In the Shadow of Death

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 12

This is the last posting of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but also with his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan, July 31, 2019 (96 days after first email):

This has been a series of awful days as far as the devastation of grief is concerned. The reality of Lynn being dead is so horrific. I am quickly losing hope and lacking any reason to have it. God is silent. I am all alone in this world. People respond, “Oh, Alan, you’re not alone.” But I realized the other day that I do not know anyone in Lynn’s and my peer group that has ever lost a spouse. Many of them have lost a parent or friend but no spouses. I’m glad for them. I would not wish this on anyone. But at the end of the day, no one knows what to say.

Hope is non-existent.

I have been listening to some of your messages online trying to convince myself that God is not punishing me. Then my mind goes to all the ways I was unfaithful to the precious gifts God gave me. I never committed adultery with another woman, but in my position as a part-time disc jockey at a big country music station, I had myriad opportunities to flirt with women who called in to my show and flirted with me. I have done and thought and fantasized things that said, “Father God, I do not appreciate this precious woman.” Things that I looked at online were a disgrace to my wife.

So, here I am. Harvest time for Alan. Wife dead. God knows all of these things, and I feel that I am reaping corruption that comes from sowing to the flesh.

Your message is “living loved.” How can he “interact with me as His beloved,” and sit by in silence as my wife dies? Knowing He could have healed her in this realm with a breath or a word or a thought and yet when I poured my heart out in prayer, when Lynn poured hers out in prayer, He essentially said, “No.” How is that love at any level? Are we as believers – as his children – only to expect that he’ll be there to help us pick up the pieces when life crashes, but not to intervene to keep things from shattering?

Why did the apostles say to pray? We have a God, a Father. Isn’t there some benefit associated with that that unbelievers do not have? God let Lynn die. He took her. Yes, she is blessed beyond measure and likely not even aware of my pain. But he could have healed her here; he didn’t. I’m left in an avalanche of empty, lonely searing pain. I try to pray for others who are going through battles with cancer, and I wonder what is the use?

The other day I was listening to a teaching and how God delivered Israel from Egypt after 400 years of bondage. 400 years! What about those who lived and died and essentially had their cries for freedom ignored during all those years? At the end of the day, God is sovereign and will do what He wants when He wants, and we are best served by living with no expectation of answered prayer. We can only hope that we don’t end up too broken. My mistake was having too much hope and faith.

Paul went through tribulation. The apostles died horrific deaths. Where is the hope, the evidence in this life that having a Heavenly Father is even real? When does my mourning turn to joy? When will He give me gladness for sorrow? Lynn loved God and trusted Him, and I am confident even in her pain and death, she never had these cynicisms that I have. Her heart was never tainted with what she didn’t understand nor with the questions that I had. She often told me in frustration to trust God when I would be at a crossroads. But, it seems that we are just to shut up and try to be obedient and never get our hopes up even though we are supposed to have faith to please Him.

Wishing I could tell her “Happy Birthday” again in this life,

My response

I know, Alan, and my heart breaks for you this morning.

The first year of grief is always the most painful—first birthday, first anniversary, first holidays, first vacation, all the things you do the first time without her will feel hollow and horrible. Grief comes in waves. That’s why you’ll have good days, where you think you might be getting beyond it, and then WHAM! A special day, a memory, a place you both thought special, or a random rush of pain will cross your path, and the grief rushes back in. Take hope in this, the painful days will, in time, grow less intense and less often, and the better days of celebrating the love you shared will grow more frequent, sweeter, and more prolonged.

The only way through this is through it. Great wisdom, eh? As much as you might want to run from it, embrace it. One person said when the darkness overwhelms you don’t chase the sunset because you’ll never catch it. The fastest way to the light is to head toward the sunrise, away from the setting sun and the light will yet appear again, sooner if you head east than if you chase it hopelessly to the west.

How I wish you could just grieve on the days that seem so dark and invite your loving Father into that grief! Instead, what you believe about God takes you to a different place. Instead of having God as a comforting presence inside your pain, you beat yourself up for every bad thing you’ve ever done or mistakes you’ve ever made. Do you really think God would kill your wife to punish you for something you did wrong? Do you really think God would say, “You looked at another woman years ago, so I gave your wife cancer?”

Is that how you interpret sowing and reaping, that reaping is God giving you a penalty for some weakness or failure? Can you appreciate that when your mind goes into that dark hole, it will seem as if God is silent, even when he is not? His beckoning to you with great compassion is drowned out by the way you view him.

I can assure you the God who loves you was not silent through any of this. Unheard, maybe, because some things you’ve believed about him made it difficult to sense what he was saying to you, especially in the crisis you were in. In the flood of great waters, we can lose sight of who he is because we are so focused on our disappointment or feeling betrayed. I’ve tried to reflect some of what he has been speaking to you in my words through these many emails, and you have recognized that at times. He has been there with you. My words have just been imperfect reflections of the deeper love and wisdom in his heart for you. That’s why I struggle so against religious thinking that puts God on the other side of our pain, as the cause of it whether it be through punishment or “allowing it” through a lack of concern. I reject both of those.

You were not the cause of Lynn’s cancer; this is not punishment from him. Jesus took all of that for us. If he’s still punishing you for your mistakes or imperfections, then Christ died in vain. Sowing and reaping are not about punishment for past actions, but the simple consequences we face for the choices we make. Sow generosity, reap generosity. Sow indulgence, reap emptiness and pain.

I pray you can come to see God as the one who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. I want you to see Jesus as the loving Shepherd teaching us to live in the increasing freedom of the Father’s reality and growing us out of the places we got stuck and twisted. None of our failures surprise him, and none of them cut us off from his love. All of us can go back in our lives and pick out every mistake, bad thought, sinful action, or indulgence and think any of them exclude us from his love and care, but it still isn’t true. He’s the only one that can shape the trajectory of our lives and draw us out of the darkness and into the light. We won’t hear him do that if he’s condemning us for the darkness.

He celebrates our progress toward the light, not holding our past mistakes against us. How could we grow if he did? Ask him to help you let go of the past, not the good parts, but the mistakes and failures. You are his child—today! He is the rescuer in your story. No, that rescue did not include Lynn’s healing in this world to our great disappointment, but she has it now in another. And now he wants to rescue you through the grief and reveal himself to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Don’t stay in the past, focused on your failures. Wake up every morning in the fresh mercy of a loving Father. Follow him each day in the simple things he nudges your heart towards. He will lead you beyond the grief to all that he still has planned for you in your days on this earth. Let who he really is sink in past your disillusionment with him. You are being dis-illusioned. You had illusions about God that were never going to serve you well. He wants you to know him as he really is, and that is far better than either of us could conceive.

So, lean into love, Alan. It will be there for you every day. He’s closer than we know. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart to what is true of him, and for the God of all comfort to hold you in those moments you despair of life, just like Paul did (2 Corinthians 1).

I’m praying, too, Alan. I think you’re making significant progress, but I know that may be tough to see from where you sit, especially today.


This is the last blog I’m going to do in this series. Alan and I have continued to be in touch, and I see signs of new life springing up in him as he continues to move forward. What’s more important is that he does, too. Here are a couple of snippets he sent me toward the end of August.

… I had a cool moment yesterday as I was going through some of her CDs and found the original one where I first heard you. You were in Wisconsin talking about living loved, and it is terrific. I’m listening to it multiple times, which seems to be a habit I’ve developed of late – listening to teachings that minister to me over and over.

… I am in a weird place. I am still grieving hard for my sweet bride. But I feel like God is putting me back together. A friend spoke to me and said that they felt like God was showing them that I am like a big tree that has had the bark blown off, and that has been nearly obliterated. But there is still a deep root. And that root is springing forth new life, and the tree will grow again. I don’t know, but I am thankful more and more for Lynn and her strong, steadfast faith.

If there’s a significant development here that extends the story, I will add it in a future blog. But I think Alan is finding his footing again and it will just take time for the grief of Lynn’s passing to be overwhelmed by the new creation that will continue to spring up in Alan’s journey. I want to thank “Alan” for giving me permission to share his emails, and thus his vulnerability and pain, with all of us. There were some raw moments in there that were real, and I know they resonated with many of you as you sort out God’s goodness in the face of him not doing what you thought love, or your theological convictions, would compel him to do. Our best intentions and misguided expectations can so easily block out our ability to sense his presence and see his fingerprints unfold in our days.

Every week my inbox is full of people facing horrible tragedies, and it is also filled with lots of stories of people who have been through those tragedies and come out on the other side more alive in Christ than ever and more transformed to embrace who God really is. Finding our security in his love, especially when the foundations of our lives are shaken, is quite a process. Pain has a way of dulling our spiritual senses, but God’s Spirit is even better at helping us embrace reality and find that God is bigger than our disappointments in him.

Dave Coleman, my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, often tells me that he thinks 90% of Christians live with an undercurrent of anger towards God for not answering their prayers. Many have lost children, spouses, marriages, businesses, or friends in sickness, accidents, betrayal, or just unforeseen circumstances that sidetrack our joys or hopes.

The only absolute reality is that we are deeply loved by the God who made us and he wants to be inside the most brutal moments of our lives with us, helping us resolve our pain and draw closer to him. To do that, it will help if we lean on him at such times and not push him away by our false judgments about him or his motives toward us. He can handle our honesty, our disappointments, and our fears and walk us out to a place of freedom. That’s not a given, however. Brutal times can make us defensive, bitter, and isolated, or they can open our hearts to compassion, humility, and transformation.

I don’t believe God causes sickness and disease or withholds healing to make us better people, to punish us for our past mistakes, or to teach us much-needed lessons. He doesn’t have to. This broken Creation causes pain enough for all of us in various seasons. How we navigate them inside his care is way more important than trying to figure out why they happen, or why he doesn’t fix them the way we want.

I have been overwhelmed with email, blog comments, and FB postings that many of you have shared as this story has touched something in your own journey. I do think we’d be better off if we talked openly about these things—prayer, healing, death, disappointments. And our own mortality. Growth comes in such exchanges.

On this side of the Resurrection, we are all mortal. Until Jesus comes again, you and everyone you know will die. That’s how we get from this realm into the next. Death is so excruciating for those it leaves behind because of the vacuum it creates when their love and presence departs.

We forget, however, that for those who die in Christ, it is just the beginning of the greatest adventure ever into the unrestrained depths of God’s love!

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 11

This is part eleven of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 25, 2019 (90 days after first email):

So, think of this: A decade or more ago, Lynn and I were driving somewhere on vacation. She popped in. a CD and I asked, “Who is this?”

She said, “Wayne Jacobsen.”

I was intrigued immediately as you were describing to the group how you lived your life led by the Spirit and therefore couldn’t commit to a speaking engagement you had been invited to a year ahead.

A few years later, you were in Raleigh at the North Ridge Country Club and Lynn, and I got to drive you to lunch. We were so thankful for 5 minutes of personal time, even though we didn’t get into anything “deeply spiritual.”

At the time, I was going through a radical change in my understanding of the Gospel. Different folks have different parts of the revelation of the Gospel that God is restoring to the church. You have a unique experience, and I have always been impressed that you stay in what God has shown you. You’re not trying to be someone else or preach their revelation.

In this respect, I had a chance to be at a gathering again in Raleigh at some folks’ house a few years ago. I sent you a Facebook message afterward that I was so impressed at how many hurting people were in that gathering.

