One of the songs on my play list and a song I had intended to use during Andrea's memorial in North Carolina is by Bebo Norman. It is called "All I have sown." I first heard this song when Andrea went for her walk in Alaska and God spoke to her. I believe I have written about this before but it was when she laid in the grass and saw the mountains around Anchorage and saw the tall grass she was laying in God told her "Andrea how you deal with life depends on what you are focused on. Andrea's response was, "Lord I will do whatever you ask of me, I lay my life down to you."
This was just before we found the cancer. The song starts off,
"I believe when the put her in the ground I think they buried part of me Because I have been searching, I have been looking all around and I cannot find the heart of me. So I put my fingers in the soil upon her grave and I will plant for her a garden. And every flower a reminder of her face."
It is a sad song at first but the message is that our life is seed that we sow and our family is our harvest. I still remember sitting at the computer in 2003 and hearing that song thinking how sad. I remember Andrea coming back from her walk and telling me what she had learned. At the time I did not see the connection between what she and I had experienced. Today I see it all to clearly and in brings tears to my eyes and a pain in my stomach, but it also brings a sense of peace knowing God was with us before we ever knew we needed Him. Looking back I see God with us for He knew the fight that was ahead of us, and He knew the price we would pay. He knew it all He knew the beginning the middle and the end. He was there with us and that gives me peace in my pain. It does not remove my pain it does not guarantee me a happy fun filled life, it reminds me of the promises I profess in my faith. My God is a God of compassion a God of grace and mercy and a God who will never leave us or forsake us. A God who is not here when life is good and absent when life is hard. He was there before we even knew what was about to hit us, and He was surely there when I buried Andrea, and like the song says a part of me as well. That song was on my mind every time I sat at Andrea's grave, as I ran my fingers through the soil upon her grave. The final barrier to my life once lived, to my wife once touched, to my heart, to a part of me, and I remembered that God somehow was preparing me on that summer day in 2003. Now I live what He knew, and I know He still stands beside me again knowing what I do not yet know and seeing what I have yet to see.
So what have I learned as I look back on my life since Aug 2003? I hope to be able to put into words what God has shown me as my wife was slowly taken from me. First I would have to say I have learned of God's faithfulness. I have learned how the Psalmist could cry out to God in one verse and praise Him in the next. I have learned as I read the Bible at times thankfully at times with sadness to realize I have lived some of those words. I have learned that though I spent 4 1/2 years dealing with cancer and knowing death was stalking us I was not ready for the finality of death, when Andrea was gone, never to return. No matter how much we talked about it or planned for it, Andrea was still here and I could not replicate the reality of her being gone of me being alone. That is something you just have to go through, and death comes on its own terms and timing. There is only so much you can do to prepare for the blow. Training or preparation can only take you so far and there comes a time where you enter the battle ready or not. And that leads me to my next lesson, dealing with the pain.
I can say it hurts but that is so inadequate. It hurts so deeply it is debilitating. It is the pain of your very soul being ripped apart, a loss so deep I cannot describe it. My prayer is that you never feel this pain, the ache the longing to hear a voice to feel a touch just one more time. The wailing when you realize they will not come back. As if it would take away this pain if I saw Andrea one more time. Even though I know it will not happen I still long for it. I just want Andrea to talk to me one last time; I want her to tell me she is okay. I want to tell her I miss her that I am weak and lost without her. As bad a cancer was we had each other now I face this pain without her. I cry out for her and only silence answers me. It is hard. When I lost Andrea I knew the obvious triggers to my pain, birthdays, anniversaries, our bedroom, but it was the unexpected that caught me off guard, the little things, places, items in the house that brought waves of grief crashing over me. And I'm thankful our God can handle me asking "Why." For He knows the struggles I face. It is hard to walk into our home, to walk anywhere and see Andrea in my mind walking with me. I try to relive a moment when I look at a place I know Andrea was at, a place I knew she stood, maybe I have a photograph of her in the exact spot, but she is not there. And when I close my eyes and try to relive the past Andrea's memory seems to just flee from me leaving me even emptier then before. My memories are an elusive shadow that evades my every attempt to hold them. I have also learned this pain in not a onetime event. I think it is the pilot in me that wants to see my pain as something to get done and so I can move on with life, as if it is a box to check and it will be over. But it is not that way, the pain, the sadness are forever mine. I know the depth and frequency will lesson but it will never be completed. My life will always involve sadness and joy. Which leads me to my next lesson I have learned, what to do with this pain.
