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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Lesson From Paul's Journey

Late last week as I was talking to my friend and pastor who did Andrea's funeral he mentioned the story of Paul’s journey to Rome. I felt that was a nudge from God that I needed to write about this story. Then last night I was talking to a friend about how Andrea's death and how it was causing someone to struggle in their faith. Why did Andrea die? So many people have been lifting Andrea up in prayer her death came as somewhat of a shock to us all. I understand that feeling. I think Anthony summed it up best when I told him about Andrea's trach surgery and that Andrea’s survival chance was only 25%. He walked into my room with Nic and he said "I thought Mom was invincible." She sure seemed that way didn't she? She endured her pain with such faith that sometimes people did not realize how sick she was.

Well I want to talk about Andrea's death and God's will, our faith, and what I feel about losing my wife. Earlier I posted a picture of Andrea's tombstone. It was a sobering moment. The finality of the past 4 years etched in stone. "Andrea Ravella." I laid on her grave and felt her beneath me. I cried at the sight of her name on the stone. I tried to erase it with my hand, but the fresh edges of the stone cut at my hand as if to say, "I am here to stay." The sod had been placed over the dirt putting another layer between myself and the life that I once had. The sod now so fresh and still moveable over time will grow roots, becoming a more permanent barrier to my past. Each day roots grow deeper in my life without Andrea that forms a barrier to my past. Right now that barrier is there but still new, the concrete has yet to set. I drift back into our past but by the grace of God I'm able to do so with some amount of control so as not to drop into the pit of despair. As if I can come to the edge of the pit and look in but not feel the need to fall in. I will tell you there is a powerful pull to just jump in that pit. It is just the easiest thing to do. Funny in a way that it would be so easy to go somewhere you know will cause you pain. Opposite of how we live life everyday. Death is a strange companion, and his friend grief offers "relief" that is necessary can be addictive and destructive if left unchecked by faith.

It is my faith that lifts me from that pit. It is faith in God that reminds me the pain I feel is not the end of this story. I will one day see Andrea and I know she is exactly where she wants to be. Sometimes I look up at the sky and wonder where she is. I think about the concept of faith, God, and heaven. Is this all some ritual that we make up in our mind to ease the idea of losing someone? I don't mean to scare anyone by admitting I have these thoughts, for I know God can withstand my questioning; I am not the first or the last who will ask these questions. A faith that is unable to be questioned is a shell propped up with paper walls. Life can be confusing and working through something like Andrea's death will challenge what we all believe. In the flesh we ask questions like, "Why would someone with such faith die when there are so many around us who don't believe?" or comments like "Andrea could have been such a witness if she would have been healed why would she die?" We look at Andrea and we all agree she was "A woman of faith" as it says on her tombstone. If she, with a faith many of us feel is beyond us, could not get her prayer answered what chance is there for the rest of us?"

Well these questions and thoughts all seem legitimate but they are all written from an earthly perspective. What if in death Andrea accomplished more then if she lived? We tend to complete the story in our mind if Andrea had lived. It always involves Andrea healed, and being a powerful witness for God. It is perfect is it not? God is glorified and we still have Andrea. What could be wrong with that? What about all that we do not see? Like the boy on the movie "Christmas Story" who wanted a BB gun for Christmas, he imagined all the fun he would have with the gun, and never thought of the danger. In his mind the BB gun was the perfect gift that could only bring happiness. He disregarded the warnings; "You'll shoot your eye out kid" until he took his first shot and almost shot his eye out.

What if the best thing for Andrea and us was for Andrea to die? Can your mind and your faith allow you to entertain this thought? Can you let go of the idea of what is "perfect" and allow perfect to be defined by God? We all tend to read the Bible and find verses that point to how we will get what we want in life. What if God asked you, or me to do something we didn't want to do? Could we? What if what God was asking us went against all we knew? What if what He was asking us to do involved pain and suffering? Sometimes we think of our Christian walk in these terms, "I joined this team but I did not sign up to suffer. In fact I signed up for this team for the very purpose to get out of suffering."

