On April 12, my wife’s sister, Molly Hawkins, passed away after a battle with breast cancer. She was just diagnosed last June and went through the expected medical treatments but lost her battle a few weeks ago. And it’s that very common statement: “lost her battle” that is haunting me. Molly was the first really close relative that my wife and I have lost. She was just 41, too young on all accounts…only thirteen months younger than my wife. She was a beautiful, outgoing woman with everything in front of her.
Allow me to share a couple of lessons that the Lord has taught me through this difficult time. Many of you have lost loved ones. I’ve personally performed the memorials of “young” people who still had so much living in front of them. I’ve always been on the giving end of the comforting, encouraging and condolences. Having never been in those shoes, I’ve often wondered if do it right? It seems that right at the point of a tragic loss, with grief hanging in the balance, major decisions are required of the family: putting together a service, calling all the relatives and friends, picking out caskets and flowers…and the never-ending stream of people dropping by, bringing food, calling the house. All of it, to me, would put added strain on an already wrung out family. It can be overwhelming. Why do we do it that way?
Then, it happened to my family. I actually was walking up the walkway to my in-laws house, the day after Molly’s passing, thinking, “O, I hate it that they will have to endure everyone’s efforts at comfort…it’ll only wear them out.” But as I sat in the “hurting chair” along with my wife and her family, I saw something I had personally never really noticed. Every visit, every meal delivered, every phone call was like a river of healing. It blew me away at how much every hug meant so much. My wife stayed up late, just reading the hundreds of well-wishes on Facebook and by email. Every message was like a balm that helped a little bit more. People loving us and caring so deeply. I actually walked around the church, looking at every flower that had been sent and being so blessed by every familiar name on the cards. My fears of our family being worn out had actually turned. How would we have made it without these acts of love? How awful to have to endure such heartache alone. I was always the one making the phone call, stopping by the house for a grieving family, oft times feeling like an intruder. But the Lord showed me that each gentle word was life-giving. Each hug replenished a wounded soul.
Paul wrote that “we do not grieve as those with no hope.” I’ve offered those words of comfort many times and this brings me to my second lesson. Heaven is a reward! Coming from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background, sickness and disease are enemies. I so strongly believe in the healing power of Jesus. I’ve personally seen the sick healed when I’ve laid hands on them. My own mother was healed of cancer at 27 years old, when I was a little boy. Jesus is our Healer and God calls Himself Jehovah Raphe, the Lord heals. We rightfully take an adversarial stance against sickness and disease and pray for deliverance with great fervor. We prayed for Molly with great fervor. Thankfully, I’ve grown up past the old, ignorant, calls of “where was your faith?” or “if we would have just had more faith.” As a pastor, I’ve settled the issue that I’m not God and I don’t know the heart of every other man enough to know where someone is in their faith walk. Here’s what I do know: I’m really big on healing…but I’m REALLY BIG on heaven. We fight the fight of flesh, of sickness in a fallen world. But I refuse to believe that heaven is a consolation prize for someone who “lost their battle.” Is gaining God’s eternal glory really a loss? Does the Father greet us with a “hey, nice try, you should have won that one, but you can’t win ‘em all?” Are you kidding me? We who have lost the presence of our loved one certainly grieve…but we grieve our loss, because they have not lost a thing. Those believers who have passed have graduated, they have advanced and they have gained eternal glory. I wonder if when we see our loved ones in heaven, they’ll chuckle at us. The things we strain over on this earth will seem so insignificant when our own faith has become sight. We’ll miss you Molly, but we also know you’re not missing a thing!