Fast forward to April 2019, I read Ending the Daisy Petal Game <>, and I felt like emailing you (and honestly, did not think you’d respond just because you are so busy.) You did reply and Wayne, I know beyond the shadow of all doubt that God used you and is using you to get me through this horror. (I still call it that although I’m not sure how much longer I will stay in that mindset.)

And here we are in July 2019. I selfishly hope that something like, “Hey Alan, I’ll be nearby and have a couple of days with a light schedule. Want to get together?” But, if not, then perhaps you will keep letting God use you. I cannot stress enough that He is using you.

I was re-reading some of our chats from when Lynn was still alive. Of course, the torrent of tears returned. I thought back to how amazed I was that you would take time to respond to me in an ongoing manner. I was thinking you’d get tired of me and my cynicism and either stop responding.

What I am saying is that ten or so years ago God knew all of this and prompted Lynn to play that CD and prompted us to go to North Ridge and prompted and prompted and here we are. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being available.

My response:

Isn’t it amazing how God works? He’s knitting things together from a decade ago because he knew you’d need help in this season. If that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmingly loved and that he has had his eyes on you both this whole time, I don’t know what else will. This is miraculous to me. Not the kind of flashy stuff you’d put on TV but seeing his hand in the long trajectory of our lives.

And while you were wondering if God’s love was real because of what you watched your wife endure, he was already surrounding both of you with the love you needed to get through this. Of course, it was easy to miss because it wasn’t the expression of love you wanted. So much of my life has sorted out this way, too. I’m trying to get God to do what I think is best, and he’s already doing what he knows is best. I’ve learned after disappointments too numerous to count, that there is so much joy to be had, even in this broken world, by watching what he is doing, instead of trying to manipulate him into what I think he should do.

Let’s keep that availability thing on the down low, however. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can have an exchange like this with everyone going through a brutal time. I get overwhelmed with email and connections all the time, but over the years, I’ve learned to trust Father’s ability to manage my time. I don’t protect myself with secretaries or administrative people. I try to answer every email I get as lovingly as I can, even though most are far shorter than we have exchanged. And I try to give my full attention to whoever wants to talk with me.

I’ve had a few others like this that have gone this length because I felt God was in it and often times that spills over to others as well as it will on the blog. I’ve gotten so much feedback from our exchanges. Many have said this subject matter is rarely talked about so openly, especially in the context of a real event. Mostly, Christian speakers use hypotheticals to make his point, or take a singular event and try to stretch it into a universal principle.  We had no idea where this would go when it began, but that’s where life is really lived.

Blessings on you today, my Friend. May God’s love overwhelm your grief more and more every day and take you on to all the life he still has for you.

To be continued…  (We’re almost done here. I think there will be one more in this series unless something changes.)

Read on to Part Twelve here.


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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 10

This is part ten of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 22, 2019 (87 days after first email):

I’ve been trying to understand what you’re saying, and I guess I so want there to be a benefit to having a God as opposed to not having one. I find myself clinging to Scripture that seems to impart black and white promises, but at the same time totally befuddled that the promise does not seem to actually work. “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” No qualifiers. No, “Yeah, but…” Just the King of Kings making a statement. But it did not work for Lynn and me. I am convinced that we both abided in Him and that His word abided in us. So, either that is not black and white, or I don’t understand what Jesus meant, or something is amiss in what Christianity is offering. I’m not ready to deduce that Christianity is not true—I hope I am going to Heaven when I die—although I think I told you I have a fear of having committed the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit when I was a kid.

But we really have no assurance of anything else. Scripture says that the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. What does that mean for someone whose wife is dying and believing that those promises are yes and amen—including the healing ones—only to have her die in front of him?

Our (I’m still using us and our) pastor’s wife is a cancer survivor. He prayed for Lynn and ministered to us in extraordinary ways. Suddenly we got the news in church that his wife had to have emergency surgery to remove a tumor from her head and that there is cancer in her lungs. He was serving communion and reminding the church that “by His stripes, we are healed,” and I did not mean to be cynical, but I said under my breath, “Lord, I hope it works for him.” My heart is breaking for him and what his family has to go through again after having beaten it once years ago.

I’m not sure how to pray anymore for people when I used to be a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in Scriptures’ promises. Now, I just can’t because I know that there is not the weight that I used to believe was in those verses. God may or may not answer my prayers regardless of what the Bible says, so why bother? I know that is not an attitude I need to have, especially as one trying to live the call of God out in ministering to others.

I miss Lynn terribly. I have had three occasions this past week wherein I had fallen asleep on the couch after work, and I woke up suddenly with the strong impression that I had to get things ready because Lynn was going to be home from work soon. Then, of course, the brutal reality set in once I was fully awake. I guess this is normal when grieving.

Reading your answer to my why-pray question makes me see the faith as kind of a downer—sort of a “better get what he wants right” mentality. I have discovered the grace and love of God and do not see him that way. I see him as coming to give life and life more abundantly. And I know that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I guess he killed Lynn, stole Lynn from me and destroyed our marriage. You would say, “No! No! No!” But I sure do not see much life and life more abundantly in my precious bride dying of cancer and going through the suffering she did. I do not see how the grace and love of God fit into this.

Can I be blunt? People say, “God will get you through.” “Turn to Him.” Yet, Wayne, he is the one who allowed Lynn to die, who did not grant our requests for healing. How can I find solace there?

I’m sorry. I guess I should be getting it by now. Eight and a half weeks and I’m still asking and saying cynical things. I’m sorry.

My Response:

Please don’t be sorry. I appreciate what you are going through, and honesty is the only way to grow through all of this.

This is all part of the grieving process, for sure. Eight and a half weeks is nothing. I’ve woken up overseas, not remembering where I was and turned toward Sara only to be reminded, she was a few thousand miles away. Waking up is being reminded of reality again. I’m so sorry you’re going through it. Death of a beloved spouse or child is as painful as it gets in this world, which means we only need him even more. I’m so sorry your past theology is not serving you well here. It’s not the best time to look beyond it, with all the grief you’re facing, but there is a way to view all this that will make your sorrow less dominating.

The benefit to having God at times like this is so that we can draw on his strength, wisdom, and presence to help us navigate through the brokenness of this world. If he just gave us everything we wanted, then we would be our own god and he our servant, and the world would make no sense at all. He does have your best interests at heart, and though that’s hard to believe when our most noble expectations have been disappointed, it is nonetheless true.

He is at work in this horrific situation to work good out of what the enemy intended for evil. I sat with the widow of my best friend, who passed away over ten years ago. She said that as hard as losing her husband has been, she is grateful for all God has done in her heart through it. “I am a different person now,” she said, “and I’m so grateful not that he died, but what he has changed in me.” Lynn’s passing is not the end for you, either. God has life and joy ahead.

As to your question, we do look at these Scriptures very differently. There’s not much in our reasoning that is so clearly black and white, when it comes to how God works. We have tried to teach people “certainty” from Scripture for the last couple of centuries and have lost the mystery of a transcendent God. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you…” is the most significant qualifier ever. I know you think you have that down. I used to think I did, too, but there may be a great lesson in these words. Instead of asking for whatever we want and thinking Scripture is false if we don’t get it, perhaps we could see that as an encouragement to lean into him more deeply. It’s not a lack of love on his part, but a lack of perspective on ours. And I don’t mean by that that we weren’t close enough to get the miracle we wanted but to see a larger purpose unfolding in his reality, even in our pain and disappointment. I have nowhere else to go when my hopes are disappointed. His love is the only sure thing in the universe, and when I start there, I can see how he works good out of everything, even the things I find abhorrent.

I don’t see his “word abiding in us” as referring to my understanding of the Scriptures. He’s referring to us living inside his purpose as he reveals it inside our growing relationship. That’s the wider context of Scripture. God is not here to give us everything we want, but to draw us into his reality so we can be shaped by his purpose. That’s where the fullness of joy comes in a broken world. And yes, I know those words sound hollow now. Can there be any joy without Lynn? Yes, there can, and there will be. She was a part of your life for a long season; she has a legacy in your heart that will last your whole life long. But there is life abundant beyond her presence. Yes, impossible to see now, but I’ve seen him do it in tragedies like this with so many people. All our dreams were never going to be fulfilled here. The cry in our hearts is for eternity. Life here is a brief snippet of all God wants for both of you.

I don’t think Jesus meant to promise all of us that as long as we were good Christians and knew the Scriptures well, we could claim whatever we want and he would get it, even if we think it is something clearly promised in Scripture. That has never worked for anyone I’ve ever known. I don’t think it worked in the New Testament, either. Remember, Jesus only did the things he saw the Father doing. His power came from the work of the Spirit inside of him. He wasn’t claiming promises; he was being carried by the wind of the Spirit. The larger context of Scripture is always how we learn to trust our Creator and live inside of his unfolding purpose on a fallen planet. God hasn’t promised to give us everything we’d ever want. If that were true, Christians would be wealthy, never be sick, and none of them would have ever died.

“By his stripes, we are healed,” is not a guarantee of physical healing whenever we can work the keys right. Of course, it includes healing here, which I believe in and have witnessed, but it also includes the ultimate healing of freedom from these broken bodies, and from the war of flesh and spirit. Lynn is completely healed today in a way that your spirit still yearns to experience. She didn’t get second best. Can you even imagine what she saw the moment she opened her eyes in eternity? I doubt she’d want to come back here even if she could. And, she also knows how all this pain in your heart is transforming something in you that will bear great fruit for the kingdom in which she now dwells. I’m sure, too, she’s looking forward to the day you show up there, but there’s no impatience now in her.

And honestly, how often did people get the miracle they wanted when you were “a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in the Scriptures.” I used to live there too until I saw what happened to those I prayed for who didn’t get the miracle they hoped for? I know many went away doubting God, or themselves, or the truth of Scripture. Things really come into focus when you have a stake in the outcome. This can all be an amazing place of growth for you. God doesn’t become less real when we don’t get all we want, but even more real and we become part of his purpose in the world as partners in the process. This world isn’t about our comfort or even external happiness, but the deeper joy of being connected to him regardless of what this broken world hurls our way.

I never assume I know what God wants with any degree of certainty. I’ve been wrong too many times. I listen and follow as best I can each day and learn what I can of the ways in which God works so that I can flow with him. Prayer is that process of discerning, and the outcome of our circumstances is part of that as well. It’s not about God “may or may not answer” the way Scripture seems to say. He always answers true to his nature and purpose. All his promises are real but in ways far grander than we can see as limited as we are in space, time, and wisdom.

This world is a war zone. Not everything happens the way God would want it to. Free will, evil, the enemy are also all in play, and though God eventually wins over them all, those enemies are still being subdued under his feet. You know I don’t believe that God “allowed” Lynn to die. I don’t think God makes choices like that the way we see it from our limited perspective. If we could see it through his eyes, the landscape would be entirely different. I know what it looks like to you, I just don’t think it’s true. I can’t draw all the logical lines here; I simply trust the one who has captured my heart, who loves me more than anyone else ever has, and will bring everything together under the authority of his Son.

Hang in there, my friend. All of this is doing good work in you, but like the seed shooting roots into the soil, not much of it is visible right now. Don’t assume you know the outcome and try to protect yourself with conclusions you’re not ready to reach yet. He is having his work in you, and though it is through great pain, it will set you free in ways you can’t imagine yet.

