Dear Will, Gracy and Caroline,
This is what I want you to know about suffering for the Gospel:
No one tells you that perhaps the hardest part of living is dying. Since April 23, my body has continued to fail me. I can no longer breathe on my own without the assistance of oxygen. I can only walk short distances. My back locks up sometimes. I’m tired. Things that used to be so simple seem quite difficult. It breaks my heart to not be able to take care of my family or even myself. Oh, how I would love to drive carpool one more time. How I long to be able to sit with all of you at a restaurant and share a meal without coughing or being attached to an oxygen tank. To just be able to take you to the pool for an afternoon and watch you swim would be delightful. This is certainly the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced.
Will, this morning I woke up to the sound of you crying as you were lying beside me in bed. When I asked you what was wrong, in an attempt to protect me like you always do, you just said, “I had a bad dream.” But I know you, and I knew what you were thinking. Even though we haven’t talked about it, you see it. You and Gracy can see what is happening before your very eyes. By the grace of God, I think Caroline is still too young to understand. Watching me breaks your hearts, and that breaks my heart. I simply held you and said, “It’s okay to cry. I’ve cried. Daddy has cried. It’s very sad. But we’re not going to give up hope. We’re going to keep asking for a miracle.” Then you and I prayed together. And then, you slept.
Yes, my body is dying. There is no hope in medicine. There is no hope in anything, but a miracle. But that is enough. God is enough. I will hope in Him. My prayer is exactly the same as Christ’s was before He faced the cross. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” As hard as it is for me to pray for God’s will to be done, because I really want to live, I dare not finish that prayer, because I believe that to ask for anything other than God’s will would be to ask for second best for all of us. I love all of you too much to ever ask for God’s second best. I don’t understand how me dying could be what’s best for all of us, but I trust if that is what God decides, then it is best. That’s just part of walking by faith and not by sight. Whatever the outcome, we will praise God for it knowing that it is His good and perfect will.
Before I got really sick, I was asked to give a testimony at the Briarwood women’s summer drop-in study about suffering for the gospel. After I got sick and realized I probably wouldn’t be able to deliver it myself, I decided to write it and have someone read it aloud. Then I decided that the concept was so important, I wanted to include it in one of your letters.
In 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.” (Chapter 1 verses 8-12). Then in 2:3 Paul says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
The first question you might ask is, “Why?” Why would a loving God even allow His precious children to suffer let alone ask them to suffer? I mean, God can do anything. Why can’t the Gospel be, “Come to Me and when you do I will give you health, wealth and happiness?” That could be the gospel. Some false teachers say that is the gospel. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a health, wealth and happiness element to the Christian walk, but it sure doesn’t happen this side of heaven.
The problem is that we’re created with finite minds. We are limited in our thinking because that’s how God created us. None of us can really fathom eternity. We can try. We can get close, but we can’t really understand it. So here we are on earth with our finite minds trying to grasp a concept we can’t really understand and so we fail. And when we fail, we begin to focus and concentrate on what we do know, on what we do understand – this life. And when we focus on this life in a vacuum, it makes all of our suffering, all of our pain, all of our problems seem so hurtful, so wrong, so abandoned by God. When actually, suffering should be no surprise to us. Not only does God tell us to expect suffering, He wants us to count it a privilege to suffer for Him. Why?
Suffering adds to the Kingdom. Nothing grabs someone’s attention like seeing someone suffer and living out the Christian life during it. Let’s face it, you can sing the Hallelujah chorus when you just won the lottery, your first grandchild was just born on your birthday, or you just got a huge promotion, but who cares? I’m not saying it’s not good to praise God for those things. Of course you should praise God for those things and rejoice in them. But that doesn’t point people to the cross. When you rejoice and praise Him in the good times, that is expected. However, when you rejoice and praise God in the middle of the suffering, that points people to the cross. The fact that our family has gone through five years of cancer and is now watching my body slowly fail and yet we still praise God and rejoice in His plan, that points people to the cross. There’s no way we could ever do that. There’s no way we would ever choose to do that. When people see us do that, they know it’s nothing but the blood of Jesus. Only the love of Jesus, only the faithfulness of the Father, could bind our hearts so closely to Him during these times. That is why suffering for the Gospel is such a privilege – it gives us a chance to point people to Jesus. And isn’t that what this life is all about? We have all of eternity to live with Jesus in health, wealth and happiness. But we only have a brief blip on the timeline of eternity to point people to Jesus. And that’s the only chance we have of making any type of real impact during our lives – to point people to Jesus.
If God would have said, “Hey, Laura, want to have cancer for 5 years and let your sweet children watch your body fail and worry about losing their mother and there will be nothing you can say to comfort them because you, yourself, won’t know if I’m going to heal you or take you, but it will lead people to Me -- what do you say?” I don’t know what I would have said. I would like to think that I trusted God enough and have enough faith that I would have said, “Anything for you, Lord,” but I don’t know. But God didn’t give me a choice. Likewise, in life, you won’t have a choice as to whether or not you suffer. You have already been exposed to suffering through this journey. We live in a broken and fallen world, and you will suffer. The question is, will you suffer in vain or will you suffer for the gospel? Choose to suffer for the gospel. All that means is that whatever circumstances are brought into your life, you will choose to remember that God always loves you and God is always good. If you can truly believe those things, then you will have the faith to walk securely in the middle of the darkness. If you have the faith to keep walking, you will see Him along the journey and find places that are worthy of praise and thanksgiving. When you find places along the journey that are worthy of praise and thanksgiving and share those moments, then you will point people to Jesus. If you point people to Jesus, then you have suffered for the Gospel.
God didn’t give me a choice on whether I would walk this walk, but He has given me the mercy, compassion and grace to walk this walk. I have found it to be true that His mercies are new each morning. His compassions are never failing. His grace is truly sufficient. Even this hard, broken path has been filled with countless blessings. There are many, many others that have suffered for the Gospel and never see the reward of that suffering until they get to heaven. God has been gracious to allow me to see some of the good that has come from this suffering. People have told me that they have come to know Christ because of my suffering, they they’ve deepened their faith because of my suffering, that their faith is greater because of my suffering. That they’ve decided to give their marriage another shot because of my suffering. That is enough. I hope that will be enough for you. If God chooses to take me home, please know it was not in vain. Please know that God allowed our family’s suffering to point people to Him. I hope you will rejoice in that. I’m so, so, so sorry for your suffering. I don’t even have the words to adequately express how sorry I am. But I pray that God’ glory will be greater than your pain.
I love you all so much. Thank you for walking this path with me. Thank you for loving me, supporting me, praying with me and for me, and being there for me every day. You have no idea how much you have helped me. I am forever grateful.
I love you!
Laura passed away yesterday evening. Though we fully believe the verse that says "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21), though we know that she is celebrating in the very presence of the God she loves, her gain is loss to her husband (Bill), children and friends. And though that loss is temporary, it is felt deeply. Please pray for them all as they walk through this dark valley. Pray that they will not suffer in vain, but rather suffer for the gospel.