It’s hard to cry for departed Christian friends because I know where they are and am confident I’ll see them again. It’s much easier to weep for those they left behind. We must all await our time to enter the realm of God.
My friend Paula left us last month. Paula is a vivacious, generous, and gentle soul who God pulled into my life and became my friend just before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. (If you missed it, here are easy links to part one and part two.)
I originally assumed God had brought us together for me to help her with her cancer diagnosis; but in a short matter of time we could see that we were meant to lean on each other through the suffering of this disease. Two Christian women fighting shoulder to shoulder with the big C.
God’s plan in our friendship really became evident when Paula’s disease metastasized to bone and brain and her faith began to falter. (You can read that here with links to part one and part two.) It scared me because she was one of the most solid women I knew. If her faith could crumble so easily … could mine?
What I didn’t know until later was that her doctors had told her she was incurable from day one.
It’s a hideous word that should not have found its way into our lexicon. I wondered how having that word spoken over you could damage your psyche. Now I could really appreciate just how tough and resilient she was. She’d lasted almost two years with that label slapped on her and her faith had just now had begun to slip. I counted my blessings that no doctor has ever used that word or, the alternate, “terminal” with me. Of course we are all terminal in one way or another.
Determined to restore her faith, we embarked on a 28-day bible study by Kay and David Arthur called Lord, I Need Answers. I’m not sure if it was the weekly camaraderie or God working through the study itself (or both!), but we were equally refreshed and stronger by the time we completed that study. I cheered as Paula was able to say with confidence the ultimate statement, “I know I’m going to Heaven when I die.” Faith reestablished! Hallelujah!
It wasn’t long though before Paula’s body began to ignore her directives. Since the disease had begun ravishing her body, she slipped into hospice care and friend after friend came by to sit with her, offering their love and support, and praying over her and with her.
It was very tough to witness this vital, faithful, loving woman fade away and I was with her on what was to become her last day. That afternoon I prayed a couple of Psalms over her (something she liked me to do when I’d come over) but found it very difficult to get through Psalm 91, one of our favorites. I dissolved into tears as I prayed God’s undying love over her. I couldn’t be sure she had heard me at all but had her hand in mine and as I was saying goodbye with a promise of returning the next day, she squeezed. I reported it to her nurse as I burst into a fresh round of tears.
Her husband, Bob, let us all know that she passed into Jesus’ arms at about 10pm that evening. I can’t say enough about Bob. He’s a good, godly man and a verifiable rock. There’s no wonder that God brought Bob into Paula’s life for a time such as this. It’s never easy for a man to lose his wife, but really God? They just celebrated their third wedding anniversary in March.
I’m beyond grateful that God brought Paula and I together two years ago. I’m overjoyed that He was able to use her in my life and me in hers right until the end. I’m thankful she heard a few chapters of my book and never once laughed!
Farewell, my friend, I love you.
“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
~ Richard Bach (Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah)
The hardest thing about writing a memoir is discovering things about yourself that you’d really rather not know. Case in point: Back in the day (almost 20 years ago now) I had an umbilical hernia that was strangulating my colon. I didn’t know it at first. I figured I had a severe case of food poisoning. I’d just started a new job and one Monday the whole office had gone out to eat at Red Robin. By that afternoon I felt so sick that I headed home early to crawl into bed and proceeded to throw everything up from the day.
The next day I felt no better. I called in sick and continued to lay in bed. At some point in the afternoon I tried a cup of tea and dry toast. Nope. That quickly came up. I spent the rest of the day in bed sipping water for sustenance. The third day I was still ill and didn’t even attempt to eat. I spent more time worrying if my new job was in jeopardy due this ill-timed outage. The fourth day dawned and once I began to throw up the water I was sipping, I knew I was in trouble. I called my office and told the admin that I was going to drag myself to the hospital. Luckily, she offered to come get me.