When people ask me, “How did you get where you are today in your walk with Christ?” my answer is always, “Kicking and screaming!” In my younger days, I wanted God to be different than he turned out to be, but I discovered that he is way better than the one I wanted him to be. I think Paul described it as “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” That’s what you’re discovering now. The side you’re on now is painful because it’s not what you were taught or what you want. But the other side of it will become truly wondrous. Things will begin to make more sense as God transits your life through the brokenness of this world and into the glorious freedom he always wanted for you.

Then you’ll see all those promises you quote in a very different light. They are not untrue; they are more accurate than you can imagine at this point.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Eleven here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 9

This is part nine of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 8, 2019 (73 days after first email):

It was a challenging weekend. Holidays are going to be rough, I guess.

I think I am at a place of self-preservation, meaning I am trying not to think about Lynn’s being gone as much as I have been. I am going through the motions of life. It’s weird, Wayne, I cannot seem to pull up images of her in my mind. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because of the intense caregiving for 5 months wherein I saw her in hospice and such. I have pictures of her during that time, and I look at them – she is still beautiful to me even then. I recorded her saying, “I love you, Alan,” and I listen to it every 2-3 days.

I told her many times that it was my pleasure to serve her as I brought her water or juice. As I woke up in the night several times to check on her. To bring her hot chocolate from the store near our house (It was my pleasure because I got to see her so excited and thankful). Even as I re-live these moments, I am tearing up again. I miss her so much. Why did God not answer my prayers? I know you have said my theology is all screwed up, but if we don’t have a God we can go to and stand on promises in the Bible, then what is the use?

It was so surreal in church yesterday. Our (I still say our and even wear my wedding ring) pastor’s wife is a breast cancer survivor. He was significant in Lynn’s battle in his love and allowing himself to be led by the Holy Spirit in what he prayed and how he encouraged us. Lo and behold, she just had a large tumor removed from her head and has a spot in her lung that is malignant. So he’s been standing on the victory she had years ago and now is standing before us yesterday reading Isaiah 53:5 and other Scriptures that we as Christians stand on because we think they are reliable and mean what they say. I mean how many ways can one interpret “If you abide in me and my word abides in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” (John15:7)

As he encouraged the saints to pray, and as he shared the go-to Scriptures, I just marveled and said to the Lord, “I hope it works for him.” I’ve been praying throughout the day, “Let it work for him and his family.”

I’ve been meaning to ask you if we can’t believe for answered prayers, what is the point of prayer and also what is the point in trying to understand the Scriptures. Would you be a dispensationalist who believes the miracles and gifts went away with the apostles?

I’m still struggling to understand.

My response:

I’ve wondered about you of late and was getting ready to check-in. Glad you wrote. Grief is a long process, my friend, and all the longer for the greater-sized hole she left in your life. But the comfort of the Spirit is sufficient to walk you through this and take you beyond it.

I got an email last week from a woman I have known for twenty years. I’m going to give you a peek into our conversation. Perhaps her journey will encourage you on your own. Here’s what she wrote: “Four months ago I lost my second husband. He had cerebral amyloid angiopathy.  While our time together was only eight years, six of them married, we packed the time with love and fun until his disease took over. When he and I married, we said we began our first married year with 80 years experience. Each of us had beautiful forty-year marriages ending too soon: My first husband died in 2001 with pancreatic cancer. His first wife died in 2004 with brain cancer. I lift it all in Prayer and try to begin each day with a grateful heart. I loved and was loved… by two wonderful men. Blessings counted.”

I wrote her back, expressing my concern as I marveled at how well she seems to be handling it. She wrote back: “On a difficult morning, I read your kind note. Thank you.  The grief walk is uphill, one step at a time.  I know I’ll learn to live with the loss and I am doing just that.  I have difficult days and less difficult days with sunshine discovered in each.  Your perfectly timed and authentic kindness lifted me today. There can be no rainbows without the rain; you were a rainbow today.

“When my first husband died (pancreatic cancer, 2001), I truly never was angry at God. I think I didn’t feel that anger because my first love (my soul mate) and I talked about life and love and consistently felt Christ with us.  My soul mate was completely him as his disease overcame him. He was brave in the process.  He was “him” but weak.  When my second husband died, four months ago of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, I was angry like I’d never been. I’m not an angry person. I called to God with why and lots of hurt. In time, that anger dissipated. The feeling of anger had been foreign to me, but no longer. It was real. I still grieve. I know I will learn to live with the loss of my heart magnet (my term for my second love). Grief is hard. And to live without love would be a life not worth living.  I loved and was loved completely, unconditionally by two amazing men. Thank you, God.”

Grief is a process, most certainly. The good days will become more frequent as the bad days recede. Finding gratefulness in pain can help. Death intrudes on our lives and robs us of those we value. We grieve, but not as those without hope, for the day of our reuniting is coming. Death does not get the last word, and one day, we all stand triumphant together, and our brief time here will seem like a wisp of smoke.

What you say about not being able to get an image of her in your mind is very common. CS Lewis addressed it in an email with a friend, Sheldon Vanauken that he details in his book A Severe Mercy, about the death of his wife. Lewis thought the reason we can’t pull up an image of someone in our mind that we were close to, is because we have seen them in so many different situations with so many different expressions it is hard to see them in one view. A stranger we meet is easier to recall because we only saw them once. But those we’ve seen in tears and joy and concern and anxiety and rest give us so many images it is hard for the mind to focus on one. It was your closeness to her that makes it difficult now.

As to your last questions, “Am I a dispensationalist?” Heavens, no! I’ve seen loads of miracles and pray for them whenever I am asked or led. I just don’t believe they are in my power to make happen. I don’t believe that God has given us certain keys to be worked, and if we work them the right way, we get the healing we want, and if not, we don’t. I see no pattern to the people God has healed around my life or in response to my prayers. It’s not the worthy who get healed, or the most desperate. It doesn’t matter how many pray. I’ve seen thousands fail and the prayer of two or three transform a moment. After years of trying to find the key to what brings healing to one person and not another, I’ve given up. Could I leave that in his hands and just become a responsive follower of his leading? So, I did. I am much more at rest in it all.

My best friend died at 55 of melanoma that had metastasized throughout his body. The first time I prayed for his healing, I felt an inward nudge asking me if I would walk him to death’s door. I didn’t like the thought. I never shared it with him. Many prayed for him, as did I, but cancer continued to progress and take his life after four years. I could pray with him in one breath and in the next have the conversations I’d want to have with a friend I wouldn’t have long in my life. On the podcast this Friday, a man from Ireland tells his story of battling incurable cancer and going through a bone marrow transplant sensing that God had asked him not to pray for healing but to go through this experience. I think that story may help you.

I have seen way too many people marinated in teaching that God always heals if we’ll just pray enough, believe enough, find the right key. I don’t believe it anymore. God heals as he wills. Our prayers are part of that, but not the only part. I’ve prayed for people who got healed of cancer, impregnated after being told they couldn’t have children and a host of other things. I believe by his stripes, we are healed, but in the fullest sense of that. He’s healing not just our diseases but our flesh appetites, our desire to be in control, and we get to experience some of that here and some of it we’ll encounter in the next life. We know today that Lynn is completely healed and free. No, it wasn’t the healing we wanted, but it is still healing, the same one assured for all of us. Christ’s healing is not just from physical ailments but also from the brokenness, evil, and sin of this age. That is the hope we all look forward to.

The kingdom has come. It is here, but it is not fully here. Jesus is still taking captive all things under his feet. It is not done yet. We do not see all things conformed to his will in this life, in my life, but we do see HIM! He is the Lord of the universe, and he will have the last word on everything. Just not yet, not in everything.

So, why pray? Because that’s where God makes himself known so we can cooperate with what he wants. Prayer is not the requisition box to get the answers we desire; it’s our conversation with the God of the ages as he reveals his purpose and our part in it. I pray for everyone who asks, but I can only pray in faith when I have a sense of what he wants and what he is doing in a given situation. When I have a sense of it, I pray with fury. When I don’t, I pray to hear, to have my heart circumcised from my wants to his wants. And in all that I see through a glass darkly, so I never have absolute confidence that I have heard accurately, not until the circumstances confirm it. I often read in my own wants. I’ve been wrong before and will again on both sides. I’ve prayed in faith for healings I felt confident of and watch them not come. I’ve prayed almost hopelessly and seen a great miracle occur. These things are not in our hands. They are in his, and I’m content to have them there.

Scripture helps us, too, when we stop reading it in sound bites and instead look at the whole of it, inviting us to trust God, not try to work him. Remember, when Peter prayed that Jesus would be saved from going to the cross? (Matthew 16) “You are looking out for man’s interests, not God’s,” Jesus reminded him. How else will we learn that except in prayer? Lynn’s death does not prove God doesn’t work, only that he works differently than we would. It doesn’t show his lack of love, but that he loves us more fully than we love ourselves.

Why wouldn’t we want a God who is so much wiser than we are? He knows something you don’t. Our trust in him is not based on outcomes, it is embedded in his light and character. In He Loves Me, I talked about the prayer God always answers. In John 12, Jesus is facing the cross, and he asks, “What shall I pray, Father, save me from this hour?” That’s mostly what we pray. We always pray ‘save me’ prayers. Don’t let me hurt. Fix my pain. Jesus refuses that prayer. To pray it would mean that he would subvert Father’s will. The cross was the reason he came. Instead, he prays, “Father, glorify your name.” That’s the prayer he always answers. “Father, as you glorified your name in Lynn’s life, now glorify your name in her passing. As you glorified your name in Alan while she lived, glorify your name now as his life takes on meaning beyond her.”

That’s how I’m learning to pray. I realize it isn’t easy for people to see this, especially in disappointment. Just like your friends who want to teach this Scripture always works if we just claim it. What happens when cancer returns, if it does? I know so many people who teach this stuff, who suffer diseases they can’t be honest about because they have to provide the image of faith. It is false. It will collapse on them at some point because God is working at a level we can’t understand. As you’ll hear on this week’s podcast, we always look from our humanity up at our problems, instead of letting God (in prayer) seat us where he is and look back down on our situations from his perspective. That’s where we get to participate in what he is doing, rather than trying to enlist him in what we want him to do.

Unfortunately, this is not often taught. We frustrate people with techniques that won’t bring the miracles they want. They get disillusioned with God and frustrated because it doesn’t work. “It” never works. He does. So when you say, “I hope it works for him,” you’re still talking about an ‘it.’ It’s a technique, a belief, instead of a connection with a Living God who has a purpose unfolding in all that concerns us.

I know the best time to learn this is not in the midst of grief. We can talk someday when you’re ready to process this. Admittedly there’s nothing easy about learning to understand how God works. Now, you just need to process her death and let God begin to map out where your life goes from here and how all the gifts that Lynn gave you in your life together will strengthen and encourage you in days to come.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Ten here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 9 Read More »

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 8

This is part eight of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan June 22, 2019 (57 days after first email):

I am hoping we will stay in relationship even if there comes a time when I am “ok.” God has used you more than anyone else to help me, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Today is one month since Lynn died. I have been weeping again and crying out to God. My eyes seem to be opening more and more to how wonderful Lynn was and how much she loved God. I knew what I had as far back as when I first fell for her in the mid-1980s. I knew she loved God deeply, but I am learning as I read some of her devotionals just how much she adored Him. And I am seeing how much she loved me. So I am still in whatever the grief experts would call the weeping and wailing stage. The reality of how permanent this is, is like a well-placed punch in the face, landing squarely over and over.