My only escape from the pain I feel is to remember my first lesson I learned, God is faithful, worthy of my trust and He is with me. If I give up on this, I lose it all. I cannot even begin to imagine how I would make it through a day without my faith and complete trust in God's love for me. I fear I would try to take my life if I did not have the hope of the cross and a personal relationship with Christ. He carries me when I have nothing. He listens to me when I cry out when I don't understand why such a loving wife, such a faithful woman, such a caring mother would be taken from us. There is no earthly logic to this, there is nothing earthly that allows me to say, "I understand and it was worth it." For I have lost the woman I was to grow old with, we were going to retire, and we were going to hold our grand kids, we were going to stop this constant moving of the Air Force life and we were going to have a home of our own where we would sit on the porch after a hard day of working in the garden and watch the sunset. That was my earthly plan and it will not happen, and I see no value in the physical world around me why losing all that was a good thing. But that leads to my next lesson I have learned, how can I see purpose is this pain.
To find value or purpose in death you must look with eternal eyes though the spiritual not the physical. For there really is no good in losing the one God made you one with. I was not in need of a better marriage, or a more loving wife. But Christ's death on the cross was not for my comfort, but for my salvation. And my salvation was not for me to avoid life's pain as some "Get out of jail free card." My salvation was for my sanctification to become more like Christ, the one I profess as my savior.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
Romans 8:28 is a common verse because we like to think all things work for our "good." And we tend to define "good" in modern America with convince, avoidance of pain or difficulty. It has been my challenge to rethink what I define as "good" and what I define as a blessing. I challenge you to do the same, look beyond your desires and you will find God in many places you previously overlooked. Those times when we did not have our prayer answered the way we hoped, those times when life challenged us with difficulty. Those times are hidden treasures of God's love. Remember Romans 8:29 tells us the purpose of God working is us is for us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.
Think about being conformed to Christ's likeness, to be like Christ. His life lived not to gain wealth or comfort, but to serve those in need. A life lived not to be lifted up by those who loved Him but a life lived to serve His enemies. A life not for comfort, but for service. A life lived not for earthly gain but for eternal gain. A life not lifted up but a life laid down. A life not pompous with pride but a life lived in humility. A life not lived for personal gain but a life submitted to the Father's will. A live not lived to avoid pain or difficulty, but a life that forced confrontation. A lifted lived to die a horrible death. A life not lived for self but for the Father.
I have learned that left to our human desires we seek to avoid all these things. We seek the "Good" God can give us but we don't seek to serve, sacrifice, or to give without an expectation of return, especially if it is to our enemy. But it is adversity that draws us from our human desires and helps us to conform to the image of Christ. Sadly the worse the adversity, the more we abandon our selves to God's will and the more we are conformed into the image of our Savior, Jesus Christ. So as I deal with pain and suffering far beyond anything I have ever felt I have found an amazing comfort that when I lay this down at the cross and tell my Savior, "I cannot do this alone, I need you to make it through the next minute, the next hour or the next day." I then look not at the pain I feel but I look instead at how God is trying to use this for His glory. I look at the spiritual side of the battle and there and there alone do I find purpose and victory. In that moment I feel the strength of my Savior as He lifts me from the pit and plants my feet on solid ground. And in that moment I live the faithfulness of my God, I feel and see His unfailing love for me when I choose to look not at what I lost but at what He gave me and what His promises are.
Above all that is the lesson I have learned, That God is with me in my most gut wrenching pain just as He was in the summer of 2003 when I did not even see my need for Him. I have also learned that some pain cannot be prayed away, but must be lived in order to be conformed to the image of Christ. Like forging steel, it takes a lot of heat and pressure to bend steel. This not only forms into the desired shape but it also is how to retain its strength in that new form. So I have learned that I will hurt, but eternally it has a purpose, and if I am blessed and allowed to see that purpose in this life time, praise be to God, if I have to wait until the day I stand before my creator, then I ask God to give me the strength to praise Him as I wait.
There are many examples in the Bible of the faithful enduring difficulty, those who endured trials yet remaining faithful to God. Paul is an obvious example from the New Testament as you read his Epistles written from prison. As you read these verses remember to listen to the faith of a man who is living his life not for worldly comfort but as a servant of God. His words express great faith and trust in God. They are written by a man who is surrendered to Christ, and sees life's difficulties from an eternal perspective.
Philippians 1:12-14, 18-20, 29-30
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
As I always said to Andrea, "I will see you in a little bit."
There is a lot of truth and faith in that statement and it helps me on the days like today when I struggle. It always reminded me that our focus should be on the eternal not the temporal. Our fight was for 30-40 years of this life and this life is but a vapor. I will see Andrea again for she lives just as Jesus my Savior lives. And in her living she is no longer sad, no longer hurting. I see Andrea with a smile on her face, for she is with her first love and at times I cry when I think of her, but they are not tears of sadness for my loss but tears of joy for her gain. She ran a good race and she has received her reward, her sanctification is complete. Praise God who is faithful true and worthy of all we have!
And that leads me to all that I have learned.
God loves me and He alone is worthy of my trust.
I willingly lay my life down to serve Him.