Tuesday, November 17, 2015

on death and dying

In the past month, James and I have been grieved by the loss of two dear friends of ours.  Both were men of deep faith, who had given themselves wholly to the Lord. They loved much, and we were the happy recipients of their love and many kindnesses over the years. They will be deeply missed, not only by us, but by literally hundreds of other people who were blessed to know them.  In light of that, some thoughts...

*Attending memorials is no cocktail party, or so I quipped to a friend of mine. This was immediately followed by the thought, “Why not?”  As in, why do we not have cocktails at funerals? What were we thinking?! Something to imagine...and consider for the future. J

*”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” has been a verse that has repeatedly come to my mind over the past year. (And yes, the Holy Spirit speaks this verse to me in the King James.) We do not fear death, because God is present. He is with us. We have great hope because we know that Christ has conquered death.  However, fear is not the same as grief. We grieve, and grieve deeply. It is good and right to do so. 

*Some days, James seems closer to death than others. Other days, death seems farther away but still the most merciful option in this broken, pained, sin-cursed world. Today, he is getting chemo (did you know we changed chemo days to Tuesdays?) while running a fever. I suppose this is a “feels like death” kind of day if nothing else.

*Have you ever been to the wedding where everyone kind of knew that you were the next one to get hitched? There are no words to express what attending a funeral feels like when you have a terminal illness, and your friends know how sick you are.

*God has specially gifted some people who are able to create space for grief. They don’t try to fix it, speak truth to your pain, or try to reframe your reality. They are pained, and they are present. And that is a gift, both to give and to receive.

*It’s hard not to wonder – Is this the last year we will celebrate Christmas with James?

*One day, while praying for James, while pleading to God for his life, I said, “This is such a small thing for You!” I was rebuked and reminded that it is not a small thing to God. Our pain, our suffering, our grief may be a lot of things, but it is not small. It is not inconsequential to God. It means very much to the One who carried our sorrows and bore our griefs. He feels what we feel, and is pained by our sorrow. If James dies, it will not be a small thing to God. The death of His son James, whenever that is, will be a big deal to God. (Psalm 116:15)

*The song “The Greatness of our God” is strangely, wonderfully comforting these days.  Take a listen.

*John Piper once wrote a devotional on sorrow based on Psalm 126:5,6. Though I read it some 20 years ago, I remember his words that the sower goes out weeping with seed to sow, which means we take our tears with us. Our tears accompany us while we continue our work of living, and loving. There are still sandwiches to be made, embraces to be enjoyed, conversations to savor. Grief does not keep us from living...we will not be held hostage by grief. Rather, we force it come along for the ride.

*There is a grief that actually feels like physical pain. I call it soul-strangling. C.S. Lewis described it as an inability to breathe. Let’s both be right.

*Every truly great tale has some dark chapters, and those stories (and the characters) are better for it. One day, our joy will be much, much greater for the sorrow that we are presently experiencing (1 Peter 4:12,13). Our griefs will be swallowed up and our tears, every last one of them, will be wiped away. I am most sure of this very thing.

*Similarly, this is not the end...some days it feels like it. But then one of us will turn to the other and say, “This is not the end. God is not done writing this.” Even when death comes, that is not the end. There is more.

*C.S. Lewis said that God shouts to us in our pain. God hasn’t yelled at me lately...but I can testify that He has never been more real, more present to James and me than in these days.

And no sky contains, no doubt restrains
All You are
The greatness of our God.
I spend my life to know, and I’m far from close
To all You are,
The greatness of our God

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