It was these thoughts that drew me to the story of Paul’s imprisonment. Then today I awoke at 6am and I picked up my original journal. The one I started on July 3 2005 two days before Andrea stared chemo for metastatic breast cancer. Today I was flipping though the pages and found this entry from July 7th 2005 where I wrote about Paul's journey back to Rome.

There are many aspects of this story that I love. The same story I have felt God placed on my heart this past week. I was reading about the account of Paul's journey back to Jerusalem and his subsequent imprisonment and death in Rome.

Acts 18:9-11

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Acts 20:22-25

"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given methe task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

Acts 21:4

Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem

Acts 2:10-14

After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' "When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done."

As I read these verses I thought why was the Holy Spirit warning Paul through other believers not to go and why did Paul go.

I believe Paul was being told in his spirit that this was what had to happen but to not fear. I think Paul’s friends felt this same prompting from the spirit yet looked at it from an earthly view. That is Paul went to Jerusalem he would suffer and in their flesh they did not see how Paul suffering and death could be what was best. Much like we do not see how Andrea’s death could be anything other then a mistake. It just does not make sense to us.

Remember in Acts 18:9-11

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Paul had faced beatings and death before and Paul knew nothing was going to happen to him that God did not allow. In that Paul found security in his past experiences that allowed him to hear maybe what he did not want to hear. Like being told to go to Jerusalem knowing that others were warning him this would lead to imprisonment and death. Much like Andrea who had a peace about the path before her. Her personal relationship with God gave her the assurance that what she may not have wanted was necessary. I saw how much Andrea wanted to live. She did not walk around celebrating the possibility of death. I remember one day in particular it was the day Andrea had to have her brain scan. We went home and waited for the doctor to call us with the results. Andrea had a peace at the hospital while we waited for her turn in the CT. The Doctor called us at 9pm with the result, Andrea answered the phone and he told her, “Your CT was normal there are no tumors in your brain.” Immediately Andrea fell down and was crying thanking God that the cancer had not spread to her brain. I remember thinking no matter how much peace Andrea in this trial she still wanted to live. It was her desire that she never gave up on. As she would tell me, “I want to see my children’s children.”

Paul was an example to me of this kind of faith. The Lord told him to go to Jerusalem and Rome and being bound was how he would get there. And Paul was okay with that.

I’m sure I would think, “Well Lord I understand I have to go to Rome but I don’t see any reason for me to go all the way to Jerusalem to get there. That seems like the long way to go. Not to mention that if I go that way I will be bound and put in jail. How about I just go direct on my own and on the way I can visit with the churches I have established. I have so much more I need to tell them and this looks like the perfect opportunity to get all of this accomplished.” Isn’t that how we face Andrea’s death just a little? We have what seems like the perfect plan and we don’t understand why God does not do it our way. Yet we have to have faith that we do not see the complete picture and much like those who offered Paul advice I wanted to warn Andrea not to go into the emergency room that day. I knew in my spirit she would not come home again and I pleaded with her to please not go in. But Andrea much like Paul knew she had to go in. Andrea like Paul trusted God. It was a trust built on God’s past faithfulness. A trust that knew God was more powerful then this world and that the Roman authorities nor cancer was in control, God was.

So as I look back and work out the pain and sadness of losing Andrea just as many of you are or have done I remind myself that just because this did not turn out the way I had hoped in no way implies that God forsook me or lost control of the situation. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and Rome remind me that God sometimes works in ways we may not understand. But that is His right, for we never see the complete picture and what may seem “wrong” may actually be the right way. Could Paul have done more by living, teaching and encouraging the new churches that were coming under attack? In my mind yes. Just as it would seem Stephen could have done more for the church by living then being stoned to death. Yet it was Stephen’s death that played a part in Paul’s conversion and it was Paul’s letters from prison that we read again and again to help us in times of difficulty. So who am I to question how things turned out? Andrea’s death may not seem the best answer, but somehow I know it is. And that is what carries me when I miss my wife. That is what allows me to miss her yet not fall into total despair and hopelessness.

Psalm 77

1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.

4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

7 "Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

13 Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?

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