Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The great grip of grace...

I have only witnessed the passing of someone I love from this life to the next once. Having lived this long, I consider that a tremendous blessing.

Nancy was related to me by marriage and spirit, and we became especially close friends after she gave her life to Christ as a forty-something adult. We talked at least once each day as "faith-journey" questions popped into her head. She didn't prefer to read and research, she wanted to know what I believed about whatever she was pondering at any given time.

Her daily inquisitions prompted me to go to my knees and my Bible more feverishly than I had in years, and I considered the opportunity I was given to be her spiritual mentor of sorts a very serious privilege.

One beautiful summer day while we were lounging in a pool at the beach, she looked at me with the strangest expression and announced that there was something wrong. We'd been having a wonderful, lazy afternoon when out of the blue she left the pool, got dressed, and said she was driving home.

Just a few days later, I was with her in the early morning hours when C.T. scan results indicated that she had an abdominal mass. A biopsy later revealed Stage III Ovarian Cancer and we were both devastated.

I accompanied her to many of her chemo sessions, stayed with her at home when she was weak, and for hours on end, we talked about faith and our future life in heaven and what that might be like.

At some point, she asked me a question I'll never forget. "What if we're wrong about all this? What if there's no heaven?"

I always prayed that God would speak through (and in spite of) me when I knew I'd be spending time with Nancy, and I can clearly recall the answer that came to me at that moment. I said, "If we're wrong, we've lost nothing. If we're right, we've gained everything. But know this, without any shadow of a doubt, I believe we are right."

Over the next year or so I prayed, trusting that it was completely possible for God to heal her cancer if that was his will. Instead, I saw him call her "home" one starry night while I, and others who loved her, gathered around her bed.

Today, I read Job 6-9, a continuation of the account of Job's extreme suffering. As I read, my thoughts were of Nancy.

Job's suffering was so intense that he prayed to die, not because of his pain, but because of his fear that his excruciating discomfort might prompt him to say something he couldn't take back. Job was afraid of his own words.

These verses beg the question, "What about my words?". Are they healing and helpful? Or are they hurtful and harmful? Am I careful to take every thought captive (as instructed by scripture) before I verbally regurgitate whatever pops into my brain? Do I ever run roughshod over someone with no regard for his or her feelings or circumstances-- as in the case of Job's "friends"?

I do recall being intentional about my words with Nancy. I wish I could say that was the rule in my life in every situation. Sadly, I know better. To her great credit and despite her eventual agony, I never heard Nancy utter a word of accusation against God or a genuine proclamation of self-pity. She, like Job, acknowledged her suffering and its resulting limitations, but she continued to place her hope in God's goodness and trust in his plan--a great witness to me, the supposedly mature Christian.

Nancy developed a precious (almost surreal) peace as her days on earth were drawing to a close. I watched in awe as she almost nestled into invisible arms. Job, a man who lived thousands of years ago, knew that things would be different for him if only he had someone to identify with his suffering--a mediator-- someone to plead his case before God.

How amazing that verses 32-35 of chapter 9 describe perfectly the work of Jesus Christ. God mysteriously revealed what was to come to Job, and miraculously, this fact was preserved for us to read all these years later.

The God-breathed inspiration of scripture is demonstrated time and again in similar ways throughout the 66 books of the Bible. My sweet grandchildren, there have always been scoffers and naysayers, and there always will be. You may even face times of doubt and possibly testing and/or suffering--but remember this, God says you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). He doesn't play hide and seek with us, in fact, he says in Matthew 7 that if we seek we will find, if we knock the door will open.

No matter what happens in this life, know this: there is One in whose arms you are safe and secure. The mediator, the one who identifies with all that we'll ever face, has come. His name is Jesus. His grip is great and his grace is sufficient. Nestle.

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