Wayne, I do not know if I can do this. I need her so desperately, yet I cannot feel her hand in mine, cannot hear loving words of encouragement, and cannot look into her big brown eyes, lit up with her smile that captivated my heart so many years ago.

I’m not ignoring your encouragement. I read it over and over. Today I’m having a horrible time as I realize that this is my reality now – single, widowed, alone.

Yeah boy!

My response: 

Yes, you’re only a month into this process. In grief time, that is barely a blip, unfortunately. Let the tears flow. Hold your grief on the lap of a loving Father. Celebrate her life as best you can. Look back at the joys of having known her, not at the unknown future without her. One will help you heal, the other will drive you to despair.

Have you noticed that imagining what our futures will be like, is never helpful? For one, we’re mostly wrong. The future is always unknown. Certainly, Lynn won’t be there, but you have no idea yet what will be—how God will make himself known to you and what gifts he will yet pour into your life. I heard one man say that the reason we are so stressed and in pain about our future is because humans cannot imagine grace. So, when you contemplate the future, do you notice how alone you are in it—not just without Lynn, but also without any real understanding of how God will be with you in whatever circumstances come.

Grace can only be assimilated one day at a time. Do you have enough for this day? Tomorrow will be another challenge, and there will be grace for that one. And the next, and the next. Take it in one-day bites, not trying to find all you need for all the potential outcomes of life from here on out. You can’t try to live the feared challenges of tomorrow on today’s grace. We’re not built that way. Again, nothing about this took God by surprise. He has whatever it will take to heal the wounds of her passing and still give you a hope and a future.

Alan, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through and don’t know that I would negotiate it any better if my wife had passed a month ago. However, I am concerned that you talk about her as if you’ve lost your God, the only source of love and support, and are hopeless without her. Is it possible that somehow her memory is supplanting God’s presence with you, or at least the hope that there are joy and life to be lived beyond her? If I were talking to a married couple that expressed this kind of dependency, I would consider the relationship unhealthy. If we want our spouse to be all the things that God said he would be to us, then we’re missing out on the greatest gift in the universe. Lynn was a great gift, but she is not the greatest gift. Are you thinking much about that? Have you elevated Lynn to a place in your heart that only God can fill? It may just be your grief talking, but that’s what I’ve heard in the last couple of emails.

Your reality might be “single, widowed, and alone” in a human sense, but you are far from alone. If you define your life by those three words, they will own you. Though the first two are real enough, the last one is not, and if you focus there, it will drown you. You are not alone. You are the beloved son of a gracious Father, who is also Maker of heaven and earth, and who has adventures still to share with you in this life.

You’re a father, whose kids desperately need a dad to love them, and you’re a follower of Christ with hope to speak to others who are in pain they don’t think they will survive. My prayer is that in the grief, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your life is not over here; it’s just changed. You had 25 years or so of a great gift, and hopefully, that gift made you a better person and will benefit you in days to come.

More of your treasure is in heaven now, that is for sure. But the greatest treasure—Christ in you—still lives on. Methinks there’s more to discover there that will help you through this season.

From Alan June 24, 2019 (59 days after first email):

I appreciate your pointing out that I may be focusing too much on Lynn. Thank you for feeling comfortable enough, for being honest. I’ve thought about this all day and what I believe is coming out is what I first started with – a severe feeling of disappointment and of being let down by God. I have started trying to receive His love again and have been praising Him when I think to, but as I wrote before, I feel like I have suffered a huge punch to my spiritual face. Still, I am asking that He reveal His great love to me again.

You helped me begin to give my theology a re-think, but I am still wondering things like, “What is the use of praying if God is not going to answer?” I’m still not past the nagging thought that He could have intervened but chose not to…how can I look to Him for comfort in something He allowed to happen? Not to be irreverent, but it’s like saying, “Wayne, I didn’t deposit your paycheck as you asked. Now, tell me how bouncing checks, as a result, messes up your finances.”

You wrote that somehow he could not give me the answered prayer I desired. But, what of “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?” What of, “By His stripes, we are healed?” Like I said previously, there are so many affirmative verses, Scriptures that lead to a climactic, “The promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus.” That sounds like “If God is supposed to be for us, who can be against us?” In other words, there should be something we can count on in the Word without having to default to, “Well, His ways are higher.” Or, “We live in a fallen world.”

I have been chewing on what you wrote about creation and this broken world. It is unlike anything I have ever read. I think you are right. But there are also things like this paragraph in a daily devotion I received this morning from Joseph Prince: “My friend, don’t fix your eyes on how much or how little faith you have. Fix your eyes on the One who loves you, who has already given you what you need. When you come to Him, simply believe that He is waiting to meet your expectation. He will say to you, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”

Wayne, there has to be room for faith and expectation and answered prayer. I know God is not our genie. But he has promised an awful lot to “him who believes.”

Please don’t get weary of my struggle. I really do study and meditate on what you write to me because I believe God put you in my life to help me get through this nightmare. I thank God for you.

And a day later, before I could respond, Alan wrote this brief email:

I have felt terrible since sending you that cynical, doubt-filled response. I apologize. I want to sense God’s love and grace again and even in greater measure than ever before. I will try not to let my pain dictate my belief and/or how I respond.

My response: 

Don’t feel terrible about asking honest questions, especially ones that arise with pain. How else will we learn when God identifies the illusions in our theology if we can’t ask the honest question and seek him for answers? That is not cynical or doubt-filled; that’s reality, a place where the Spirit loves to work because that means you and Father have some sorting out to do.

I think it takes more faith to ask God the brutal questions than it is to pretend to believe things that are not real in our heart. And don’t worry that I will tire of you. I think Father has had something for us in this conversation that will touch others as well, and that makes it easy to give my time to it.

Now let me try to respond to your previous email.

I wasn’t trying to get you to not focus on Lynn. That would be like telling you not to think about an orange. That’s all you would think about. Instead, as you think about Lynn, let God move you from how much you’ve lost, to how much of a treasure she was. Be grateful for all she added to your life and that you got to share together. But also look beyond her to the Father who loves you far more than she did. All that you need to get through each day is in him, and far more. He has encouragement, affirmation, wisdom, and joy for you to discover still. It will take some time, but he wants to be the source of your life.

You quote a familiar litany of verses from which it is easy to conclude that getting the answer we want in prayer is a transaction. If I do this, God will do that. But it rarely works that way, so don’t we have to wonder if it was ever meant to? Would Jesus just say those things to torture us, or do they all hang on deeper realities with less certain outcomes? At the heart of these issues is what it truly means to believe in Jesus.

Take the Joseph Prince quote, for instance. Jesus is already looking at a specific individual, in this case, the centurion. He knows what he wants and affirms he has his answer. We take that and extract a principle that if we just believe as he did, we’ll get our answer too. That’s what is so dangerous about this kind of teaching from those who claim to preach the Scriptures. We tell them what they want to hear, but don’t tell them the truth and leave them to be disillusioned when it doesn’t work out the way they wanted.

Just because we believe hard for something we want, doesn’t mean it will happen. That’s not what Scripture teaches. Our belief is not vested in things; it is vested in him. We believe in him, which is not the same as believing him for the things I want or think I should have.

One of my favorite lines these days I’ll be using in a future book is Jesus saying to someone, “I simply showed you what was real, and you dared to believe me.” That’s what belief is. It isn’t trying to achieve our preferred reality and getting Jesus to help us. It isn’t a creedal assent to the nature of Jesus or expressing our conviction that he is trustworthy. Believing in Jesus is believing his view of the reality we live in. Remember when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, and then two paragraphs later, he is arguing with Jesus about going to the cross. He believed he was the Son of God but didn’t believe Jesus when he spoke about what was about to happen. “Believe in him” without believing him, is just so much religious gobbledygook.

He wants me to believe his reality. I know you both thought you’d been promised Lynn’s healing. If you had, it would have happened. Part of the way we learn to follow him is realizing, we get it wrong sometimes. I have wanted things so badly, I convince myself that he wanted it to turn out that way, even though everything kept pointing to a different outcome. I don’t believe that was because Jesus didn’t want to heal her or made a choice not to; she was a casualty of the brutal war between fallenness and the coming kingdom. Seemingly you both got far longer than you otherwise would have, which is a testimony of his working. Sadly, however, you didn’t get all you wanted. I have no idea why, but a God that “allows” such things is not the God of the Bible. Somehow it was a consequence of other things we can’t see or part of a higher purpose. Sometimes we get to know, sometimes we don’t, but what doesn’t change is my trust in him in all the realities I experience.

All those answered prayer Scriptures are predicated on our being inside him and his unfolding purpose in the world. Abiding in his words is not just reading Scriptures, but believing what he says about the people and situations I am in. It’s steeping myself in his reality and the way he thinks so that I’m a partner of his in his unfolding work. ‘By his stripes, we are healed”, is not the prooftext that Christians don’t have to get sick or stay sick. It’s a statement of the reality of his kingdom that will bring healing to us all and the greater cosmos through his suffering. Some of that happens in this world; some of it happens in the next. This is the tension between the kingdom come, and the kingdom-yet-to-come. Currently, we live in a war zone. There are casualties just because of the gravity of darkness and evil in the world. But by his stripes, we will all be healed, isn’t about disease alone, but redemption, transformation, and ultimate freedom from sin and evil. It’s incomplete in this realm; it won’t be in the next.

What’s the use of praying if he’s not going to answer? He does answer, though not always with what we want. We don’t pray to get God to do what we want, but to tune our hearts to his wants. It’s to listen and where he shows us to exercise our role as his joint-heir to help bring it into being. But that doesn’t mean we’ll always get it right, that each of us is promised 85 years of sickness-free living. It just has never worked that way, which means we have twisted Scriptures to try to say that. Part of listening to him is seeing how circumstances play out. If he tells me he will heal someone if I pray and he does, that’s awesome. If I think he tells me that and in praying they don’t get healed, then I have to conclude I missed something there. He doesn’t change. I believe him and that he is bigger than how any circumstance turns out.

Where I feel let down by him is only a result of my limited perspective. He never lets us down. He’s always working for the highest good, which doesn’t always fit what we want. He’s my refuge to run to when I’m disappointed, frustrated, and angry. His love is the only certain reality in my life. Everything else is negotiable, but when I begin to doubt his love for me and his greatness in the universe, I start to sink into the despair of the enemy’s lies. I can fail. Others can fail me. I can be confused and disappointed, but the one thing I have known for the last twenty-five years is that I am deeply loved by the God of the universe and I am learning more every day how to believe his view of reality instead of my own. When I know how he does his work, I can better understand how to participate with him.

All is not lost, Alan. You’ve suffered a horrible blow, not only taking your wife from you but now meant to devour your faith and render you spiritually impotent for the rest of your days. However, God has better ideas for you. He gave you a fantastic gift for twenty-five years. For reasons we won’t know here, this was her time, and now you get to grieve her loss in your life. God understands your pain to the core. He hates death, too. Remember, it is the last great enemy he has yet to destroy, and we’re all going to go through it short of his coming again. But then, no more. Death will no longer hold sway over us.

So, when the time is right, you’ll be able to shake off the hurt, celebrate the joy of Lynn’s gift in your life, and join Jesus yet again on the battlefield only to discover that this, too, will make you stronger in his hands, freer in this life, and gentler in your ways.

To be continued…


Read on to Part Nine here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 8 Read More »

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 7

This is part seven of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on June 15 (50 days after first email):

I am so thankful for your words of life to me. From the very first response you sent to me, they have been like water in the desert. I have re-read them multiple times and thank God for you and for what He has had you share with me.

