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.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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