Predicting the Future

I feel like I’m living in a crystal ball and have the ability to predict the future. That’s because I’m thinking about 5 years ago at this time and know what happened next.

On this date, October 20, Nate was two weeks from his death. We all knew the situation was severe, but none of us knew the end would come so soon.

Nate's last birthday.I’ve been reading last year’s blogs, and today we were signing Hospice papers, including the most emotional one, a living will. Our children demonstrated great strength that day when I was feeling weak, stepping forward to sign as witnesses beneath their father’s signature on the document. Could there be any more difficult task in the life of a child?

But surprisingly, in examining the negatives of those days 5 years ago, several striking positives have emerged:

1. First of all, new waves of appreciation for Nate have washed over us. Once someone is gone, all petty grievances disappear. It’s easy to focus on the good, and all of us are wholeheartedly thankful for Nate, without the slightest reservation.

2. The second positive has been fresh gratitude toward God, who repeatedly pulled us out of a sea of sadness and set our feet on solid ground. When everything else was stormy, the Lord kept us calm, and that included Nate. God showed his involvement daily and kept every scriptural promise. He didn’t stop the cancer, but he held us close throughout the ordeal, and does so still.

3. A third positive is becoming aware of the progress over these 5 years. Today we’re all veterans of grief. It was hard work, lasted a long time, and involved plenty of tears. But each of us has increased in our understanding of what it’s like to mourn someone we love. We’ve also learned that the process includes times of well-being and peace, side-by-side with sorrow.

4. Because of our experience in losing Nate, all of us can commiserate with others who’ve lost someone special, which is positive number four. We can say, “I know how you feel” to a hurting friend and mean it.

5. Five years ago, our days were packed with problems, losses, and emergencies. We had no time to process what was happening or think too deeply about it. The demands of each day called for putting one foot in front of the other and getting through “just barely.” Now, because life has regained routine, we have the time to ponder, an important positive.

6. And one more: we have a stronger focus on eternity. Part of the October 20th blog 5 years ago was the detailing of a new strategy: we decided that day to start talking about heaven. I wrote, “The time has come to shine a spotlight on his brightest hope.”

It’s true none of us lives in a crystal ball, but because we know the Lord, we can accurately predict that our separation from Nate is only temporary. The future sees us together again in heaven, and focusing on that is positive indeed.

”I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

Thank you.

Those of us who started attending church when we were on the cradle roll are happy to talk about God. We’re usually faithful to pray, and we’re even comfortable with praying out loud if asked. After all, Jesus became our childhood friend as we met him through flannel-graph stories in Sunday school. Talking to him was much like talking to any of our other friends.

FlannelgraphThen we grew older and learned there was more to it than that. We realized God wasn’t on a par with any of our other friends but was unique, superior, someone who merited reverence and awe, and the utmost of respect.

Eventually we were taught that to fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and surely approaching God ought to be done as wisely as possible. Did that mean he wanted us to be afraid of him when we prayed? If so, then why did he tell us to “come as little children” and “come boldly to the throne of grace?” Can we come to him that way if we’re afraid?

At the very least, fearing God probably means respecting his authority and power. He’s the ultimate in both categories and can do anything he wants with anything he’s created, which includes us. If we’re on his bad side, he is to be feared indeed, since he will judge all of mankind. He also wants us to revere him as God of gods, holy and perfect.

While I was contemplating what might be the wisest way to approach the Lord, probably making it more complicated than it needed to be, I heard someone pray a wise prayer. Sandy was asked to pray at the conclusion of our women’s Bible study today. We’d had a discussion about true wisdom and fearing God. If I’d been the one praying, I probably would have started by begging God to give us more wisdom, but not Sandy.

ThankfulnessShe started by thanking God for who he is and continued to list reasons all of us were thankful for him. The middle of her prayer was more gratitude, one thing after another, and she concluded with a final series of thank you’s. Her prayer was all about the Lord and nothing about us.

How unusual, I thought, to pray for several minutes without ever asking for anything. It was simply thank you… thank you… thank you.

And it was wise.

“The Lord said… ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so’.” (Deuteronomy 4:10)

Life is for the Living

photo(1)On Monday of this week Mary endured her last chemo in a series 18 infusions stretching from early-May to mid-October. She is, as she says, “Glad to be done.” Here are her thoughts on this life-altering experience:

When I first learned I had pancreatic cancer last February, I thought I’d be long gone by summer. But here I am, having benefited from a delightful summer and now enjoying the beauty of fall. One thing cancer has taught me is how to fully live in-the-now. God has made hundreds of promises to us, but none guarantees a specific length of days, and though I vaguely knew that before my cancer, now I really get it. Letting go of my future has made me very grateful for today.

Some cancer patients say they feel like a walking time bomb. Others talk about a dark cloud hanging over their heads. My intention is to reject those negatives and find my identity in Christ rather than in cancer statistics or medical opinions.

In my case, surgery and chemo bought me some time, and time is precious. But none of the doctors can say I’m cured, nor have they given me a hope for that. As a matter of fact, the word they’ve used to describe my cancer is “vicious.” So I’m not in denial but am hoping to live somewhere between the extremes of denial and despair. I’m pretty sure that’s where God wants me to be.

Life is for the living, and I want to live each day well. As a result of my cancer, I’m holding tightly to four important principles that I knew before my diagnosis but have experienced in new ways since then. They’ll benefit me for the rest of my life, however long that is:

  1. God’s promises are powerful and true.
  2. God answers prayers.
  3. God provides exactly the strength and endurance needed.
  4. The community of believers is important.

Spending too much time alone isn’t good for any of us, and I’ve learned that the best kind of company is that of encouraging Christians who find their hope in the Lord. If I trust only in myself, my frame of mind quickly spirals downward.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 1:18: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. I’m thankful God considers me one of his “holy people” and that my inheritance is a glorious one.

Though I should continue making plans, I need to hold them lightly, remembering that life is a series of letting-go’s…. of the calendar, of our possessions, and of our favorite people. Cancer forced me to consider these things up close, and I’m thankful for that.

So, whatever happens from now on, I’m certain God won’t let me die till he says it’s time. And that’s good enough for me.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:2)