I am a little unclear on this thought that you shared: “Of course, that will be eminently more difficult if God is the cause of her cancer, or even if he “allowed” it. Or, if for some unknown reason he volitionally decided NOT to heal her despite her hopes and your prayers. I don’t even think he “took” her. Those are all illusions Christians use to try to make death tolerable.”

First of all, I do not believe He was the cause of her cancer. But Wayne, if He is sovereign and all that goes along with that, then certainly it can be said that He “allowed it.” I believe He was fully capable of healing Lynn completely of cancer while she was on this earth. Is it wrong to think that He could have, but chose not to?

I’m not trying to be difficult, please believe that. I understand this world is fallen and there is an appointed time for everyone to die and all. But, the leper said to Jesus, “You can if you will” when Jesus asked him if he sought healing from Him. Jesus said, “I will and touched and healed him.” He is the same yesterday… so He is still able to heal if He wills to. He can if He will. Is that correct?

I’m trying to pray again, and right now, I don’t feel like there is much use. I want to be able to share my faith again with confidence, but right this minute, I don’t have that confidence. I can say, “Yes, He loves us in that He gave His only Son for us.” But, as far as believing for answers to my prayers, I’m struggling not to be cynical.

Wayne, this is so hard. It’s been three weeks and three days since Lynn passed, and just when I think I am doing better, waves of emotion hit like a flood when the reality of the permanence of her being gone fills my mind. The future things we had planned–gone. The goals and dreams we shared together–gone. I am single again, and that is something I never imagined or wanted.

I just bagged up all of her socks to take to a ministry here that will use them for those in need. (She had a lot of socks). What strikes me about all of this–socks or other clothing, or silverware we bought 30 years ago, or pictures on the wall, or her collection of churches that she really liked, or on and on and on…None of it matters anymore. She is gone. I could take her stuff and throw it in the front yard, and it would not matter. She is gone. Thankfully to a better place with unending joy. But, she is gone from here and from me and from us in this world.

That is the reality that I am wrestling with. Lynn is gone, and nothing seems to matter that used to matter.

The next logical thought then is what purpose do I have left to cling to. A friend texted me, “Now is the time for you to figure out exactly what your purpose is and then put 200% of yourself into. Don’t leave yourself time to think about your loss. If you dare to dream, you can do some amazing stuff.  My prayer for you is that you get a supernatural revelation of your destiny.” I thought that sounds nice, but she’s gone. She’s not here to cheer me on as only she could. What purpose could I possibly have that I would want to pursue without my best friend?

Thank you for your love and help through all of this.

My response:

I would never think you’re trying to be difficult. I have appreciated your openness and honesty with me. How else can anyone go through grief if it isn’t safe to be honest and to question? I hadn’t planned to get into such a lengthy dialog with you when this all began, but I think God is in it. And the things we’re discovering may well have value to others someday. I hope to be able to share this exchange, with names changed on your end, of course. So many people deal with these same issues when disease and death stalk them. I feel like the answers we’ve been probing are for more than just the two of us, with your permission of course.

That nothing else seems to matter in the wake of her absence, is also incredibly normal. Everything will seem trivial for a while, but part of moving beyond this is to take them in stride. As hard as it will be, bills still need to be paid and the yard mowed. Going through those motions, even when they seem so futile is a part of reconnecting to life. I know all of it hurts, but there is no way out of the pain, but to go through it.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the five stages of grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If not, you might want to take a look again. Yes, I know it is a bit tedious to have anyone put our grief on a dissecting table and organize it so, but underneath that is a helpful awareness that what you’re going through is not unique. When we lose someone we love, grief takes its toll. It’s not so much a linear process as a tumble of emotions that push us in various directions. Embrace the grief, don’t fight it, and embrace God in it. He is undoubtedly there, the great big shoulder to cry on and affection that can, in time, swallow our pain. The struggle you’re in now will eventually lead to an acceptance that there is a life still to be had beyond Lynn. I know you never wanted it. God knows you never wanted it, but the cruelty of this world ushered her into the City she has longed for all her life. She is home, whole, and pain-free. You are left here to find a way to carry on. And in time you will. This takes months and years, not days and weeks.

And, truth be told, you’ve been grieving for a long time, not just for Lynn as her health deteriorated, but for a theology you thought would save you from this pain. So, yes, the relationship with God gets a bit confusing at this point, especially if you see him in any way responsible for Lynn’s death, even by allowing it.

I know that’s what we’ve all been taught for a long time. God is sovereign; he is in control. Nothing happens without his approval. Many find comfort in that; I don’t. I find it leads to a view of God as an abusive deity. If he “allows” little girls to be raped by vicious uncles or disturbed priests, or “allows” cancer to destroy those we love, or allows earthquakes to devastate a culture, then, what kind of God is he? You would stop those things, wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t he?

Some argue that God isn’t powerful enough to stop the things that cause us pain, others deny his existence. I don’t believe either of those. His sovereignty continues to watch over the whole of humanity and our individual lives, and he will bring all of this to its final resolution and redemption. This is not a lack of power on his part, but a lack of understanding on ours. And, no, I can’t logically explain it, either. It just comes from years of reading the Scriptures, years of watching God’s will play out on this broken planet, and years of talking with him about these things. He is always the rescuer in human tragedy, not the destroyer. Whatever he does in the Creation is to redeem it back to himself, but that often comes at an incredible cost, as it did even to himself.

There seems to be a spiritual gravity in the broken Creation that tends toward destruction. The world is out of synch with the Creator, and we are not immune from it. God doesn’t have a home team that he protects from cancer, accidents, or calamity, and an away team he gets to bash with those things. Suffering is the fruit of our waywardness, not necessarily ours specifically, but the residue in our culture. That gravity of brokenness is as much a part of the redemption story as his intrusion into it to rescue us, but those rescues are not always in this life, but in the life beyond. That’s why Hebrews 11 talks about many who die in faith, having not yet received the promise.

God doesn’t make a volitional choice to bring calamities or even allow them; they come because of the fallen world we live in. For God to heal every disease, prevent every tragedy, and to keep people from dying, even if it is only ‘his’ people, the universe would make little sense. Brokenness without consequence would somehow unwind the whole process and our passion for his redemption.

There is a gravity of chaos and disappointment that draws us down into despair. We all swim in that, believer and unbeliever alike. There’s also an updraft of the life of the Spirit that draws us into his light and healing, but it plays out better if we cooperate with him in the process rather than resist him. That’s a process we can’t understand, so we endure it. When tragedy comes, we pray, first to be delivered of it. Sometimes God does that. When it happens, we rejoice. But for purposes and reasons far beyond our logic, sometimes circumstances don’t play out the way we hope. The deliverance we hope for is not from the tragedy, but the deliverance is through it. Again, we’ll rejoice, but that takes time to see it.

We exist in the tension between the Kingdom-Come and the Kingdom-Yet-to-Come. The whys are beyond our understanding and trying to explain them with human logic often puts God on the abusive side of the ledger. Why not rather believe that there are forces at work in this broken world to destroy us, and God is at work to redeem with his mercy until he can conclude all things? Whether he heals or not, his love and power are never in question. So, how do we know what to do? We listen as best we can, not only to his voice within but also to his activity in circumstance around us. Why he intervenes with healing in some cases and not in others is beyond my pay grade, but I know this it is not due to a lack of love. We are just asked to trust and to follow and to let his grace win out over the world’s chaos.

And that is my continuing prayer for you, Alan. God didn’t “allow” Lynn’s death. It would appear he prolonged her life for more time than she would have without him. That seems clear. But somehow, he couldn’t give you this, not for lack of love or power, but for the process of the universe and his mercy within it to play out.

And that’s where we learn to trust, as hard as that is, because it is beyond our understanding.

From Alan on June 17 (52 days after first email):

I wanted you to see something that Lynn wrote when we were engaged – sometime in 1988. It is called “Our Love.”

The funny thing is that she never gave it to me or showed it to me until February of this year, 2019. She had come close to death and told our daughter to find it for her on her computer. She then asked her to frame it and add a picture of Lynn and me to it. She wanted to give it to me for Valentine’s Day

The citation for the verse at the bottom, 1 John 4:16, “And we know and rely on the love God has for us…” is inscribed inside our wedding bands. That is also ironic in that when Lynn asked that we put that verse in our rings, she had no idea that 25 or so years later God would use you and others to reveal to me His mission for my life which is to share the love of God through writing, through preaching, and through a podcast.

I am sharing this with you in hopes that you might get a glimpse into what I have lost in this world, and why I am so broken. Lynn loved more than I think I even knew when she was alive. Even after 25-30 years, I would find myself marveling at little things she would do that sprang out of her deep love for me

Our Love
By Lynn

Our Love is not something that happened by chance
or a feeling to pass with time.
Our Love is the plan of our loving Father that He purposed from the beginning.
We have yielded ourselves to His purpose
And so, our hearts have been joined in this unbreakable bond.
If we had not been seeking the Father’s will,
We probably would have passed each other by;
but He let us see with His eyes the wonderful design
that He had planned in bringing us together.

We will serve Him together, always, with undying love and great joy,
Knowing that in His service, our responsibilities include
The love, encouragement, and inspiration of each other
so that we can be all that He wants us to be.

Our Love will grow because we cultivate it.
As we invest ourselves in it and in each other,
always seeking the good of the other first.

We will love each other as Christ loved us…
…with eternal love and eyes of mercy that see
beyond each other’s weaknesses and flaws
…with sacrificing love
…with unwavering commitment
…with unity
…with understanding and tenderness
…with much prayer
…regarding each other as the valued possessions of God that we are.

Our Love is not an obligation, but a desired choice.
We will live in faith in our God through every situation.

Now, may our lives joined together in Him
fulfill every purpose that He desires from this day
until we meet our Lord in glory.
May we give to each other everything that each other needs
in order to be and do everything God has planned for us.
May His love be perfected in us and may He receive
all the glory due His name in our lives.

With God’s help, I will always encourage you, support you, pray for you,
follow you, stand by you, and love you.

1 John 4:16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in Him.” 

Wayne, I appreciate you. I have had two terrible days, and Father’s Day all by myself—my daughter did send me a text and a post on Facebook and got me a gift card for a restaurant she knows I frequent. My son called and his fiancée sent me the most beautiful text that lifted my spirit for a bit, but for some reason, I have wept and wailed most of the past two days.

I miss her so much. I need her so much.

My response:

What a sweet poem, Alan, and such a fantastic gift for her to leave you. I’m sure you’ll treasure it always.

I’m sorry you were alone on Father’s Day but also grateful that you had a connection with both of your children that day. Chaos and redemption, working side by side.

Yes, I know you miss her terribly, but if I could be so bold, you don’t “need” her now. If you “needed” her, she would still be here. Now that she’s not here, God has the capacity to be everything to you, even what you found in Lynn. I’m not suggesting it is easy to learn that, I just don’t want you to succumb to the lie that you need what is no longer here. Surely, you miss her, but the time will come to see beyond Lynn’s passing, and continue on the journey God has for you. You have so much to yet discover, adventures to unfold, joy to revel in. I know it looks impossible. Grief does that. But let grief have its work. Don’t yield to the despair, keep leaning into Jesus who has a purpose for you yet, and all the strength and courage you need to discover it. Your life is not over; it is only beginning anew.