Upon arriving at my door, her face told me I didn’t look very good. Reaching the ER they discovered the hernia, scheduled emergency surgery, and set me up on a saline drip due to the severe dehydration. Before she left, my admin asked me if I wanted her to call my parents. I thought briefly – they were in Florida, I was in Denver – I was in a state-of-the-art hospital, and the doctor had already explained the procedure. (My biggest fear was that the hernia had caused some of my colon to die and I’d wake up with a bag that I’d have to wear the rest of my life.) I told her that I didn’t want them called.
Even though she did call them and by the time I was out of surgery they were on their way; I wondered for years afterward why didn’t I want them called? I mean. Who does that? Who goes through major surgery and doesn’t contact the only people in their life who truly love them?
I’ve thought about this for years without really coming to an answer.
God brought me into my parent’s home a few years before I was diagnosed with cancer. My parents have been absolute troopers throughout the diagnosis, surgery, and treatments and there is absolutely no way I could have gotten through it all without them. But I’ve also witnessed the emotional stress they’re under. It occurred to me the other day. The reason I didn’t call them 20 years ago and the reason I wish they didn’t have to go through this now.
I’m a burden.
I don’t know how much of that is actually true, but for some reason it is how I feel. I didn’t want to burden them back in Denver and I hate that I’m burdening them now. They are retired and should be living days that are wild and carefree. But I see the stress on their faces. I hear their fighting over nothing at all. And I know I’m to blame. Not me, really, but my situation. Without me however, my situation wouldn’t exist. So where do I end and my situation begin? And how can I ever get over this feeling?
This probably won’t make the book unless I hear from God on the matter. Writing the memoir shines a light onto my psyche and in most cases I can illustrate an encouraging message that has developed from my past. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing it at all?
PS: My admin apologized later for calling my parents against my wishes but when she’d picked me up, she said she was so scared because I was gray. I don’t hold it against her. Anyone in the right mind would have wanted their parents called. Maybe they’re right (whoever they are) – writers are crazy.
Don’t you love when God hits you sideways with something He’s probably been trying to get through to you for a while and you finally get it?
I admit, I have to laugh. Because when I do get it, I can look back and see how long He’s been after me to learn something. I laugh because God knows I’m a dolt sometimes and loves me anyway! He’s so good to give us space to laugh at ourselves.
In Bible Study Fellowship this week we’re studying John 16 and one of the questions asks, “What circumstances in your life test your commitment to follow Jesus?” I thought and thought about this question because over the past 9 years the Lord has brought me to a place where I can no longer imagine not following Him.
So I considered my previous life … a time when I backslid … and answered with the situations that tested (and won over) my commitment to follow Jesus. Namely – success in my career (which gave me prestige and popularity), health (which wasn’t that good, but wasn’t bad enough to worry about), and finances (which were so that I was frivolous and spent buying possessions to fill up the ache in my heart).
As we answered the question in leader’s group on Saturday, I looked at the words on the page: career, health, finances …
The three were the world’s interpretation of success. I spent my time focusing on those things that were going to help me live the “good life.” I was doing good. I had everything I needed and then some. I … I … I … what I didn’t see was the gulf between God and I getting wider and wider until … I lost it all.
That’s when it hit me. I’d answered the question a couple of days prior but right in the middle of leader’s group I had an epiphany.
God had brought me to the end of myself.
Ten years ago I was ignoring God and doing my own thing – great career, decent health, super finances. But now …
Now I have no career, no health, and no finances!!!
Why do I sound so happy?
Because I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been in my whole life! That alone fills me with so much hope and joy I’m busting at the seams. At the end of myself my thirst was quenched, my pain was comforted, and my sorrow turned to joy.
So no, nothing can get me to go back to the world’s system. I’m following Jesus as closely as I can and when I get a little ahead of Him … or perhaps lag too far behind … I know that He’ll pull me close to Him again.
Have you come to the end of yourself yet?
Some flowers like the Bird of Paradise grow so slowly that we’d be happy to have their lifespan worked out into human years. But others, like the Hibiscus, bloom and die within one day.
Verse 16 of Psalm 103 goes on to state: “the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.“
Our days are numbered on this planet, so make every day count for the Kingdom!