Much of my life these days seems to be focused on the idea of “trials” and I suppose that is somewhat natural given my current circumstances. For those of you who don’t know me, the Lord called my wife home to be with Him this past September through the scourge of ovarian cancer. C. S. Lewis wrote upon the death of his wife, “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Wendell Berry put it equally as eloquently when describing his loss, “There was no place he could go where what had happened had not happened.” I can relate to these men, I feel her absence every day. In addition, my own Stage IV cancer has recently taken a turn for the worse as the tumors which had been relatively stable for some time have started growing again and I have had to switch to a new even more toxic chemo regimen to “manage” the remainder of my days here on earth.
Nevertheless, in spite of these circumstances, and perhaps even more importantly, because of them, I want to encourage you in your walk just as God is encouraging me with His faithfulness to me and to remind you that we are all in this together. I was reminded of this pastoral adage from a dear pastor friend, Eric Youngblood, which says, “Be kind, everyone you meet is in the middle of the great war” and I am convinced of the truth of that and for the need for us to “be kind” with one another. We are in the midst of a great war with the enemy of our soul and he wants to sift us like wheat, ground into powder by the great millstones of worry, depression, weariness, despair, guilt, etc. Each of us is facing trials of some magnitude or another and even though the broad categories might be the same; cancer, rebellion, broken relationships, economic hardship, etc., the circumstances that accompany and define each trial are unique to us and so we bear the burden differently. How are we to respond? If we view these “trials” as outside of God’s sovereignty and good plan for our lives, we will succumb and crumble under the weight of them but if we can just see God’s purpose and great love for us in them, we can rejoice in the midst of tears. God tells us through James that we are to “count it all joy when we fall into ‘diverse’ (unique to us) trials” because they are designed to “produce” something in us, namely steadfastness or perseverance and that we are to let steadfastness have its full effect, that we may be ”perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I can see God’s goodness in all that has happened in my life. He is proving to be the One I can rely on, the One who fully understands every tear that falls to the ground. He “gets it.” I can’t explain how He gets it, just as I can’t see the wind, I can only see its effect, but I am increasingly convinced that God is sufficient comfort, solace and help for whatever circumstances I find myself facing. Even the gratitude for Jan and the subsequent mourning of her absence is shifting to a deeper more profound gratitude for what Jesus accomplished on the cross and a greater mourning for the ongoing sin in my life. He is changing me to see that this trial is more about my seeing Him accurately and worshipping Him more fully than it is about death, and separation, and cancer. He is a jealous God and perhaps we are conflicted about that because we are often “jealous” for our own wants and we think God gets in the way of that but when we truly understand our sin and what we have been rescued from, we begin to worship Him more deeply. In some ways it feels like God is kicking away the support structures that I relied on, the love of my wife, the companionship that she represented, and the health that I enjoyed, etc., so that I will learn to rely on Him and Him alone for everything. I am learning that “in Him I live and move and have my being,” that I need “take no thought for tomorrow,” that His strength “is made perfect in my weakness,” that “He will never leave me nor forsake me,” that even though this earth is ravaged by the effects of the fall, He “is making all things new” and that He will return one day in power and glory. These are all great things to embrace.
I was getting a chemo infusion on the six month anniversary of Jan’s death and I was prepared for it to be a difficult day. I had set my phone alarm for 11:20 am which is the time that Jan entered glory and as my alarm went off, to my surprise, instead of mourning Jan’s absence, I wept tears of gratitude for God and that He had Jan firmly in His heaven and that she was the safest and happiest she had ever been now that she was in His presence. The focus was on God and I had real joy in that moment. That is where our focus needs to be, not on our circumstances but on God Himself. Jan was so fond of quoting A. W. Tozer, who wrote we should “glance at our circumstances and gaze at God” but that is not just a trite saying, it is a means to real peace and joy in the present and good practice for what we will be doing throughout eternity. In the meantime, let us “be kind” to one another, and encourage one another even as we see the day approaching - come quickly Lord Jesus.
Grateful for you,