You wrote: “I am sharing this with you in hopes that you might get a glimpse into what I have lost in this world, and why I am so broken.” Someday his healing will turn that sentence around. Not, “look what I lost,” but “look what treasure I had for thirty years.” Most people don’t get what you have shared, for even five or ten years. They never know a love as deep and rich as you and Lynn shared. Revel in that. Think of it. Thirty years of having a companion whose love and support you treasured. Someday you’ll be able to celebrate that you had it, rather than lament that you no longer do. All the treasure she invested in your life is still there. All that she helped God shape in you is still there to enrich others. You’ve lost her presence, yes, but not many of her treasures.

You have an exceptional heritage on which to build this final leg of your journey. You will yet be reunited with this woman. You will know her presence and love again, though I’m sure in far different ways.

When my dad almost died 12 years ago after a botched surgery, he saw what a basket case my mom would have been without him. He asked God then, to let him outlive his wife that he would be the one to see her to death’s door. That prayer still blows me away. Five years ago, my mom died with Dad at her side. He came home that day from the assisted care facility, where she died, with tears of gratitude that God answered his prayer. He got to walk her to death’s door and send her with appreciation into the lap of her Father. Now, at 94, he goes on alone. Yes, he misses her every day, but he also finds joy and purpose in the people God puts in his life each day.

That’s what you did for Lynn! You may not have asked for it as my dad did, but you were able to escort your gift to Father’s kingdom. God is pleased with what you did, Alan, and the pain you feel now is still part of that giving to her. It will subside. You will carry on. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, and people to love. Perhaps there is yet a great rescue for your children or others around you. You will laugh again, grow more in him, and share that with others in writing and podcasts. Don’t rush it or try to make it happen on your own but take hope in that. She does not want your life to end at her passing. She has now joined that great cloud of witnesses that cheer you on to all that Father has for you.

And I’m cheering with her!

Read on to Part Eight here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 7 Read More »

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 6

We’ve switched the headline, but the story continues. This is part 6 of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn. Now that Lynn has passed away due to metastasized breast cancer, Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 26, 2019 (30 days after first email):

Thank you for writing back. I appreciate your being here for me through this horror, this nightmare. I realized yesterday that for almost 35 years, I have had a best friend, a companion that I talked to every day. She’s gone. I can’t converse with her anymore now.

We became fast friends before we fell in love and knowing she won’t be here to encourage me and to let me encourage her is unbearable. She won’t be here when I get home from work, we won’t go to the grocery store together, and on and on it goes.

She believed not only in me but in the dreams God has placed in my heart. She was my biggest—sometimes only—fan, and I am so empty now knowing I will never hear the “I’m proud of you, Alan” in her sweet, precious voice again. She encouraged me to write, to get ordained, to be faithful with my podcast, to preach God’s love, and to do my best in my “secular” job.

She never allowed me to stay in my thoughts of frustration or rejection. Now the sounds of my wailings, my sobbing, my screams of “Why God!! And Where are You, God!!” are all I hear.

I will re-read and read again the words you’ve written to encourage me. I pray God will bless you greatly for your investment of time and life in me.

My response

You will get past this, Alan. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Isn’t it such an amazing gift that Father gave you? Your own personal cheerleader, to encourage you to God’s best. You will learn to treasure what you had more than you feel cheated for no longer having her. But I suspect she is still with you. No, not in some occultic way, but in all that encouragement stored up in your memories. I know when I travel, and Sara isn’t with me, I can go away from a conversation knowing precisely what Sara would have said to me had she been there. I know those moments she would have been proud of me and which she would have grimaced a bit at my response. In that way, she is still with you.

What you’ll also learn is to take your validation and encouragement from the Father himself. There is no substitute for a well-placed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” especially when it comes from him. The grief will give way to that light in time. I know it is so dark now that all other light is eclipsed by it. But it will not always be so.

From Alan on May 27, 2019 (31 days after first email):

Thank you. I feel like I know what you mean about knowing what Lynn would say. I just wish I could hear her say it.

I don’t believe God is counting my sins against me, but I am starting to wonder if He is punishing me for things I did in my past that were not pleasing to him. As a child, I accidentally said something bad about the Holy Spirit, and I have been scared my whole life that I have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and wonder if I am really born-again. All of this terrible stuff is so much to deal with. It just does not align with my thoughts that He loves me. It’s funny that preaching that message is the life’s mission that God has given me, yet I am confronted with questions I never thought I’d have.

From Wayne

I understand about wanting to hear her say it. Unfortunately, that reality has changed, and it will take some time to get used to it.

As to your fears that Lynn’s death is some kind of punishment from God— He. Just. Isn’t. Like. That. For God to take some careless words of a child and use them against the love of his life some 50 or 60 years later, would never happen. With each email I get from you, I see the self-talk that will only drive the pain deeper by eroding your faith in a loving Father. You need to find a better conversation with yourself and a self-compassion that more reflects the nature of the Creator.

These next words may sound harsh, but I don’t mean them to be. You’re trying to see these circumstances with a control you don’t have. You were not the determining factor in Lynn’s death, or the healing you hoped for. That doctrine of healing will crush you.

These are the brutal days of grief, Alan; don’t make conclusions here. Don’t give voice to fears if you can help it. Stay in the fountain of his mercy and know that God already has a way for you through this and beyond it to greater freedom and joy ahead. It is what Lynn would have wanted, as you would have wanted it for her….

From Alan on June 2, 2019 (37 days after first email):

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your candor and encouragement. I cannot be making any of this horrific journey without God having brought you alongside to help me, and for that, I am sincerely grateful.

I went to our church this morning without Lynn. I realized I have not been in or around the church for the past 33-34 years without her. She would hold my hand and make sure I was staying awake, and I would put my arm around her, and she’d move in a little closer to me. All of that is now gone.

I have been honest and transparent, and I will continue to do so.

Wayne, I’m having difficulty handling the notion that “God is our deliverer” or “God is our refuge” or songs like “I’ve seen Him move mountains and I believe I’ll see Him do it again” or people saying, “Just find strength in Him.” My mind responds with, “He allowed Lynn to get cancer and then refused to heal her in this realm. How can I rely on Him now? How can I pray for me or someone else when it is obvious that it ultimately may not be answered?

I feel very disappointed. I know that God owes us nothing—he gave his Son, and that is the ultimate gift. But, all these verses and promises in Scripture seem to not be as meaningful or reliable to me as they once were. Lynn even wrote in her journal that she believed for miraculous healing here on earth. We were fully invested in believing the “promises of God are yes and amen in Christ” yet here I am all alone with no hope of Lynn ever coming back, and I guess I just feel let down.

God is not a genie, I get that, but what is the point of having faith when in the end you stand a great chance of being let down.

I feel the weight of his taking Lynn and allowing me to be all alone, and it is so heavy. But, I will try to count it all joy at some point. Just probably not today.

Wayne’s Response

Isn’t it precisely at the moment we feel most disappointed and broken that we need a refuge and a deliverer? If God is ever that, this is why and this is when. I’m praying that you discover that. I’m confident you will, though it may take some time since your theology of suffering and healing seems to be a barrier to that. It’s the theology that needs to die, too, so that you can discover God as he really is. He is the only sure anchor in a broken creation that deals out death and destruction to us all. The promises in the Bible were not to give us a free pass to get out of suffering but to give us a real and present God who can hold us through the challenges and disappointments that we face in this broken Creation.

Every book in the New Testament speaks to our suffering in this world, and that Jesus will be in it with us. The promises were not so we could get what we want, or even what we think is best, but that God is at work through it all until his glory enfolds all of Creation again. That’s a great day coming. Until then, we live in the pains of childbirth, yearning for all to be set right. It just isn’t yet.

I’m sorry you didn’t get fifty years with Lynn, though I know you’ll get an eternity with her. For the time being, you’ll have to learn to live beyond her presence with you. Of course, that will be eminently more difficult if God is the cause of her cancer, or even if he “allowed” it. Or, if for some unknown reason he volitionally decided NOT to heal her despite her hopes and your prayers. I don’t even think he “took” her. Those are all illusions Christians use to try to make death tolerable. It isn’t tolerable. It’s a rift in the Creation—a temporary accommodation to our sin and the hope of a coming Resurrection.

You’ll get through this, Alan. I’ve known lots of people to lose spouses at 35, at 45, even at 75 years of age, and find themselves as broken as you are. Yet, surely, God’s grace will rebuild a path for you. He still has joy for you as hard as that may be to believe. He still has people for you to unveil his life to, and those you can love and comfort in his name.

What makes this much more difficult is that you see God as the cause of your loss and pain. How can you come to him as a refuge, then? The enemy has come with lies to besmirch his character, which is a tactic as old as Eden. He didn’t cause Lynn’s cancer or her death. He wasn’t complicit in it, and he grieves with you at what this has done to you.

Any theology that even has God “allowing” our sufferings is unworthy of him. It makes him the divine abuser, and that’s not who he is. He is the redeemer in the story, sometimes healing, but more often the one who comforts and restores those still living. I grew up with the idea that if we just knew Scripture well enough and how to work it, we would never have to know pain or loss. We’d always be healed and live to a ripe old age. That belief caused me no end of disappointment and disillusionment. Some day we can talk about why that isn’t fair to Scripture or to him, and that God’s participation in the Creation is not as easy as our misinterpretation of those Scriptures allow. But in the fog of grief, I don’t know that this is the best time.

If you can even for a moment suspend your certainty that Father has done these things to you, that he chose against yours and Lynn’s desires, you have a chance to learn about a Father more compassionate and caring than you’ve yet known, and of a Kingdom far deeper and far wider. You are loved, Alan. I know you have been gravely challenged by one of the worst things that can happen to a human, but God is bigger still, and he can walk you through this in a way that will transform you and your capacity to walk alongside others with his wisdom and grace.

I know you’ll find that. He is faithful to his children. He will win this wrestling match going on in your soul because I know you genuinely want him to. You want to see him as he really is, and this circumstance inside the heart of a loving Father. I know you may feel far from it now, but just keep coming to him, trusting that his love is not less than you believe, but more than you can see.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Seven here. 

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 6 Read More »

In the Shadow of Death, Part 5

This is a continuing email exchange between Wayne and a man who is struggling with healing, faith, love, trust, and mortality as his wife appears to be dying from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 21, 2019 (25 days after his first email):

Thank you for words of life. They are truly helping me. I read them and peace just “happens,” and for that, I am most grateful.

The past few days have been interesting. I have convinced myself at times that the reason she is “lingering” is that God is healing her. I realize that He can heal her in a millisecond, but it helps me to think that He is putting her back into a state of complete health.

I do wonder what in the world is going on? But, as you said, God is doing something. Maybe someday He will make it all clear, or maybe not.

I guess one just has to decide whether or not they truly believe that God is good. While all the pain, frustration, and lack of explanations are real, they do not knock us off the rock upon which we are standing that is labeled, “God is good.”

I think I mentioned to you that I struggle with all the affirmative Scriptures – “If any two of you agree” “Anything you ask in my name” “By His stripes we are healed” that somehow wind up with caveats or disclaimers like, “If it is His will” that are not included in the particular Scripture. It’s like God gets let off the hook because we do not understand the true meaning of a verse or its context, or we have not exegeted it properly.

