Monday, July 28, 2014

One Year

It’s been a year since Susan died. I was honored to share our story in church yesterday about how God has spoken to us through the Psalms and to tell in part what he’s done during our journey:

The events still seem surreal to me. Breast cancer in 2006, a brain tumor in 2007, surgeries, complications, chemo and radiation, hospital stays, hospice, and then finally Susan passing away at home one year and one week ago.

What’s more remarkable though, is that as things began to unfold, Susan and I had a sense that God had prepared us for what was happening. We had peace. We knew that God had good plans for us no matter what. He was enabling us to trust him, and we did. In spite of the worst kind of crisis, the life and death kind, we knew the Lord was with us and everything was okay.

There were a number of things in our lives that led us to that particular sense of God’s provision, like when in early 2007 Susan had a spiritual breakthrough – the latest among others. She told Joyce Wybenga that she truly knew God loved her, personally, fully. It was a rich experience for her.

More preparation came around April 2007 when I spent that month seeking God in Psalm 23 so I could help lead the Oasis worship and prayer meeting. I found new insights in its words and gained a wonderful new confidence in God.

Just two months later, we learned of Susan’s brain tumor. I had no idea how Psalm 23, now from my heart, would comfort Susan as she struggled through the pain and fog of her disease. I realized that God had put that word inside me ahead of time so it could come back out when we needed it.

As time went on, we both became more dependent on God. We settled into praying all the time, hoping for the best, and being ready for anything. The attitude of David’s Psalm is amazing. He writes, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me."

In a closer look at those words, the "even though" speaks of God's resources for us during times when nothing makes sense. He invites our trust and then builds us up as we trust him when it's so hard.

  • To "walk through the valley" speaks of us moving through hardship. It's not a destination - we don't stay there. It’s hard, but somehow we’re okay. There are good things to come.
  • The "shadow of death" is just that, a shadow. While we must encounter death in this world, it has no hold on us. Although its power is greater than our own, it cannot claim or govern us because Christ has overcome it for us. The reason it appears as a shadow is that there is a greater light above it.
  • "I will fear no evil" speaks of God's love, which is his very nature. He wraps us up in his perfect love, and it casts out all fear.
  • "You are with me" is as personal as it gets. God knew each of us before the foundation of the world. Although sin, death and evil may threaten to separate us from him, he guards his children. He draws us near. He remains with us and for us.

Other Psalms got woven into our lives during and after Susan’s illness. Vicki Gelberg gave us Psalm 103: "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion."

Chris Olson gave us Psalm 121, personalized for Susan: "I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does Susan's help come from? Her help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. The LORD will keep Susan from all harm—he will watch over her life; the LORD will watch over her coming and going both now and forevermore."

The Psalms still speak. Recently I got this from Psalm 89: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” Then I connected it with Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

How brilliant is God then? He attracts us to himself so we’ve got his love and faithfulness out front with his goodness and mercy following behind. He’s done that for us. It’s perfect – he’s places us right in the middle of his provision, like a Psalm sandwich. God is amazing.

Several things come to mind about what the Lord has done during our journey. First, God is developing my character.

In showing me his nature, he’s also shown me my own. That part’s not pretty. My sinful nature rages inside me and often spills out. The hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” That’s me. I’m often shocked at how easily I forget who I am. At the same time, I always know I’m his. I am bonded to God. I know that because of Christ, God doesn’t see my sins. He’s removed my transgression from me. In his eyes, I’m a saint, so I’ll go with that.

Second, God has poured out his tremendous love for us. He has loved us immensely through our church. You prayed for us. You supported us with encouragement, cards, cash, gift cards, housecleaning and meals. You volunteered companion care with Susan for six hours every weekday for six years so our family could go to work and school. A choir army of you painted our house inside and out in about four hours one Saturday. I call it “Extreme Makeover – Brain Tumor Edition.” You all showed God’s love to us in life-giving ways. We will always be grateful.

God also allowed me to love my wife well. Sometime earlier we learned at church that Susan’s primary love languages were time spent and acts of service. These were the things that if I would just do them, she’d feel most loved by me. Now she was compromised and needed lots of help, so I got to care for her – with time spent and acts of service. It’s true that cancer brought that on rather than my own big-heartedness; but I’m glad it happened. Susan knew she was loved.

Third, God has brought us salvation and healing. Susan died well. She used up every ounce of life in her body, but for six years, her spirit forged ahead. She had peace inside her that only deepened. Her confidence in God and in his good plans for us only grew. She was not afraid to die. When that time came, as much as it has grieved us, there was nothing left unsaid or undone, nothing between Susan and me or our kids that needed to be restored. She was complete. That was a gift.

But there’s another gift. God comforted and strengthened us and he let others see it or perhaps feel it. He has allowed us to comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. I don’t understand all of that, but I’ll go with it.

Finally, God has worked for good through a hard situation. He’s brought things into perspective for me. Susan had 52 years on the earth, not long enough; but I know even 90 years whiz by. I’m 51 and I know my days here are numbered. The system of this world is all messed up; and yet we spend so much of ourselves devoted to it and so little of ourselves devoted to God. I’m compelled to make my time here count for God while I have it. His kingdom is the only one that will last.

Moses said to God on Mount Sinai, “Show me your glory.” God’s response surprised me. He said, “I will cause all of my goodness to pass in front of you.” God is good. Along with love, goodness is his very nature. I believe he wants to grow us into people who know his goodness. Sometimes the only way he can do that is to put us in situations where it’s impossible to do anything but trust him.

Think about it. He took Moses out of a palace in Egypt, made him wait 40 years in the wilderness, brought him to the end of himself leading Israel out of captivity, until finally, Moses couldn’t wait to know more about God. He had to go through a whole bunch of things that didn’t make sense. He had to learn to trust God in that and let God reshape his desires.  God grew Moses so much into his goodness that he was allowed to come face to face with it.

What if we could embrace every situation God puts us in with a sense of Godly adventure and with the confidence that there’s a glorious discovery at the end of it? Our first reaction is to cry out and cave in under suffering, but what if God wants to help us rise up under hardship? What if we just need to allow him?

If God can use a hardship like brain cancer to prune away things that don’t belong in our lives and prepare us for heaven while giving us a greater awareness of his presence, isn’t that a good thing?

1 comment:

Jenae Loofbourrow said...

Thank you Michael. These are revelations that only come with countless hours in the secret place with Jesus. Thank you for sharing what He has spoken and even speaking into my life. The song Where I Belong and Made For You by Matt Gilman on his Holy CD comes to mind. You have found where you belong in His presence and it is a beautiful thing.