At the loss of a friend, or I hate cancer

Day Two – At the loss of a friend, or I hate cancer
(Written 1/21/2016)
I opened my computer to write this post. A simple action of my morning. I’m surrounded by some of my favorite things, my husband (quietly working on sermon prep), my coffee, my computer, and my Lutheran Study Bible. I feel warm and cozy.
I open my Facebook feed to idly post a study update, when I see the post that I knew was coming for months, but feels shocking and sad and unfair all the same.
We lost my dear friend, Melissa, to cancer overnight.
I hate cancer. My children would tell me that we don’t use the word hate. But cancer, I hate. It robs children of mothers and fathers and grandparents. It eats up time that was meant to be enjoyed together with those we love. It has no boundaries. It touches all of us in some way. It fear mongers, and leaves us wondering when it will come find us. Disease, of any kind, is of Satan, but just like all the dark things on the path behind us and before us, God redeems that too. He redeems what cancer steals. I’m holding Him to it.
There is a time to die. We know it, but we avoid it. It seems so morbid to talk about it. It’s not tea party talk or baby shower talk. But why do we avoid it with those closest to us? Why do we feel so uncomfortable affirming the truth of it in our own lives? I have two theories…it’s a little bit scary, and it’s just so big.
We may avoid talk of death, but the Bible does not. There are 839 occurrences of muth, our word for die in Ecclesiastes 3, found in Strong’s Concordance. There is a place for the reality of death. As Christians we get to talk about it and shed light in a dark place with no hope. We have Jesus and we can offer His message to a world fearing death, avoiding death, and misunderstanding death.
If something exists, it is either purposeful and from God, or made purposeful by God. God gave us death to save us from eternal despair and destruction. Death is a door. A way into God’s new beginning. With Jesus we can see this. The scales fall and our eyes are opened to what new things God is doing through death-
Heaven (real and tangible), restored relationships, a different path, a desperate need for something else, for a Savior who loves us…
Death teaches us that eternity matters, and so do we. When things die, there is room for rebirth. Without death things become stagnant. Knowing this, we can appreciate that even the death of little things are purposeful…the death of our spring flowers brings winter rest, the death of one idea, births another, the death of an activity brings time for something more.
More than that, the death of things we treasure,
the death of a loved one gives us a greater depth of desire for God and eternity,
the death of a job opens the door to something new in our lives,
the death of a friendship can show us who we are and what we value more clearly.
Read Ecclesiates 3:1-2 again carefully –
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
“Everything in its time” invites death in. We can be comfortable with it, because we are comfortable with God’s hand on it, in it, and around it.
My life will not be quite the same without Melissa. We gathered around the Word together almost every Wednesday morning for 8 years. Her insights and affection have left a Jesus shaped imprint on my heart and soul. But I know, without a doubt, that God has a plan. He will make this beautiful. His work in Melissa’s death will not be lost. He will use this, and many of us will hear a new Word of Grace as we mourn her loss.
Dear Father, birth what you would birth and let die those things that you would have die. It is all in You. Help us to give it to you, for you hold it already. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Discussion questions:
Who have you lost that left an eternal mark on you?

What do you do to help others around you deal with grief?

God’s grace in my mess

If there was a test for pastor’s wives, I generally feel like I would fail. Well, maybe not fail, but pass just barely. I have some skills in ministry. I have a degree in ministry, two, after all, and a passion for God and loving His people, but that doesn’t mean I feel like I’d pass the pastor’s wives challenge. Can anyone relate?

There is no challenge, of course. No test. No rules. Just real life and real forgiveness. So, here is my story of what felt like failure:  

My husband’s grandma died last week. We came back early from vacation and he prepared to perform the funeral. We were sad, thankful that Grandma Gigi was 98, and had been a wonderful blessing in our lives, but sad and missing her smiling face already.

Funeral day came. I dressed my kids and prayed endlessly for my husband. Lord, give him the words. Lord, give him strength. Lord, give him peace.

The family walked in the church and I sat down with my beautiful kiddos in the pew right behind “reserved for family”, because there was no room in the inn evidentially. My 3-year-old found the nifty wooden sign declaring “reserved for family” and promptly threw it to the floor. He loved the clattering noise and was ecstatic when some kind soul in front of us placed it back on the pew in reach. Three more tries and I found a different home for that sign. 

My 9-year-old, nearly refused to go up and sing with the other children in a rendition of Jesus loves me. He pushed his Old Adam shoes into the bright red carpet and walked noticeably and painfully slowly to the front of the church. 

Midway through the sermon my 11-year-old began weeping in earnest. She loved her Gigi. She was heart broken and sad, and distraught at her first real reminder that on this earth there is death and sorrow. I put my arm around her and tried to gently comfort her, until my 3 year old simply could not be contained in the quiet anymore and began stomping his feet against the pew in defiance of experiencing one more minute of the service. 

All of this was expanded by the sweet woman behind us who clearly had a hard time hearing and whispered a loud play-by-play to her fellow worshipper – “He likes that sign!” “He doesn’t want to go up there and sing!” “She misses her Grandma!” “He’s ready for the service to be over!” She meant well, and in her defense was inadvertently supportive, but it was embarrassing to say the least.

I hauled my 3-year-old out of church, down the middle aisle, burying my face in his neck to camouflage the sobs welling up in my throat. This was a disaster with a capital D. I felt spent, sad, and still anxious for my husband preaching his heart out. 

I stood in the hallway of the church, feeling lonelier than I’ve ever felt. Someone quietly walked up behind me and gave me a hug, a member of our church, a friend.

Her words were simple and sweet. Gospel in my dark moment…

“I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better.”

The message of the church- the embrace of love in the moment of despair- that’s all I needed. That embrace turned what felt like an epic mom failure and pastor’s wife nightmare into a moment between friends. 

I am not alone.

When I am weak, God gives me strength, often through His people, from someone who simply wanted to help make it better this side of heaven. 

Grandma Gigi and my tribe – We miss her and can’t wait to see her smiling face again in heaven!