I’m not trying to be irreverent or ugly toward God in expressing this frustration; it’s just a real issue at this time. May I let you in on something: Years ago, I believe that while having a conversation with the Lord as I was driving, He revealed to me why Jesus was beaten. You see, neither Leviticus nor any of the other books that outline the specific instructions God Himself gave regarding the Day of Atonement—wherein the sins of God’s people were dealt with for another season—say anything about beating the sacrifice. On the contrary, the sacrifice was to be without blemish.

So why was the Lamb of God beaten? Obviously, you know the answer that is in Isaiah 53–“by His stripes, we are healed.” Peter also mentions this wonderful truth. I believe that Jesus could have said to Pilate, “You can crucify me, but you are definitely not whipping me,” and sin would still have been cleansed. It is so clear to me that He allowed Himself, the Lamb of God, to go through that horrific beating so that we can be healed. So, that we as His beloved children can know Him as “I am the God that heals you.”

I believe that the Holy Spirit said to me as I was driving, “People get healed the same way they get saved or born-again: “You have to believe.” Just as if we confess with our mouths, the Lord Jesus, and if we believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10), we shall be saved. I believe that this is how we receive the reality of “by His stripes, we are healed.” Not everyone is saved because not everyone believes. Not everyone is healed, because not everyone believes. (Not saying that in any condemning way whatsoever).

On my ministry website, I have an entire podcast about Isaiah 53 and all that Christ endured for us that is in addition to our salvation. I relate this to you so you can know that this is the belief that I had going into this cancer-journey with Lynn when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer three days before Christmas, 2014. To be completely transparent, now I have to re-think what I believe. Maybe it was not the Holy Spirit whispering to me what I thought was Him teaching me about healing.

Lynn has beaten the odds repeatedly. From a “2-3 month” death sentence that has turned into four years and five months and who knows how much longer, to the “She has 2-3 days to live” death sentence that the hospice folks pronounced at the beginning of February when we called them in. My sister gave me Psalm 107:20 back in January 2015 – “He sent his word and healed them, and rescued them from the grave,” as a verse to hold onto when this all began. She is a fighter, but more than that, God has allowed her to live. I am very grateful for that and don’t want to seem ungrateful because I am having a crisis in an area of my faith.

Wayne, during a Sunday morning worship time a few years ago, God showed me a cave in a vision. In that vision, death appeared and tried to walk out of the cave, and God punched him right in the face, and he fled back into the darkness of the cave. Lynn reminded me of that vision a couple of months ago, when I voiced some trepidation about the diagnosis of having tumors in one’s brain. She asked me if I really believed what I have been saying I believe for several years? (Wives are good at putting us on the spot like that).

I wanted you to know that I have invested a lot of my personal, strongly-held beliefs in His appropriating healing for us through the Lamb of God’s having been beaten for our healing. Do I stop believing that? Do I stop preaching that? I know that His ways are higher than ours and that it is dangerous to develop a theology on personal experience, but I want so much for it “to work” and to be able to say, “Yes! By His stripes, she has been healed!! It works! It’s true!”

I don’t want to have to say, “Well, I guess I was wrong,” or “God is sovereign, and He knows what is best.” Of course, He is and does.

I am determined that He is good. My life’s mission that He gave to me is to share the eternal, passionate, unconditional love of God. But, most sincerely and transparently that I can be, I confess to you that this is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. It sucks!!!!!!!!!

I love Lynn more than I can even begin to say. Yet it jolts me that so much of my thoughts and fear of being without her is filled with selfishness. “Alan’s beliefs.” “Alan’s faith tested.” “What is Alan going to do without his Lynn?”

We have settled into the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. It’s either God does a miracle, or she steps into Heaven. Each further decline brings a fresh tsunami of tears and waves of that selfish fear. In between those times, I hold her as best as her frail body will allow, tell her not to fear, and say, “I’ve walked you to the door of the other side. You can step through whenever you are ready. I will be ok.” (I also said, “Tell Jesus I said hey,” which made her smile a little.)

Again, as you have said, she is either not quite ready to go, or the healing is about to explode here on earth.

Before I could finish my response, Alan wrote again one day later:

I was with Lynn today as her breath became labored and then went away.

I believe the Lord let me know when she was close to crossing to the other side, so as I have before, I took her hand and said, “I’m taking you to the door, don’t be afraid, just step through.”

It took her a while after that, but then I saw in the Spirit that she was actually stepping over a stream to the other side into the loving arms of Jesus. She was so covered that I could not see her, just Him holding her, enveloping her with His love. (She has been wearing socks for weeks, and in my vision, I saw someone remove her socks, and she was so thrilled to be barefoot. Someone told her it was ok to splash in the stream, and she was having a fun time before she stepped to Jesus).

Wayne, I’m more devastated than I can say – Scripture says we became one flesh—my heart has been violently ripped in two.

But I am also happy she is no longer in pain, and that she is in Heaven, cancer-free. I asked her to wait for me, to look for me, and to tell Jesus I said, “Hey.”

Now, what do I do?

My response:

I have some things that might help in response to your past two emails, but now there is nothing to say except I am so, so sorry that you did not get the miracle you wanted and have lost your Lynn. This news was a stab in my heart, even though I didn’t know Lynn. I feel like I’ve gotten to know you both over the last few weeks. My heart breaks for you and your pain in this, albeit temporary, separation from Lynn. I can’t imagine losing Sara at this stage of our journey, but even if I did, I know nothing takes our Father by surprise.

And, the strange thing about the death of a loved one is that she’s in such a space of unfathomable love in the presence of Jesus and his Father without all the distractions of flesh and distrust. You, however, are left here without her. A part of your heart has been ripped out, most certainly though it is best to have her safely home if the miracle you wanted wasn’t to be.

Somehow his purpose in this life was fulfilled in Lynn, even as Father still has things in mind for you. The loss is part of it, but God has a purpose for you in still being here. You don’t have to figure out what it is now or in any future time; it will unfold. Now is the time to grieve, to embrace God in the pain of your loss, to let him over time fill the space your wife vacated. That happens with loads of tears, and they are not proof of your lack of faith. Hold your heart before the Father. I will be praying for you, too.

From Alan on May 25, 2019 (29 days after his first email):

I am broken like a smashed vase. The reality that Lynn will never, ever be in our home again, will never be there waiting when I get home is unbearable. I realized that I have had someone to talk to every day for over 30 years, and now I am all alone. Nothing that mattered to us as a couple matters now. She’s gone. Forever. I don’t even really know what promise I have of being reunited with her in Heaven.

Lynn said she’d look for me, but now that she is in the other realm, is she finding out that is not the way it will work? I’m so overwhelmed by the permanence of death and even the suddenness of her being gone. We had a five-month runway before she was flying into eternity, and I knew her death was possible, even probable in spite of my attempt to have faith and believe for her healing here on earth. But, it feels so sudden. She’s gone. Forever. Gone. And I am feeling without hope.

My response:

I’m sorry, so sorry that you lost Lynn, and all the pain you’re going through now is a normal part of the fog grief. Invite God into this season. This is where faith really has to count, not when we get what we want, but when we don’t. I’ve known many to stand where you now stand, with all the pain and disillusionment you’re feeling, and God got them through it, and they found their way to the heights of joy even here in this world. You will never get over the loss of Lynn, but you will get on to other experiences with God, your children, and your friends.

Joy will come in the morning. It will take some time, though. Don’t despise the hurt, because it only marks the depth of your love. But don’t get stuck there either, or her memory will only bring pain and despair, and you’ll lose the ability to celebrate what you had for as long as you had her.

I have no doubt you will see her again, that the separation here is temporary and that we will see and know those we have loved in this life, most especially the one with whom we have been united in body and spirit. Fear not, my friend; she is not gone forever. She isn’t even gone now. Every treasured experience you had with her, every bit of wisdom she added to your life, every place where you were loved, lives on inside of you. You’re a different person because of her. You will always be.

Given the last email you wrote to me before her death, I knew this would be really difficult for you because it isn’t just the death of your wife, but the destruction of a theological conviction you had, that if you could “have faith and believe for healing here on earth,” she would be healed. If that is true (and I am confident it is not), then either God failed you, or you failed Lynn by not having enough faith. Either will only cause you unreconcilable pain because they are built on a false theological premise. We will talk about healing, prayers, and faith later. I had hoped to write you back about it all before Lynn died but did not get a chance to do so. I will someday, but that certainly is what’s most important now.

Just hold in your heart the possibility that your doctrine of healing may not be complete, and that God didn’t fail you, nor did you fail Lynn. This was obviously her time, and that time is coming for all of us. Her death is not the failure of your faith, but the culmination of it. God with us, even in the darkest moments of human existence, where we face full-on the futility of this age. Death is still our enemy. It is God’s enemy, too. He didn’t create us to be torn away from those we love, but that is the price of redemption. Sin had to die so that we could embrace the fullness of eternal life. It’s so rarely true that couples die together.

You will survive this and even thrive in the life Father still has ahead for you. Trust that the Jesus you’ve known all your life will fulfill your heart in ways you cannot conceive. Don’t focus too much on the questions that plague you. Just wait until his glory comes. Grieve with the Father whose heart even hurts more than youea at the toll this fallen world has taken from you. Find him there and what he does in you will become a great comfort to others. Even Paul despaired of life in a crushing experience he speaks of in II Corinthians 1. He could only make sense of it knowing the comfort they would receive in it would make them more comforting to others who traverse the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

You have my prayers and love. I’m happy to do whatever I can to hold your heart in the presence of the Father. He’s big enough to get you through this. But for now, it just hurts. I get it. Let it hurt. Don’t run from the pain; run to him in it.

To be continued…

We’ll switch the headline here, but the story continues. Read part 6 here:

Part 6:  When You Don’t Get The Miracle You Want…

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In the Shadow of Death, Part 5 Read More »

In the Shadow of Death, Part 4

This is a continuing email exchange between Wayne and a man who is struggling with healing, faith, love, trust, and mortality as his wife appears to be dying from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 8, 2019 (12 days after the first email):

I wanted to share an amazing thing that I realized this morning: I’m not freaking out. God has taken the words you have shared with me and used them as living water that is flowing peacefully in my soul. It is as if the raging waves of emotion have heeded His command “Peace, Be still.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have wept, and prayed with all of my might. But the sense of sheer abandonment I was abiding in is slowly being replaced by His being made more real to me. I actually sense Him in a different way than I ever have before.

There is no way to sugar-coat what facing the possible death of the woman I have loved most of my life feels like. It’s a nightmare, a horror story. What’s different is that now I am a little less scared.

Lynn is smiling at me more these past couple of days. Yesterday evening she thanked me for serving her. I told her it was my honor and pleasure to do so. She grabbed me as I was leaning over the bed to better hear what she was saying and planted a big kiss on my cheek. It was awesome!

She is wanting to get up again and to try and walk. Who knows how this will play out but God? I do know that I still believe for her healing, but in a calmer way than before. His peace has invaded my faith.  We’re thankful for another day and are even more thankful for His presence that is walking with us.

Wayne’s Response:

I love this.  Evidently, she’s doing better, if she wants to try to get up.  I wish at times like this we knew what God was doing, but we almost never do. Abiding in his love and living in the uncertainty of the present is how so much of my journey has gone. This is the best place, regardless of what happens, to be “in the Spirit”. If Father brings healing your joy will be overwhelming. If she lingers awhile in the twilight of her cancer, you’ll have words to say and love to share, and if (and I pray not), this is her home going, then you’ll have the bittersweet days of watching your love be stronger than the tragedy that has beset you.

