I could not have it due to pregnancy (which we’d understood to be medically impossible at that time). Perplexed, we went home, rejoiced, and prayed. I’d lost my last two babies and had grieved the closing of my womb, but accepted it as the will of the Lord. Now with a cancer diagnosis and pregnancy, things became strange. Doctors who had seemed friendly and hopeful were urging me to abort the baby. They tried scaring me with stories of things that could be “wrong” with the baby. They reminded me that I already had five children and didn’t “need” another. I knew full well that the Lord might very well take the baby, and I was content to suffer loss at His hand. But I also knew that I would not submit to an abortion. We would just have to trust the Lord with both of our lives. And in January 2020, by His grace, Grace Victoria Hawkins was born healthy. However, in February 2020, I received news that the cancer in my body had spread. I was now a mother of six with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. There is no reported cure for what I have. The diagnosis is considered terminal. The Lord has sustained me thus far, and I continue to trust Him. I have days when I feel almost like my old self, and days when I am in so much pain that I can barely walk. I’ve tried therapies that I tolerated well, and therapies that have caused strange and frightening side effects that rendered me alive, but unable to do much. I’ve learned not to put my faith in treatment plans, but in the Lord. I’m just grateful to be able to serve Him with what I do have. My life is not my own– it belongs to Him. My prayer is that He would get as much glory as possible out of it.
Can you share with us a little about your family’s journey and involvement in the National Bible Bee?
I actually heard about National Bible Bee back in 2009 when my eldest was just a baby. I kept it in the back of my mind as something I’d love to at least attend someday if just for the fellowship with other families who love the Word of God. Scripture memory had been part of my life as a child, and I definitely wanted it to be part of my baby’s life. It wasn’t until that baby was 10 years old and had 4 younger siblings that I finally pursued that desire. We signed him up for the Summer Study and the younger siblings hitchhiked along with him– one as a beginner, one as a preschooler, and two as Bible Babies. We didn’t have any expectations, we weren’t part of a group, and we didn’t personally know any other Bible Bee-ers, but the study (Thrive– Book of James) was such a blessing! We had our son take the QT and were amazed that he qualified. This began our orientation to the beautiful network of people and families we have come to know and love through National Bible Bee. We learned about the social community and I discovered quickly how willing participants and parents were to help each other to prepare for Nats. We actually found some local families who allowed us to meet and study with them. Once at Nats that first year, we were hooked! It was like a slice of heaven– believers from so many places radiating the joy of the Lord and receiving one another in love. My son Jamie was a finalist that year. The next year, and each year thereafter, I have volunteered as a host. And each year thereafter (except 2020), one of my younger children has “aged in:” Elijah in 2019, Paisley-Joy in 2021, and Patience in 2022. Lord willing, next year, we will have a Senior, a Junior, 2 Primaries, a Beginner, a Preschooler, and a Host. We have loved being part of the National Bible Bee family and especially enjoyed the yearly prospect of inviting more families to become involved.
How have you seen it change your life?
The Lord has been so faithful through National Bible Bee to always have us studying a passage of scripture that was perfectly applicable to something I was experiencing in life at the time. I’ve been able to relish the word alongside my husband and children, and the Lord has walked us through the issues of life with His word as a guide. National Bible Bee has challenged me to get back into the practice of memorizing scripture. It has also motivated my husband and I to write and record several scripture songs. I’ve seen us become more and more able to encourage others with the truths that we have memorized. I’ve seen us become convicted of various sins and wrong mindsets. I’ve seen the Lord use His word to do exactly what it is supposed to do: teach us, train us, correct us, and redirect us– for His glory!
How has God’s Word sustained your family and given you hope in these tribulations?
Again, there are so many specific times and seasons that come to mind:
I can remember the fall of 2018– I had suffered several losses over the summer and had experienced yet another one soon after we began the study of Philippians. I was in the hospital hemorrhaging– aware of the fact that I was quickly losing consciousness– when my husband began desperately but wisely calling out Memory Passage references for me to recite. The very act of recalling and reciting God’s Word kept me clinging to life as life was actually leaving me. The Lord kept me alive, and He literally used His word to do it.
I can also recall the summer of 2019. We were studying the Psalms and I’d just received a report from the oncologist that floored me. I did not want cancer. I did not want to choose between my life and the life of my unborn child. I could not stop the tears. I could not stand. I hid in my pantry and shut the door, lay on the floor, and wailed. After some time had passed, I saw that someone had slid a page under the pantry door. It was a printout of Psalm 77 that I had made for my children to memorize. Verse 10 was circled: “And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.” I accepted the challenge. The tears of self-pity turned to tears of joy that the Lord would use my children to lift my bowed down head with His precious word. I began to remember God’s goodness. The Lord strengthened my faith in Him through the babies I’d been trying to point toward Him.
The biggest way, though, is that Scripture really is the backdrop of our lives and so it is not uncommon to have 4 family members softly singing 4 different scripture songs in a room at one time. We remind each other of scripture. We play it in the car. We get excited about cross-references! We saturate ourselves in God’s Word, so that when hard times or challenging circumstances arise, we are equipped to point each other to relevant truth for the situation at hand. It really is a beautiful thing, and I am so grateful to the Lord for giving His word to us.”
What does it mean to glorify God in your suffering?
I think there are many ways to glorify God in suffering– obedience being the first way. Suffering provides great motivation for examining one’s heart and asking the Lord to examine it too. The ugly things that He has unearthed in me have been stunning, but have driven me to the foot of the cross where I belong! When you know in a very special way that you’re at God’s mercy, and your heart’s desire is to live in a way that honors and pleases Him, and you are renewing your mind through His word, your very life becomes a means of glorifying Him. Your lips praise Him, your hands labor for Him, your feet go where He wants them to– your thought life points you to the truth of His word. Even the struggle with our stubborn flesh to get it moving in this direction glorifies God! We would never be victorious without His aid!
And the Lord asks us to give thanks in all things, so having a grateful heart is another way to glorify Him in our suffering. There is so much for which to be grateful– even when we are facing difficulty. I try often to think of all of the kindnesses the Lord so graciously shows me. They usually start with “Ha! I’m still here– Thank you Lord!” I believe you can get anywhere from gratitude. So with that grateful heart, it’s pretty easy to attribute every perceived accomplishment in the day to our kind and merciful God. In a broken body or a broken situation, it’s not hard to recognize that if you’re able to do even the simplest thing, it’s by His mercy. And just thinking about that mercy sparks joy! See what a short walk it is from gratitude to joy?
Yet another aspect of glorifying God in suffering is agreeing with Him that this is what is best for you right now. It’s called contentment. And it’s good for us. Yes, I believe in praying for deliverance, and yes, I know that He is absolutely able to heal. And I do pray for total healing of my body. And I’d love to have you pray that way too. But don’t forget that every moment that the Lord has you in a trial is a moment that you are being refined, purified, and made more like Christ. Job said, “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10). Glorifying God in suffering ultimately means trusting that He has a good plan and purposing in your heart to live in agreement with His plan– pointing to Christ whenever, wherever, and however He provides an opportunity– knowing that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Psalm 90:12-17 – “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”
Interview by NBB Alumna: Hannah Kohner