Yesterday, Gail and I returned from a few days at the Exponential Conference in Orlando. I’ve always enjoyed this conference because it is all about church planting and the seats are filled with brave young men and women who will charge the gates of hell all over the country, and the world, starting life-giving churches in every conceivable setting. I like hanging out with young people on a mission.
But I also like hanging out with older people, because of course, I have now joined their ranks. So many of these “older” folks are my close friends. They come from all over the country, some even from other countries. They serve in different capacities, in various ministries. But we all have one thing in common. We have chosen to give our lives to the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. I can confidently tell you that there is no greater bond. Our friendships flow from a commonality that translates into a deep sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. I may be presumptuous to say that these friendships are akin to the Apostles as they lived life together with their Leader and then separated to fulfill their calling everywhere in the world. Though they needed to part ways, I am certain that their friendships did not wane, in fact, I believe they likely became stronger. And, when they had the rare opportunities to cross paths, the aroma of their relationships was even sweeter.
Yesterday and today have been difficult for Gail and I. We had to say goodbye to many good friends, knowing that some will likely never see Gail again this side of heaven, (though we are still waiting on our miracle, Lord). I cannot express to you how painful that parting is. Even with those whom she will see again, our desire to remain by their sides, enjoying the laughter and the discussions of God’s calling upon our lives, is painful. Separation is so difficult.
So, we sat in the airport, eating lunch through the tears. For some strange reason our conversation turned to even darker subjects... subjects that we knew needed to be broached, but that we did not expect at this time. But they are necessary. We discussed Gail’s funeral. What songs would she like us to sing, who would speak, even who might attend. It got worse. How would she like her remains to be handled?
If and when the time may come, Gail will be cremated. Her remains will be scattered in those places she has loved most. Some will go into the yard she loved to mow, at the home where she raised four world changers. Some will go to the Nevel farm that holds many of her life’s fondest memories. Some will go to our campus that served as the re-fueling and sending station for her life’s mission, that changed thousands of lives. And some will blow away in the breeze, to reminisce of our love of travel and of the Holy Spirit taking us to many wonderful places on earth. Neither of us planned this discussion, it just happened. It was the most difficult discussion I’ve ever had with my wife.
Starting chemotherapy again today sucks. For Gail, knowing how she will feel and her fear that skipping a treatment means the cancer might have grown, is tough. She has experienced new symptoms in the past few weeks, each one calling forth deep fears for the worst. We try not to go there, but it is inevitable. In these moments we feel so weak and insignificant in God’s great universe. How do we push through?
C.S. Lewis, my favorite author, once described how Gail and I feel, and how we press on through the pain. Lewis experienced much pain in his life, and, in one instance, he was in a very dark place. He wrote a letter to his sister that describes how we feel and how we press on. I will share his words.
“Don’t imagine I doubt for a moment that what God sends us must be sent in love and will all be for the best if we have grace to use it so. My mind doesn’t waver on this point; my feelings sometimes do. That’s why it does me good to hear what I believe repeated in your voice—it being the rule of the universe that others can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and one can paddle every canoe except one’s own. That is why Christ’s suffering for us is not a mere theological dodge but the supreme case of the law that governs the whole world; and when they mocked him by saying, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save,’ [Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31] they were really uttering, little as they knew it, the ultimate law of the spiritual world.”
From "The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II"
Compiled in "Yours, Jack"
This morning, as I read God’s Word and meditated upon His message for me, I received a text message. In the midst of my weakness and struggle, a wonderful old friend sent prayers and encouragement. That’s what good friends do. So, I will just go on anyway. Thank you to all of our friends who, “paddle our canoe,” when we cannot muster the strength or the courage. We will once again make the trek to Hershey, and we will make a difference in some folk's lives today by connecting them to the One who can get them through anything. Thanks also to You, Jesus. You are a good Friend.