I am thankful as well for each day you have. I, too, am praying for the miracle of miracles that heals her body and gives you years and years together. And I am so grateful that Father has led you to this point in the midst of it all.

From Alan on May 11, 2019 (15 days after the first email):

Wayne, as always, thank you. Perhaps I spoke too soon about not being freaked out. I am so sad to think of her not being here. Even though she is bed-bound now, at least she is still here. We can still hold hands and talk to each other even though it’s hard for her. Of course, I hate that she has been stuck in that bed for weeks, but selfishly there is a peace in knowing she will be there to smile at me and say “Good morning.”

I have been weeping more and more because my love for her is pleading please get better, please don’t go! But, Heaven is silent, no miracles on the horizon that I can see. The emptiness and gloom that I see in my life without her are too much to consider. Everywhere I turn in this house I see something to do with her, some touch she added to make it our home. Maybe I am too emotional, but this is just so hard.

Wayne’s Response:

I know that it is, Alan. Someone once told me the reason we have so much fear and anxiety in our imagined futures (life without Lynn), is that we cannot imagine grace. Therefore, we are always in our future alone, having to survive by our own skills and we just can’t see a way through it. But when we actually get there, God is there too, with resources we can’t contemplate until we’re there.

I am confident he will be with you each day, in this crisis and through it. Heaven is not silent; it only seems so to you.

I don’t know how many years you’ve had with Lynn, but I have watched many people go through this. They do survive, and even thrive in a future God still has for them. You can’t imagine it now; I get that. But you will go on and all the memories and experiences you have had with her will live on in you too. Grief takes the sting of the memories we have about someone we love and turns them into the joy of having known and experienced them. You’re not there yet, so I don’t think you need to rush it. Just know you won’t be alone, not for one day, not for one second.

Right now, you’re loving her in the uncertainty of whether this is her time or not.  That is the most difficult place I know of, and though you are not sufficient to that task, he is. And I do trust him in all that’s unfolding both for you and Lynn. You don’t control the outcome here. She doesn’t either. It just means you have to put everything on his lap every day and roll with whatever comes—joy or pain.  I’m so sorry, brother. I wish I could save you from this.

Though I don’t think God is causing any of this, he will cause it to work for good. It’s what he does—triumph out of tragedy.

From Alan on May 17, 2019 (21 days after his first email):

Every night as I tuck her into the hospice bed, we bump fists and say, “Another day!” Lately I have had to help her make a fist, but that is ok. She even instigates it if I should forget.

I have wept more in the past couple of days than I wanted to. Your words have so strengthened me and I thought I was making great progress in being “ready.” I have a ways to go.

Yesterday was the worst day in the recent nightmare and probably in four years. She woke up with her big brown eyes shining at me and we talked some and I helped her exercise her legs in the bed. The CNA comes on Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday to give her a bath (in the bed) and I was getting her stuff together for that as I always do. Out of the blue, Lynn began to I guess hallucinate or become paranoid – she started telling me to “make sure the cameras are off.” I tried to reassure her but it only got worse. Eventually, she was so agitated that she was crying out, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die. Take me to the hospital.” I called the hospice folks and they said to go ahead and give her some of the medication they have provided for pain and agitation. I did and eventually she settled and fell asleep.

Hospice wants me to keep her medicated “around the clock.” It’s driving me crazy not to be able to talk to her at all. I mean I can talk but to not have her respond even with a fist bump is creating a new level of sorrow. It’s like a new vein of tears has been tapped.

I am still praying for her to be miraculously healed. But, Wayne, for the first time I asked God to take her as opposed to letting her suffer like that. I really do not want Him to take her, I want Him to heal her and be like Jesus to Mary and Martha – “Did I not say if you believe you will see the glory of God?” I’ve felt like the Holy Spirit at one time was prompting me to think about what we would do with a miraculously healed Lynn. I prayed, “Lord, help us to handle your glory the way you want us to, to give you the glory in the way that pleases you.”

She is sleeping soundly and has been for over 24 hours. I will help her make a fist in a little while and say, “Guess what? Another day!” I can barely see the screen to type this so I will stop. I love Lynn so much.

From Wayne

I’m not sure why you worry about how many tears you cry. Tears are not a sign of defeat or lack of faith. The sorrow you feel is directly tied to the depth of love you two have shared. Cry all you want. Embrace God in the tears. He understands your pain better than you do. He often, “with loud cries and tears” offered himself to God.

As I’ve said previous, this is the worst of all times with someone we love, when they linger in the throes of death. Once they pass, we are freer to grieve to healing. Now we’re just caught in the ongoing nightmare as you call it.  It’s hard. I’ve been there, not with Sara thankfully, but with others I love. Would that they get healed, or pass on quicker, but her lingering has to do with her desire to survive and some work God is yet doing in her heart and soul. Death doesn’t come easily very often, but what a gift to have you in her pocket at this season. She is not alone. She has someone sharing her pain and uncertainty with her.

Somehow, I think we’ll see at the end of all things, what a valuable time this is for you and for her. Pain is not our enemy. Embrace it and the tears, as well as God in them, for he is surely there and someday you’ll see this all as a gift that’s so hard to see now.

And trust the hospice people about medication. They have been through this a hundred times or more. I know you want to keep her ‘aware’, but that serves you more than her. I don’t write that easily. I know those are hard words, but the fears and pain that overwhelm her aren’t worth it for either of you.

Loving in the chaos of this fallen world is not easy. My heart breaks that this has gone on so long for you, but you or your prayers are not the determining factors here. Would that they were. There are just greater realities here than either of us can fathom. We don’t control events; we just do our part and entrust the rest to our loving Father.

You’re in our prayers, Alan.  I only have words of honor for you and what you’re going through and how you’re responding. I can’t imagine God saying anything at the moment than, “That’s Alan, my beloved son and in whom I’m well pleased with how he’s loving my Lynn.”

To be continued…

Read Part 5 here. 

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In the Shadow of Death, Part 3

This is a continuing email exchange between Wayne and a man who is struggling with healing, faith, love, trust, and mortality as his wife appears to be dying from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 3, 2019 (seven days after first email)

Lynn is treading water, and I am treading with her. I continue to pray and believe for a miraculous intervention and healing in this realm but have also started praying, “May your will be done, Father.”

It occurred to me that most of my life I have equated asking the Father for “His will to be done” with something negative. Almost as if that is a prayer option guaranteed to disappoint.

He has done amazing things already – Lynn has lived four years and four months longer than the original prognosis of two to three months rendered in January 2015. She has lived three months longer than hospice thought when they were called in early February. They said two to three days.

What Alan wants is a Lynn completely well on this earth, totally cancer-free and full of renewed health and vitality. What God wants may be the same, or it may be different and may include her being cancer-free and full of renewed health and vitality in the eternal realm.

I see a need in my life to trust Him entirely and be comfortable with praying, “Your will be done” in all situations. I think you would call it learning to “live loved.” It’s funny, I preach His love as limitless, unending and without condition, yet I am finding that I have much to learn myself about believing the very thing I share with others.

So we wait. I feel terrible for Lynn to be confined to an uncomfortable hospice bed, totally reliant on me for juice or water, unable to go outside and enjoy the warm weather she loves so much. She isn’t complaining. She’s never complained. She’s the same strong, peaceful woman I have been privileged to know and love all these years.

I am getting impatient I guess – what a selfish way to think. I pray, “God, please either heal her or take her to be with you.” I wonder if that prayer stems more from my discomfort than hers.

Nevertheless, we wait upon the Lord. Thankful that He has brought folks like yourself along for the journey. I am not overstating when I say that your emails have helped sustain me. Thank you for caring and allowing God to use you in our lives.

My Response:

I hate your pain but love your note and your heart in the midst of this. In the face of great need, the lie that haunts us is that there must be one more thing we can do that will turn the tide as if all we’ve done to date while well-intentioned just wasn’t enough to move the Creator. He’s waiting for someone to do just the right thing, or say the right words. It’s just not true. Who knows how God works, how he determines the days of our lives, how he intervenes or doesn’t? We don’t.

But I trust this. If there’s more he needs or wants you to say or do here, he will make it known to you. He has had plenty of time to heal Lynn, so we might consider at this point that healing may not happen.  Love her and say your good-byes as best you can in trust that all of this is in his hands. And God making it clear won’t come through the anguished advice of well-intentioned though misguided friends.

If this is her homecoming, he is still preparing things in her, even though you can’t see them from the outside. He’s making ready her part of his bride and will liberate her into the next life at the right time. It may not look that way to you or me, but he knows what he is doing. I love how you’re loving her and how you are learning to live loved even in the most difficult and painful of circumstances. It will bear fruit in your heart until the end of your days.

From Alan on May 6, 2019 (ten days after first email):

Have I said “thank you” yet? You are doing the absolute work of God Himself in my life. In the darkest of hours, your words are His light cutting through to my heart. I am dumbfounded at the power and anointing that jumps off of the screen as I read over and over what God has given you for me.

I was imagining sitting with you at a coffee bar and getting gut-level honest. The words from Heaven that you sent to me about loving Lynn well had two effects:

First, they encouraged me beyond my ability to articulate. As I mentioned at that time, they came from the Holy Spirit directly.

Second, they cut like a hot knife into the recesses of the past, exposing the truth that many times I have not “loved Lynn well.” I’ve had wandering eyes, incredibly ungodly thoughts and imaginations, and a list of regrets that would fill pages.

I have begged God while sitting at her bedside, hot tears streaming down my face for “another chance, Father!” I want a do-over, an opportunity to love her every day with the knowledge of the pain that I have now. I want another chance to ‘love her as Christ loves the church, giving himself for her.” Thank you for sharing with me that God sees me doing that now.

I feel so special in all of this, as if you are penning a personal book little by little to me. I am confident that you have touched millions of folks and changed their lives.

Please know that your words are like a spiritual solution in an IV bottle that God is sending into my veins. I literally feel His presence when we communicate, and that is  comfort for which I am desperately grateful.

My Response:

Alan, your gratefulness is well noted, and appreciated. But this exchange is about you and God’s grace and love in the midst of such horrible experience…

And I would say this, “loving a woman well” is not a standard of perfection by which we judge the past; it is the trajectory of our growth. You’ve grown into this ability to love Lynn the way God wants Lynn loved in her passing if this is her time. Of course, none of us know that, so it makes it difficult to say the good-byes with people we love.  Entrust whatever healing might come into the hands of your gracious Father and spend this time as if it is her passing. It may not be, and if it’s not you’ll have no regrets. If it is, you’ll be grateful for the closure you’ve had in the midst of it.

All is in Father’s hands. This moment is all we have, not what could or might be. We just have the moment and his grace inhabits it with us. We are not alone in any of it, and we are not abandoned to our own wisdom or resources.

“Father, hold Alan and Lynn in the palm of your hands today. Cover them with life and light and grace and comfort. As you are seemingly drawing Lynn into your eternity, may she be totally lost in you and your love. The same for Alan, Father. Overwhelm him with your love, quiet his anxious thoughts and let yours spell the day in his heart and mind.  Jesus, may your grace be clear as you stand alongside Alan, feeling everything that he feels and knowing how best to soothe his soul and bear his pain. Spirit of the Most High, do your work for “those who mourn” until grief of this difficult passing be swallowed up in all the joys their relationship contained, and all it will contain for ages to come.”

To be continued…

Read Part 4 here. 

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In the Shadow of Death, Part 3 Read More »