Okay, so…I know this is a less than cheery topic, but one that I feel like needs to be talked about. When I wrote the last blog entry, “When Your Friend Has Cancer,” the response was overwhelming. I have realized from the many messages, comments, and calls that this is a topic that affects so many people, and one that few people know how to address.
First of all, let me say that I in no way assume to be an expert on the topic of dealing with the horrific news of terminal cancer, but I have walked the path. I have done a lot of soul searching on this topic and a LOT of praying about it. Keith was a great man. He was doing great things for God and His Kingdom. I really thought it would be a much better plan for God to miraculously heal him than to take him through death. But, you know, that didn’t happen. Keith died. And I, like so many of you out there, was left to try and make sense of it all.
I actually wrote this as an email to a friend earlier this week , as she is walking with a friend through a bad cancer report. She encouraged me to post it in the blog, so I am going to give it a try. I have also just learned of another friend that is traveling this path as well. I know how raw and devastating news like this is. In no way would I try to minimize that. I just want to remind you of the hope we have in Christ.
We as a society have assigned ages to “they are just too young to die,” when it is not really ours to assign. Anything above 70 seems like an okay time, over 80 is even better. I’m not sure why that is, except that maybe it is assumed that someone has been able to live a full live if they live for more than 8 decades. Psalm 90:10 says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” There is a school of thought that says this verse means that it is God’s plan for us all to live to at least 70. If we die earlier than that it means that some external force has been involved. I have a hard time with that. I believe if God wanted us all to live to 70, then we would all live to 70. Sometimes that’s not how it happens, so does that mean God wasn’t powerful or strong enough to make a difference? I don’t think so. He knows our days. He lovingly leads us along and then wraps His arms around us when that last day dawns.
Keith and I had an epiphany about this right after we found out that his cancer was back and was incurable. We were sitting in a booth at Chili’s and I was crying. It was one of those cries where you gasp for breath every so often. I finally regained my composure, and in an attempt to change the subject, I told Keith that we needed to pray for Trey (Bethany’s boyfriend), because one of his best friends had died the day before from brain cancer. He was 22 years old and left a wife and young child. I will never, ever forget what happened next. Keith looked at me and said, “I’ll bet that young man would have given anything to have lived to be 53.” It was at that moment that my bitterness turned to blessing God for all the wonderful, wonderful years we had together. I still wasn’t prepared to accept the news, but I began to understand how blessed I was to have shared my life with this man.
I still asked for healing, but I also remember the day when God said, “He will not be healed, but he’s not dead yet.” I was spending all of my time refusing to think about what would happen if he died, (especially because it seemed like a lack of faith). That epiphany led me to say, “Okay, if I really am going to lose him, what are the most important things for me to do while he is still here.”
There comes a point in a crisis like this that a person of faith (even if they have been a believer most of their lives) comes to the point of saying, “I am either going to believe God and trust Him, or I am not.” I know if you asked anybody involved right now, they would say, “Of course we trust God.”
But right now they are trusting God for something that they want to happen. What if it doesn’t?
In the quietness of their heart, when they are alone, there will come a face to face time of belief. That is, even if God chooses not to heal, it’s okay. They decide that they really do believe that there is something better beyond this life and they are ready to go there!
I’ll never forget something that happened the day Keith died. We were sitting by the pool and our sweet Roman Catholic neighbor (Leo) came over. He was speechless. He was a man of faith, and he and Keith had spoken often of spiritual things. On this day, though, all he could say was, “I am so sorry.” As he left, he bent over to hug Keith, and Keith whispered in his ear, “Leo, I’m excited!” Leo told me later that was a moment he will never forget, and that he has told anyone that will listen to him about it.
My friend Jennifer Speer said something to me not long ago that I have thought about a lot. She said, “If we really believe what is waiting for us, then why do we fight so hard to hang on to these old shells?”
This is not a topic that I planned to write about, because on the surface it sounds like I don’t believe God can or will heal people, or that we shouldn’t fight illness with all our might. Nothing is farther from the truth! I have seen God perform miracles and heal people that medical science has given up on. We also fought Keith’s illness with every possible medical means available. There comes a point, however, when you begin to realize, “Hmmmm…all my life I have wondered how I would die, and it looks like this may be it.” I believe God gave Keith an end of life platform that he was exemplary in using. Even in his death he gave a lot of people (including me and the kids) a glimpse into God’s faithfulness to the very end.
Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
I have reached the point that I believe that Keith had accomplished all that God had for him to do here and God allowed him to come on home. I have an image of Jesus standing at the edge of Heaven saying, “Hey, Keith! Today’s the day! C’mon!!!”
I honestly don’t know who I am writing to today, I just know I was supposed to write. Usually when I sit down to do this it is because I have a thought that I want to explore. Today, though, I felt compelled to write this. I don’t know why. All I know to do is share our story and what meant the most to us.
If you are a friend of someone who is dying of cancer, I would say to take some time and write down what they mean to you, and why. Recall funny and endearing times that you have had with them and tell them. Don’t put it off. When a doctor says someone has a month to live, that may be a week. Or it may be 6 months. You don’t know, so don’t wait.
If you are the one with the diagnosis, I have to tell you I am a little jealous. I know that may seem morbid or crazy, but if you are a follower of Christ, knowing that you are close to entering the glory of Heaven has to be breathtaking. I asked Keith on the way home from the doctor’s office the day we found out he had 2 weeks to live if he was afraid to die. “No,” he responded quickly. “I am just nervous about the process. I don’t want to linger and I don’t want to die in a way that it will be difficult for our children to see. But I am not afraid of death.”
A dear, godly friend of mine, Esther Burroughs, called me shortly after Keith’s death. We talked for a while and then she asked me to tell her about Keith’s passing from this life to the next. I did, and I will never forget her response. Her voice went to a whisper, and she said, “How marvelous. I can’t wait!”
If you are the spouse of someone who has received this news, I want you to know that I feel and know your pain. Just the memory of it makes me somewhat nauseous. My only words to you would be to try and not focus on what is ahead, rather focus on the time that you have left together. Block out the world. Talk about your life together. If there are children, talk about dreams that you both have for them. Let them tell you the things that are important to them. I promise you will want to know this later. You might also encourage them to make a video or write a note to their children or grandchildren to be read on a special day or event. Your spouse has been given an opportunity to leave a legacy that can one day be life changing. Keith had wanted to write a blessing that would be read at each of our children’s weddings, but he ran out of time. Instead, he asked his best friend to step in for him at both weddings, which he has done.
I can honestly say that this has been the toughest blog post I have yet to write. I am writing with tears in my eyes as I know some of the ones who are reading are facing some of the most difficult days of their lives. I don’t know why God allows some to be miraculously healed and some to die. I can tell you from experience, however, that the peace that He can provide is real and is available to you if you will open yourself up to it.
As I wipe away tears today, I wish you blessings, my friends!