BY EVAN WELCHER
Around this time last year my Resplendent Bride wrote this note on her CaringBridge site,
“I missed it yesterday, but yesterday marked one year since my life was changed forever. A tumor was found in my chest this time last year and I was diagnosed with cancer. I can’t believe it has been a year. This year I have experienced pain, heartache, sickness, frustration, and depressed moments. On the flip side I have also experienced love, assurance, hope, peace, friendship, sacrifice, care and never ending support. I sit here a year later wishing it was all over with, but instead it is all starting again. But, I also sit here with the hope that this time next year I will be beginning a new chapter in life and this one will be closed. No one in their right mind would want to experience this but in a weird way I am thankful it has happened. I have been forced to see the individual amazingness in people. For example, my husband, I have always known that he was a keeper but my eyes have now been open to the sheer sacrifice of how he loves me. He really does love me as Christ loves His church! My faith in The Lord and who he is has been forged deeper and stronger. I will continue to go through pain as I face this life threatening illness, but I as I walk through this valley, I am not alone. I can have hope that my strength and that hope comes from the strength giver Himself; the God of hope. I just hung up this verse in my living room, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness’” 2 Corinthians 12:9. I will make this my chew on verse for this year. His grace is sufficient! That is definitely something to chew on. So here we go! I’m going to take a deep breath and continue going. Thank you for your support and bringing me before the thrown of grace!”
Yes, around this time last year we had learned that the cancer had returned. When we would receive bad news we would drive home to The Hermitage and she would curl up in my lap and cry into my shoulder.
My Resplendent Bride wrote,
“But, I also sit here with the hope that this time next year I will be beginning a new chapter in life and this one will be closed.”
It is now that time. While cancer took her from this life it did not succeed in taking her life. Her words have come to pass, though differently than we had planned. Danielle is more alive than I am. My Resplendent Bride is beginning a new chapter in life, and the old chapter is closed.
I often wonder what she is doing right now in Heaven. All too often when we think of Heaven we imagine fuzzy pictures of our loved ones adorned in white with smiles forever frozen on their faces. I wonder what she does every day in that blessed place. I know it is good. But it is also a bit mysterious.
Heaven is not, however, completely opaque
The Crucified Carpenter King described Heaven as His Father’s house (John 14:1-2), and I imagine those who are now more alive than ever spend their days, as it were, doing what families do in a great family home. For surely all that is good here finds its finest culmination there.
After all, the shadowlands only exist to spur pilgrims home.
My Resplendent Bride also describes hanging up 2 Corinthians 12:9 in the living room. I see it now. It reads, “But He said to me,” My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Danielle’s weakness gave this particular Scripture profound depth as she chewed on it for the remainder of her beautiful sojourn here in the shadowlands.
Her’s was the pain of her body turning against her. Mine the pain of the powerless guardian watching. I have never had a thorn in my flesh. I rejoice that God gave those powerful words in 2 Corinthians 12:9 to us all in the Scriptures, including my Resplendent Bride.
I imagine the day of my own thorn is inevitably approaching. For some reason most of us assume we’re owed a solid 80 or more years of health. If we would talk to the elderly more we would know that such a notion is not realistic. At 31 I feel stronger than ever. Yet decline always looms. One goes to bed strong and wakes up with a cough, and the cough is cancer, and your life is a cough in eternity.
Our suffering does not change the meaning of the Scriptures, but they do give a greater depth to the applications of Scripture.
For my Resplendent Bride it was 2 Corinthians 12:9.
For me it is Philippians 1:21-24
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
I don’t mean to be morbid, nor to cause people concern. Yet in a real sense if people are our treasure, and if those people are by the grace of God saved, then there will come a point where if you live long enough heaven will be populated by that which is precious to you.
Not to mention the Lord Jesus Himself residing there as well.
I am reminded of something Rich Mullins said,
“I always like reviews that you get in magazines by people who don’t have a clue as to what is going on. Not that I necessarily think I get bad reviews I just think they criticize the wrong things about my albums. This guy said that this was a morose song [Be With You] because it dealt with death. And he said, “The rest of these songs are pretty nice on this album but this one is really morose and it’s kinda maudlin and it’s about dying.” You know, I think it is a bizarre thing that in the early 1st century Christians looked at death with a great anticipation, and that in primitive
Christianity death was considered a wonderful time. That in the Old Testament it says that we should celebrate the day of a man’s funeral and not the day of his birth. Yet in sophisticated 20th century America we look at all those Church traditions and the wisdom of God and we scoff at it and we say that people who want to die are morbid.”
Mullins continues by saying he didn’t particularly want to die because he had a bad life, and then makes a joke about how he didn’t have to work for a living or anything as a musician.
I agree with Mullins, and I agree with Paul. Having loved, and loss, and suffered has given me new insight into Philippians 1:21-24 just as suffering had given my Resplendent Bride new insight into 2 Corinthians 12:9.
At 31 I still have things to say.
I still have things to write.
Yet my heart is longing for eternity.
I take comfort in God’s wisdom in leaving the world the great gift that is the Church. I am driven by all the kingdom work left undone, but I am comforted to no end in knowing that I am not the indispensable man. When the Good Shepherd calls me home another will pick up where I leave off.
Oh, how I long for the better Hermitage.
Oh, how I long to finish my course faithfully.
I live in the tension in the middle.
As I ought.
Evan Welcher is senior pastor of First Christian Church in Glenwood, Iowa. He graduated with a B.S. in Biblical studies from Emmaus Bible College in 2005. Evan’s goal in ministry is to stir up love for Jesus Christ by the giving of great care and fidelity to the teaching of the scriptures.