This week, I experienced personal loss as a dear friend faced the end of her life and entered heaven after a long battle with cancer. During the years she fought this enemy of human flesh, her spirit was refined in the fire of crisis and reflected the glory of God in increasing measure. In the process, we witnessed the development of childlike faith to that of a mature believer.
My friendship with Donna and her family predated her diagnosis. For over twenty years, our lives intersected through our children and our church. Two of our three children were in the same class as two of hers. We shared benches at ball games or other events and our families camped together over many summers. Our husbands became fast friends, and we both worked as nurses at the same hospital. Attending the same church provided enhanced value to our friendship. We jointly celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings and becoming grandparents. Our home and lives connected as a non-related extended family.
Then came the diagnosis of cancer. After years of sharing our joys and struggles with each other, we took up their burden as best as we could through prayer and support, as did others. Our congregation rallied around Donna and her family in ways too numerous to adequately describe. Prayers and practical support were plentiful.
One comment at her memorial service addressed these attempts to encourage her. I say attempt, because more often than not, Donna provided the encouragement. Her “God stories” were plentiful – she had the ability to see God working in and through circumstances that most people miss…because she was looking and we weren’t. Her perspective changed with the diagnosis of cancer.
With the news that Donna had cancer, she called out to God (as many of us would) but added a request that this experience would not be wasted. She could not escape this negative diagnosis, but her plea was that God use it positively.
Like many who face cancer, including those who have faced this in my family, our prayers focused on beating this disease. Many times, individually and collectively in groups, we bombarded heaven with prayers that Donna would be spared by a miraculous healing. We envisioned the impact of this testimony and how God would be glorified in the process. As the prognosis got worse, we recalled barren wombs that bore children, lepers and blind men that were healed, and other miraculous answers to prayer. No earthly situation was beyond the touch of our Lord.
Some individuals in the days before and after her memorial service may have wondered if our prayers were in vain – we did not get the answer we sought and believed would occur. Following God includes trusting in his wisdom and his goodness – even when we don’t understand his ways.
Donna’s prayer was that her life would not be wasted and those who knew her were witness to what God can do in a life that is set-apart for his purposes. Not a day was wasted and if we watched, we saw God at work.
As I reflect upon her journey in which cancer appeared to win, I realized the greater victory manifested in what may seem to be less obvious but just as miraculous as total healing (which would have been temporary even if she lived another 100 years).
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:12-13 ESV)
Faith – Earlier I commented that Donna transitioned from childlike faith to that evidenced by mature believers. In the years she battled cancer, we were witness to a resolve in her that fully relied in the sovereignty of God. She trusted him with her diagnosis, her treatment, and her future. She held on to the promises of scripture because of the author. Through this crisis, she came to know and trust God because of his character, not just his ability to answer our requests the way we wanted. She never wavered from faith that whatever the issue, God knew what was best.
Hope – Closely aligned with faithful trust in God’s love and wisdom is hope. Donna lived with the expectant hope that God was able to do anything. One recurring God-story theme amazed many of the medical professionals as she beat the odds over and over again. God could, and did, prolong her life and along with it the opportunities to share that hope for a future with anyone who met her. The hope she knew bore fruit both in this life and in her final permanent healing for eternity.
Love – Donna knew she was loved by God and her love for God increased exponentially as she grew in her relationship with him. Scripture and prayer were no longer an afterthought but an essential activity of her life. As God poured his love into her, she overflowed to others. Her family, friends, and anyone who came across her path were recipients.
Faith, hope and love encouraged Donna and her family as they faced this challenge together. What she believed and trusted by faith is now known to her as fact, her hope was realized in full, and the love that strengthened her lives on in her family and others because she shared her life and God-experiences with us.
Like Paul before her, Donna didn’t want to waste not one day of this experience. As she prayed that God would use it, she lived what she believed in authenticity. And like Paul, she faced the transition from earth to heaven with bold confidence. “[Donna] fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7, ESV)
While we are still walking this planet, may we likewise place our days before God and not waste them. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time…” (Eph. 5:15-16a, ESV)